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Christmas Markets Are All Over Europe

Written by  Barbara Radcliffe Rogers

Europe-xmas
Germany is the undisputed monarch of Christmas markets, with decorated stalls filling the main squares of its villages, and multiple markets lending a festive holiday aura to larger cities. Especially in Southwest Germany and Bavaria, you can plan entire itineraries for your clients that include a different market - or several -- each day, with minimal travel between them.

Germany, however, is not the only place in Europe with these holiday street markets. As you might expect, you’ll find them in neighboring Switzerland and Austria, which share many of the same Germanic traditions. Both Innsbruck and Zurich have especially good markets and make easy add-ons to a Germany trip. But clients looking for a new December travel experience will be delighted to learn of Christmas markets throughout Europe.

Scandinavian Christmas
From Norway to Finland, Scandinavia brings its own Nordic traditions, contemporary design and smart style to the season. Every day from late November through December 21, the park in front of the Parliament building in Oslo is filled with over 100 stalls selling holiday decorations, foods and handcrafted gifts. For a look at Norwegian Christmas traditions over the past century, suggest clients be in Oslo on a weekend to visit the Christmas Fair at the Norwegian Folk Museum. The historic houses and shops in this living museum village are decorated to their period as craftsmen there demonstrate and sell authentic handwork. Meanwhile about 100 more booths sell crafts, ornaments and goodies, and there is choral music and folk dancing (www.visitoslo.com). For beautiful views of the market lighted at night, book clients a room overlooking Karl Johans gate, at the historic Grand Hotel Oslo (www.grand.no).
Colorful tents and booths fill Helsinki’s Esplanadi, a park in the Finnish capital, where for two weeks in mid-December shoppers find beautifully crafted woodcarvings, leatherwork, knitted and felted woolens, smartly designed hand-blown glass, dolls, sizzling sausages and steaming cups of glogi -- spiced red wine. In early December the indoor Women’s Christmas Fair is filled with hand-knitting, weaving, designer fashions, foods, jewelry, pottery and other handwork by talented Finnish women (www.visithel
sinki.fi). A short ride from Helsinki, Turku hosts a Medieval Christmas market with authentic costumes, crafts and foods (www.visitturku.fi/en).

Christmas in Italy and France
Markets in northern Italy show the mixed heritage of Alpine regions - clients might easily mistake Bolzano’s for being in bordering Austria, with its gingerbread, Tyrolean felt hats and woodcarvings. It even uses the German name, Christkindlmarkt.  Farther south, the Christmas market that fills Campo San Stefano in Venice has traditional wooden cabins found in German markets, but the merchandise your clients will find there leaves no question. Unlike many Italian markets, which are filled with imported decorations, this one highlights local arts and artisans and Italian food specialties. They will find blown glass tree ornaments and jewelry from Murano, hand-made pasta, colorful carnival masks, marbled paper, local dried porcini and fine Italian leatherwork (www.venice-tour
ism.com).  Rome’s Piazza Navona is filled with displays of hand-embroidered linens, lace, carved nativity figures and almond-honey nougat. Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples is lined by artisans selling the hand-crafted nativity scenes and figures Naples is famous for.
Like Italy, France is not the first country that comes to mind for Christmas markets, but one of Europe’s finest is in the Alsatian city of Strasbourg. Advise clients to stop at the information kiosk near the train station for the handy map showing the locations and specialties of each of the city’s many markets (www.noel.strasbourg.eu/marches-de-noel). Farther south, Marseilles celebrates the local tradition of santons, intricately crafted figures that embellish Nativity scenes. Through the entire of December santon makers come together to show and sell these painted terra cotta figures that also include images of villagers such as bakers, farmers and fishermen (www.marseille-tourisme.com).

Lincoln’s Christkindlmarkt
Although Germany has provided inspiration for Christmas markets throughout Europe, nowhere is there a more direct tie than in the English cathedral city of Lincoln. Twinned with Neustadt an der Weinstrafle, in Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate since 1969, Lincoln sent a group of its city councilors to visit in 1982. They arrived during the German town’s Christmas market and were so enchanted by it that they set to work organizing their own Christkindlmarkt. From the barely a dozen vendors the first year the market has grown to England’s biggest, with more than 300 stalls extending from the cathedral close to the grounds of Lincoln’s 11th-century Norman castle and through Lincoln’s streets (www.lincoln-christmasmarket.co.uk).
The market’s German origins and ties are still evident in the wooden cabins, German signs, crafts from Germany and German foods, which blend happily among the English crafts, products and foods. Along with the traditional English sausages, food stalls do a brisk business in Nurnberger Rostbratwurst and glühwein. The market looks as much at home among Lincoln’s medieval timber-frame buildings as it would among those of Neustadt an der Weinstrafle Book clients right in the midst of the market, at the atmospheric White Hart Hotel (www.whitehart-lincoln.co.uk) or at the Castle Hotel, with its award-winning Reform restaurant (www.castlehotel.net).

A Georgian Christmas
Your clients will discover an entirely different ambiance at the Christmas market in the Georgian city of Bath, the largest one in Southwest England. Beneath the gracious 18th-century buildings, more than 100 vendors will tempt clients with fine crafts and local delicacies. The market is only a five-minute walk from the Bath Spa railway station, so it’s a good choice for clients traveling by train; it is fully wheelchair accessible, as is the entire city center (www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk).
Just over an hour from Bath by direct train, your clients can sample one of the biggest Christmas markets in Wales, in the pedestrianized city center of Cardiff. Daily from mid-November to December 23, more than 125 stalls sell Welsh-made crafts, foods and gifts, including traditional crafts such as carved wooden spoons, Celtic-design jewelry and products made from Welsh slate (www.cardiffchristmasmarket.com). Scotland’s capital matches this holiday festival with its European Christmas Market that stretches along East Princes Street Gardens Terrace and around the Scott Monument. The Edinburgh market is open daily from November 20 through January 4 (www.edinburghschristmas.com).

Cruising to Markets
Clients who prefer organized tours over FIT can easily sample the variety of European Christmas markets, too. AmaWaterways offers a Christmas Markets Cruise that includes visits to markets in four different countries. The tour can begin in Prague or Budapest, stopping at Christmas markets in Germany and Austria as well as those in the capitals of Hungary and the Czech Republic (www.amawaterways.com).

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