Every year from late November until a few days before Christmas, more than 2,500 Christmas markets pop up across Germany alone. They appear in the large cities like Frankfurt and Berlin, and enchanted centres like Heidelberg and quaint romantic towns like Rüdesheim. Their popularity has touched many other European countries and even North America.
A Little Backgrounder on the Christmas Market
In spite of the event’s name known as Christkindlmarkt, Weihnachtsmarkt, Nikolausmarkt and a number others, you don’t need to be German to revel in this Old World celebration. Some of its oldest roots trace back to the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, which began in 1545. There, local tradesmen lined the streets and sold their homemade Christmas ornaments, decorations, and gifts. Traditional German handicrafts at the markets included hand carved nutcrackers, wooden figures, crafted toys, cuckoo clocks, straw ornaments and blown glass ornaments. Christmas Markets became a festive meeting place for people. Food and beverages served were produced in each of the market’s region, so each town’s offerings were a little different. Today, Germany’s Christmas markets offer traditional delights for the senses: aromas of spiced mulled wine, feuerzangenbowle (where a rum- soaked sugarloaf is set on fire and drips into mulled wine), gingerbread and sausage, fill the air as you wander through the finger-tingling cold streets, soaking up the festive atmosphere.
Our favorite Old World Christmas Markets
If you’ve ever wanted to experience the wonderful wintertime charm of the old world, there is no better place than Frankfurt’s Christmas Market, which is held in the historical old town that is bathed in a sea of brightly illuminated fairy lights reflecting off the windows of the square’s traditional half-timbered houses. The scent of baked apples, chestnuts, gingerbread and mulled wine fills the air.
Just a little over an hour away by train from Frankfurt, sits the enchanted city of Heidelberg. Against the romantic backdrop of the Heidelberg Castle and nestled in its Old Town is Heidelberg’s Christmas Market. The scents of spiced gluhwein (mulled wine), roasted almonds, cinnamon and hot chestnuts waft through the winding alleyways of the Old Town. The beautiful setting radiates Christmas magic.
To the south west of Frankfut, an hour and twenty minute train ride takes you to one of our favorite Christmas Market destinations; Rüdesheim on the Rhine River. Nestled between Bromser Castle and St. Jakobus Church, the market fosters a truly a romantic spirit. On of our favorite ways of getting there though is on a Rhine River Cruise boat, as the immediate vicinity is astonishingly beautiful with many castles, vineyards and quint little towns along the way that make this cruise particularly memorable.
Prague, Czech Republic
Germany is not the only country in Europe that embraces the Christmas Market. The Christmas markets in Prague, Czech Republic are outstanding. They light up the city, bringing everyone together to share in the spirit, in a true winter wonderland setting. The main markets are at the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, which are about a 5-minute walk from each other. There are of course many other markets in the city but these two are our favorites. Like other Christmas markets you’ll find a variety of food and beverages, from traditional Czech food such as barbecued pork and blood sausages, Czech muffins and other pastries, along with the Czech’s version of hot wine called svarene vino or svarak which is a real treat to help handle the cold weather.
A look at the New World Christmas Markets – The Christmas Market concept that has spread throughout Europe and now to North America.
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Sharing the traditions inspired by Germany’s renowned Christmas Markets is the Christkindlmarket Chicago. The market is right downtown in the Chicago Loop, and has become so popular and loved by everyone there that any Chicagoan will tell you that they could not imagine the city without it. It’s been said that the Christkindlmarket Chicago is no longer just a German tradition; it has become a Chicago institution. We travelled to the market two weeks ago and were thrilled with how many people embrace it and the energy and spirit there. The market that started in 1995 now attracts over a million people each year.
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Closer to home, the Vancouver open-air Christmas festival is celebrating 6 years of tradition this year. We love to visit the Christmas Market often. It’s a great gathering place and a festive way to get into the Christmas holiday spirit.
Just like we experienced in the old world markets of Germany and the Czech Republic, food is central to the celebrations, and you’ll find vendors selling sweet treats, such as chocolates, cakes, pastries, cookies and candies. We were delighted to have feasted on bratwursts, schnitzels from Das Schnitzelhaus, a must go to, favourite of ours. As with the other markets, the air fills with the smells of Gluehwein and Feuerzangenbowle. If a hot drink is not to your liking, then try any of the authentic German Krombacher beer, along with a warm, soft pretzel from the Brezelhaus.
A great way to round out your time at the market is by enjoying a freshly baked traditional waffle topped with either cherries, whipped cream, maple syrup or chocolate!