The winter holidays are fast approaching; Christmas trees, decorations, toys, gifts, candles and garlands are just a few things that will decorate our houses and will create the fairy-tale atmosphere during this amazing winter season. All of these and much more can be purchased at the Christmas Markets. Besides traditional crafts, hand-carved wooden Christmas decorations, hand-made toys and jewellery, these holiday bazaars are filled with mulled wine, tasty eats and melodious carols. The Christmas season is celebrated in different ways but in almost all European countries. From sunny Barcelona to snowglobe-perfect Vienna and back on home soil at some of the UK's most picturesque cities - stalls will be brimming over with Christmas cheer. Make your Christmas shopping list, pack some warm clothes and enter the competition to discover the most spectacular Christmas markets in Europe.
The largest and most popular Christmas Market in Vienna is Christkindlmarkt. It is located on the large town square between Rathaus (Vienna's City Hall) and Burgtheater. Christkindlmarkt is Vienna's classic and oldest Christmas Market, dating back over seven hundred years, and starting in mid-November and running until Christmas Eve. Being one of the best-known and most visited in Christmas Markets in Europe, the Wiener Christkindlmarkt attracts over 3 million of visitors from all over the world, each year. There are more than 140 stalls, selling items from traditional miniature wooden houses and toys, puppets and gingerbread hearts to leather gear and woollen hats. The delicious aroma of Christmas punch, schnapps sweetened with warm fruit juices, traditional gingerbread, roasted almonds and cream-filled pastries puts everyone in the Christmas mood. The park areas either side of the market feature displays for children, there's a train, and the trees are filled with lights and decorations.
Switzerland's biggest city of Zurich offers a number of Christmas Markets, but the largest is is held in the ShopVille-RailCity right at Zurich’s main railway station, and this year’s market is the 17th of its kind. It is also the largest indoor market in Europe with with about 160 indoor market stalls tempt shoppers with delicious St Nicholas pastries, colorful handcrafted trinkets, butter cookies, mulled Glühwein wine and gourmet chocolates. These stalls take over the ShopVille shopping centre from November 27 to December 24. The biggest attraction of the market is a 50ft Christmas tree decorated with 5,000 Swarovski crystals. In the past, the tree attracted not only admiring glances but the attentions of people wanting a souvenir. However, Max Paatz from Zurich's tourist office warns of the decorations having their own security.
The largest and oldest Christmas Market in Munich dates back to the 14th century and is held annually in the famous Marienplatz - the heart of the old centre, flanked by the grand neo-gothic town hall and filled with hundreds of stalls in the run-up to Christmas. The market opens its stalls on the Friday before the first Advent, when locals together with tourists all come together in the square to watch the Christmas tree light up for the first time. With its over 140 stalls selling the most delicious mug of hot mulled wine, and a lot of Bavarian yummies, including sausages, potato pancakes, glühwein, and delicious gingerbread; also visitors can find a great array of hand-carved wooden Christmas decorations, hand-made toys, glass baubles, keepsakes, jewellery, arts and crafts. Theresienwiese, where locals along with visitors stumble upon the Tollwood festival, a collection of tents offering an exciting program of international DJs, music groups, dramatic performances, live music and art, all related in one way or another to the celebration of culture and Christmas.
4Prague, Czech Republic
There are several fairly low-key and family friendly Czechs Vanocni trh (Christmas Markets) around the wonderful city of Prague. But the biggest is held on the busy Old Town Square. The idyllic Baroque setting of the cobbled square is perfectly suited to a quaint seasonal market. This Market is a favorite among children: there is an animal stable, where they can stroke sheep, goats and a donkey. There is also a large Bethlehem scene depicting Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the Three Kings in a wooden stable. Among the stalls, visitors can find ornaments and holiday decorations, traditional Czech Christmas cookies, tablecloths, Frankincense or the Czech Christmas potpourri called purpura. But visitors come not just to soak in the atmosphere and do a little pre-holiday shopping, they also to try the local culinary delights, including homemade gingerbread, sausages and the ever-popular trdelnik roll. Also there will be plenty of mulled wine (svarak) and Czech beer on tap to help clear your palette.
Dating back to the 16th century, Strasbourg is the oldest Christmas market in France and in Europe. The Ancient Market runs from November 24 to December 31 and is always held in Strasbourg Cathedral Square, with its Gothic towers and famous astronomical clock. During the Christmas season, the enchanting stalls selling glass paintings, marquetry, music boxes, embroidered tablecloths and earthenware pottery are assaulted annually by over 1.6 million of visitors. The drink and food stalls will tempt with traditional bredle cakes, mulled wine, spiced bread and, of course, foie gras. The Christmas Tree is set on Place Kléber. Other places well worth a visit are the skating rink on Place du Château and La Petite France, an area of picturesque buildings with Christmas shops and a gingerbread bakery. There's even an array of Christmas music being performed around the city, including a traditional performance of Handel's Messiah.
One of the most modern Christmas Markets can be bound in Brussels. The first edition took place in 2000; since then, the Grand Place and Place St. Catherine’s area - hosts approximately 240 wooden chalets bursting with Christmas ornaments, handicraft items and other seasonal gastronomic trests. The food and drink stalls attract visitors with mulled wine, mountains of Belgian chocolates, steaming plates of moules or steamed snails, jars of preserved fruits and hard gingerbread shaped like Santa. The Brussels Christmas market runs from the last weekend in November to the 2nd of January. Other attraction are the Fish Market which is transformed into a temporary ice rink, a skating rink, a Big Wheel (Ferris wheel) and ice dinosaur monster. Choirs, processions, troupes of wandering artists, bands and concerts complete the holiday ambiance.
Copenhagen's delightful Christmas Market takes place annually in the romantic, 19th-century Tivoli Gardens – the oldest amusement park in Europe. The Copenhagen Christmas Market runs from Mid-November to December 30. In the land of Hans Christian Andersen you will find a Christmas market that is just as magical. The beautiful Tivoli Gardens have a fairytale atmosphere, with hundreds of Christmas trees, thousands of lights, fairground rides and buildings, including the Glass Hall, Pagoda and Concert Hall. The main lake is transformed into an outdoor ice skating rink, where visitors can hire skates. Braziers keep the chill at bay outside while glögg - a Danish mulled wine mixed with liquor and spices keep the insides warm. There are about 70 brightly decorated stalls selling everything from Danish crafts including knitwear, sheepskin rugs, wooden furniture, silver jewellery and hand-painted candles.
Tallinn Christmas Market is one of the youngest in Europoe; it’s only been running since 1991. But its fairy-tale atmosphere and romantic appeal is unique throughout the whole world. The Christmas Market takes place on the picturesque Raekoja plats, the Old Town Hall Square, a cobbled expanse dominated by the 15th-centry Town Hall, although all the surrounding buildings are chocolate-box charming. At the heart of it all - apart from Santa and his reindeers - i s Estonia's most famous Christmas tree, surrounded by many stalla selling felted wool hats and slippers, buckwheat pillows, wooden bowls, wickerwork, elaborate quilts, ceramic and glassware, little sea-grass animals, homemade candles, wreaths and other decorations. Traditional Estonian holiday food is also served: pork, sauerkraut and blood sausages, hot soups, stir-fries, gingerbread, marzipan, cookies, nuts and sweets. A cultural programme is held as part of the market every weekend and on special days, with performances by song and dance groups and choirs from different counties.
Christmas Market in Stockholm providing a special cheery festive atmosphere is the oldest and most traditional in Sweden. Sweden’s largest outbreak of Christmassy activity takes place from November 24 to December 23 and is located in the heart of the Old Town (Gamla Stan) at Stortorget square (close to the Royal Palace). This market has been held in Stortorget since 1915, and the little red stalls sell Swedish Christmas sweets, smoked sausages, reindeer- and elkmeat and other delicacies, glögg (mulled wine) and a range of Swedish handicrafts and decorative arts of high-quality workmanship. You can ward off the chill by lingering by one of the braziers dotted around, nipping into one of the cafes or visiting the toasty glass-blowing workshop.
Of all Christmas Markets in Barcelona, Fira de Santa Llúcia is the biggest and the most popular. Fira de Santa Llucia market dates back to 1786, packing it full of culture and tradition. The one-stop market for all your Christmas decorations and trees, located in the front of the Barcelona's Cathedral, runs from 26 November to 22 December 2011. It is a must-see during Christmas time, its 283 stalls selling tons of handmade gifts, figurines for nativity scenes, and plenty of traditional Christmas decorations has something to offer every visitor. It is also a place to buy your Christmas Caga Tio - a log with a friendly face that is an important part of Catalan Christmases. Many performers and other activities are available throughout the market, but change day by day. The look and feel of the market is very traditional, with an updated and modern twist.