The mingled aromas of glühwein and gingerbread, thousands and thousands of starry lights and stalls heaving with handcrafted gifts. There’s nothing like a German Christmas market to put you in the holiday spirit.
So enchanting is the German vision of Christmas that a visit to one is a tradition for many families each year. Cities worldwide are replicating the festivities, giving travelers a chance to sip mulled wine and nosh on out-of-the-oven pretzels from Chicago to Copenhagen. With the sound of sleigh bells already tinkling in our ears, the travel experts here at Cheapflights have selected our favorite Christmas markets around the world.
Strasbourg’s Christmas market takes pride of place in front of the sublime, towering Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. It’s the largest and oldest Christmas market in France. For more than 400 years the city has welcomed visitors to its Christkindelsmarik. Beautifully made Christmas decorations, Nativity figurines and traditional delicacies (spiced bread, mulled wine and foie gras) fill the stalls. Each year, a different country is celebrated; in 2011, it’s Switzerland’s turn. Place Gutenberg will host a Swiss market featuring authentic delicacies, concerts, dancing and exhibitions from its cantons. Running until Dec.31. Search and compare cheap flights to France.
Quebec City, Canada
Just four years old, Quebec City’s Christmas market has become a fixture on the festive calendar. Its setting is beyond compare. The cobble-stoned streets of Vieux Quebec are made for Christmas cards and the guaranteed cold weather cries out for the hearty German fare and drinks that are on sale from the cheery vendors. Among the delicacies are traditional raisin-studded gingerbread, pretzels, roast chestnuts and delicious Santa-shaped chocolates. Running until Dec. 11. Search and compare cheap flights to Quebec.
Tivoli Gardens, the famous amusement park, hosts Copenhagen’s Christmas markets. The willow trees are festooned with lights, there are almost four miles of colorful stalls and the little ones will be able to see how the residents of Nissekøbing spend their time. The market welcomes about 1 million visitors each year, most of whom will want to take a ride on the carousels, Chinese lantern and Elves’ Train. Running until Dec. 30. Search and compare cheap flights to Denmark.
Chicago, Illinois, United States
The Christkindlmarket in Chicago is inspired by Nuremberg’s ancient market. Daley Plaza on Washington Street is where you’ll find red-and-white tents groaning under the weight of festive delicacies and traditional handcrafted gifts that will satisfy the pickiest customer. Warming German delicacies like sausages, sauerkraut and potato pancakes keep out the cold and soak up the glühwein and German beers. Running until Dec. 24. Search and compare cheap flights to Chicago.
Dublin’s Docklands turn German for 20 days in November and December. German traders display their wares alongside their Irish counterparts. The air is filled with the scent of roasting nuts, mulled wine, eggnog and sizzling bratwurst. The Irish love to party, so it’s fitting that the full program comprises musical entertainment with story tellers, carol singers and bands. Santa turns up on weekends to chat to the visitors and dispense a few sweets to the young and young at heart. Running until Dec. 23. Search and compare cheap flights to Ireland.
Striezelmarkt is one of the oldest markets in the world; the first mention of it cropped up in the 15th century. Artisans from all over the country gather to sell some of the best crafts Germany has to offer. Regional specialties include the famous blue-and-white ceramics, crafts from the Ore Mountains, blown glass from Lauscha and much more. The highlight of the market is the arrival of the three-ton baked stollen (German fruit cake) after it has been paraded through the streets. Running until Dec.24. Search and compare cheap flights to Germany.
The Christkindlmarkt on Rathausplatz starts earlier than most, in mid-November, and is one of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe. Almost 200 stalls dominate the square, selling traditional decorations and hand-crafted gifts as well as scrumptious, melt-in-your-mouth Viennese pastries and Weihnachtspunsch (a spiced punch). Dates: Nov. 12-Dec. 24. Those in favor of a smaller (some say, more cultured) market can head to the courtyard of the baroque Schðnbrunn Palace between Nov. 19 and Dec. 26. Search and compare cheap flights to Austria.
Prague, Czech Republic
A giant Christmas tree in the Old Town Square is the focal point for Prague’s festive fun. The main markets are to be found at the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square and there are smaller ones at Namesti Republiky and Havelske Trziste. All feature beautifully decorated stalls that sell everything from Bohemian crystal and Czech marionettes to braided pastries and gingerbread. While shopping from stall to stall it’s customary to grab a mug of svaree vino (sweet mulled wine) to sip along the way. Running until Jan. 8. Search and compare cheap flights to Czech Republic.
The Brussels Christmas market – Plaisirs d’Hiver (Winter Wonder) – is a fairly new arrival to the scene. It has only been around since 2004, but its location at the Grand-Place of Brussels and around the Bourse (on the Place Sainte-Catherine and on the Marché aux Poissons) gives it a centuries-old vibe. Almost 250 chalets, fairground rides, an ice rink and bauble-studded Christmas tree make it a wonderland. Then there are the mouth-watering delicacies to enjoy – the local chocolates, pots of mussels and Belgian waffles. Running until Jan.1. Search and compare cheap flights to Belgium.
Nuremberg’s Christmas market was first held in 1628 and is one of the best known in Germany with more than 2 million visitors annually. Candy-cane striped stalls serving glühwein and bratwurst fill the Old Town while live music is performed late into the night. The must-buy souvenirs are the Nuremberg Plum People, tiny figures made from prunes. Running until Dec. 24. Search and compare cheap flights to Germany.
(Image: Marcus Povey)