Starting the last week of November, European city centers come alive with Christmas Markets, an old tradition that turns the town square into a festive gathering of local artists, crafts makers and cooks selling traditional treasures and treats. There are entire tours devoted to European Christmas markets but you can also explore on your own. Our top Christmas cities include Brussels, Prague, Dresden, Nuremberg, and the hometown of Santa Claus, Rovaniemi. Here’s a closer look at our favorite real-life winter wonderlands.
We start with the world-famous Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany is populated with approximately 180 wood and cloth stalls with red-and-white-striped canvas roofs. A written record of the Christmas market dates back to 1628.
The Nuremberg Christ Child, who is elected by the Nuremberg citizens every two years, always opens the market with a ceremonial prologue on the Friday before the first Advent. This golden angel with her white dress and a jeweled crown appears on the balcony of the Church of Our Lady.
The Christkindlesmarkt takes place in the historic backdrop of the Nuremberg main market square with the Church of our Lady, the Beautiful Fountain and the view of the Old Town Gothic Church of St. Sebaldus.
Here you can shop for traditional crafts, hand-made holiday treasures and regional treats including Gluhwein (mulled wine), Lebkuchen (a gingerbread-like cookie) and bratwurst. A stroll through the market of the sister cities is also interesting, where handcrafted articles and specialties from countries like Nicaragua, China, Scotland or the Ukraine are found.
Next, we head to Dresden, the oldest continuous Christmas market in Germany now celebrating its 584th year. The Dresden “Striezelmarkt” is named after the “Striezel” (“Stollen”), a traditional German Christmas cake. The market takes place on the Altmarkt with more than 230 festively decorated booths filling the air with scents of roasted almonds, mulled wine and Dresden Christmas cookies.
Here you can shop for handmade Christmas decorations and goods by craftspeople from the Ore mountains (Erzgebirge) and Lusatia (Lausitz). The market runs daily from November 28th, 2018 to December 24th, 2018 from 10 am until 9 pm.
On December 8, 2018, a special event is help with a group of people will carrying a big “Stollen” that weighs four tons along the Dresden Zwinger, the Semper Opera House, the Hofkirche and the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) to the “Striezelmarkt” where it will be cut in pieces and offered to the visitors.
The Dresden “Striezelmarkt” is surrounded by 10 more themed Christmas markets within the city including the Medieval Christmas Market at the stable yard of the Royal Palace populated with craftsmen, minstrels and jugglers.
A walk through the baroque quarter of the Hauptstraße within the baroque quarter offers unique Christmas charm in this Wilhelminian style part of the city.
Other markets to check out include the Frauenkirche Christmas Market, known for its pottery, glass art and lace from the Vogtland, and the après-ski charm of the Hüttenzauber Market and booths are along the Prager Straße starting from the Main Station along to the other side of the Elbe River to the “Neustädter Advent” Those who want to get even deeper into local atmosphere should visit the Christmas markets in the towns, villages and castles of the surrounding Elbland.
Next, we head to Brussels for its festival of lights, Winter Wonders, illuminating the facades of Grand-Place, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This year’s theme is “Brussels’ Christmas with Sia” showcasing the Grand-Place’s architectural lighting synchronized with Christmas tree lights and music by Australian singer-songwriter Sia.
Winter Wonders coincides with Christmas markets throughout Brussels including around the Bourse, the Place de la Monnaie, the Place Sainte-Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons. There, you’ll find snow-capped wooden chalets resembling gingerbread houses selling local crafts, handmade goods and regional treats.
Prague, the largest city in the Czech Republic, known for its Christmas card scenery of lantern-lit cobblestone streets and decorated baroque town squares that host several Christmas markets.
The largest is in the Old Town Square with a towering Christmas tree cut from the forests of Central Bohemia and lit up each evening at 4:30 pm, accompanied by classical music. Other must-see holiday markets include those in Wenceslas Square, Republic Square, Peace Square and Tyl’s Square where you can browse festive wooden huts stocked with traditional folk crafts while sipping hot honey wine known as Medovina and sampling traditional Czech Christmas cookies.
The ultimate Christmas City is Rovaniemi, situated on the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, the official home of Santa Claus.
Consistently ranked as the world’s best holiday destination, Rovaniemi offers a winter wonderland of activities including skiing, snowmobiling, reindeer farms, dog sledding tours and scenic vistas of the Northern Lights.
In Rovaniemi, Santa welcomes visitors year-round at the Santa Claus Village, the Lapland’s best-known attraction.
The resort features an igloo hotel, ice bar and restaurant, shops, dog sledding tours, reindeer rides, snowmobile tours, and Santa Claus’ main post office, run by elves.
Rovaniemi during the holidays is an ideal place to view the Northern Lights on clear nights as shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet dance across the skyline of the city.
European Christmas markets typically run November 28 through Christmas Eve. Many tour companies offer river cruises and organized tours to the markets. As you plan your trip, check out these ultimate travel hacks and tips for finding the best deals on airfare, accommodations and more. For more design and travel news, I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter.
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