Christmas is already around the corner. You may be in denial because your tan lines have yet to fade, but summer is waning, and it’s high time to start planning your holiday travels. Between the mulled wine, carols, and delicious sweet treats, organizing a trip to a Christkindelsmärik in Europe is a surefire way to make you want to skip fall altogether and head straight into December. So, this year, plan for a perfectly wintry holiday experience at one of these 10 amazing Christmas markets in Europe.
1. Leipzig, Germany
Dating back to 1458, Leipzig’s market is one of the oldest in Germany, as well as one of the largest with attractions ranging from a fairytale forest to a 65-foot Christmas tree. More than 250 stalls — including a medieval market, one of the main attractions — are spread across six locations in the historical city center.
The magic of a Leipzig Christmas is found in the simple pleasures, like nibbling on local pulsnitz gingerbread as traditional trombonists perform their nightly routine on the balcony of the Old Town Hall. Don’t leave without finding a feuerzangenbowle stand; the traditional German alcoholic drink involves setting a rum-soaked sugarloaf on fire and allowing it to drip into mulled wine. Leipzig’s market takes place from November 26 until December 23.
2. Kaysersberg, France
The Kaysersberg Christmas market festivities take place along the town’s historic ramparts — including a watchtower that was once part of the Château de Kaysersberg. Craftsmen’s huts at the market include floral art, pottery, and Christmas decorations produced from blown glass, wood, fabrics, and other artisan specialties. Save room for must-try Christmas treats like bredeles (a traditional biscuit from the area), gingerbread, malt beers, and mulled wine. The town, fully decked out in thousands of lights, also puts on a series of Christmas concerts and recitals to ring in the Advent season. Kaysersberg’s Christmas market takes place on the four weekends between November 29 and December 23.
3. Vienna, Austria
Shop for handcrafted goods between visits to punch and chestnut stands at the Viennese Christmas markets — and make sure to indulge in freshly baked vanillekipferl, a nutty, buttery, crescent-shaped traditional biscuit dusted with vanilla sugar. Vienna’s Christmas market tradition dates back to 1298 when Albrecht I granted citizens the right to hold a Krippenmarkt, or December market. Today, over 20 official Christmas villages are held all across Vienna. On the weekends, you can also listen to international choirs caroling at City Hall. Vienna hosts some of the longest-running Christmas markets in Europe, lasting from around November 16 to December 26, with the exact dates varying by location.
4. Riga, Latvia
To experience a Christmas tree tradition dating back farther than any other, head to Riga, the capital of Latvia. Records indicate that the first Christmas tree ever decorated occurred in Riga in 1510. Today, the Baltic city continues to be a wonderful place to visit during the holiday season, with its old medieval-style town squares festooned with lights and the delicious fragrance of gingerbread and mulled wine. Christmas markets can be found in the city center at Doma Laukums (Dome Square) and Līvu Laukums (Līvu Square), and visitors can shop for locally crafted artisan goods such as baskets, hand-knitted shawls and socks, candles, and woodwork. While there, make sure to try a serving of grey peas with bacon, a hearty traditional dish sure to warm you up on a cold winter’s day. Riga’s 2019 Christmas market season lasts from December 1 to January 6, 2020.
5. Montreux, Switzerland
Switzerland’s Montreux Noël takes place along the shores of Lake Geneva, with live music, light shows, and 160 illuminated chalet stalls creating a warm ambiance for visitors as they stroll and enjoy the ritzy resort town in the wintertime. Look out for Santa Claus on his flying sleigh between Lumberjack Village and Place du Marché, and don’t miss the chance to try a cup of lumberjack tea from La Cabane des Bûcherons or fondue-based specialties from Chalet Heidi. Montreux Noël is set for November 21 through December 24.
6. Strasbourg, France
For a true holiday extravaganza, head to the oldest Christmas market in France (and one of the oldest in all of Europe), sometimes referred to as “the capital of Christmas.” The Strasbourg Christmas market dates all the way back to 1570, and this year’s market is scheduled for November 22 through December 30. Located in the Grande-Île, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Strasbourg’s Christmas market is made up of 300 stalls spread throughout the historic city center. Much of it takes place near the Cathédral Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, an intricate 15th-century, gothic-style cathedral. The fragrance of mulled wine and fresh spiced pastries like kougelhopf brioches and pain d’epice drift through the cold streets, enticing visitors to indulge.
7. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague provides one of the prettiest backdrops possible for a festive holiday celebration. Its main Christmas markets take place in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, complete with gorgeously decorated Christmas trees and nativity scenes. Fortunately, these squares are located close to each other, so you can easily visit both at once. However, for fewer crowds, you can also visit smaller markets at Republiky Square, Havel’s Market, Kampa Island, and the square in front of St. George’s Basilica at Prague Castle. Between the gothic-baroque setting and the Christmas carols echoing through the alleyways of the City of a Hundred Spires, Prague is storybook destination during the Christmas season. Make sure to leave room for a palačinky pancake or a sugary trdelník, which you can wash down with grog or honey wine. The Prague Christmas markets are open every day, even on Christmas and New Year’s, from November 30 through January 6, 2020.
8. Vilnius, Lithuania
Complete with one of the most dazzling Christmas trees in the world, Vilnius doesn’t hold back for the holidays. The famous 88-foot tree, bedazzled in over five kilometers of lighting, is set in Cathedral Square, in Old Town Vilnius, and also gives visitors the chance to walk around the base under a blanket of lights, a truly dazzling Yuletide experience. Surrounding the tree is a medley of Christmas market stalls, making it a one-stop shop for the holidays. Save room to sample a variety of Lithuanian treats and sweets, including gingerbread, honey cakes, candies, and pastries, as well as artisanal teas and cheeses. Other attractions for visitors include the Vilnius Christmas Train, which circles the center of Vilnius, and the 3D projection of a Christmas fairytale on the main wall of Vilnius Cathedral, which takes place from Christmas Day through December 29. The Vilnius Christmas market is open from November 30 through January 7, 2020.
9. Colmar, France
Each of the six mini villages making up La Magie de Noël à Colmar, which takes place from November 22 to December 29, has distinct charms. Colmar’s Christmas market is comprised of 180 stalls spread throughout Old Colmar, providing a fairytale setting for all your sugarplum dreams. This French town shares a border with Germany and Switzerland, and the Alsace influence is most evident in the market’s gourmet goodies: Expect to find local producers selling everything from foie gras (duck or goose liver) to cheese, meats, honey, gingerbread, cakes, and more.
10. Dresden, Germany
The Dresden Striezelmarkt is the oldest Christmas market in Germany. The name is derived from the city’s traditional braided yeast pastry, now known as the Dresdner Christstollen. On the opening day of the market, Dresden’s mayor cuts into a six-foot Dresdner Christstollen, which is then distributed to attendees of an ecumenical service at the Church of the Holy Cross. Afterward, visitors can enjoy Saxon treats from any of the 11 markets as they watch Father Christmas and his elves open the day’s window in the Advent calendar. Dresden’s Christmas market lasts from November 27 to December 24.
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