Is there a better place to find last-minute gifts while you warm up with mulled wine and holiday treats than a traditional Christmas market? While these markets were essentially the first farmer’s markets, a place where farmers and artisans would come to sell their goods before winter’s extreme weather hit, they are now a place to experience the storied history of the holidays and participate in inimitable and joyful traditions. Spend your holiday vacation exploring one of these festive and spirited Christmas markets.
Home to the oldest Christmas market in Germany (which many claims make it the oldest Christmas market in the world), Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is the heart of Christmas in Germany. The city’s beautiful architecture combines with a picturesque setting made even better in the winter months with the warm glow of lanterns and the scent of famed German baked goods in the air. The market takes its name from strüzel or stroczel, a fruity cake sold at the market. Indulge your sweet tooth with other treats like pulsnitzer pfefferkuchen (gingerbread stuffed with jam and smothered in chocolate), glüwein (mulled wine), or dig into something savory like rahmklecks, a freshly baked bread filled with cheese.
Now in its 583rd year, the market features over 250 stalls selling goods like wooden ornaments, nutcrackers, and traditional candle pyramids from regional craftspersons. You’ll love shopping your way through the traditional market while your children experience the kid’s adventure world complete with a puppet theater, miniature railway, merry-go-round, an enchanted forest.
Vienna, Austria a glimpse of best Christmas markets
Any market that gets nearly three million visitors each year must be something special, and the Vienna Magic of Advent fair certainly lives up to the hype. Each year, Vienna transforms their already picture-perfect squares into magical Christmas markets where more visitors can peruse gifts and enjoy treats from over 150 vendors. Taking place in front of City Hall, you can go ice-skating, take a reindeer ride, or view a classic nativity scene while sipping the market’s famous weihnachtspunsch, a Christmas drink made with wine, brandy, schnapps, and fresh juice.
While the market is steeped in tradition, the Viennese have placed their special touches on the Christmas market festivities. Don your skates and try out the ice rink dedicated to curling that is set up each year. Enjoy choral performances throughout the city and ride the Christkindl Express, a train ride that will wind you around the city’s various winter wonderlands. Take the time to admire City Hall, which is turned into a massive Advent calendar during the festival.
Prague, Czech Republic
For fans of Christmas, it’s hard to find a better place to celebrate Christmas than Prague. The architecture and culture of Prague already make the city magical and with two main Christmas markets only a five-minute walk from each other, one in the Old Town Square and one in Wenceslas Square, you can spend a perfect day getting filled with Christmas cheer. Pair specialties like klobása (Czech sausage) with famous Czech beer and take a walking or river tour of the city.
The market is one of the few in Europe you will find open on Christmas Day and is so popular it extends into the New Year. Soak in the spirited atmosphere with the petting zoo, a large nativity scene, and the enormous Christmas trees brought in from the forests of central Bohemia. Seek out wood-carved toys, blacksmith products, and glassworks from the market stalls or ornaments for decoration.
When snow is on your agenda, expect to find a white Christmas in Krakow. The vibrant market is hosted in the city’s enormous main square, Rynek Glowny, and is the perfect place to find hand-painted Christmas decorations, spiced nuts, and boiled candies. Unlike other markets, many stalls feature antiques and knickknacks, making the shopping experience more interesting and rewarding for those willing to spend the time and effort. Treat yourself to handcrafted items and jewelry formed from Baltic amber and Bohemian glass.
Krakow’s most special Christmas market tradition is the Szopki, a competition of nativity cribs. Although you might be hard-pressed to identify the nativity scene, as they are more a hybrid of a nativity scene, a dollhouse, and gingerbread house. These Polish nativity scenes can reach up to six feet in height and are labored over for months before the Christmas season. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the tradition stems from their use as mini puppet theaters where morality plays were performed during the Christmas season. Now, much more whimsical, they are seen as a way to honor Krakow’s architecture and the nativity story, although they bear no resemblance to actual cribs.
For more places to experience the grandeur and history of Christmas markets around the world, click here.
Written by DLX contributor Katie McRoberts.