Six Christmas Markets in Europe - Ideas for a Christmas Shopping Break

by KathleenDuffy

Here are a few ideas for some of the many Christmas Markets to visit in Europe. Combined with a weekend break it's a festive experience guaranteed to drive away the Winter blues.

A well-organised Christmas market with plenty of stalls and well-made gifts is a really enjoyable experience.

With hot mulled wine to warm you through, the seductive smell of roasting chestnuts and the music of Christmas floating on the frosty air, a truly ‘Christmassy’ atmosphere is guaranteed.

With cheapish airflights from the UK and the Eurostar train leaving from London, it's possible to have a brilliant weekend break and buy those stocking-fillers with a difference.

London, Hyde Park's 'Winter Wonderland' - Christmas Market plus!

The full on festive experience - cheerful and noisy!
Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland
Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland

Set in the easy-to-reach Hyde Park, this is an 'experience'  for people who can tolerate crowds and noise! 

There are one hundred stalls in the 'Angel Market' alone, comprising craft items  and gourmet foods from all over the world.   Then there is the 'Bavarian Village' where you’ll find traditional food, drink and music.  The 'Winter Wonderland' stalls themselves sell traditional continental foods and traditionally-made sugary candy gifts and crafts.

Winter Wonderland, Hyde ParkOne of the most popular attractions here is London's biggest open-air ice rink! Oh, and did I mention the Giant Observation Pod which is a huge ferris wheel with heated pods that gives a bird's eye view of Winter Wonderland.

In the E:Cube (so-called as it is a bit like an igloo...) you can drink champagne and listen to the latest sounds from various DJs whilst in the Spiegel Saloon you can cosy up in what is described as 'an antique travelling ballroom' and watch the cabaret!  Or you could watch a movie.

It's free to enter Winter Wonderland and it's free to see Santa Clause!  Of course, you pay to go on the rides and attractions.

Winter Wonderland begins in November 2013 and goes through to January 2014.  You will be able to find out more from their website nearer the time - here.

 

London's South Bank - Christmas Market

A relaxed stroll along the Thames Embankment.
Christmas Market on London's South Bank
Christmas Market on London's South Bank

This is a much more relaxed affair than Winter Wonderland.  It's on the South Bank of the Thames, and you can stroll from one end of the Christmas Market to the other, pausing to gaze out over the river as you go. 

Last year, 2012, there were eighty stalls bringing an authentic German Christmas Market feel to the South Bank.  This meant plenty of wooden and softy toys for sale, along with unique jewellery and other craft items.

South Bank Christmas MarketTo keep you warm there is the 'Gluhwein' (German Mulled Wine) as well as gingerbread and roasted nuts.

Choirs are invited to sing at the Christmas Market so that the atmosphere is very traditional.

Whilst visiting the Southbank Christmas Market you could also take a ride in the London Eye ferris wheel, or visit the bars and cafes in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

I came here in 2012 with my friends and we thoroughly enjoyed this market. Because it is on the South Bank we were able to pop inside The Royal Festival Hall too when we needed to warm up!

The Southbank Christmas Market begins in November and ends on Christmas Eve. 

You will be able to find out more details of the Southbank Christmas Market by visiting this website nearer the time - here.

Video - Christmas at the Southbank Centre

Krakow, Poland - Christmas Market

A beautiful medieval square (usually) with snow!
Christmas Market, Krakow
Christmas Market, Krakow

One of the advantages of Krakow Christmas Market is that there's a good chance of snow, making the atmosphere very festive.  The Market is held in Krakow's main medieval square, Rynek Glowny,  which is a huge, beautiful space dominated by the Gothic church of St. Mary’s.  

There are plenty of varied stalls selling traditional Polish items, including Christmas cribs, clothing, painted clay angels, delicate glass baubles and sculpture.  Food includes Polish grilled sausage, pork kebabs and mulled wine. To add to the festive feel, every hour The Trumpeter of Krakow emerges from the church to play 'A Hymn to Our Lady'. (To find out more about this tradition click here.)

Christmas Crib in Krakow Market

There's lots of free Polish entertainment at the Krakow Christmas Market including dance groups, choirs and bands.

 

One of the greatest attractions at the Market is the annual Exhibition of Christmas Cribs - a prize is given for the best one!

Obviously it will be very cold in Krakow but according to most of the reviews on the internet, Krakow Christmas Market is so festive and the city itself so beautiful that you soon forget the chilly wind.

 

 

Here is a Calendar of Events in Krakow - check here when it's near to Christmas.

Video - Krakow Christmas Market

From Day until Dusk - Lovely and snowy!

Lille, France - Christmas Market

A small market but in an interesting town.
Carousel, Christmas Market, Lille
Carousel, Christmas Market, Lille
K Duffy

Lille Christmas Market in Northern France  is very convenient for a day trip from London (1 hr. 40mins on Eurostar) and Brussels (1 hour).  For a day trip with children Lille is ideal.

Christmas Market Lille

Compared to many, this is a small Christmas Market in the Place Rehour,  a conveniently short walk from the train station.  It sells a variety of craft items and the food is great - try the crispy waffles filled with vanilla cream!  There is a festive atmosphere with a fun fair which includes a ferris wheel.

However, Lille is also a  lovely town for a weekend break.  With the opening of the Channel Tunnel and the constructions of the high-speed train station at Lille, the whole town has become alive!  There are some beautiful buildings that have been restored, gorgeous shops and lovely walks to be had in Lille. In the evenings the town is lively and there are plenty of good restaurants to tempt you out of your hotel. 

And hotels are plentiful and central.

A Walk in Lille Park

 When I visited the Christmas Market for the weekend with friends we stayed in a self-catering apartment within a hotel which was two minutes from the train station and right near Place Rehour.  The rates were very reasonable and it was incredibly convenient.

We went on some beautiful walks (see pic above) and also visited many of the shops and coffee houses dotted around the Christmas Market.

 

Having a coffee in Lille

 

 

Visit the Lille Christmas Market Official Website here. 

You'll see that Lille has  a small but perfectly formed Christmas Market with plenty of festive cheer on offer.

Guides to Lille

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Copenhagen, Denmark - Christmas Market in the Tivoli Gardens

Christmas Market, Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen
Christmas Market, Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

The Copenhagen Christmas Market is held in the elegant Tivoli Gardens.  As you can see from the photograph above, it's no shrinking violet!

This is a truly spectacular event with stunning decorations and masses of twinkling fairy lights everywhere.  There are fifty stalls selling crafts and clothing, as well as the delights of Danish food from pickled herring and meatballs to pastries and pancakes - not to mention the spicy and hot Glogg - a red wine drink.

Christmas at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

 

Themes for the Copenhagen Christmas Fair  in previous years have included a Russian city with a 21 metre version of St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square.

Annual stalwarts include the ever-popular elves and pixies and Santa Clause who, with his live reindeer, lives in the Pantomime Theatre, built  in 1874.

 

If you are around in Copenhagen from 26 - 30 December, you can experience the annual Fireworks Festival.

There is an entrance fee to the Tivoli Gardens Christmas Market and you pay extra if you choose to go on rides and some other entertainments.  But just being in the Tivoli Gardens at Christmas is an experience in itself!

The Christmas season at Tivoli starts in the end of November. Check out the official website for Copenhagen here.

Have a look at the video below (skip the ad) to see how classy the Copenhagen Christmas Market is!

 

Video - The Copenhagen Christmas Market in the Tivoli Gardens

A Class Act!

Guides to Copenhagen

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Vienna, Austria - Christmas Market

A Wonderland of Festive Elegance!
Christmas Market, Vienna
Christmas Market, Vienna

The elegant city of Vienna, home of the waltz,  becomes a magical city during the Christmas season.  There are wonderful concerts and nativity plays, stunning decorations and lights.

The city plays host to a number of markets, the main one being in front of the Civic Hall, or Rathaus. This market has had a long time to perfect its great traditions - it is over 700 years old!

Christmas market stall, Vienna

There are over 200 stalls displaying traditional craft items, wonderful hot and spicy food and drink and the best buys are  handcrafted tree decorations and stocking fillers made from glass, stone, wood and felt.  The market is also famous for its glazed and candied fruits.

 

 

Inside the Civic Hall (Rathaus) itself there are activities for children with workshops which teach them how to make traditional food and crafts.

Next to the market square is a park, the Rathauspark.  Here you enter a wonderland with strings of lights adorning the trees, displays of fairytale scenes, pony rides and a trip on the miniature railway, the Christkindl Express.

Other Christmas Markets in Vienna are Belvedere Palace, Schonbrunn Palace and Maria Theresien-Platz.  All these Christmas Markets have received positive reviews on the internet from visitors.

Also recommended, whilst  in Vienna,  is a visit to Schönbrunn Zoo and a ride on the famous ferris wheel, immortalised in the film The Third Man.

The Vienna Christmas Market runs from 16 November to 24 December  2013

The official website for Vienna Christmas Market activities is here.

Video - Christmas in Vienna

Day and Night images of magical Vienna!

Finally - What Makes a Good Christmas Market?

Working out what you want and checking the reviews.
Christmas Market in Tallin, Estonia
Christmas Market in Tallin, Estonia

Before going to a European Christmas Market, check on the internet first that the market ticks all your boxes.

For instance, we can't always depend on the traditional white Christmas to add atmosphere to a Christmas market, so it is up to the organisers to ensure that, despite a lack of snow, there is plenty of Christmas festivity in the air!

This usually means a a decent number of stalls selling a variety of festive items!   There is nothing so disappointing as turning up to a Christmas market and finding that there are only a few stallholders (or chalets, as they are  often called), no music or live entertainment and not even a big Christmas tree.

Xmas Market, Vienna

Most Christmas Markets are held in the town square. If the square is small to begin with, then check that  retail shops are all brought into the equation, with lots of Christmas decor, lights and music.

If the Christmas Market is held in an open space, such as a park (as in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen) or playing field, then there really does need to be a lot of 'chalets' to create the feel of a  small town and thereby counteract the bleakness of what is, after all, a field.  A fun fair is always a great way to make sure the atmosphere is jolly and a small stage for live music and carol singing would make the event even more cheerful.

Most Christmas Markets are advertised on line, so you can read the reviews from visitors who have been there before you. Also, don't forget You Tube to try and experience the atmosphere.

This is a great way to find out if you think your trip will be worth the effort!

And don't forget - this is just a handful of the dozens of Christmas markets that are held in Europe every year!

 

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Updated: 07/21/2013, KathleenDuffy
 
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KathleenDuffy on 11/19/2013

Rose - A Christmas market without hot booze isn't worth considering! :)

Rose on 11/19/2013

A german Christmas market I went to once was selling small cups of hot gluhwein, which was very pleasant to sip while you went from stall to stall!

KathleenDuffy on 11/19/2013

Aww, Dustytoes - that's a shame. Is there not one in your local area? I hope you can find one.

dustytoes on 11/19/2013

These Christmas markets all look beautiful. I'm sad that they are too far away for me to see.

KathleenDuffy on 08/30/2013

Thank you for that lovely comment! If a market is a good one, it certainly brings back the spirit of Christmas!

ologsinquito on 08/29/2013

These look absolutely delightful. What a great piece on a magical time of year.

KathleenDuffy on 07/29/2013

I've never been to the Birmingham one! They are great aren't they! Such fun to visit. I loved Lille even though it was quite small.

lilysnape on 07/29/2013

Some of these are going on my 'to do' list. I loved the Birmingham German market when I went.

KathleenDuffy on 07/11/2013

Yes, one at a time! I think this year it's the London's South Bank again for me! Thanks so much for your post WriterArtist!

WriterArtist on 07/11/2013

Wow - "The Winter Wonderland Christmas Park" looks stunning in the snow, all other markets look gorgeous too. One place at a time and one can cover all these wonderful places.


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