When Christmas comes to Europe, can Christmas markets be far behind?
It is that time of the year again! Twinkling lights, wooden huts, the aroma of roasted chestnuts and glühwein wafting through the frosty night. Yes, it is the Christmas season. If you happen to be in any part of Europe at this time of the year, it is highly likely that you have a Christmas Market (or two) in the vicinity. Eindhoven News brings you a handy guide to navigating a Christmas Market or more in style this year.
Take your pick…
With more than a hundred Christmas Markets to choose from in Europe, there are quite a few unique ones that can be visited easily from Eindhoven. We bring you the top three that are truly special and, at the same time, can be reached in under 90 minutes from our city. Most Christmas markets coincide with the Advent calendar and end on Christmas day. But many are open earlier or for longer and it is a good idea to check the official websites before you travel.
- Aachen: The historical city centre transforms into a Christmas wonderland with the majestic Cathedral as the centrepiece. More than 1.5 million visitors visit the Aachen Christmas Market every year. It is being quoted as one of the top ten Christmas Markets in Europe. The Aachner Printen biscuit (a.k.a Christmas cookie) is a must-try in these markets as they are tailor-made for Aachen and for Christmas. If you visit only one market, then choose this one. After all, German Christmas Markets are the real deal. Check out dates and more details here.
- Valkenburg: Visit the Christmas Markets in Valkenburg for something quite out of the ordinary. Perhaps, the only Christmas Market where a large portion of the stalls is located in the historic underground caves. While you can pick up the usual Christmas merchandise here, make your visit for the impressive ‘Christmas in a Cave’ experience. Valkenburg also hosts multiple Christmas programmes and parades during this season. Read more on this website and plan your visit.
3. Amsterdam: The Dutch capital has no dearth of Christmas Markets and you can be assured of a lovely time visiting these. We recommend that you head to the Ice Village Christmas Market on the Museumplein. With the lovely Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum as the backdrop, you can visit the glittering stalls or go ice skating. Feast on some delectable poffertjes or oliebollen and have a truly gezellig time while you pick up some nice Christmas gifts. Browse through all the happenings before you travel.
Bring your scarves, gloves & cash: Dress warmly and in layers so you are equipped to spend quite a while enjoying the Christmas markets. Trust me, you would not want to leave in a hurry. It can be biting cold and hence those extra warm socks and accessories will really come handy. If you are looking for a warmer option, visit the Valkenburg cave markets. A good tip is to have some cash in hand as many stalls accept only cash, though these days, the trend is changing.
Be an early bird: Most Christmas markets are open from late morning till late evening. While it is true that the markets come alive and are best enjoyed after dark, it can get pretty crowded too. Cologne and Aachen Christmas markets are renowned for the visitors they pull and so if you have these on the agenda, plan well and start early. Weekdays are also less crowded and an alternative to consider.
Soak up the atmosphere: Nothing can beat the experience of strolling through the heavily decorated Christmas markets taking in the sights and lights, listening to the music, stage performances and the smell of local food and glühwein. Young and old are guaranteed a great time and be sure to spend a few hours just wandering around and getting into the Christmas spirit. The Strasbourg Christmas market has been quoted as one of the prettiest and most decorated markets in Europe. Did you know that the Christmas song ‘Silent Night’ originated near Salzburg and a visit to one of the markets here can be a dream come true?
Buy some Christmas knick-knacks: Browse through the cosy wooden huts selling all kinds of hand-made Christmas decorations, nutcrackers (in the form of king, soldier et al.), ornaments, clothing and Santas. The German markets are a must if you are looking for wooden or tin toys while the glass and candle stalls are sure to melt your heart. The Austrian markets are best to pick up snow globes or a decorative crib. The Käthe Wohlfahrt stalls in the German markets are a must explore and you will be mesmerised by what they have on their displays.
Go on a fun ride: Most Christmas markets have enchanting carousels and even a decorated Ferris wheel. Take a ride to get a bird’s eye view of the entire lit upmarket area in all its glory. Some Christmas markets are hosted in fairgrounds and then it is double fun for everyone. If you happen to be in Copenhagen at this time of the year, do not miss the Christmas market at the Tivoli Gardens. What with the market stalls and Christmas themed rides, you will never want to leave!
Take some lovely pictures: Capture your memories through some amazing pictures. After all, you have the best props all around with lights and colourful decorations. Many Christmas markets have machines where you can take selfies and you can print out postcards with your picture blended into the festive images. They are lovely souvenirs with the name of the market and the year also printed in the picture postcard. They are usually very nominally priced and you even get a copy of your postcard in your email!
We could dedicate one whole article on this due to the sheer variety of the local food that one can have in the Christmas markets. While there may be regional specialities and mostly dominated by the German variety, there are some Christmas market staples that you can find everywhere.
Sausages (wurst) are definitive must-haves in a German Christmas market. You will be amazed by the variety as these come in all sizes, forms, toppings and accompaniments. If you are in Nuremberg, check out the baby ones and you will not be disappointed! Thuringian sausages, bratwurst and Currywurst are also hugely popular with visitors.
All things potato are not to be missed. Katoffelpuffer is a fried potato pancake and mouthwatering, to say the least. Served with applesauce or other accompaniments, you will see practically everyone munching on this. Potato dumplings, crisps on skewers are also other variations.
Lebkuchen is the heart-shaped cookie or gingerbread that you will see adorning most stalls. Cinnamon, fruit, nuts and frosting are a staple of these melt-in-your-mouth cookies and are definite sweet snacks to snap up. In Aachen, you can see the Aachner Printen in the mix.
Roasted chestnuts are synonymous with Christmas. If you do not try the chestnuts roasted over the open fire in the Christmas markets, then you are really missing something. In some markets, they give you these roasted chestnuts in cute two pocket pouches. One pouch will be empty and is for throwing the skin in. Such a clever innovation!
Sugar and spice are so abundant in Christmas markets that you are in danger of running out of your sweet tooth. From Stollen (dense raisin infused Christmas cake), waffles, ice cream with applesauce, schaumkuss (chocolate bonbons), oliebollen, poffertjes – the list goes on and on. One very unique delicacy to try is the baumstriezel or the Chimney cake – a Hungarian pastry baked and rolled like a chimney and coated with cinnamon sugar.
Savoury treats are firm favourites and if you can still make some room then try the mushrooms, potato pasta with fermented cabbage juliennes (Schupfnudeln with Sauerkraut) or the Flammkuchen pizzas. Pretzels, egg noodles (Spätzle) also feature in most markets.
Drink to this and that for the number one reason to visit a Christmas market is, perhaps, glühwein! Glühwein is hot mulled wine with a heady mix of spices and will leave you feeling very warm. Glögg – the Scandinavian version is also quite a hit. The non-alcoholic kinderpunsch is hot apple cider and is equally delicious. Hot chocolate with cream are also available for the kids (and elders).
DO NOT MISS
Take home a Christmas market souvenir mug. When you order a drink in the markets, you are served in one of these cute mugs which come complete with the inscription of the market name and year. You have to pay a very nominal deposit for these lovely mugs which are made of glass, ceramic or clay when you buy the drinks. This is called a Pfand and is under three Euros, usually. If you forfeit your deposit, the mug is yours! And what a great keepsake! For one, they come in all sorts of deep colours, shapes and designs plus they are an eco-friendly collectable that will remind you of the smashing time you had at the Christmas market!
For Eindhoven News: Muktha Kartik Iyer