Europe’s Magical Christmas Markets Return in Full Glory
By Evelyn Kanter
After two years of pandemic pause, Europe’s famous and magical Christmas Markets are back – bigger and better than ever. In addition to handmade ornaments, stocking stuffers and gifts by local artisans, entertainment and food, including cider that’s spiced or spiked – or both.
The outdoor markets start at Advent – around Thanksgiving in the US – through Christmas, although some continue through New Year’s. Here are some of the best.
Although it’s Christmas year-round at the town’s German Christmas Museum and attached Kathe Wohlfahrt shop, the annual “Reiterlesmarkt” takes over most of the historic town square. Be sure to sample the local Flammkuchen, a flatbread topped with sour cream or crème fraiche, bacon and caramelized onions and sometimes described as a German pizza. Or my favorite, a Schneeball, which is strips of dough wrapped into a ball, deep-fried, then covered with confectioners sugar or chocolate. Then walk it off with a memorable stroll around the two-mile town wall. Rothenburg is about 90 minutes north of Munich by train or car.
This Christmas market here dates to 1393, and is held in the city’s huge medieval square, the Römerberg. There also are art exhibits in Paul’s Church, several restaurants in set up tented outdoor dining, and it’s all dominated by a three-story Christmas tree. Frankfurt has just opened what it calls New Altstadt (Old City) adjoining the truly old Römerberg, with shops and food stalls, including those selling bratwursts on a bun. Be warned – they are never called frankfurters. Be sure to get the Frankfurt Card (17 Euros for two days), which includes local transportation on trains and trams and free or reduced price admission to most museums.
More than 70,000 lights decorate more than 1,000 Christmas trees at the historic Tivoli Garden amusement park, outnumbering the stalls selling warm knitted products and other holiday crafts. This is more a holiday celebration than purely a winter market, and everything stays in place through New Year’s Eve, when there are fireworks, too. Live reindeer have been known to visit, for a true Nordic feel. Admission fee to Tivoli Garden is 135DKK for adults and 60 for children 3-7.
The city’s largest is around the Grande Arche de la Defense monument, with more than 300 chalets, or booths, selling everything from cheese and chestnuts to miniature Frere Noel figurines. And another decorates the fabled Champs Elysees with more than 100 chalets. Pre-Covid, the markets attracted more than 10 Million visitors a season, which continues through mid-January. There also are several smaller markets, including one at the Tuilleries Garden.
It’s not large – just 40-50 decorated market stands – but it is officially the highest in Europe, at more than 6,500 feet. And it’s a daytime-only market, so you can enjoy the panoramic views of the Swiss Alps along with the holiday crafts and decorations. The ride up and down is via the world’s steepest cog railway (32-57 CHF) with more picture postcard views en route. Mount Pilatus is a daytrip from Lucerne, which has its own holiday markets.
“Darganfyddwch beth sy’n gwneud Marchnad Nadolig Caerdydd yn hollol unigryw”, which translates from the distinctive Welsh language as “discover what makes Cardiff Christmas Market absolutely unique”. Stalls sprawl across main downtown streets St. John, Trinity and Working, and the Hayes, the pedestrian-only shopping area. It’s all a short walk from Cardiff Castle, built 1,000 years ago on top of a 2,000 year old Roman fortress, with lavishly decorated rooms to visit, before or after a helping of Yorkshire pudding at the market.
Evelyn Kanter is a longtime newspaper and magazine journalist, radio & TV news producer & reporter, and guidebook and smartphone app author, all focusing on travel, automotive, the environment and your rights as a consumer. Follow her website, www.ecoxplorer.com