When December hits Central Europe, days shorten and temperatures drop, but Christmas markets begin to pop up everywhere from big cities to small towns.
Christmas markets: the perfect antidote to winter darkness as they bring friends and family together over handfuls of sweet roasted almonds and mugs of hot spiced wine. City squares are transformed, turning into a Christmas fairytale worlds of lights, roasted chestnuts, and incense. And although there are similarities across markets, each one has its own feeling, its own specialties. We never seem to tire of them.
Here are six of our favourite Christmas markets from Central Europe.
1. Prague Staromestske Namesti Vanocni trh (“Old Town Square Christmas Market”)
At Prague’s main Christmas market, food and craft stalls are organized in the majestic shadow of the surrounding gothic, Renaissance and baroque architecture of Staromestske Namesti (“Old Town Square”). This Christmas market is one of Europe’s youngest, but you never guess it given its atmosphere and popularity.
It’s easy to fill up on svařák (“hot spiced wine”) and sausage while being consumed by the ambiance and magical glow of the surroundings. And if you get cold, just pop down one of the side streets in old town to warm up in a cozy Czech pub.
2. Vienna Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkt (“Municipal House Square Christmas Market”)
The origins of the Viennese Christmas Market date back more than 700 years to 1296, when Emperor Albrecht I granted citizens the privilege of organizing a Dezembermarkt (“December Market”). Today, Vienna’s main Christmas market on the Rathausplatz (‘Town Hall Square”) is just one of over a dozen Christmas markets scattered throughout the city, but it’s the biggest and most iconic. Locals and tourists alike take in the Christmas spirit while choosing handmade ornaments for the Christmas tree and warming their hands with mugs of glühwein (“hot spiced wine”).
3. Munich Christkindlmarkt at Marienplatz (“Christmas Market at St. Mary’s Square”)
Munich’s Christmas Market at Marienplatz (“St. Mary’s Square”) was the first Christmas market we’d ever visited in Europe, so it will always hold a special place in our hearts. Set in the town’s medieval square, it’s also the city’s oldest.
This was where we first encountered Räuchermänner (“smoking men”), carved wooden figures that represent every type of profession. Burn a cone of incense inside and watch a plume of smoke emerge from the mouth. Endless amusement. Don’t forget to also check out the nativity scene craftsmen and manger stalls between bites of your bratwurst!
4. Dresden Striezelmarkt
Dresden has the honor of hosting Germany’s oldest Christmas market, dating back to 1434, and most famous Christmas cake, the Christstollen. Stollen, a fruit cake made from dried fruit, nuts, and spices can be found in other parts of Germany, but the christollen, the most famous Christmas variety comes from Dresden. As you walk through the Striezelmarkt you’ll find stands with big men working fresh moist loaves of stollen dough to keep the market stalls well stocked.
5. Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt (“Christmas Market”)
The Nuremberg Christmas market is the mac daddy of all German Christmas markets. It’s the biggest in the country and takes up the entire square of Nuremberg’s old town. Although some may say it’s has become a bit commercialized over the years, it still is great fun and features an atmosphere that you have to try hard not to get swept up in. If you’d like to escape the crowds, head over to the Kinderweihnacht (“children’s Christmas market”) and watch children make cookies and other crafts. Even better, join them.
6. Berlin Christmas Markets
In the same way that Berlin doesn’t have just one town center, it also doesn’t have just one main Christmas market. There are an estimated sixty markets spread throughout the city, each one with its own personality, specialties and distinct atmosphere. Many of the neighbourhoods also host their own local markets for one weekend during Advent. The easiest thing to do is to keep an eye out on this Berlin Christmas market schedule to see what’s happening and sample as many as you can while you’re in town. Two of our favourite Berlin Christmas markets include Gendarmenmarkt and Charlottenburg Palace, both for their accessibility, as well as for a bit of tradition in a beautiful setting, especially at night.