Europe In Winter: Favorite Holiday Markets
Author: Family Travel Forum StaffTags : Christmas Holiday, City Break, Couples, England, Europe, Featured, Kids, Multigen, Museums & Culture, Teens, Winter Getaway
Despite the chill winds and snowflakes, the holiday fun radiating from the tents and stalls of Europe's Christmas Markets is enough to make visitors feel welcomed and toasty warm. Here's our pick of the very best places in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Great Britain and Austria to celebrate the season with kids at great European Christmas Markets. This tradition is so big in Germany, that German Christmas Markets have their own review.
During winter, in towns large and small, picturesque city squares are filled with musicians on balconies and choirs on church steps. Each evening from mid-November until early January, families can dine and shop outdoors the way locals do. At booths decorated in evergreen bowers and twinkling lights, parents can enjoy mulled wine while kids comb the stalls searching for the perfect gift: a nutcracker, a hand-painted creche, or a cake baked with loving care.
Starting from the largest and most glorious of destination Christmas Markets that you could center your whole trip around (Gothenburg, Sweden), to weekend affairs that make a great complement to other sightseeing (London Markets) here's a look at what's happening over the winter holidays.
Sweden Christmas Markets
Gothenburg (Göteborg), Sweden's second largest city, home of Volvo and Hasselblad, is also the No. 1 city when it comes to Christmas celebrations. According to their tourism office, more than 1.5 million visitors arrive each year during the late November to mid-December period when the city is decked out in all its glory. At its Liseberg amusement park location, they've figured out how to do things in a really big way; plan to be overwhelmed by the 700 evergreens, nearly 4 miles of fir garlands, and 5 million sparkling lights extending from the harbor, through town and into the park. This is the largest Christmas market in Scandinavia.
Typically, vendors in 80 stalls and cabins sell arts and crafts such as wooden toys, hand made candles, traditional straw work, traditional foods served by indigenous people from Lapland, pink pigs made of marzipan, lots of mulled wine, and decorated spruce trees. Around the park are reindeer sleigh rides, ice skating shows, light shows, and hundreds of young couples sipping trendy drinks at the Ice Gallery & Bar. Your family will see "guaranteed snow every day" effects. For more information about the Gothenburg / West Sweden region, visit Goteborg tourism. For more information about Sweden and other travel options, search through the Visit Sweden tourism site.
Finland Santaland & Christmas Markets
Finland has gone way beyond the European tradition of town square Christmas markets to promote itself as the home of Santa's hideaway in the North Pole. Over the weekends leading up to Christmas, charter planes with loads of British and other European families fly into Finnish Lapland for just one day, to get a glimpse of Santa, and share their children's Wish List with him.
For Finns though, the Christmas season is especially welcome because events are planned to offset the short daylight hours and cold, cold climate. Families will find special concerts and festive menus everywhere.
Helsinki's Christmas Season typically begins the first week of December and ends a few days before Christmas. The entire Aleksanterinkatu Street is lit up, and Yuletide shoppers peruse beautiful and traditional craft items including fur hats, silver ornaments and wreaths made of woven oat stalks. There are 24 booths at Christmas World in the city's center. Other favorite markets include St. Thomas Christmas Market in Senate Square, the Ladies’ Christmas Market at Wanha Satama in Katajanokka, the Old Student House Christmas Market at Vanha Ylioppilastalo opposite Stockmann’s, and Ornamo’s Design Christmas Market. In addition to art and clothes, delicious edible treats include marzipan animals, gingerbread cookies, Christmas fruitcake and the flakiest prune-filled Christmas tarts imaginable.
The museum village of traditional homes, Seurasaari, is illuminated by candles and has displays about the Finns' ancient traditions. And, your family may spend hours indoors happily exploring beautifully decorated stores such as Stockmann's, Marimekko and Iittala. For more information, see Visit Helsinki Tourism.
Belgium Christmas Markets
Throughout Belgium, a country where chocolate and french fries are the joys of everyday life, the Christmas season begins at the end of November, with the celebration of St. Nicholas. Enjoy marzipan, klaasjes (flat hard cakes) and speculoos (St. Nicholas-shaped gingerbread) at several traditional Christmas markets.
In Brussels, the city center hosts a skating rink within its large Christmas market, which has an illuminated Ferris Wheel and street activities to keep the family busy. Visitors can get lost in the 240 wooden chalets set up around the Bourse (Stock Exchange), Place Sainte Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons (fish market). Each is packed with Christmas ornaments, handicraft items and seasonal gourmet treats. Choirs, processions, bands and concerts complete the holiday ambiance. Of course, chocolate makes a great holiday gift; the gift shop at Brussels' Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate is the place to buy Neuhaus, Godiva and Leonidas confections. And don't forget that a Brussels Greeter will help you shop and introduce your family to the city, at no additional charge.
Bruges in December is the destination for concerts of Christmas and carillon (bell-ringing) music, shops boasting exquisite lacework and more, and the Procession of the Eastern Star parades across the city's canals. In Antwerp and other major towns, the markets run through the first week of January (Three Kings Day), with entertainment provided by jugglers, musicians, painters, poets and musical groups. Many Belgian products, as well as gourmet goodies and crafts from other European countries, are widely available.
Throughout December, you can visit a magical Christmas Village composed of 155 decorated cottages in Liege, and even the tiniest villages (many just a day trip from Brussels) will feature Nativity scenes and holiday concerts. For more information, review the listings on Visit Belgium.
Denmark Christmas Markets
In Denmark, the Christmas season opens early, typically in mid-November, and runs about five weeks till the 21st of December. At Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen's beloved pleasure park, pixies prepare for Christmas and there are more than 50 stalls showcasing hand-made decorations and Christmas gifts. Families will enjoy the Toboggan Run and warming up with mulled red wine and other winter beverages. The decor is inspired by Danish and Scandinavian tradition and live reindeer add to the Christmas scene. There are fireworks nightly between Christmas and New Years.
Tonder, a market town that's reigned near the German border in Jutland for more than 750 years, hosts a marvelous Christmas market as does Horsens in southeast Jutland. At Den Gamle By, the living history site comprising 75 historic houses in Aarhus, costumed re-enactors create the spirit of Christmas' past. While holiday music can be heard at churches and cathedrals all over Denmark in December, Copenhagen shines bright this season, too. For more information, look at Visit Denmark.
Great Britain Christmas Markets
In much of Great Britain, the Christmas Markets are weekend affairs. The largest and most popular York Christmas Market takes place annually at the City Square in St. Nicholas Fayre beginning the last week in November. Nestled amongst castles, cobblestone streets and medieval buildings, the unique ambiance creates a picture-perfect setting for shoppers to browse a variety of antiques, crafts, gifts and local produce.
The Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market is overtaken by 2 million visitors a year, who roam Victoria Square and Upper New Street enjoying the largest authentic German Christmas market outside of Germany or Austria. It runs from mid-November to late December inspired by the great one in its sister city, Frankfurt. The market has stalls with a variety of gifts including ceramics, candles, glasswork, jewellery and Christmas decorations. A number of stalls also feature traditional German items such as wooden toys, nativity scenes and marionettes.
Scotland visitors can enjoy the Edinburgh German Christmas Market at Princes Street Gardens, nestled near the historic castle in Edinburgh, where a Christmas market, ice-skating rink, big wheel and carousel add festive excitement from late November to the end of December. Traditional festivities held each year include The Light Night, the Traditional German Christmas Market, Santa's Reindeer Garden, The Edinburgh Wheel, The Great Scottish Santa Run and Winter Wonderland, creating a Christmas experience that the whole family can enjoy. They serve authentic gluhwein too. For more information and current event schedules, see the Visit Britain resources.
Austria Christmas Markets
The holiday lights in the Austrian capital illuminate Vienna from mid-November until right after Christmas. You and your family can find well over 10 Christmas markets to marvel at. Romantics are drawn to festivities in the more charming Spittelburg district where one can find mulled wines, sweet treats and warm knitted goods. Belvedere Castle, one of Vienna's most recognizable buildings, is home to a Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz (front of Schonbrunn Palace) full of regional crafts, unique gifts and of course, some of the finest culinary delights. For traditional handicrafts and Christmas music head for the Old Viennese Christmas Market on the Freyung or the Am Hof Christmas Market. Beautiful handmade gifts can also be picked up at the Arts and Crafts Market in front of Karlskirche, where kids love to play in the straw around the petting zoo or visit the candle-making workshop.
Vienna's City Hall or Rathausplatz hosts Christkindlmarkt, arguably the city's most famous Christmas Market and one that is a must-see for all families. Held from mid-November until Christmas Eve, one can find countless ways to get lost among 150 booths sharing the intoxicating Christmas spirit. For even more family activities in the city of Vienna this winter, visit the Vienna Austria tourism information site.