Around the World in Christmas Markets
Updated: Jan 27
So Christmas Markets aren't really a thing in 2020 but this could give us time to plan what we are going to do for next year. Covid has deprived us of fully enjoying Christmas, so I decided to write a blog about one of my favourite things about this time of the year - Christmas markets. They are undoubtedly more expensive and overcrowded, but I miss them so I’m going to write about all the amazing Christmas markets I’ve been to and want to experience.
It is a well known fact that Central Europe is the home of the most stunning Christmas markets in the world. Basically anywhere in Germany; Braunschweig, Aachen, Cologne, Dresden, Stuttgart, you name it, it's all stunning. However, my personal favourite German Christmas market is in Bremen. It is absolutely huge and it’s a really traditional Christmas market. You can find quite a few churches around the market area and just pop in if you feel like it, skate, watch muscular German men with impressive beards smoke a whole pig on a massive pan over a pit right next to the wonderful German kids singing Christmas songs. Drink mulled wine,“Gluehwein” whilst munching on caramelized almonds. I remember the food being outstanding and obviously, everything tastes ten times better when you’re freezing outside. For me some sauerkraut with two huge sausages and boiled potatoes, with some dill on top of it is THE Christmas food, and not turkey. It’s not turkey, okay, sue me.
Yes, most European Christmas Markets feel the same in many ways - the food, the experiences, the tourists, the items, but the surroundings play a huge role in setting the overall atmosphere. As I mentioned before most Christmas markets take place in a city's old town, next to a church but some cities and towns are just so stunning, the Christmas market just adds a little bit of a festive feeling.
Another one of these towns is Colmar in northern France. It’s rich with 13th century houses, stunning any time of the year but especially at Christmas time. All the lights that decorate houses and highlights the architecture of the old and wobbly gothic houses. Voted 2nd best Christmas market in 2017, but definitely 1st on my Christmas market bucket list.
Another Christmas market on top of my list that just slightly enhances the feel of the city itself is the Edinburgh Christmas market. Edinburgh is just one of the most gorgeous European cities, but when the Christmas market comes, it just looks like something straight out of Harry Potter, magical. Get some mulled Irn Bru and whatever you do and whatever you go to in Edinburgh you will love it. It is really touristy and it’s quite hard to escape that feeling of it being really tourist-based but it is so much fun and very beautiful. It is definitely worth going on a SANDEMANs tour. They are free, but it’s always nice to give a little thank you to the tour guide any time of the year but especially around Christmas.
Some of the coolest Christmas Markets can actually be found in Eastern Europe. Eastern Europeans love a good light installation. A really spectacular one can be found in Budapest, Hungary on the St. Stephen’s Advent Basilica at the Vörösmarty Square. It is truly impressive and is just something different and refreshing when you just want to take a break from the shopping and it’s nice to just sit down with your calorific plate full of gray peas with some meat, some banging goulash, stuffed cabbage and traditional sweets - enjoy the light show. Nonetheless, shopping in Christmas markets is a part of the experience. I personally love to chat to the little Christmas kiosk owners about the market and about Christmas. Also, it just feels good to support small businesses and not go crazy on Amazon.
I also looked at Christmas markets outside of Europe, and found a really nice one in Tokyo. You might think it’s very quirky, like most things in Japan, but no. You go to the Tokyo Christmas market and you’re back in Germany. You enter a German-looking village with European ornaments all over the place. Apparently, even the food is very European. However, unlike most European markets, the Tokyo Christmas market is open for visitors from December 17 to December 25th. I’m packing my bags.
Another alternative is Taipei in Taiwan. It’s not an official holiday, but from mid-November until New Years people have the fantastic opportunity to visit one of the more modern Christmas Markets found. The light installations have an entirely different magnitude. The Banqiao district transforms into a little Christmassy town. Light parks and breathtaking festive attractions is definitely something to see.
If you like crazy and far from ordinary European Christmas markets, you might also like the vibes of Dubai Christmas market. Obviously, Dubai is the place for Christmas shopping if you want luxury jewellery rather than warm, chunky knit gloves, socks and a scarf for someone's Christmas present. What is cool about it though, is you can participate in a Santa Run in Dubai. Now I reckon that would make a great story.
Also, if you do want to enjoy some snow, some cold, freezing your hands off, skiing and skating during the holidays visit Montreal ! Or just really any Canadian city. The mulled wine will hit differently. There's easily more activities to experience in Canadian Christmas markets, but also if you prefer something more traditional, visit the beyond beautiful Notre-Dame Basilica mass in Montreal. They do cost a bit of money though.
Lastly, if you want to feel like escaping Christmas (but not really), go to Sydney! I mean, it’s boiling hot in Australia during the winter months which is the “escaping Christmas” and just winter in general bit, but also be prepared for 12 days of Sydney Christmas ! It’s a festival that takes place for the 12 days before Christmas and surely that will give you the feeling of festiveness, but also you can easily avoid it if you want to.
If you are into Christmas markets and want to explore some, maybe to go to one next year I really recommend, and yes maybe this is sad, but I do recommend visiting virtual Christmas Markets. Visit England as well as Visit Scotland websites have provided us with the opportunity to be at a Christmas Market within the comfort of your own home. Yes, it’s not the same, however, it does help if you are planning on visiting one in the future and see which one you prefer. The positives are - you get to see at least 20 Christmas Markets this year !