The spirit of Christmas comes alive with the sound of vendors shaking roasted chestnuts over an open fire, the scent of sausages in the air and the sight of people wandering by brightly colored stalls while holding mugs of mulled wine between gloved hands. Christmas markets in Europe date back to the 13th century, when the markets originated in Germanic regions to lift people’s spirits during the dreary winter months leading up to the Christmas season.
Opening day of the markets typically aligns with the start of the Advent season, where the religious term refers to the four weeks leading up to Christmas. A visit to a Christmas market during the four weeks of Advent is a great way to learn about local culture. Stalls typically sell traditional foods and beverages alongside regional products and local goods. The size of markets ranges from single-square markets in villages to cities that have multiple markets within them. With bus and train travel, it is easy to visit more than one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
1. Vienna, Austria
The Vienna Christmas Market has origins in a December Market that was celebrated in 1298. Since that time, the market tradition in the eastern Austrian city has expanded to its impressive modern-day celebration. Starting in late November, over 20 markets open in the city. Two historical ones are the Viennese Dream Christmas Market, centrally located in front of City Hall, and the market at Schönbrunn Palace. Check the events calendar to catch musical performances in the city renowned for opera and classical music.
2. Prague, Czech Republic
Similar to Vienna, Prague hosts large and small markets throughout the city. Enjoy Hungarian flatbread while wandering the market in the historic Wenceslas Square. Keep an eye out for puppets and dolls adorned in traditional Czech folk attire. The smaller market in the Old Town Square Market, arranged around the Jan Hus statue, is considered the prettiest market in Prague. Sample some Czech beer or warm honey liquor as the aromas of sausages and a sugar-coated, tree-trunk shaped pastry called Trdelnik fills the air.
3. Nuremburg, Germany
One of the most famous holiday markets in Europe is the Nuremburg Christmas Market in Germany. The market is over 700 years old. When visiting, be sure to try the famous Nuremburg bratwurst while sipping a mug of mulled wine. On the first day of the market, the Christkind, who appears as a female Christmas Angel, recites an opening prologue. The prologue was written by the playwright Friedrich Bröger for the Christmas market in 1948, the first time the market re-opened after World War II.
4. Christkindl Town, Steyr
The large city markets of Europe are exceptional. You should consider exploring some of the small, local markets that capture an authentic community market feel. One such market is the Old Town Christmas Market in Christkindl, Steyr, located in Upper Austria between Salzburg and Vienna. The market is in the historical city center square and has stalls for 40 vendors. A unique component amidst the mulled wine and brass bands are numerous blacksmith displays that reflect the history of blacksmithing in the region. While watching sparks fly and visiting the Nativity scene, enjoy a pancake like dish called Nocken.
5. Breitnau, Germany
If you enjoy the smaller Christmas market experience, another destination to add to the list is the Christmas market in Ravennaschlucht, Germany. The market takes place in a scenic gorge outside of Freiburg under the arches of a 130-foot high viaduct. You can try flammkuchen, a smoky type of German pizza, and purchase products unique to the Black Forest region while enjoying live music. Visit during the day to take in the stunning surrounding natural scenery and stay for when the lights of the viaduct turn on.
Many countries, including the United States, now have Christmas markets. However, the best way to experience the origins of these markets is to visit Christmas markets in Europe. Schedule a trip to Europe in December and find the spirit of Christmas while wandering holiday markets in Europe. A short-term, multi-city trip in Europe is a good way to gain international communication skills and an increased cultural awareness that is valuable in the workplace. Learn more about winter programs abroad through International Business Seminars.