A Christmas market in Germany.

European winters and the traditional Christmas market

Carla Nelson of Maritime Travel describes her experiences with European Christmas markets

  • Dec. 11, 2014 8:00 a.m.

Carla Nelson

Last August, I was fortunate enough to travel from the Czech Republic to the Netherlands, passing through many medieval villages, quaint cities and historic sites in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany.  Lovely as these areas are in the summer, they are equally beautiful in the winter.  If you have the opportunity to go to Europe in Christmas Market season (Nov-Dec), you will have a magical, mesmerizing experience that will awe even the biggest humbug of all (that might be me!).

Germany probably does it best.  Christmas markets have been around since the 14th century, when they were fairs that sold food items to villagers to stock up for the long winter season ahead.  Now they are world famous!

Cologne, Germany, has 6 markets that surround the town’s famous and beautiful Gothic Cathedral.  There is an ice rink and a Medieval market.  Stalls include handmade wooden ornaments , music boxes and warm gluhwein ladled into ceramic cups.  The smell of cinnamon and cloves is intoxicating.  Maybe try it ‘mit schuss’ – with a shot, likely rum.  And you have to try stollen, a traditional fruit Christmas bread and lebkuchen (gingerbread).  Over 2 million people visit the Cologne Christmas Market each year.  Other famous markets are found in Nuremberg, Dresden and Munich.

In Prague, Czech Republic, many of the markets are themed on fairy tales and folk-lore.  You’ll find nativity scenes with petting zoos, wandering carolers, old-fashioned carousels and horse carriage rides.

Bratislava, Slovakia is less crowded but still features traditional market stalls filled with handmade crafts, live entertainment and local foods like fruit-filled pancakes and hot apple pies.

The most beautiful city at Christmastime may be Vienna, Austria.  The market here is 700 years old.  Just imagine the Vienna State Opera House and the magnificent City Hall all lit up!  There are concerts, nativity displays, a live Advent Calendar display and a children’s workshop.  The aromas of candied fruit, cotton candy, Christmas punch and roasted chestnuts will be sure to get you feeling all sentimental about the holiday season.

One of the most unique Christmas markets is in Valkenburg, Netherlands.  This market is held in an underground cave, the ‘Velvet Cave’, situated beneath the Valkenburg Castle.   There’s an 18th century chapel, amazing murals and sculptures inside.

From the enchanting Christmas carols, the smiling merchants, the smells and tastes of the season – it’s all sure to warm your heart and put you in the Christmas spirit!

For more information on European Christmas Markets and Christmas Market River Cruises, contact Carla Nelson, Branch Manager, Maritime Travel 250.489.4788.  Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and safe and healthy holiday season!

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