Christmas Markets

Many tourists think about visiting Europe in the summer. The weather is warm, attractions are open, and cities are bustling. I won’t deny the amazingness that is a European summer but a time that is often overlooked and should be reconsidered for a visit is winter. To me, there is no better way to spend a chilly winter day than bundling up, finding some friends, and heading to a Christmas market. We have been to just a few (and would love to hit a few more next year), so I’ll try to hit the highlights.

Brussels, Belgium

This is a market with more of a “city” feel but still a great one, especially if you are hungry. This market has booths down the length of Place Saint Catherine and has now extended into the pedestrian area surrounding the Bourse as well as near Rue Neuve in front of the opera house. We find that this market lacks the traditional crafts & goods that you could buy as gifts, but is a GREAT way to do a walking dinner. There are plenty of places to stop for a warm beverage like gluhwein or hot chocolate or tartiflette (a warm, comforting potato dish that is a little scoop of heaven). The thing we always look forward to seeing is the amazing merry go round in Saint Catherine’s square. In the US, we have horses that go up and down. In Belgium, these kids ride rockets that go through the canopy of the merry go round, giant insects with working wings, and trains that blow real smoke out of the engine. We love standing with a hot wine and watching the kids delight in the creativity of the ride. I also get a little jealous that I didn’t grow up here and get to experience this for myself.

Aachen, Germany

Each year, the school I teach at organizes a day trip to 2 Christmas markets. It is so easy to sign up and then ride the bus and not have to worry about any of the details. One of the markets was in Aachen, Germany. This market was adorable and quaint. There were plenty of booths to purchase gifts from (scarves, hats, candles, wooden goods, etc) and plenty of gluhwein opportunities. Highlights for me in a German market are always bratwurst/currywurst and other roasted meats. We had a great time with friends despite the rain and spent some time warming up in a bar with a deck of cards and some Christmas beer.

Liege, Belgium

Liege has a city market much like the St Catherine market. It is right in the center of town and although it is broken into 3 areas, they are each very accessible. They are also in the same area as the big shops (H&M, Hema, WE, etc) if you want to do more modern holiday shopping. I enjoyed a delicious cup of vegetable broth for only a euro and there are gorgeous flame-roasted salmon stations that should not be ignored. There are also excellent crepe and tartiflette offerings here as well. We especially enjoyed the different musical performances around the market and stopped to listen to a few bands near the opera shopping area.

Koln, Germany

This is our favorite market (or should I say markets) so far. The Christmas market in Koln is actually divided into 7 separately themed markets. Our favorite is the Dom market (under the shadow of the cathedral) and the Gnome market. 2 years in a row we have tried (but failed) at making a reservation to practice our curling skills on the ice rink there so if anyone has tips on that, we’d love to do it next year. Among the other themes are angels, nautical, LGBTQ, and Santa. The Dom market is the most traditional market with the widest offering of dishes (apple fritters, potato fritters, brats, etc). You have to do a bit of walking around town to get to all 7 so I recommend setting an entire day aside for this one. Bundle up and wear lots of layers as you will be outside all day! If you want to warm up (a little bit), go inside the Dom as it has some of the most unique stained glass I have seen in European cathedrals, a crypt downstairs, and a bell tower you can climb.

 

We are hoping to try a few markets in Austria next year and others in Germany. Have you been to a traditional Christmas market? What is your favorite part? If you haven’t been, maybe consider coming for a winter visit and we can show you around!