Some of Europe’s most popular Christmas markets have been around since the Middle Ages and have attracted tourists from all over the world to drop by and visit during the holidays. It is said that these Christmas markets can draw upwards of two million visitors during December. Visitors come from all over because they can shop leisurely in a festive environment complete with carolers and mugs of wine as you stroll past the shops filled with local arts and crafts and Christmas decorations.
The Nuremberg Christmas Market
One of the best Christmas Markets in Europe is the one found in Nuremberg which is held from November 27 to December 24. While it is neither the largest nor the oldest, it has the most beautiful ambience where almost two hundred stalls are crammed in the cobbled square on the slopes beneath the Frauenkirche. It dates back to 1628 and is best known for its handmade wood figurines. Every two years, a child is chosen to portray the “Christ child” and a young man or woman dressed in an elaborate gold and white costume complete with a large golden crown runs around spreading Christmas cheer. Stalls serving spicy sausages, Bratwust and newly baked gingerbread are the main attraction of the market. Hundreds of tiny lights light up the market amidst the cheerful music of live bands that take turns in performing for the visitors.
The Dresden Christmas Market
The earliest writing about the Dresden Christmas Market dates back to 1434 and is known as the oldest one in Germany. The market, which is held from November 26 to December 24, is most famous for its Stollen, a sweet fruitcake baked in the shape of a loaf and lightly dusted with icing sugar. The Stollen Festival held on the second Sunday in December is the highlight of the annual market. A giant 3,000 kg Stollen is paraded around Dresden and is presided over by a glamorous maiden. The market is composed of close to 250 stalls selling traditional wares. Local craftsmen and artisans come to the market to peddle their wares, more popular of which is the delicate hand-blown glass decorations from Lauscha and the fired ceramics from Saxony.
The Vienna Christmas Market
Held from November 14 to December 24, this popular Christmas Market is held at the square of Vienna’s magnificent Town Hall. It is one of the best-known and most visited markets in Europe. Millions of visitors come to Vienna to visit the wooden huts leading up to the Town Hall where the wares are sold. Trees decorated with themed lights shaped like hearts or gingerbread men surround the market. Hand-crafted decorations, local crafts and art pieces as well as scented beeswax candles are just some of the wares that can be found in this market. Within the Town Hall, daily workshops for children are held where they are taught how to bake Christmas cookies. Throughout the month of December, choirs from around the world also perform at the Festival Hall during weekends.
The Munich Christmas Market
The oldest of the Christmas markets in Munich is held at the Marienplatz. The stalls are flanked by the grand town hall. Dotting the city are smaller markets but the largest one at the Marienplatz dates back to the 17th century. The market is traditionally inaugurated on the Friday before the beginning of Advent where a thirty-meter high Christmas tree is lit for the first time. More than a hundred stalls are set up in the square selling hand-carved wooden Christmas decorations, glass baubles, jewelry and other craft items. The Crib Market which can be found right behind the main market, nativity figures from Austria and Bavaria are on sale. At 5:30 every afternoon, Alpine choirs and brass bands perform from the balcony of the town hall. Locals and visitors alike purchase potato cakes from the stalls. A workshop for children is held in the town hall daily where they are taught to paint, bake cookies and dress up as angels.
The Prague Christmas Markets
Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square are perfect backdrops for the city’s festive Christmas markets. Since the 11th century, the Old Town Square has been the site of the main Christmas market in Prague where German food traditions are kept alive with the selling of Christmas gingerbread cookies and Christmas fish soup. The colorfully decorated wooden huts hold the locally-made wooden puppets, jewelry, toys, candles, delicate straw decorations and Bohemian crystals are sold. Daily carol singers sing to the crowd at a central stage on the cobbled square.
By this time, cities across Europe are preparing for their traditional Christmas markets. Aside from these five, other notable Christmas markets are the Brussels Christmas market, the Berlin Christmas market, the Copenhagen Christmas market, the Christmas market in Bruges, Belgium, the Tallinn Christmas market in Estonia, and the Christmas markets in Lille and Strasbourg, France.
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