Europe’s Magical Holiday Markets

Galeries Lafayette, Paris

Galeries Lafayette, Paris

Happy Holidays!

Greetings, readers! I’ve been away waaaaaaaay too long so I’m sleigh-riding back into the blog-o-sphere with a post full of holiday cheer! Put on your ugly Christmas sweater, heat up the eggnog and crank up the Sinatra holiday tunes! With this post we’re time traveling to Europe to have a look around the ever-amazing holiday markets! I was there just a year ago, indulging in the smorgasbord of sparkling lights, ornaments, gluhwein, cookies, pretzels, marshmallows, nougat and enough Nuremberger sausages to classify as Obsessed. If you’ve never been to Europe during the holidays, you’re in for a treat. There’s nothing quite like it. So let’s push the sleigh out and get on the road to Paris, Strasbourg, Luxembourg City, Wiesbaden and Nuremberg! Allons-y!

Paris Holiday Market

Paris Holiday Market

The City of Light is so glorious during the holidays that a market seems almost unnecessary. Yet its location on the strip of land between the Rue de Rivoli and Les Jardins de Tuileries makes it an easy stop for anyone hanging out in the city center looking for holiday cheer. The Paris market has a Ferris wheel and a few carnival rides, along with lots of sweets and indulgences. Slabs of chocolate and perfectly stacked rows of marshmallows are displayed next to potent liqueurs in glass bottles shaped like La Tour Eiffel. Half-wheels of raclette rest under individual heat lamps, rendering the exposed edge into a malleable strip that can be scraped onto a plate. Scoop it up with bread and a mug of hot wine for a French holiday delight.

When you tire of the market, the surrounding streets of Paris keep the spirit bright with all the glitz and glitter of the season. Walk the Champs Elysée and stop by Hotel George V to see what inspired décor they’ve created for the holidays. For a special treat, take a few minutes to gaze up at the exquisite display of changing light and color within the central dome of Galeries Lafayette.

 

Galeries Lafayette

Galeries Lafayette

Strasbourg Holiday Market

Strasbourg Holiday Market

Hugging the border between France and Germany, Strasbourg has all the characteristics to qualify it as a quintessential holiday market village. The heart of the city, surrounded by waterways, can only be reached by crossing one of approximately 20 stone bridges to the island. Near the center of this island sits Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg – a tall and glorious example of Gothic architecture that has existed on the site in some form since the 11th century – that’s a lot of holiday seasons! Just a few steps down the cobblestone street, Place Kléber draws crowds to the illuminated Christmas tree and surrounding stalls selling hot spiced wine in souvenir mugs. Strasbourg’s skinny streets and storefronts are dressed in light and adorned with angels, stars and even teddy bears.

Strasbourg offers a few foodie delights we didn’t see anywhere else – hanging salmon that smokes all day next to a small fire and huge toasted baguettes piled with rich spätzle and bacon. The usual holiday treats were also present including loaves of nougat, beignets filled with strawberry jam, and some of the longest displays of holiday cookies I’ve ever seen. So many to choose from and all so fun to taste! Fill up a bag and take some home.

Strasbourg’s holiday market is sprinkled throughout the city center so walking in any direction takes you to more and more stalls filled with blown glass and wooden ornaments, miniature hand-painted tudor-style houses and so many handmade trinkets it’s impossible to see them all. The connecting streets, too, are lit up and festive with unique decorations like a suspended Christmas tree decorated with reindeer. How can you not stand underneath for a photo?

Luxembourg Holiday Market

Luxembourg Holiday Market

On a two-hour stop while riding the train between Wiesbaden and Paris, we had just enough time to catch a cab into Luxembourg City to see its central holiday market. Luxembourg City is refined and beautiful, made even prettier by the unusually warm light of dusk. The market was just getting started but there looked to be plenty to enjoy with food, crafts, a children’s train ride and Ferris wheel towering above the festivities. Being still so close to Germany, we of course had to try one more sausage baguette with an accompanying beer. Prost! All in all, this holiday market was a worthy way to kill two hours and enjoy a fantastic dinner in the process.

Wiesbaden Holiday Market

Weisbaden Holiday Market

We found ourselves in Wiesbaden unexpectedly when we decided to (while riding the train to Heidelberg) literally change direction and go to a city neither of us had been to before. This is one of the best benefits of not booking ahead – you can make it up as you go and see places you never expect to.

We checked into Hotel Nassauer Hof and then walked to Wiesbaden’s Market Square where stalls of holiday crafts and food were tucked around the perimeter. The Evangelical Market Church is not old by European standards, but is stunning nonetheless as the backdrop of this holiday market. Flowers of light top the market stalls, selling the widest array of items of any of the markets we’ve been to – hats, toys, candles and home décor in addition to ornaments and treats. It was here in Wiesbaden that we saw the one and only suspended, rotating wheel of grilled brats – quite unlike anything we’ve seen before and very convenient for the folks spinning and serving from it.

Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt

Nuremberg Holiday Market

If you’ve made it this far, it’s time to refill your mug of gluhwein and get ready for the grandmother of all holiday markets. Few, if any, can rival the history and handmade nature of Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt. The market has existed in some form since the mid-1600s and, as a result, conveys a strong feeling of tradition and the true meaning of Christmas. Nearly everything sold at the market is made by hand so there’s a special quality to the gifts and souvenirs found here.

My husband J spent many years of his childhood in Nuremberg, so returning here was a chance for him to reconnect with the city while also enjoying the market … and lots of Nuremberger sausages, too. I have heard about these Nuremberger sausages for years. They are lore in his family, and have even been hand-carried by his mother all the way back to the U.S. as precious cargo to be consumed and savored from abroad. Part of my market experience would be to eat one (at least) and see what all the hullabaloo was about. Anyway, Nuremberg is a charming city and the Christkindlesmarkt starts on the Friday before Advent and lasts through Christmas Eve. It was pouring rain and very cold on the first night of the market but we waited it out, heard the opening night speeches and songs, and watched as the lights turned on.

We stayed in Nuremberg for about five days, visiting the market every day and night – sometimes just to eat and other times to walk the rows and rows of market stalls and side streets all dressed up for the holidays. We strolled with gluhwein and marveled at the craftsmanship of everything on display. Frauenkirche Nürnberg (Church of Our Lady) looks over the market from the east side. We climbed the stairs to the deck late one afternoon to see the Christkindlesmarkt from above, in all its bustling splendor.

Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt really is a sea of Christmas! The stalls overflow with color and light, and nearly every inch of space holds a trinket or ornament or character. The vendors are sometimes hard to see amidst the effusive display of everything holiday. To really see and appreciate everything takes some time, which is why staying primed with food and drink is so crucial to any foray into this spectacle!

Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt

Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt

Among the handmade items of the Christkindlesmarkt, you’ll find painted cookies made into ornaments, edible cookies and various kinds of lebkuchen, stacks of dark and dense fruitcake, and shelves full of painted Santas and nutcrackers. If you desire some kind of heirloom, start a collection with a painted house and build a village over the coming seasons. Or maybe a painted glass ornament with the town and the year is the perfect small token to box up, slip into your suitcase and hang on your tree at home.

By the end of our days in Nuremberg, I had eaten my fair share of Nuremberger sausages. Verdict? They are delicious. With so many grills full of them at the market, and options to eat them sliced or lined up and stuffed into buns with spicy hot mustard (only a few Euros!) it was futile to resist. They are uniquely spiced and pair perfectly with mulled wine and a sweet dampfnudel for dessert.

We ended our stay in Nuremberg with a wonderful meal at the Heilig-Geist-Spital restaurant, tucked away in an old stone building overlooking the River Pegnitz. This restaurant oozes German character with its heavy interior, communal tables and menu filled with Bavarian classics. Plates are heaped with steaks, schnitzles, knuckles, potatoes, spätzle and more. The atmosphere gets livelier as the day goes on – you can linger over a late afternoon lunch or prost with your neighboring diners during the dinner hours when every seat is filled. This is the kind of place that every city needs, where people go to share great food with friends old and new.

If you love the holidays then Europe’s magical markets really are something to experience at least once in your lifetime. Skip the holiday shopping and splurge on travel instead. You’ll have stories to tell, photos to share and memories to keep forever. Happy holidays!

22 comments

  • Glad to see you are back.

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  • Wonderful! Welcome back in true style!

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  • It’s really great to see you back, Kelly! Those are some really heartwarming photos from Europe’s Christmas markets, despite the chill — I can only imagine. I went to Europe in July – August 2007, so it was still a long way before Christmas. However, in Nuremberg I tried lebkuchen and I loved it (a friendly old man approached me and told me that it was supposedly eaten around Christmas time). We have small, pop-up Christmas markets here in Jakarta, but as you can imagine it was hot and humid, especially those held outdoors or in non-airconditioned rooms. Happy holidays, Kelly!

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    • Thanks, Bama! It’s so great to be back. I have a lot of reading and writing to catch up on. But it’s all good! Love that you love lebkuchen! J’s whole family loves it too, having eaten it every holiday season when they lived in Germany. It’s one of those foods that has the weight of tradition literally baked into it. I would love to see Jakarta’s pop-up holiday markets someday! Having spent most of my life in the western US, being in a hot climate for the holidays never feels quite right (as in Singapore) but it’s always nice to get in the spirit no matter your location. Happy holidays to you, too! Wishing you all the best in 2020.

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  • Oh wow! I’ve not been to Europe during the Christmas season so thank you for taking me there. I can see why you spent extra time in Nuremberg. Nuremberg at Christmas is on my list now! Gorgeous photos.
    Alison

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    • Thanks, Alison! Germany has so many great markets. Just being in the country during the holidays pretty much guarantees you’ll find at least one. We’ve also been to the markets in Cologne and Salzburg, but that was years ago before I was blogging. They were great. Munich’s market is reportedly spectacular. I’m looking forward to that one someday. We also got a tip from a local that the market in Goslar is old, traditional and very charming. Happy holidays!!

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  • I almost got derailed by the mention of raclette in the very first city … (swoon) … all that melted cheese glopped onto bread – yum!

    I’m sooo happy to see you back here, and your post is a visual treat! From the great-looking (new?) graphics to the mouthwatering food photos, you’ve re-entered with a bang. Europe in the winter is so cozy; even though I struggle with the cold, the markets are so warm and bright I almost forget the temperatures. We even went farther north to Finland, Estonia, and Russia, and that freezing cold trip might just be one of my fondest memories of Europe!

    Welcome back here, and I hope you guys have a great holiday season wherever you are these days (still Tahoe?)!

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    • Lex!!!! So great to be back and hear from you! I’ve missed you and this community so much. I’m in the process of taking back the time I was spending on freelance design, in addition to my full-time job, in order to have more time to create my own content. Hence the new graphics! Design is my profession and it just recently occurred to me that I could be doing more of that on my blog! Duh! 🙂

      Yes, that raclette! I was swooning, too. Such a unique treat of France. Wow, your trip north sounds amazing! I can relate to there being something surprisingly memorable about a cold but cozy trip. We were in Prague over Christmas in 2002 and it was bitterly cold but SO, SO festive and fun.

      Yes, still in Tahoe! Any time you want to pop in for a weekend, just let us know! Would love to finally meet you. Happy Holidays!!

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  • Welcome back, Kelly. Old European town centers are interesting even in an average season, I can see Christmas adds even more to the spectacle. But with all that good food and drink it looks like one would pack a little extra “luggage” on the way home…

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    • Ha! A little extra luggage! Spot on and well said, Dave. 🙂 Thankfully there’s at least a little bit of walking involved in seeing the markets and towns. Thank you for the welcome back! I love being a part of this community of writers and readers. Happy holidays!

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  • Wow! When you come back, you come back!! Good to see a new post from you and as always, with so many wonderful pictures. 🙂

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  • What a wonderful, heartwarming post this is, Kelly – and so full of optimism and holiday cheer! I was lucky to go on a work trip to Switzerland in early December three years ago and the Christmas markets there were already in full swing. My favorite memory involved the one on Montreux’s waterfront, where I sipped a tasty “vin chaud blanc” (white gluhwein) near a crackling wood fire while admiring a stunning sunset over Lake Geneva. The next day I returned with an Italian-born guide who treated me to a traditional Neapolitan cake, the rum baba!

    Of the five Christmas markets you’ve profiled here, I would most love to visit the ones in Nuremburg and Strasbourg. I Spätzle and bacon on baguettes seems like a bit of a carb overload, but I’d still be keen to try a loaf… and those Nuremburger sausages do look very delicious. Plus I’d be tempted to acquire two or three miniature half-timbered houses in the meantime. Welcome back and happy holidays to you too!

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    • The rum baba!?! Wow, that sounds delightful! And what a great location for a work trip! Europe is so memorable during the holidays. I think the multi-layered experience of a beautiful setting, cold weather, holiday visuals, and such rich things to eat and smell really leaves a lasting impression, as it did with your memory of Montreux.

      I, too, loved the half-timbered houses! Too bad they’re hard to fit in a suitcase because I would love to collect a little village. And yes, you would have loved that bacon baguette! It was a bit gluttonous but definitely a delicious indulgence.

      Thanks so much for the welcome back and your thoughtful comment, James. It’s great to be back and reconnecting with everyone!

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  • Visiting a Christmas market has been one of my long held dreams, yet to be fulfilled. So I find this post and your gorgeous photos particularly delightful. The German markets are my top picks too.

    Merry Christmas Kelly! Here’s wishing 2020 holds much meaningful travel for you.

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  • Kelly!! so nice to see a post form you! I hope you are doing fantastic! This looks amazing- I love the advice of travel vs. gifts! this is one I’d love to do with Zander. We’ll have to talk 🙂
    Happy New Year to you!
    oxox

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    • Heather!! Sorry it’s taken so long to reply to your comment. I’m trying to blog more but life just keeps getting in the way! Happy (not so) New Year to you, too! Thanks for reading and great to hear you enjoyed the last post about Europe’s holiday markets. They are so much fun. Hope you’re doing well and we see each other soon so we can catch up!! xo, K.

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  • This beautiful holiday post has me drooling over the raclette and the sausages, which I would usually avoid, sound awfully tempting and I am sure I would have eagerly indulged. When visiting countries I always find that I will be way more open minded about eating things I might not usually while at home base. All those gorgeous ornaments and trinkets and cookies.

    Both your gorgeous photos and your descriptions make this a terrific post of what sounds like a great trip holiday market hopping! I really like how you put the collection of photos together, like a holiday wallpaper of sorts.

    It’s cool to see the Nuremberg market from above ~ with all the red and white striped tents.

    Peta

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