Christmas is the time of year spent drinking mulled wine, eating mince pies and being with family and friends. And what better place to spend the festive season than frosty Germany or snowy Austria? Christmas markets are popular all over Europe and are held in France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Denmark and Italy. However Germany and Austria are two of the best winter destinations in Europe, whether you’re after a romantic winter getaway or a family break in a village or traditional and vibrant festivity across the city. The three largest markets are located in Munich, Cologne and Berlin and they generally run from the 19th of November right up to Boxing Day. The Christmas markets are usually held in the town square or the city centre; each market with its own unique atmosphere, Germany is the spiritual home of Christmas markets and have been running every year since the 14th century. The larger markets can feature up to 240+ different stalls and have around 2 million visitors each year, Berlin alone features over 60 little markets dotted all over the city! Seasonally decorated streets for four weeks will turn the city into a winter’s fairy tale for the whole family; the markets throw you in the midst of Christmas cheer and make you feel like a child again.
With the snow settling on the rooves of warmly lit homes, the sound of a choir singing and the comforting smell of Christmas trees in the air, the markets are the perfect setting for getting into that Christmas spirit. Each year visitors are charmed by lovingly decorated wooden stalls lit with glowing fairy lights and heaped with toys, scented candles and many more gifts. Enticed by a selection of hot food stalls with grilled sausages, traditional gingerbread, Roasted Chestnuts and tons other delicacies on offer all freshly cooked right in front of your eyes. The stalls have so much more to offer up, there are a variety of Christmas decorations on sale for inside the house and out! Not only this but some markets in Germany and Austria host a medieval market, such as the Dresden market in Germany. Lit by oil lamps and candles complete with locals and stall owners dressed up to add to the atmosphere. The markets are truly magical at any time of day but even more so at night when the Christmas tree is lit up, you’re wrapped up in warm knitwear with a hot drink in hand and the stars overhead, it’s simply irresistible.
There are an abundance of activities and entertainment on offer such as marching bands, an ice rink, horse drawn carriages and even stilted street performers. The Christmas markets are also the perfect opportunity to get a head start on the Christmas shopping and buy original and intricately hand crafted wooden carvings from Munich, or authentic embroideries from Berlin to take home for your loved ones. The surrounding areas of the markets offer restaurants and cafés, the perfect place to warm up and recharge your batteries before heading out and joining in the festivities again.
If you’re looking for something more than just a short weekend away before Christmas, Innsbruck in Austria makes an ideal Christmas break for families and couples, and is also the perfect season for skiing. Visitors can combine the bustle of the Christmas markets, with tastefully decorated gift shops, high end hotels and ski slopes all in one. There is plenty of ski terrain to choose from… an Innsbruck ski pass allows you to sample 11 different mountains, another destination that offers nothing less than a magical Christmas experience is Salzburg in Austria. The old town is notorious for its romantic ambience which echoes the sound of carol singing and the smell of toasted almonds during the festive season. And only an hour and a half away you’ll find the ski resort of Saalbach-Hinterglemm home of some of Austria’s most lively après – ski, where the beer comes in colossal jugs not pints!
At home the build up to Christmas is always an exciting time for all the family, but spending the festive period in a winter wonderland makes the build up all the more special. By Emma Cartwright. For more information go to www.notjusttravel.com/nfc