Christmas is a magical time of year around Europe. There are so many sights, sounds and even smells to experience. If you’re spending time in the UK, wrap up warm and get ready to go on a truly spectacular Christmas adventure.
Where does the Christmas market tradition come from?
Christmas markets are said to have originated in Germany all the way back from the late Middle Ages. Today you can find them stretched across Europe where countries inject their own culture into their markets but often have a nod to the original German ones, especially when it comes to the food.
The Christmas markets are usually found in the town square. You’ll find plenty of food, drink, and gifts for sale. Bratwurst, lebkuchen (traditional Christmas cookies), gluhwein (hot mulled wine) and stollen are just some of the German treats usually present. There is singing and dancing going on, as well a Nativity scene, making for a wonderful fun-filled seasonal party.
How easy is it to visit European Christmas markets?
There are several airports throughout the UK that travel all over Europe daily. In and around London alone you will find Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, and Stanstead airports. Birmingham is in the Midlands and Manchester and Liverpool airports are in the North West. Newcastle Airport sits in the North East while Glasgow and Edinburgh airports are in Scotland. It is easy to find flights to both major cities and smaller ones throughout Europe from these airports. Flights are often inexpensive.
Another option is taking the train. Take the Eurostar from London to be in Paris in 2 hours, 15 minutes or to Brussels in just under 2 hours. From there, you can take other trains to cities around Europe. You can also take a ferry, for example from Dover in the south to France or Hull in the North East to Amsterdam.
Best Christmas markets to visit in Europe
Here are the top ten best Christmas markets in Europe we think are a must for anyone living in the UK to check out:
Skansen in Stockholm has a great Christmas market with a true Scandinavian feel. Scandinavian crafts, food, and drink are all on offer, including pepparkakor (gingersnaps), mulled wine and saffron buns. There are unique gifts to send home to friends and family like hand-dipped candles and ornaments handmade with straw.
Barcelona’s Fira de Santa Llúcia markets have been running since 1786. Since then it has grown to over 300 stalls full of crafts, mistletoe, poinsettias and Christmas trees. A popular item is the Catalan version of the Nativity, which shows the humour in the culture! The Nativity is actually rife throughout the markets with a Nativity contest too.
The Budapest Christmas Fair has loads of stalls that look like little cottages, adding to the lovely rustic feel. Enjoy the live music and fun traditional puppet theatre. All of the items sold at this Christmas market are certified authentic by a professional jury to be traditionally handmade. Try a traditional chimney cake – dough baked around a pole and coated with cinnamon and sugar. Delicious!
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague’s markets are all about the seasonal food and drink. In Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square (named after the Old King!), there are huge tubs full of carp, to be washed down with grog and honey, a traditional Czech drink. The whole square lights up and carols can be heard all around. It is a really beautiful and romantic setting.
Many people flock to Austria for the amazing, but they also come for the Christmas markets! It’s a hot spot for social gatherings with friends and family while enjoying gluhwein and spicy Christmas cookies. There are several markets to visit including Altwiener Christkindlmarkt for art and handmade gifts or Spittelberg market set on cobbled streets.
Beautiful Brussels comes to life with their Plaisirs d’hiver (Winter Wonders) market. 240 huts line the streets offering arts and crafts or pan-European food and drink. It’s complete with a skating rink, toboggan slopes, and a big wheel centrepiece.
Voted the best European Christmas Market in 2016 and 2017, Zagreb Christmas markets truly amaze. The streets are welcoming, inviting everyone to partake in the celebrations with singing and dancing. The capital of Croatia lights up even with fireworks displays that dazzle.
Just a hop, skip and a jump away from the UK is Dublin where Christmas takes centre stage during the 12 days of Christmas. Although it hasn’t been running as long as others, it has proven to be a hit. A German-themed bar is quite popular here!
Copenhagen loves Christmas but uses this time of year to celebrate the season without being too commercialised. Based at Tivoli, the famous theme park, Christmas sees the land transformed by nisser (Christmas fairies) where there’s a skating rink and traditional food to snack on. You may even get a glimpse of Santa himself!
Leaving the original for last, Berlin is considered THE Christmas market due to its German roots. Around 2 million visitors a year enjoy the sights and sounds of the season with a cup of mulled wine. There are Christmas markets in nearly every big German city, so you can always have a look at another one the next day!
Are you a teacher and want to see the Christmas magic for yourself?