Beginner’s Guide to European Christmas Markets

By Adriana Agata, WSA Intern

European Christmas markets are world-famous festive gatherings that you should absolutely mark on your calendar during the final weeks of your semester abroad! Every culture celebrates the holidays in a unique way so now matter where you end up for the holiday season, it will be a whole new experience. Some of the best xmas markets are found in Paris, Krakow, Prague, BudapestBerlin, Rome and Salzburg. The markets are typically set up around mid-November and they last through Christmas. You can find anything you could ever possibly need to celebrate, from decorations and presents to food and entertainment. They are definitely the best destinations to explore the local traditions!

So what do these markets offer?

Unique Holiday Treats

There will be no better opportunity to have a bite of local specialties made specially for the Christmas holiday season! There will be lots of sweets and an assortment of gingerbreads, each slightly different from the last - you’ll feel justified in trying them all. The German Lebkuchen typically comes in a round shape and it is baked with nuts or candied fruit.
In Rome, you can taste one of 9 Christmas breads, such as pandoro which is star shaped and covered with powder sugar or pangiallo, a golden yellow bread filled with nuts, raisins, spices, and candied fruit.
The Polish celebrate with pierogi, traditional Christmas dumplings. There’s so many variations, you could honestly just eat these the entire time: sweet or savoury, stuffed with cabbage and mushroom, sheep's cheese, black pudding, blueberry or cherry.

Christmas markets in Europe are paradise for fish lovers: in Budapest you can taste the fish soup Halászlé and in Prague you can enjoy fried carp, which is the traditional Czech Christmas meal.


Have a sip or two!

Nothing warms you up during the chilly winter months like mulled spiced wine or creamy beer. In German speaking countries you should look for glühweinwarm wine with cinnamon stick, sugar, oranges and cloves. The extra shot is optional.
In the North, the wine variation is called glögg, gløgg or glögi. It’s a mixture of wine, sugar, spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamon, cloves and bitter orange, also sometimes it is spiced up with brandy or other liqueur.
All the recipes are start with red wine and a unique mixture of spices, so in every country the beverage is uniquely special. In Netherlands it comes under the name bisschopswijn (bishop’s wine), in France vin chaud ("hot wine"), in Hungary forralt bor ("boiled wine"), in Poland grzane wino ("heated wine") and in Czech Republic svařené víno ("boiled wine"). Each has different qualities, and are an absolute must-taste during your Christmas market visits.

For those who prefer non-alcoholic beverages, there is also a large variety from coffee and tea to chocolate and root beer. My favorite is the gingerbread coffee and hot chocolate with cinnamon. Sometimes you can also find the non-alcoholic version of spiced wine: it is sold as a bottled syrup which you can add at home to your coffee, tea or chocolate! Pretty cool, huh?


Look like the Locals

Want a Nordic sweater? Want real knitted socks? Or maybe you need hand painted tea set to bring home to your parents? There is plenty of odd and unique things you probably never heard about, but when you see them – you will want to show them off at home.
Christmas Markets attract many talented craftsmen and local business owners so you get to experience and see a lot of the culture in one area. Vendors come from all over so you can even see how different regions of the country differ.

Set in the Mood

Not feeling the Christmas spirit yet? Take a walk through the market village, admire the fantastic light illuminations, listen to the festive music, and you’ll be singing Christmas carols before you know it.

Have fun

Just go with the flow – look for performances, plays, contests (there are lots of them). Wtith a backdrop of cities seemingly straight out of a fairy-tale, hearty treats and bustling crowds, you'll be full of holiday cheer.

Don't miss this year's Christmas Markets!
Remaining dates:

November 27 - 29
  - Krakow

December 4 - 6
  - Budapest
  - Rome

Dec. 11 - 13:
  - Budapest
  - Paris
  - Rome

Dec. 18 -20: 
  - Barcelona
  - Budapest
  - Krakow
  - Prague

Spending Xmas break in Europe? Travel with our Detour options, available year-round.

Pictured above: Christmas market in Jena, Germany. Courtesy of ReneS, flickr​
Alligator photo, courtesy of author's Instagram



Lauren Wallender, Elon University

Happy Backpackers

I definitely have WSA to thank for my exceptional experience in Amsterdam. One would think 4 days isn't enough to tour a city but WSA facilitated an optimum weekend full of sightseeing and fun. Amsterdam may have a notorious reputation for its lax drug and sex culture but there’s so much more to the city. Luckily, our tour guide, Arthur, native to the Netherlands, steered us away from the tourist traps and showed us around his beloved city, highlighting all of its gems. I'd definitely like to try other WSA trips in the future. It's hassle free traveling with an awesome itinerary - nice that the tour guides are flexible with the schedule and willing to cater the itinerary to the group's interest! Highly recommend WSA to any student with only a weekend to see a city.

Lauren Wallender, Elon University ~ Fall 2014

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