by Richard Ng
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year – and doubly so when you’re in Europe, where they’re known for taking yuletide festivities with unerring sincerity. After all, these traditional Christmas markets are grandiose affairs that date back centuries, and were running like clockwork year after year until the COVID-19 pandemic brought the merriment to a screeching halt for far too long.
However, things are looking up with almost all Christmas markets back in full swing – which means that travellers to Europe can look forward to partaking in hearty Christmas fare like stollen, minced pies and of course, far too much mulled wine to quell the wintry chill.
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Amid the gable-roofed buildings surrounding Tallinn’s Town Hall Square lies a Christmas market that’s often touted as one of the best in Europe. Expect over 60 stalls selling local crafts and delicious Christmas nibbles like traditional black pudding and sauerkraut alongside mulled wine and Baltic cheese. When you’re done with the feasting, clap eyes on Estonia’s biggest Christmas tree – set up in front of the Town Hall every year since 1441, making it “the first Christmas tree ever to be put on display in Europe”.
From November 25 to January 8, daily 10am – 8pm. More info here.
Germany is so famous for its Christmas markets that it (almost) deserves a list of its own. Many of its major cities have one (or more), so be prepared for some serious reveling. Key markets not to miss include Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt, an age-old celebration of the festive season with equally festive eats like gingerbread and bratwurst (which the city is known for, having served the sausages for over seven centuries).
Another popular Christmas market is Aachen, which sees a transformation of the lanes around its main cathedral and town hall into a veritable Christmas village heady with the scent of gluhwein and printen (a kind of local gingerbread). Lastly, save space on the list for Frankfurt, whose celebrations include merry-go-rounds, visits from Santa, choir recitals, the coordinated chiming of church bells across the city and a massive Christmas tree for terrific Instagram pictures.
Nuremberg, from November 25 to December 24, daily 10am – 9pm; Aachen, from November 18 to December 23, daily 11am – 9pm; Frankfurt, from November 21 to December 22, Monday to Saturday 10am – 9pm, Sunday 11am – 9pm.
Fairy-tale vibes await at the Basel Christmas market, which takes place at the very heart of the city in Old Town (done up with Christmas ornaments to fit the festive mood). Around 160 stalls are split between the squares of Munsterplatz – basking in the shadow of the magnificent Bern cathedral – and Barfusserplatz, peddling everything from waffles and melted Swiss raclette to ever-popular grilled sausages and mulled wine.
From November 24 to December 23, daily 11am – 8.30pm. More info here.
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Hyde Park Winter Wonderland makes use of the generous real estate in central London’s biggest park, offering a menagerie of food stalls, bars and unique gift shops house in 100 wooden chalets alongside fairground rides, the UK’s largest open air ice rink and world’s tallest transportable observation wheel.
For further festivities if one Christmas market isn’t enough for you, head down to Southbank Winter Festival, enjoying the festive lights strung along Regent’s Street and Oxford Steet along the way. Once there, partake in piping hot mugs of mulled wine and hot chocolate before perusing more wooden cabins selling last-minute Christmas gifts, or a simple stroll along the riverbank.
Hyde Park, from November 18 to January 2, daily 10am – 10pm; Southbank, from November 3 to January 8, Sunday to Thursday 11am – 10pm, Friday & Saturday, 11am – 11pm.