Christmas Market Christkindlmarkt sign

31 Oct European Christmas Markets – AA Roadwatch

The most wonderful time of year is fast approaching, and with it the traditional Christmas markets that fill entire cities across Europe with the warm scents of mulled wine and hot chocolate. Originating in Germany and Austria, where the biggest markets are still held, the tradition has spread to cities right across the continent. No matter where you go, you’re guaranteed a Christmas experience to remember. Here are some of AA Roadwatch’s favourites for 2017, all a relatively short flight away from Ireland.

ONE OF THE OLDEST IN EUROPE - VIENNA

ONE OF THE OLDEST IN EUROPE - VIENNA

No-one is entirely sure which Christmas Market is the oldest, but Vienna’s claim certainly holds weight: the city’s residents were first granted permission to hold a December Market (Krippenmarkt) in 1298. The main market is held in the park outside the City Hall on Rathausplatz. You can’t fail to feel the Christmas spirit as you enter the square through a giant candlelit arch, leading to 150 stalls selling tree decorations, handmade crafts and confectionery. This year, you can also skate your way there, with ice rinks forming paths through the park, and the event spills into the City Hall itself, home to gingerbread workshops for children. Elsewhere, there are three Christmas villages in the city – at Maria-Theresien-Platz, at Belvedere Palace and in the Altes AKH – where shoppers are serenaded by carol-singing gospel choirs. And if it’s tradition you’re after, try the Old Viennese Market for classic mangers and ceramics. For late arrivals, the Christmas Market at the Schönbrunn Palace transforms into a New Year’s Market on December 27th: why should the festivities end before the season is out?

DATES FOR 2017:

Vienna Christmas Market (Rathausplatz): November 18 – December 30

Maria-Theresien-Platz: November 22 – December 26

Belvedere Palace: November 24 – December 26

Schönbrunn Palace: November 18 – January 1

Photo © Vienna Tourist Board

THE BEST CHANCE OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS - helsinki

THE BEST CHANCE OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS - helsinki

While Christmas spirit certainly won’t be lacking at any of this year’s Christmas Markets, there’s no beating a white Christmas. Flurries can’t be guaranteed but it looks like your best chance of a snow-covered market trip is in Helsinki: early indications forecast around 15 days of snow this December. Finland is the home of Santa Claus and its capital prides itself on Christmas traditions, particularly the St Thomas Market (Tuomaan Markkinat), which fills Senaatintori Square with over 120 stalls selling handmade Finnish decorations, craftwork and food. Smaller markets are also held on Mannerheimintie (Helsingin Joulumaailma) – with traditional wooden cabins – and on the harbour, where all products are made by Finnish women and sold for charity (Naisten Joulumessut Wanhaasa Satamassa). To warm up, try a mug of Glögi, the traditional Christmas drink made of spiced wine, almonds and raisins, sometimes with a dash of vodka for good measure. As well as the market stalls, watch out for the Tiernapojat – a traditional play acted out daily in the streets by boys dressed as the Three Wise Men. When you’ve finished your shopping, head to the train station: the esplanade outside becomes an ice rink each winter, complete with a café serving a perfect winter’s hot chocolate.

DATES FOR 2017:

Tuomann Joulumarkkinat (St Thomas): December 2-22

Helsingin Joulumaailma: December 3 – January 7 (except 24-26)

Naisten Joulumessut: December 6-10

Photo © Jussi Hellsten / Visit Helsinki

A DAZZLING ARRAY OF LIGHTS - GOTHENBURG

A DAZZLING ARRAY OF LIGHTS - GOTHENBURG

Gothenburg may only see six hours of daylight each day in December, but that’s not a problem at Liseberg theme park, where the Christmas market is adorned with over five million fairy lights. For the full experience, you can arrive by either vintage tram or canal boat, with mulled wine served on board. The market is the biggest in Sweden, with 80 stalls offering candles, decorations, roasted almonds and hot chocolate, which you will definitely need with the temperature generally hovering around zero. And if you haven’t crossed everything off your shopping list by the time you’ve finished your chocolate, there’s also a unique designer market within Liseburg tower. Along with the usual theme park rides, you’ll find a medieval village, a Lapland-inspired zone and a children’s area inhabited by giant rabbits. Outside of the park, Gothenburg city centre is also home to a number of smaller markets, including an eight-day Christmas festival at Tjolöholm Castle.

DATES FOR 2017

Liseburg Amusement Park: mid-November – late-December

Tjolöholm Castle: November 17-26 (except 14-15)

Photo © Go:teborg

The Biggest Choice OF MARKETS - Berlin

The Biggest Choice OF MARKETS - Berlin

Christmas markets are synonymous with Germany, where the Christkindlmarkt is a centuries-old tradition. For a true German experience, head to Berlin: with over 60 individual markets scattered across the capital, there’s no escaping the smell of roasted chestnuts and glazed fruit. The largest is held in Spandau, Berlin’s Old Town, boasting over 1000 types of Christmas decorations and a huge range of German delicacies, including glühwein and Lumumba (cocoa with a dash of rum). One of the most atmospheric markets is held in the grounds of Charlottenburg Palace, with stalls selling crafts and seasonal food, as well as a children’s amusement park complete with a petting zoo and carousel. Right in the city centre, a market in Gendarmenmarkt specialises in traditional embroidery and wood-carving, gourmet food and an impressive programme of shows. For a different choice, try the Scandinavian-themed Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt in Prenzlauer Berg, with Swedish fires and Nordic music. Of course, you could also just wander the streets at random: with dozens of markets in the city, you’re guaranteed to stumble across some gems.

If this has piqued your interest in the German capital, click here for our Berlin travel guide.

DATES FOR 2017:

Spandau: November 27 – December 23

Charlottenburg: November 27 – December 26 (except 24)

Gendarmenmarkt: November 27 – December 31

Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt: November 27 – December 23

SOMETHING OUT OF THE ORDINARY - BARCELONA

SOMETHING OUT OF THE ORDINARY - BARCELONA

Barcelona is one of the few cities where Christmas Markets don’t follow the German template: you’re more likely to find horchata and chorizo than glühwein and bratwurst. Following Catalan traditions, the Fira de Santa Llucía is held outside the cathedral and divided into sections, each offering different products. It’s something of a local tradition to buy a few handmade figurines a year until you have a complete crib scene. On other stalls, you’ll find mistletoe, trees and handicrafts, as well as the (in)famous Caganer. The Caganer is a typical Catalan Christmas decoration: a man in typical Catalan dress, squatting, with his trousers down. Bizarre as it seems, this figurine has been a staple of otherwise religious Catalan nativity scenes since the 1700s, and he is said to bring good harvests for the following year. You’ll also be able to buy a handmade Caga Tío: a log with a face that Catalan children look after until Christmas Eve, when it fills its litter tray with presents. Not too far away, the Fira de Reis stretches along the Gran Vía, specialising in toys, jewellery and churros con chocolate. And if you stay until after Christmas, you can join the fanfare and see the Three Wise Men arrive by boat on the night of January 5th. The trio then parade through the city, handing out gifts and sweets to the waiting children.

DATES FOR 2017:

Fira de Santa Llúcia: November 24 – December 23 (approx.)

Fira de Reis de la Gran Via: December 21 – January 6

Lauren Beehan
beehanl@theaa.ie