It’s the most wonderful time of the year and for several good reasons. The year is coming to a close, gifting season is upon us, and we absolutely need to clear off our backlog of work leave. All that leave can only mean one thing: holidays. After all, what better way to reward yourself after a long year of hard work than with a nice holiday? And because we love a good white Christmas, one of the best places to experience that is to head to Europe. To get into the spirit of things, we suggest you head to one of these Christmas markets.
Mulled wine, sauerkraut, sausages, and cinnamon — these just sum up the bouquet of smells that you’ll encounter once you’re in the vicinity of one of these Christmas markets. We’re betting that in the winter, it’ll look extra magical with freshly fallen powdered snow, cheeks and noses reddened by the cold, and thick scarves wrapped around to keep warm. Beyond the food and drinks, what makes these Christmas markets in Europe so special is the amount of history behind them. Some have been around for over a century, carrying the torch of tradition into the modern times. Linger a little longer and browse the bric-a-brac of Christmassy ornaments and you’ll see why this holiday is such a special one — and we don’t mean consumerism — in this part of the world.
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If you think bigger is better, then the Christmas markets in Brussels would be your place to head to this winter. The Brussels Christmas markets have been known to be one of the most elaborate ones in Europe, and the biggest in Belgium. We’re talking about stalls spread out all over Brussels in one gigantic, city-wide market. There’s a massive ice skating rink, a funfair, and a nightly show at the Grand Palace. The largest Christmas market is called the Vismet, boasting more than 200 wooden huts. Drink hot chocolate milk, mulled wine, or Belgian beers and get on the Ferris wheel to see the spectacle from up above. Just remember to dress warmly, because it can get cold!
Where better to enjoy a picturesque Christmas market than at the one that was voted best Christmas market in Europe three years in a row? Zagreb in Croatia transforms the fountain in Ban Josip Jelacic Square to a light display with lanterns to a background of old music in Zrinjevac Park as night falls. Sausages and mulled wine are must-try items when in a Christmas market, but take the time to try the local delicacies such as rakija bars and baked strukle, a pastry dish with soft cheese. There are also fun activities to consider while at the Christmas market in Zagreb, with the most fun being ice skating and concert-watching. (Image: source)
The Strasbourg Christmas Market is the largest and oldest one in France, dating all the way back to the year 1570. Known as the Capital of Christmas, this northeastern French region goes all out with decorations on the streets. The Christmas markets here span across the Grande Ile, a UNESCO World Heritage site — in total, there are 10 Christmas markets to visit in Strasbourg. Right at these Christmas markets, you will find a myriad of Alsatian food specialities, drinks, and crafts. Because Germany once ruled over this area of France, there is a decidedly German influence in this market. There’s a living nativity where you can learn all over again about the birth of Jesus Christ, or just watch for the sake of performing arts. Naturally, a majestic Christmas tree is a must at the Christmas market, alongside people going around singing carols in French. Most of the cultural events are held right in front of the cathedral, making for a very scenic backdrop. (Image: source)
Legend has it that Santa Claus does his shopping in Vorosmarty Square, one of Budapest’s Christmas markets. Unlike some Christmas markets in Europe where they try to stick to as much of the traditional ways as possible, here in Budapest they embrace some parts of modernity — including an elaborate light show against the St. Stephen’s Basilica that literally jumps to life when you put on 3D glasses. Shop for holiday gifts including ceramic candle holders and hats, and feast on hearty snacks such as goulash served in a big bun, fried sausage, chimney cakes, and rolled Hungarian Christmas party beigli. (Image: source)
It feels like you’ve been transported back into medieval times when you visit the Christmas market in Tallinn, Estonia thanks to the unchanged architecture of the city. It feels authentic, thanks to the view of thick snow framing the buildings, wooden huts in the Christmas market selling their wares including black pudding, hot Vana Tallinn liqueur, and the massive Christmas tree in front of the town hall. The city was in fact, one of the first to display Christmas trees in Europe and they’ve been doing that annually since 1441. If you want to experience a Baltic Christmas, then Tallinn is the place to check out.