Well, it’s the most wonderful time of the year (again) where the newest Christmas adverts are up against eachother for the ones that make us cry, rush to the shops and feel all warm inside. The coffee shops bring out their cinnamon and gingerbread flavourings in their newly designed, seasonal cups, and shopping centres here there and everywhere are fashioning their magical displays of sparkly lights, towering trees and glitter-covered everything.
Now if you’re that much of a dedicated cruiser and you happen to be sailing away somewhere at this festive time of year then you could still well be inevitably calling at a Christmas market. Prepare yourself for copious amounts of mulled wine, hundreds of sparkly stalls, lively beer tents, fairy-light-lit ice rinks (and that’s all just in this article).
Here are the ultimate top nine cities for the best Christmas markets that you just can’t not swing by even if you are on your cruise.
(Important Notice: It is almost essential that you play Fairy Tale of New York in the background to reading this article so that you feel appropriately festive and full of Christmas spirit…)
More Markets Than You Can Count
Let’s be honest, nothing beats an authentic German Christmas Market in terms of atmosphere. With plentiful local beer, festive lights, foods and crafts, you’ll be set for the type of magical, traditional Christmas experience you think only exists in the movies.
Berlin will be hosting you around sixty (yes, sixty) Christmas markets, so whether you want to peacefully explore for some family gifts and trinkets or fancy a dance in one of the lively beer tents, there’s sure to be a market around for you to get ridiculously, yet understandably, excited over.
What other markets should I go to?
Some of the best markets include Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt which sells local specialities like white chocolate milk, origami and cheese, or the Berliner Weihnachtszeit at Roten Rathaus which has a fifty metre high Ferris wheel, ice rink track and scheduled visits from Santa Claus. It goes without saying that this is one for the kids too, right?
Nearby to Potsdamer Pkatz market is a toboggan shoot along the snow which will give you a mesmorising view of the surrounding city when you reach the top. From traditional to trendy, from fairytale to funky, these Christmas markets cater to everyone’s taste: a real all-rounder.
Remember Your Childhood Carols
A winter wonderland awaits…held over the space of two squares, the Christmas markets in Prague are a maze of brightly decorated huts. You’ll be able to add and tick off ceramics, candles, ornaments and dolls to your shopping list all in one day and as you walk around, you’ll be tempted by the smell of hams on spits, the scent of freshly spicy pastries and the aroma of mulled wine.
The Old Town Square even has a stable with sheep, goats and donkeys that children can enjoy petting whilst getting into the spirit of things, and Wenceslas Square has afternoon performances from local choirs to get you in the mood.
What is the main highlight?
Well, what is Christmas without carols? School choirs give you your dose of the festive classics with evening performances on a stage at the Old Town Square, and it’s time to re-live your childhood years as the children will be dressed in traditional costume (just like the nursery nativities!)
It’s not one to be missed (the children travel from Czech Republic, and all over, just to come and sing their carols to the visitors of the famous Berlin Christmas markets).
Christmas Cheer Like Fairy Dust
Cologne has one of the largest Christmas markets in the world with just one of their four markets featuring over 160 stalls! The larger of these markets are all held in downtown Cologne and set around an enormous Christmas tree located near the city’s famously picturesque Cathedral. Three of the markets are very close to the river Rhine, so even if you don’t leave your river ship to visit the city, you’ll be able to appreciate the twinkling lights from afar!
Delve into some mulled wine with names like ‘Cloud Nine’ and ‘Gabriel’ whilst locals popping by to the festivities after work enjoy the same tastes as you. When we say you’ll be surrounded by angels, we don’t just mean on top of the tree: dressed in white while sprinkling glittery powder all around you and the markets themselves, those dressed up as angels will truly be spreading Christmas cheer.
What other Christmas markets here can I go to?
If you prefer to choose the smaller options, Cologne is the one for you with its markets that consist of less crowds and more diversity. Between Schaafenstraße and Rudolfplatz you’ll find Christmas Avenue: Cologne’s gay and lesbian festive markets.
Germany’s capital brings you a whole world of new experiences where everyone is welcome: events on stage and all things small, sophisticated and different to anything you’ve ever seen. Let Cologne surprise you at Christmas.
There’s Christmas, then there’s chocolate…
The historic city centre of Antwerp glitters in winter – and not just because of their diamonds! There are roughly 100 stalls in the market which has been running since 1989 and is spread over four squares dotted closely together around this historic city so why not make it your holiday aim to visit them all?
You’ll find a romantic ferris wheel, 55 metres tall, and a miniature golf course for anyone fancy something slightly out of the ordinary at Christmas. But when there’s an ice skating rink, who could ever ignore it? Embrace the frost and get your skates on not too far away from the Groenplaats, Antwerp’s historic square adorned with sparkly lights through December. Enjoy a glass of Glühwein here (a speciality of Antwerp’s markets) or hot chocolate to keep you toasty.
What else can I do that is close to the Christmas markets?
Other markets may be slightly quieter if you fancy avoiding the tourist rush for a while and the Harbour Christmas market is oh so conveniently located right next to the Chocolate Museum! Here’s one for the chocolate fans…
What is a visit to Belgium without tasting some Belgian chocolate? Surely it’s as unheard of as popping to the Queen’s house without a cup of tea? So embrace the culture and visit this historic building to delve into its noble pralines in some authentic empire surroundings.
If you still haven’t had enough of your fill of chocolate, head over to The Chocolate Line to taste what you buy; you’ll find Dominique Persoone, master chocolatier, and his unique works (including his ‘Chocolate is Rock and Roll’ tattoo! Now that’s dedication.)
The City Goes Green And Sparkly
We’ll admit that despite the variety of cities and markets to visit in the festive season, some can get a little samey. One place to sail to if you fancy somewhere that breaks the mould is Brussels for its sprawling circle around its large ice skating rink. The small stalls and huts sell thick hot chocolate, a variety of local food as well as gloves and scarfs to keep you warm.
This is one for the environmentalists too! This market is unique in its Green Policy that means the market uses as little energy as possible and has a recycling scheme on site so that you can shop and explore with a free conscience; who doesn’t love a satisfying combination at Christmas?
Christmas in Brussels is said to get bigger and bigger every year with the stalls stretching along the streets for as long as two kilometres! But don’t worry, you won’t notice how far you’re walking if you’re stopping over for a European drink along the way and once you’ve gone the whole hog, you’ll be right in the heart of the festivities.
The quaint stalls will carry on with a toboggan slope that’s 35 metres long, a big wheel illuminated with 18,000 lights and of course, not forgetting the 200-foot long ice skating rink.
What else is there to do near to the markets?
Spot of shopping anyone? Aside from the seasonal stalls, you can head to Rue Neuve for one of the longest shopping streets in the city. The feeling of forever is one you can get used to in Brussels with never-ending festivities and more variety than you could ever could have imagined for the city.
Stock up on glossy boxes of pralines and truffles at the chocolate shops just off the square that you’ll become ever so familiar with at Rue au Beurre.
Find out more here about visiting the city!
Feast for the eyes and the ears
Even if you only want to dip your toes in to the celebrations, Budapest is the one for you with its close location to the cruise ship docking stations. Convenience goes a long way on your cruise, right? A mulled wine or taste of the local paprika dishes is only a few steps away as the markets are set up around St Paul’s Basilica, right in the centre of the Pesi side of the river.
Budapest comes to life in the form of 100 twinkling huts on Vörösmarty square, Christmas concerts, festive laser shows and even ballet performances. There’s a lot more to this market than just stalls of trinkets and decorations as you’ll be entertained by puppet shows and light shows, with of course, an ice skating rink on the side.
What else does Budapest have to offer?
Just like any classic city break destination, the capital to Hungary offers you the best choice of shops and boutiques. Shopping lovers will be pleased to note that Váci Street is the city’s main shopping street where you’ll come across big-name brands aswell as all the right restaurants and cafes for a much needed stop off.
If you’re wanting to stick with all things Christmassy, head straight for WestEnd City Centre, central Europe’s largest shopping mall! You’ll still find the sparkliest lights and the type of wreaths and trees that can compare to none other…
Straight out of a storybook
One thing you might not know is that medieval Bruges always puts on a good offering for Christmas. Try something authentic here like taking a ride on a horse drawn carriage- it beats the usual city taxis right? Or visit the Snow and Ice Sculpture festival where you’ll explore a fantasy world where Bruges asks you to suppose for a minute that you were suddenly transported from the pleasant and heart-warming city to a place 14,000 km away. An inhospitable but fascinating world where everything is permanently frozen and where the average annual temperature is -50°C…
You’ll count your lucky stars once you’re back wandering around the fairy-light-lit stalls where you’ll you pass vendors selling Christmas decorations that get you straight back into the festive spirit!
Why else should I visit this Christmas market?
This UNESCO World Heritage site is like delving into a storybook of magical surroundings and picturesque sights. You’ll never have quite seen anything like Bruges at Christmas time. The city really does turn things up a notch and you’ll feel it in the warm glow of twinkling lights and sound of horses hooves on the cobbled streets, rather than the beeping of horns from home.
Sip hot chocolate as you browse the sight of the colourful stalls or dip off to the city’s fashion boutiques for a break from the big lights, but it won’t be long until you return to the celebrations…
A blanket from the sky
If we are talking about the stuff of fairytales then we are talking about Vienna. The most quintessentially Austrian time of year is in fact winter where, wait for it, snow blankets the city! Something we can’t always quite guarantee at home is a definite part of the Christmas season over in Vienna.
Set against the backdrop of the beautiful Vienna City Hall, the main Christmas market sends the aroma of roasting chestnuts across the city. There are actually twenty five different markets hosted here, but the December Market holds over a hundred and fifty stands and sells everything from warming drinks to hand drawn portraits.
What else can I expect from these markets?
Christmas for the Viennese is a famously social affair so expect lots of the locals meeting up for Punsch or Glühwein (get used to this term as it’s the local mulled wine). There will be an air of joy and excitement for the season to officially arrive amongst the visitors to the market.
Head to Rathausplatz for a glimpse of the advent calendars on the Town Hall windows, decorated by local artists And don’t miss the tree illuminations in the part either…these are all the perfect picture moment to take home!
Light up, light up
This small Christmas market is well worth a morning spent pottering round the stalls looking at local produce, speaking to friendly locals and trying good food like local pastries. The nearby castle adds to the pretty surroundings so you don’t forget how much of a special place you’re in!
Other festive highlights to look out for include the ice skating rink for a frosty skate-round and a 1950’s style carousel ride (you don’t just get these at every Christmas market! Luxembourg think outside the box.).
Winterlights is a word you will want to become very familiar with as it’s the city’s festival of lights and animation that will plunge you into a world of magical and romantic world of exhibitions, shows, concerts and markets.
With over 1,600 metres of lights with thousands of bulbs you’ll never forget this moment where the whole square is lit up, tree-lined and twinkling.
That is the end of your ultimate Christmas market guide for cruises! Which of these have you already been to? Which ones are your favourites? Which ones sound most magical to you? And which ones do you plan to visit next? Let us know in the comments below!
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