By Laura Orange, travelocafe.com
The sweet smell of mulled wine, gingerbread, sausages and scrumptious roast chestnuts lingers in the air and the crisp air will make your fingers tingle as you walk the streets soaked up in festive atmosphere. From food and drinks to hand crafted toys, tree decorations, hand-made candles and blown glass angels, Europe’s best Christmas markets offer something for everyone and they are an opportunity to create long lasting memories.
Christmas markets are any shopaholic’s dream. But even if you hate shopping, you will find it easy to buy Christmas presents for your loved ones at the Christmas markets, since there are plenty of options one stall after another. Once you are done shopping, you can go on a food pilgrimage or ice-skating or simply be mesmerized by the sound of Christmas carols.
Many of Europe’s best Christmas markets are to be found within a relatively short train ride from each other. Take for example Cologne and Strasbourg. It takes barely over 3 hours with a change in Karlsruhe to get from what is arguably the best German Christmas market to the oldest and best Christmas market in France; or just one hour and 17 minutes in TGV from Strasbourg to Stuttgart.
Cologne hosts seven Christmas Markets spread throughout the city. The most famous one is the one held in the shadow of the impressive Gothic cathedral, the largest in Northern Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site. However, you might find the Gnome’s Christmas Market even more charming, while the kids will definitely love the Village of St Nicholas best. As crazy as it seems, Cologne even hosts a Gay and Lesbian Christmas market!
In the last years, Strasbourg has been known as the Capital of Christmas. With 11 Christmas markets held in different city squares, it’s hard to deny it this title. The festive atmosphere is amazing, with buildings covered in teddies and candy canes and streets bathes in glittering lights. Strasbourg is also the place where escargot meets the bratwurst and this makes it a special place to enjoy delicacies from two different cultures.
Back in Germany, Stuttgart’s Christmas Market is one of the most festive ones. There’s little that can prepare you for the incredibly decorated rooftops of the chalets (or for the crowds, as a matter of fact!). While great care is taken for the merchandise to be locally produced and if possible hand-made, the vendors also engage in chalet decorating competitions, which makes this market even more special. Next to the market you will also find an ice ring and one of the best model railways you’ve ever seen.