Wow, it was just summer and now we’re rushing to ping our expat network across Europe to update our curated list of Christmas markets!
For 2018/2019, we again reached out to dozens of expats and everyone turns out to have some valuable tips about the worthy Christmas markets we inadvertently left off our lists in 2015 through last year. Also, we added markets we attended last year and deleted some of the smaller ones. (All the times and details are updated for this Christmas season.)
Finally, we’re headed for Christmas markets this year from Düsseldorf to Ghent, so this post will be updated.
You always have to keep an open mind in Amsterdam, right? Well, the Christmas Market at Ice*Village Amsterdam is unlike any Christmas market we’ve been to. (There really is an asterisk in Ice*Village, by the way.) Strictly speaking, it’s not really a “Christmas market” in the sense of Colmar or Nuremburg. The Ice*Village version is more of a hipster Christmas market. Or at least a Bohemian Christmas market.
So, what makes a hipster Christmas market?
• Lots of funky apparel including those thick wool hoodies from the Andes my teenage daughters call “drug rugs.” Oh, and man jewelry.
• Locals wearing funky apparel including drug rugs, scarves and those wool caps from the Andes. And that one woman wearing the goggles. (See the photos above.)
• Artisan sausages and pork belly at a food stall with no identifying signs or menus, but a line a mile long.
• Original art instead of those goofy cowhide rugs and leather pants at the other Christmas markets we went to last year.
• And all the signs were in hipster English, including one that read, “Don’t panic; it’s organic!” Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re in Boston or Amsterdam.
This is just one of the Amsterdam region’s multiple Christmas markets. But it’s a good one, and it’s right in front of the Rijksmuseum and that big white “I amSterdam” sign everyone loves to climb on.
Ice*Village, the skating rink itself, runs from 17 November to 3 February in front of the Rijksmuseum on Museumplein. Anyone can tell you where this is. The Christmas Market is open from 14 December to 26 December.
Open daily from 10 am to 9 pm
- Sunday to Thursday: 10:00 – 21:00
- Friday and Saturday: 10:00 – 22:00
- December 24 the ice rink closes at 17:00
- December 31 open until 1:00 am (closed between 6:00 & 8:00 pm)
- January 1 opened from 12:00
It’s 6.50 euros to enter the rink, and 6.50 euros to rent skates.
We finally made it to Antwerp on Christmas Eve, 2018 and the Christmas Market (billed as “Winter in Antwerp“) is great … and all over the place. Like so many big cities, the Antwerp Christmas Markets are in multiple locations across the city, though within a quick walk of one another. It’s like a Christmas Market trail that goes from Groenplaats to Grote Markt and Steenplein. And no, we didn’t make it to all the different squares including the mega-Ferris Wheel on the water… yet.
The main draw is the unique skating rink that’s built around a statue of Flemish master Peter Paul Rueben, Antwerp’s native son. This market is in Groenplaats in the shadow of the iconic Cathedral of Our Lady and has a cluster of stalls and several places to get food and drink. On Christmas Eve, the rink was VERY crowded and very festive. It was fun to see the families from Antwerp’s famous Lubavitcher community skating to schmaltzy American Christmas music alongside Muslims and Christians. Not a bad thing these days ….
Just south of the skating rink is another Christmas market in front of the Hilton Hotel Old Town and next to the City Hall that’s currently under construction. This one has more booths and a couple of places to get cocktails or Christmas drinks.
While the Antwerp Christmas market isn’t as grand as Strasbourg or as high-end as Basel or Trier, the setting is sublime in the Old City. If you’re coming by train, be sure to savor the walk from the grand central station down through the shopping streets to the Old City, which takes about 20 minutes.
You can still make this one as it’s open until 6 January. And yes, we’ll be returning with friends because this is a fun, festive market in one of the loveliest cities in Europe.
The Antwerp market is open now through 6 January.
• Monday till Thursday: midday until 22:00
• Friday and Saturday: midday until midnight
• Sunday: midday until 22:00
Exceptions are Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, 6/01: midday until 18:00
Skating rink admission is 6 euros, and throw in another 3 euros for skate rentals. Kids under 12 pay 4 euros admission and 7 euros for entrance and skates.
I have always loved Basel, the ugly stepchild of Swiss cities. It has everything that’s great about Switzerland (except mountains), but without the overbearing perfection, insane prices and haughtiness of Zurich and Geneva. It’s a very artsy city, and an American expat couple we met told us Basel has more cellists than in any other city in the world.
So, it figures the Basel Christmas market is large, attractive, well organized and curated, with artisans selling expensive crafts instead of miles of cheap wooden toys. And this city on the Rhine gets seriously decked out for the holidays.
There are about 180 artisans selling out of small, rustic “wooden chalets,” according to the Basel Christmas Market website, so it’s large. We spent a lot of money there back in the day, and we still have two souvenirs … an elaborate icon and a molded lead Swiss maid. If I remember, the maid was probably 30 Swiss francs, and the icon at least 50 Swiss francs. I’m sure we bought a bunch of overpriced ornaments, but those are the two keepsakes that made it here to the Netherlands from our home in Germany via the U.S.
The market is in the Münsterplatz in the middle of the incredible altstadt. So, even if you don’t buy anything, it’s a visual treat at Christmas to see the 400-year-old Rathaus and all the activity in the center square of the city.
The Basel Christmas Market runs from 22 November to 23 December 2018 in the Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz, right in the center of the city and at the heart of the Old Town. The markets open officially at 6:30 pm on 22 November, when Basel’s Governing President Elisabeth Ackermann switches on the Christmas lights at Münsterplatz.
Open daily from 11 am to 8:30 pm
23 December 2017, Münsterplatz: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
23 December 2017, Barfüsserplatz: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
We went to the 2016 Brussels Christmas market as a political statement after the Berlin Christmas Market attack: No one was going to ruin Christmas in Europe for the Boyd family. This year, the Brussels Christmas Market is being extended into January for 2019.
Brussels is fabulous! Blocks and blocks and blocks of every sort of activity from vendor stalls to lighted see-saws and a Ferris wheel to fabulous food and drink. Brussels’s mega-market differs from many of the others we’ve visited in that it focuses on local vendors. We bought Belgian-style jerky from a farmer, for example. And lots of craftspeople have booths with high-end products such as leather goods and textiles including silk. The music was great, and we drank the best Glühwein we ever sampled.
It bills itself as one of the biggest Christmas markets and winter festivities in the world, and it is. It covers the Grand Place, the area around the Bourse (the Place de la Monnaie), the Place Sainte-Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons.
We guestimated there were not thousands, but tens of thousands of people the Saturday night we went. It’s an unforgettable moment when you get off the subway at Place Sainte-Catherine and find yourself in the middle of this winter wonderland of lights and happy people.
Now, a word about the crowds: There was one point in the Place Sainte-Catherine near the Ferris wheel when we were literally swept along by the crowds. But, everyone seemed to have the Christmas spirit. One rather inebriated chap bumped into me, then turned around, took me by the shoulder, looked deep into my eyes and uttered a heartfelt “Pardon, mon ami.” True story.
- Plaisirs d’Hiver runs from Friday, 30 November through 6 January (though neither the website nor the preview video have been updated)
- Opening hours are noon through 22:00 every day
- The Christmas market has more than 200 chalets
- Fairground attractions (Ferris wheel, merry-go-rounds, etc.)
- A covered ice rink for skating (Place de la Monnaie, till Sunday 7 January)
- A Christmas tree and sound and light show on the Grand Place
Though Plaisirs d’Hiver is the big one, there are other Christmas markets around Brussels. See the details here.
Colmar is a small, charming Medieval trading town on the Alsatian Wine Road between Strasbourg and Mulhouse in eastern France along the German border.
Easy to get to from so many cities in German, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, Colmar doesn’t have just one market, it has five. Make that six! For 2018, it has six themed Christmas markets in six different squares, including one just for fabulous local Alsatian products such as wines, spirits and foie gras. Check out the website before you go to see details on each of the six markets.
New for 2018 is a Marché Gourmand, a Christmas market for gourmets that will be located in Place de la Cathédrale at the Collégiale Saint-Martin next to the cathedral. There will be nine booths, each with its own chef/master restaurateurs who will concoct dishes from starters to dessert, oysters and Alsatian specialties. You’ll be able to eat on site at a standing bar or take away.
You can have lunch, cocktail hour or dinner. Marché Gourmand will be open every day from 10:00 to 22:00, and until 23:00 on Fridays and Saturdays.
Otherwise, there are about 180 vendor stalls in all. Decked out in lights and decorations, with incredible architecture, including authentic half-timbered buildings, along its wonky street, you’d swear you were back in the 17th Century. Well, you would if there weren’t masses of people in contemporary clothes, and all the high-end restaurants.
If you want a memorable first Christmas Market experience, this is the place. Also, Colmar has one of the most elaborate Christmas merry-go-rounds in Europe AND an ice skating rink. So this is a kid’s winter paradise.
And a tip: Book a room at one of the great hotels, and try the grand, but expensive, restaurants. The Alsatian wines from the wine road that goes north to Strasbourg are sublime and totally affordable, especially the Rieslings and Crémant D’Alsace.
The Colmar Christmas markets run from 23 November to 30 December 2018.
From Monday to Thursday: 10:00 am to 19:00
Friday and Saturday & Sunday: 10:00 am to 20:00
24.December: 10:00 am to 17:00
25.December: 2:00 pm to 19:00
This is one of the first in Europe to open, running 15 November through 6 January.
Austria might – when it’s all said and done – win just on incredible alpine settings. And Innsbruck might be the most dramatic of them all. Journalist Jason Chudy, who used to live in Italy, said while Italy has some nice markets, Innsbruck wins hands down.
“What impressed me about the Innsbruck Christmas Market was its location and atmosphere. The town is nestled along the Inn River in between ranges of the Alps and had plenty of snow when we went, adding to that holiday feel,” Jason said. “The edge was taken off the cold by plenty of Glühwein. The market’s in the historic part of town, adding to that old-world ambiance.”
There are actually multiple Christmas Markets in Innsbruck, and the terrific Austrian tourism website is well organized and detailed. (Also, check out the live 360-degree cam and you can see snow already in the mountains.)
Here are the details for the main Old Town Christmas Market:
Where: In front of the Golden Roof, in Innsbruck’s historic city center
When: 15 November 2018 – 6 January 2019
Opening hours: Open daily from 11 am till 9 pm, trading until 8 pm
There’s also the Christmas Market Maria-Theresien Straße in the shopping district and a Family Christmas Market.
• KÖLN (Cologne)
Famous for its cathedral, the city has seven different themed markets for you to wander and soak up the festive season. You can buy traditional gifts and eat and drink the usual tasty traditional treats such as sausages and bratwurst, roast chestnuts and almonds and of course drink glühwein and eggnog from the collectible mugs, offered at each market.
The seven markets are:
• The Cathedral Christmas Market around Cologne’s Kölner Dom landmark.
• The Angel’s Christmas Market
• The Harbour Christmas Market
• The Old Christmas Market
• Heavenue, the LBGTQ market
• Christmas Market in the Statgarten
• St. Nicholas Christmas Market
The details on Cologne:
Where: Literally all over the city
When: Cologne is open from 24 November to 23 December.
Daily from 11 am – 9 pm
Thursday, Friday and Saturday open until 10 pm
Saturday from 10 am till 10 pm
We finally made it to Maastricht, and Willeke van Doorne is right. Magical Maastricht is one of the Netherlands’ best Christmas markets. First of all, it’s in a quaint corner of Maastricht, Vrijthof Square, which is in the center of the centrum on the west side of the Maas River.
The square is surrounded by cafes and restaurants and close to the city’s main shopping district.So, you can get some Christmas shopping done before or after the market. Second, it has a 900m2 indoor skating rink, a giant Ferris wheel and lots and lots of snacks and beer, so it’s a full day out.
Finally, Maastricht actually has some quality Christmas goods for sale instead of the usual trash and trinkets. It’s so good, we’ve been multiple times and will be there this year.
Two thumbs up!
Here are the details for the main Magical Maastricht:
Where: In Vrijthof Square
When: 1 December – 31 January
Mondays to Wednesdays: 11:00 AM – 12 midnight
Thursdays and Sundays: 10:00 AM – 12 midnight
Fridays and Saturdays: 10:00 AM – 1:00 AM
All attractions, food stands, and ice rink
Mondays to Wednesdays: 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Thursdays to Sundays: 10:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Munich’s Christkindlmarkt starts on 27 November in front of the town’s world-famous Glockenspiel and spreads across 20,000 square meters of the pedestrian zone. It’s open till Christmas Eve for 2018.
By the time we lived in Munich, I was old enough to drink the Glühwein with brandy added and I had developed a craving for Gebrannte Mandeln, almonds coated in crunchy, browned sugar. To this day, the smell of these Christmas market favorites takes me back in time.
If you’re really into German food and wine (and really, who wouldn’t be?) a culinary group offers a tasting tour of the market during which you can try Stollen, Rahmschmankerl, and other seasonal culinary favorites.
Be sure to visit the Sternenplatzl (Square of Stars) at Rindermarkt and the massive Christmas tree that stands in Marienplatz to see Christmas lights like you’ve never seen them before. Last year’s tree weighed 5.3 tons and was illuminated with 3,000 lights!
As with Nuremberg’s market, smaller auxiliary markets are held nearby, including the Medieval Christmas Market, where visitors can see minstrels, knights, and noblewomen celebrating the way they did in the Middle Ages when Munich’s first Christmas market was held.
At the Kripperlmarkt, tourists and locals can buy hand-carved wooden pieces for their crèche collection. A popular walking tour of the Christkindlmarkt and the Manger Market is led by guides who tell visitors about the history and culture of the markets.
Here are the details for the Munich Christmas markets:
Where: Centered in the Marienplatz, but there are other locations.
When: 27 November thru 24 December
Monday to Saturday: 10 am to 9 pm
Sundays: 10 am to 8 pm
December 24th: 10 am to 2 pm
Nuremberg is arguably the most famous Christmas Market in Europe and has a running rivalry with Munich as to which is the original.
More than two million visitors come to Nuremberg’s open-air market every year to drink the Glühwein, inhale the sweet scent of candied almonds, and eat Lebkuchen. Stalls are set up in the town square and staffed by vendors who hawk German goodies, hand-crafted Christmas ornaments, and last-minute gifts.
Nuremberg’s market has a separate area for children where they can take a spin on the merry-go-round or Ferris wheel and ride a kid-sized train. Booths where children can participate in hands-on activities such as writing a letter to Santa, making candles, and decorating cookies can all be found in the Children’s Christmas Market.
Also adjoining the Christkindlesmarkt is the Market of the Sister Cities, where craftsmen sell international wares from all of Nuremberg’s sister cities.
Tired of walking? Visitors can tour the market in a horse-drawn stagecoach, or board a tram/train at Hallplatz for a tour of the medieval buildings that surround the town square.
The details for Nuremburg:
Where: In Nuremberg’s Old Town, the market has more than 180 market stands
When: Nuremburg’s Christmas Market is open from 30 November to Christmas Eve.
Opening Day 30 November: 10:00 – 21:00
Opening Ceremony is 30 November at 17:30 p.m.
Mondays – Thursdays: 10:00 – 21:00
Fridays & Saturdays: 10:00 – 21:00 p.m.
Sundays: 10:00 – 21:00
Christmas Eve: 10:00 – 14:00
(Terry Boyd and Cheryl Boyd)
A few years ago, we were in Salzburg just at Christmas.
We were walking in the alleys on the far edge of the city at the St. Peter’s Abbey (one of the locations where “The Sound of Music” was shot) when we walked into the alcove leading to the St. Peter Stiftskeller Restaurant.
We were overwhelmed by the beauty of where we were at Christmas. So I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket and literally called (this was before texting) my friend back in Kentucky and said, “Oh, my God. You’ll never guess where I am. This is unbelievable.”
The decorations included swags of evergreen boughs with gold and red ribbon. Everything in this City of Mozart from the coffee cafes to the Christmas Market is so tastefully done, the best Old World charm. The ancient buildings, the authentic 18th Century music, the Christmas decorations and the soft lights.
Here’s the unvarnished truth. After a while, there’s a certain sameness to Christmas Markets. But Salzburg gives you both a great Christmas Market and a spectacular setting in an authentic Old Town on the edge of the Alps.
Market offerings included more artisan goods than tchotchkes including hand-blown glass and crystal items. The Salzburg Market also is different in that there is live music performed around the Old Town.
Go. Just go ….
This year, the Salzburg markets run from Nov. 22 through Dec. 26, 2018.
Mon-Thu 10 am-8:30 pm
Fri 10 am-9pm
Sat 9 am-9 pm
Sun + holidays 9 am-8:30 pm
Special opening hours
Dec 24, 2017 9 am-3 pm
Dec 25+26, 2017 11 am-6 pm
Full disclosure: Strasbourg bills itself as “The capital of Christmas,” with the oldest Christmas Market. (Take that, Nuremberg and Munich!)
The Strasbourg Christmas Market is so big – 300 vendor stalls in 12 locations around the city! – we always found it a bit daunting, especially with kids.
But, Strasbourg has upped its game, and it has the advantage of being in a real city that’s already authentically gorgeous.
Also, Strasbourg has a great website, so you can sort of center in on what you’re after, because all the markets are arranged by category – treats, local craft products, etc.
As we said, at 300,000 people, Strasbourg is a seriously large, busy city, not a hamlet like Colmar or Trier. So take that into consideration and scout out parking areas ahead of time. Again, the website has lots of info. Strasbourg also is one of the culinary centers of France along with Lyon, Paris and Bordeaux, with three Michelin-starred restaurants! So you might want to plan your visit around a destination restaurant.
When: The Strasbourg markets run this year from 23 November to 30 December 2018
Opening hours and dates.
23 November (opening day), are open from 14:00 to 21:00
Open late on Fridays (until 21:00) and Saturdays (until 20:00)
25-30 December *: 11:00 – 20:00
Christmas Eve: 11:00 to 18:00
Closed Christmas Day
Vienna’s main Christmas Market vies with Innsbruck and Salzburg as the most stunning setting in Europe, in front of the central market Rathausplatz. “It looks like a fairy tale,” Ivana says. “The backdrop is the Gothic city hall, which you can imagine as a castle, and all the trees are lit. It’s cold, but you have the warmth from the booths of the vendors.
“It does look magical.”
The 154 stalls at Vienna’s Christmas Market offer more food variety including crepes, desserts, chestnuts, spice wine stands and spaetzle. There are also a variety of traditional decorations, clever toys, crochet angels, candles, handmade knitted scarves and gloves. There are even felt hats.
Another charming Viennese Christmas Market is at the very heart of the city of Vienna – Stephansplatz. Christmas stands are located around the cathedral. The groovy ones are at the Museum Quarter, with music tents and DJs for a younger audience, Ivana says, which makes the Vienna Christmas Market a LOT more hip than the rest.
“There’s lots of stuff to buy, but a lot of similar things in the sense you’re going to see candles and candle holders,” Ivana said.
Vienna has not one Christmas market, but at least five. And each has multiple events, so look at the various websites for granular detail.
Viennese Christmas Market
The Viennese Christmas Market in front of the City Hall is an unforgettable highlight for those eager to get into the spirit of the season. The unique backdrop gives this market a charm of its own, and the delicious aromas are sure to lull all visitors into the seasonal joy. Inside the City Hall on the ground floor there is an area dedicated to children, where they can learn how to make Christmas cookies or candles. You can also listen to international choirs singing carols with free entrance on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Where: On the square in front of the City Hall
When: 16 November – 26 December 2018
Sun – Thurs from 10:00 -21:30
Fri – Sat from 10:00 – 22:00
24 December from 10:00 – 18:00
25 + 26 December from 11:00 – 21:30
Christmas Village Belvedere Palace
Explore baroque lifestyle and traditional handicrafts. The popular Christmas Village Belvedere Palace is set against the glorious baroque backdrop of the world-famous residence, one of Vienna‘s most beautiful and significant sights. More than 40 festively decorated market stalls offer traditional handcrafted goods, elaborate Christmas decorations and special culinary delights.
Where: Belvedere Palace, Prinz Eugen-Straße
When: 23 November – 26 December 2018
Christmas Village Maria-Theresien Platz
Experience impressive Viennese buildings and traditional customs at the Christmas Village Maria-Theresien Platz this winter, located between the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art. There is no escaping the Christmas atmosphere with festively decorated market stalls and a vast array of culinary delights
Where: Maria-Theresien Platz
When: 21 November – 26 December 2018
(Editor’s note: The Riga Christmas market website takes forever to load, but is pretty good once you have it open.)
Somehow, we left Riga off our first list despite the fact we have family connections there. Shame on us.
We got this from Laura Stein:
Greetings from Amsterdam,
I saw your list with Christmas markets in different European cities. Definitely check out Riga, capital of Latvia, which probably is also home for the first Christmas tree. There are three Christmas markets in the old town, but I love Riga Central market – it is really great for shopping seasonal food. It is also a place to be for music lovers.
Thank you, Laura, for suggesting a city that has one of the coolest Christmas traditions, which started with a black cat and a cold little girl names Lena.
The Old Town Christmas Market in the city center includes Doma laukums and Līvu laukums squares, as well as in Esplenāde Park (which includes a “village” of live rabbits). On Saturdays, head across the Daugava River to the Kalnciema kvartāls market.
When: The Old Town Christmas Market runs from 1 December to 6 January., 2019
The lighting of the Christmas tree and official opening of the market is 3 December at 17:00.
Work Days – 10:00 to 20:00
Fridays, Saturdays – 10:00 to 22:00
Sundays – 10:00 to 20:00
24 December – 10:00 – 18:00
New Year’s Night – 10:00 -02:30
A note: Each year, the market raises money for a foundation, Palidzesim.lv, that funds social-inclusion measures for children and young people with special needs.
(Last year, Alex Wellman suggested Tallinn and we listened! )
Tallinn claims its Christmas market dates back to 1441 when the first Christmas tree was displayed, making it older than Nuremberg or Munich. Though that’s the claim by every Christmas market these days. One thing is for certain: With Tallinn the most northerly capital in the Baltics (by a lot!), you’ve got a pretty darn good chance of experiencing a White Christmas here in this ancient city.
Where Tallinn really differs from other Christmas markets is that it features performances by folk singers and others. Lots and lots of performances. For 2018/19, about 1,700 artists are scheduled on the Town Hall Square stage: folk dance groups Sõleke and Viisuveeretajad, folk dance groups of Märt Agu Tallinn Dance Academy, the nine-time winner of school dance competitions Carolina dance studio, the winner of Estonian Golden Cup and high awards on European and World Championships Free Flow dance club, according to the website.
Keeping with its reputation as a tech leader, Tallinn replaced the old glarey lights in its Christmas market last year with 40,000 LED bulbs on the Town Hall Square to give this Christmas market a warmer glow.
Now THAT is attention to detail.
When: For 2018/19, the Tallinn Christmas Market runs from 16 November thru 7 January. (Check out the website for all the events including Santa’s schedule and the lighting of Advent candles.)
This year the opening ceremony of the Christmas Market will take place on 17 November at 16:55
The market is open every day 10:00 – 20:00
Hot Christmas drinks till 23:00
Each Friday, there’s a Christmas program/performance from 17:00 – 19:00
On Saturdays and Sundays Noon – 14:00
On our Facebook page, Conrad Kellett voted for Advent in Zagreb as did Luka Oreśković. And we see why.
Zagreb is, like all of Croatia, beautiful and inviting. But this Christmas market gets accolades year after year as Europe’s most beautiful. The tourism promotion site Best European Destinations named Zagreb as Europe’s most beautiful every year since 2015, though the post doesn’t exactly say why. But a number of other travel sites concur.
Unlike other Christmas markets, the Zagreb version only dates back to 2002. But it has grown in popularity to the point the market is one of the top draws in a country full of attractions, with about 71,000 visits and 124,000 overnight hotel stays, according to the Zagreb Tourist Board.
That many people couldn’t be wrong ….
Where: There are Advent events spread out all over the city including at an ice skating rink and at museums. Each appears to have its own schedule. See the details here.
When: The Zagreb Christmas Market runs from 2 December to 6 January
Here’s the opening day schedule of events for 2 December:
17:00 Lighting of the candle at the Manduševac Fountain in Ban Jelačić Square
18:00 The opening of the Ice Park
19:00 The opening of Fuliranje – Life is a Circus
19:50 Lighting of the Christmas lights at Advent at Zrinjevac
21:00 Snow at the Christmas Fairytale in the Ban Jelačić Square
Bonus tips courtesy our longtime expat friends
• MARK WOJCIK, WHO’S LIVED IN GERMANY FOR MORE THAN A DECADE:
Running tours all over Europe for Americans stationed here in Germany, I learned a few things.
What they like that I don’t like.
What I like that they don’t like.
I’ll start off with what I like. (It’s a shorter list.)
I enjoy the smaller local weekend-only village Christmas markets. The food is fresher, the crowds are smaller and there is normally parking close by or the market is just off a quick walk from the Hauptbahnhof.
Now I do enjoy the quaint city Christmas markets that offer something “odd” or are held in something unique.
There is the Valkenburg Christmas Market in the Netherlands, which is held in the caves under the city. Pricey.
Another one is Traben-Trarbach, Germany on the Mosel River. What I love about Traben-Trarbach is it’s held in the old wine caves under the city. It’s not a big market, however. Take a walk across the bridge and watch the city lights change colors, mirrored in the Mosel River. Nothing short of breathtaking.
For the rest of the markets, these I found to be big hits among (military) family members visiting and those stationed here (short-timers who need to take it all in within a 24-month time frame):
•Köln (Cologne) – A huge market and normally riot police are everywhere. A big plus here is the ice skating village and the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) and a Dunkin Donuts (great now I’m jonesing for Boston Cream-filled donuts).
• Nuremberg – The apex of German Christmas Markets, to me is way too touristy. Every third booth is the same stuff. However it’s the World Renowned Christmas Market.
• Rothenburg ob der Tauber – I like this one, because I know a little place that only locals go or I head over to the Medieval Crime Museum and I hang out while my group is doing touristy stuff.
• Strasbourg – I love this one because it’s German with a French flare. The food is outstanding and the Dom is breathtaking.
• Metz – Lace up your hiking boots and head out. This one is spread throughout the whole city. Just remember to pace yourself and go slow. And every time we go it’s the coldest day recorded.
• Hasselt, Belgium – Now through 7 January
This is a whole new Christmas Market experience … and not a great one for adults. But for kids, Hasselt is just the ticket. It is, in fact, more of a winter fair, complete with an ice-skating rink, food and midway rides including the Wild Mouse. That’s right, Christmas … and the Wild Mouse, all at one big event.
The Hasselt market is not in the lovely town center, surrounded by upscale restaurants and boutiques. Instead, it’s in an open lot on the north end of the Centrum.
This really is more of a kid-focused event, though there are lots of booths and temporary stores, with leather goods a big favorite. So, to recap, you can to the Hasselt market, ride the Wild Mouse and buy a pair of leather pants.
Maybe not for everybody.
• RITA STEPHENS, WHO’S LIVED IN GERMANY, TURKEY AND DENMARK:
In Germany, I liked St. Wendel (Dec 9-17).
Kaiserslautern was OK, Heidelberg, and Bernkastel-Kues (Mosel).
In France, both the Strasbourg (Nov 24-Dec 30) and Metz (Nov 18-Dec 30) were amazing!
In the Netherlands, I have been to some small ones around the big swim hall in Eindhoven and we made a special trip to Valkenburg. The Valkenburg market was amazing since it and the bar/bistros were located in the caves.
However, the items for sale were very, very disappointing. Cheap crappy stuff you could get anywhere.
There was some good local food items though. I was bummed but I loved the venue!!!
(Read Rita’s post from on her bike-and-boat vacation in the Netherlands here.)
• BOSTON NATIVE KARA CRAVEN, WHOSE FAMILY HAS LIVED IN SOUTHWESTERN GERMANY FOR 18 YEARS:
Our favorites… Dusseldorf/Cologne (lots of little markets spread around), Heidelberg, Trier, Nordlingen (city with the entire wall in place – medieval market, not so many tourists), Zweibrucken (near us and awesome Dornfelder gluhwein), Augsburg (HUGE, too many people but really cool “live” advent calendar with angels singing).
Most of the big ones are too busy for us…
• JOE GOLDSTONE, WHO LIVES IN FRANKFURT:
Try Rüdesheim, Mainz and Wiesbaden to the west or Heidelberg to the south, which all bring a lot more genuine cute with fewer tourists, or make the trip east to Nuremberg for some legitimate Nürnberger Lebkuchen. Grab food and Glühwein on Friedrich-Stoltze Platz in Nuremberg, and there is a Nürnberger Lebkuchen shop on Liebfrauenstrasse which sells Gingerbread in cute cans. With Nuremberg on them.
Or for double the fun, go to Regensburg which has TWO Christmas markets, one of which IS IN A CASTLE!!!
• BRENDAN HUGES, WHO LIVES IN EINDHOVEN:
Stockholm’s Christmas market is pretty small and in the center of Gamla Stan. “I certainly would recommend a visit if one plans on enjoying the other aspects as well! Besides, you can find moose and reindeer sausage there. Who wouldn’t like that?!?!”
New Christmas Markets coming up later on Dispatches
• Düsseldorf (coming soon)
• Ghent, Belgium (coming soon)
• Brugges (coming soon)
•’s-Hertogenbosch (coming soon)