It’s almost the end of the year, and you know what that means: it’s time for Christmas markets! They are not only full of festive cheer but also difficult decisions: Where should we start? Gluhwein or Glogg? Ginger snaps or torrone? Scented candles or glass blown creations? We suggest starting wherever you want, ordering one of each, and traveling around Europe to visit all five of these Christmas markets (in no particular order).
1. Prague, Czech Republic
You just have to “Czech” it out: from the end of November to the end of December, you can feel all kinds of merry at Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square. In the Old Town Square, or Staromestske namesti, you can find a stage-set nativity scene, a massive tree and plenty of open air concerts. (If the cold isn’t your thing, just attend an evening concert in one of the many churches.) Now, here’s some helpful culinary advice: my all time favorite is Trdelnik, which, although you can find at any time of the year, is a must-try when strolling across the Christmas market. You’ll probably notice plenty of street vendors grilling this rolled dough pastry on a large stick Trdelnik is made from dough, vanilla, caramel, walnut and topped with sugar. Basically, the same ingredients for love. Other sweets include honeyed gingerbread, vanocvka, a braided pastry studded with raisins; and vosi hnizda, or “wasp nests,” which are cookies made with nuts and rum.
2. Strasbourg, France
Welcome to the birthplace of the oldest Christmas market in Europe, which was called the “Christkindelsmärik”, or market of the infant Jesus, back in 1570. Strasbourg is known as the “Capital of Christmas” and is one of the largest markets, boasting more than 300 chalet stalls. Be one of the two million visitors to enjoy this Alsatian Christmas from the end of November to the end of December. Do not, under any circumstance, miss out on bredele cookies and “Tarte flambée,” aka “Flammkueche,” aka a thin pizza with bacon, onions and creme fraiche. It’s more or less the eatable equivalent of five puppies licking your face or passing your exam without ever having studied.
3. Munich, Germany
During winter, Germany is one big Christmas market: there’s Berlin, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Dresden and Nuremburg to name a few, but I decided to highlight Munich, since the city is not just about Oktoberfest. If you happen to be in the area from the end of November until Christmas, then be sure to stop at Marienplatz, in the heart of the city. It’s the most popular market and has roots that date back to the 14th century. You can eat “Kletznbrot,” a traditional bread made with nuts, fruit ,and honey or go for the “Fatschkindl,” a pastry shaped like baby Jesus. For a bit of a different holiday experience, go to the Tollwood Christmas Market, which is an ethnic festival that showcases a mix of international musicians, handicrafts, and cuisine from all over the world.
4. Vienna, Austria
From mid-November until Christmas, you can experience the traditions of Vienna’s December Market or “Krippenmarkt,” which dates back to 1298. The market at Rathausplatz offers more than 150 stands and basically becomes a giant advent calendar. Take a ride on the Christkindle Express, a train that goes through the city as you drink some “Weihnachtspunsch” – spiced Christmas punch, made of wine, brandy, or schnapps, sweetened with warm fruit juices. Cheers & Merry Christmas!
5. Basel, Switzerland
In the city center of Basel, you will find the largest Christmas market in Switzerland, and can enjoy “Basler Läckerli,” sort of like a gingerbread waffles. The stalls are elaborately decorated and Instagram-worthy. I would like to warn you about one particularly tricky yet delicious snack: the Swiss fill fondue into a piece of baguette and call it “Chääs Bängel.” It has to be eaten with care as to avoid burns (a lesson I learned the hard way!), but it’s so worth it, just like all the other cheese creations you can find throughout this and other markets in Switzerland. Speaking of other markets – I know that I’m cheating here, but it’s important – I also recommend the Zurich Christmas market, which is not only the biggest covered Christmas market in Europe, its centerpiece is also a Christmas tree covered in 5,000 sparkling Swarovski crystal ornaments. And while you’re at it, check out the Montreux Christmas market: even though it’s smaller than the first two, it features 150 illuminated chalets along Lake Geneva and a Freddie Mercury statue that you can pose next to. (I told you it was important.)