I love Christmas markets. The food, the decorations, the gifts on offer… the whole atmosphere is wonderful. There is nothing quite like being wrapped up against the cold weather, enjoying mulled wine under a giant Christmas tree. Christmas markets in the UK have taken off in a big way, and it seems like almost every town has a fair or market in the lead up to Christmas, but they quite often promise more than they deliver. If you want a proper Christmas market, something that you will cherish the memory of for longer than the drive back home, I would urge you to go abroad.
I’ve been lucky enough to go to three different continental Christmas markets in three different countries. In fact, I’ve just booked to go to another one in Germany this December and I can’t wait. I don’t know if it is the excitement of visiting somewhere new or the fact that they are more authentic that make these markets better than the imitations you get in the UK. After all, a lot of our Christmas traditions (such as the Christmas tree) are German in origin, so it would make sense that the Germans know how to do a really good Christmas.
A few years back, Christmas began to lose its magic for me. The shops started stocking Christmas stock far too soon which meant I was sick of it by the time it actually became Christmas time. Going to the shops to get anything became a massive hassle. It just wasn’t exciting. The best thing was knowing I had time off work/from studying. However, the past couple of years it has been slightly more sparkly. Not only have I requested and received surprises as gifts (meaning it is much more like when I was a child!) but I have also been to a Christmas market a couple of weeks beforehand which has put me in the mood.
What are the highlights?
- Most markets are spread out across the city, and each market has a slightly different theme/feel to it so it feels as if you are constantly discovering something new.
- The markets are open during the day and at night, but have completely different atmospheres. Go during the day to purchase your gifts between sight-seeing, and then return in the evening for food and drink.
- It’s an added bonus to a standard city break. You have plenty of time to fit in the touristy things you want to do, as well as enjoy the markets as they tend to stay open quite late.
- The food is great!
- You can buy some really unique decorations and gifts that have been hand-crafted.
- There are quite often additional things to see and do. In Brussels there was an ice-rink, and in Prague there was a light/sound show on the Christmas tree.
- You can get some really good deals including travel and hotel (I can recommend Secret Escapes), particularly at the end of November/start of December as it is not quite peak time.
- Whilst everyone else in the office is counting down until their time off at Christmas, you can look forward to something slightly earlier which is wonderfully festive!
What if I can’t make it abroad?
There are still some pretty good markets in the UK, I just prefer those on the continent. I would definitely recommend the St Nicholas Fayre in York. It does get very crowded, but York is a wonderful city to visit anyway and there are additional things to see. The Ice Trail is returning this year, as is Thor’s Tipi Bar (where you can enjoy a mulled wine on a sheepskin rug in a giant tipi!). I have also enjoyed the Edinburgh and Leeds markets. The Hyde Park Winter Wonderland was great fun when I visited last year, but it did feel more like a fairground than a traditional Christmas market.
Is there anywhere that you’ve visited which you think has a fantastic market? I’ll look forward to sharing the best of Cologne with you in December when I am feeling fully festive!