The trend of Christmas markets is spreading throughout Europe, but the Christmas market is not a modern phenomenon; in fact, the tradition goes back to the late Middle Ages in the German-speaking world. With mulled wine and mince pies, fairy lights, handmade gifts and spiced gingerbread, singing, dancing and ice-skating, there’s everything you need to get in the festive spirit.
The Germans really know how to put on a great Christmas market. Often in the city centre, overlooked by an imposing cathedral such as that of Munich or Cologne, there is a great hum around the place as residents and tourists alike drink ample amounts of Glühwein. The sparkle of fairy lights, crunch of snow underfoot (if you’re lucky) and jovial ambiance of the place make Christmas markets a favourite outing for people from all walks of life. Munich may be better known for Oktoberfest, BMW and Bayern Munich, but come November the city turns into a winter wonderland. Nestled just north of the Bavarian Alps, the offer of over twenty markets throughout the city at Christmas time makes it one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations come the end of the year. Trying specialities such as ‘Fatschnkindl’, a pastry shaped like baby Jesus in a manger, is a must.
It’s not just the Germans who put on these spectacular events. ‘Marchés de noël’ are very popular in France, and knowing the French, replenishing stocks of wine are customary. The markets are the best in the Alsace region due to the Teutonic influence from Germany: the market in Strasbourg has run since the 1500s, in front of the Gothic towers of the beautiful cathedral. L’Hexagone is renowned for its colourful markets all year round, bursting with the freshest fruit and vegetables and bread. Local produce such as cider from the north and wine from the south is also a firm favourite. In fact, the founding of Christmas markets in France was due to housewives needing an accessible source of ingredients to make classic festive recipes. It would have been hard to envision the popularity these markets could have developed: the market in Strasbourg attracts over two million visitors alone.
Whether you’re looking for a festive atmosphere, last minute presents or ice-skating, visiting one of Europe’s great Christmas markets is a must. If you can’t go to one this year, head to one of Britain’s Christmas markets; Winchester and Salisbury have a vibrant feel and an excellent array of high-quality stalls and delicious food and drink.