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Magical step back in time

Century-old Christmas Markets

September 6, 2020

Something happens at this time of year all across Europe, especially in Germany. Pretty little stalls huddle together, filled with glistening decorations, handmade figurines, and local produce. The sounds of children’s laughter, sleigh bells, and choir singers fill the night air while mouth-watering aromas of sizzling bratwurst, gingerbread, and toasted almond waft through the stalls. For centuries, Christmas markets brought cheer to weary villagers and added a touch of light and color to the long winter nights.

Christmas Chapel, by Art In Voyage
Gingerbread Christmas Ornaments, by Art In Voyage
Warm glass of red mulled wine dried oranges resting in the thick snow, by Art In Voyage
Strasbourg, Alsace, France - Capitale de Noel, by Art In Voyage
Frankfurt christmas market, by Art In Voyage

Some background

Our story begins in the late Middle Ages, in parts of the former Holy Roman Empire. The forefather to Christmas markets is thought to be Vienna’s Dezembermarkt, December Market, dating back to around 1296. The Emperor granted shopkeepers the right to hold a market for a day or two, in early winter, so that townspeople could stock up on supplies to last through the cold months. Winter markets began to spring up all over Europe. Over time, local families started setting up stalls to sell baskets, toys, and woodcarvings alongside others selling almonds, roasted chestnuts, and gingerbread. These items were often bought as gifts to give away at Christmas time. It was the winter markets that eventually became known as Christmas Markets—the earliest of which are claimed to be in Germany, Munich, around 1310.

Today, leading up to Christmas, most towns of moderate sizes across the German-speaking world have a Christmas market. Several cities in the UK, US, and Canada also hold Christmas markets, where visitors can enjoy traditional foods like Zwetschgenmännle (figures made of decorated dried plums), Nussknacker (carved Nutcrackers), Gebrannte Mandeln (candied, toasted almonds), and freshly-grilled Bratwurst. Favorite beverages include Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and Eierpunsch (an egg-based warm alcoholic drink).

Christmas bauble depicting snowy German street, by Art In Voyage
Christmas Market at Opernpalais at Mitte in Winter Berlin, by Art In Voyage
Ludwigsburg Palaces, Germany by Art In Voyage
Christmas Market in the old town, by Art In Voyage
Annaberg-Buchholz christmas market, by Art In Voyage

Germany

No matter how cold the weather is, you’ll find locals across Germany, strolling around looking for the perfect wooden ornament with a super-sweet Glühwein in hand which is plentiful in supply. Glühwein is Germanys favorite Christmas drink. It’s a mulled wine – their culture’s custom and a must-try.

There are many Christmas markets in the beautiful city of Munich. Marienplatz is the granddaddy of all Christmas markets in Munich and is right in the center of town. The enormous Christmas tree, dressed up with lights, makes it hard to miss. There is also live music every evening at 5.30 pm on the balcony of the town hall.

Stuttgart’s Christmas market is among the most popular in Germany and only one of the festive highlights in the area. Several markets in the city and nearby towns take you to the Nordics and the Middle Ages. Ludwigsburg Baroque Christmas Market, in Stuttgart’s neighboring town, is worth a visit if you’re in the area. The grand Baroque palace from the early 18th century would be reason enough, however, during the Advent season, the city celebrates with a themed Christmas market, too. Antique Christmas tree ornaments set the tone, and vendors indulge the guests with traditional foods.

From the oldest markets in town to the authentic or more modern options, Berlin’s best Christmas markets, make the most of the festive season.  While bathed in specially designed light concepts, visitors to the market can delight in a daily show, that starts at 7.30 pm, with a program ranging from Drag Bingo, rock, and classical concerts to the market’s Face of Christmas Avenue show.

Church of Ramsau, Bavaria, by Art In Voyage
Bavaria christmas market, by Art In Voyage
Christmas market, decorations, Germany, by Art In Voyage
Traditional decorations, Germany, by Art In Voyage
Christmas tree, Germany, by Art In Voyage

Bavaria

Bavaria, officially the Free State of Bavaria, is a landlocked state of Germany, occupying its southeastern corner. The state of Bavaria is not only known for Oktoberfest and The Neuschwanstein Castle but it also showcases some of the best Christmas markets in the country.

The Augsburg Christkindlesmarkt has a 500-year-long tradition and is considered one of Germany’s dreamiest Christmas experiences. Evergreen garlands and the smell of roast almonds guide you through the market alleys while you shop for handcrafted gifts and souvenirs while your eyes and water mouths sample some delicious food. On the weekend, the facade of the City Hall transforms into an oversized Advent calendar, when 24 angel figurines appear and perform the Engelsspiel, this is a 37-year-long tradition, the angels stand on the balconies over the town, raising their horns and playing their music to those who have come to visit the towns square.

Every year, the charming town of Lindau by Lake Constance puts on a beautiful Christmas market along the harbor promenade. Picturesque views are guaranteed, whichever way you look. A mug of mulled wine or punch is the best way to keep warm while you stroll around the elaborately decorated huts with old town Christmas lights.

Nuremberg is among the top destinations for Christmas markets in Europe. The traditional Christkindlesmarkt dates back to 1628 and still works its charm on locals and visitors alike. You can spend hours browsing the handcrafted lanterns and sculptures, soaps, beeswax candles, jewelry, and toys. Here you will be sure to find a gift or souvenirs for any friends and family at home.

Be sure to grab a Christmas pickle in one of these magical markets. Germans love their pickles, so much so that Spreewalde Pickles are actually protected under the EU as a special commodity. Pickles have nestled themselves into the traditional German décor. Specifically, the gurke, which hangs on the Christmas tree. In some regions of Germany, it is the final piece of decoration.

salzburg winter time, by Art In Voyage
Christmas market booth, Austria by Art In Voyage
krampusrun, bavaria, by Art In Voyage
Town Hall, Vienna, by Art In Voyage
Basel, Switzerland - Christmas Market, by Art In Voyage

Austria

With its fairy tale thrills and traditions dating back to the Middle Ages, Austria, along with Germany,  is where Christmas markets all began.

Innsbruck Old Town Square has the scent of fried kiachl which is a sweet and savory doughnut,  that wafts over stalls filled with old crafts and spiced biscuits. Here is where the annual ‘Krampus run’ takes place. You can see the festive devils of Alpine folklore let loose on the mountain slopes. The Krampus run dates back some 500 years. On the eve of St. Nicholas Day, the “Klabaufs” would march through villages scaring children who misbehaved with whips and ropes, while the kind St. Nicholas would hand out sweets and presents to those who had been good.

Vienna Christmas markets tend to be on the grand side. The Capital of Austria effortlessly encourages you to enjoy the boutique jewelry and ceramics stalls that cluster in the Baroque shadow of Belvedere Palace that stretches to the imperial pomp of the Schönbrunn Palace. This delightfully captures the senses of jazz concerts and gallons of spiced weihnachtspunsch, a local take on glühwein. The city of Mozart hits all the right notes.

Salzburg’s Christkindl market is a fairy tale incarnate, the choirs make their stand in the glow of the cathedral, where stalls of crafts, traditional toys, and sweets scatter the cinnamon-scented square. It was here that the city’s first Christmas market was held, back in the late 1400s, but it isn’t the only game in town these days. Head to the far-flung district of Hellbrunn, a scenic 30-minute bus ride from the center, is reindeer-pulled sleds and the advent calendar is projected onto its 17th-century palace.

Bern,old town,by Art In Voyage.
Kids and pastry, Swizerland, by Art In Voyage
Christmas tree, Switzerland, by Art In Voyage
Snow Globe, Switzerland, by Art In Voyage
Market lights, Switzerland, by Art In Voyage

Switzerland

When the winter season comes and the first snows of the season fall, Switzerland really kicks it up a notch, especially when it comes to Christmas markets.

The whole of Zurich, from the old town to the railway station embraces the Christmas spirit. When strolling along the famous Bahnhofstrasse, the city’s premier shopping street, it takes you to the Werdmühleplatz market, where the highlight is a giant, singing tree that bursts into spontaneous song. You can also take in some Christmas cheer at the railway station where a huge 50 ft tree sparkles with Swarovski crystals. This opens from November 23 to December 24.

Basel’s Münsterplatz is transformed into a winter forest that children will simply love. They can craft their own candles, guzzle down hot chocolate and decorate gingerbread, and much more. Basel’s Christmas market is known to be one of the prettiest in the whole of Switzerland.

Every year in Bern, Switzerland’s capital becomes an understated, yet beautiful winter wonderland. At the Waisenhausplatz, the air is sweet with the scent of Swiss treats such as glühwein, raclette, and roasted chestnuts and you can pick up traditional crafts. Raclette is a Swiss dish, a semi-hard cheese that is usually fashioned into a wheel of about 6 kg. The dish is based on heating the cheese and scraping off the melted part.

In 2021, Art In Voyage will take its Christmas Market journey there, and will reproduce a similar experience. Of course, we can always create an exclusive/private journey as well.