Does the holiday season bring you shivers rather than joy? Have crowded shopping malls threatened your Christmas spirit? Don't give up hope! A compromise of productive Christmas shopping and good old-fashioned holiday cheer does still exist, and you can find it in one of many European Christmas markets. With their quaint wooden stalls, dazzling lights, and shelves of hand-crafted wares and homemade food, Christmas markets allow you to turn an annual chore into a fun, festive vacation. So grab a bratwurst, take a sip of mulled wine, and let these traditional Christmas markets revive your faith in Christmas magic.
Home to the oldest Christmas market in Germany, which is a country credited for leading the Christmas market tradition, Dresden provides one of the most authentic holiday market experiences in Europe. Its showcase, Striezelmarkt, is situated right next to the Kreuzkirche, the oldest church in Saxony. All the products at Striezelmarkt are locally crafted, and some of the best buys include ceramics from Saxony, hand-blown glass baubles, and "Blaudruck," which is a white and blue printed cloth made in Dresden.
Locals and visitors alike are especially fond of the market's "Striezel," or Stollen, which is a loaf-shaped Christmas fruitcake coated in sugar icing. Market-goers are so fond of the Stollen, in fact, that the Striezelmarkt only allows certain registered vendors to sell the cake annually. Also, each year on the second Sunday of December, Striezelmarkt celebrates its namesake with the Stollen Festival. Watch villagers re-enact a century-old tradition as they parade around the city with a 3,000 kg stollen, followed by the elected "Miss Cake."
Besides Striezelmarkt, some other Dresden markets worth visiting are Neumarkt, Haupstrasse, and the medieval market near the Royal Palace.
Berlin is Germany's capital and hosts around 60 Christmas markets throughout the holiday season. While its markets have the usual quaint, wooden cabins and yuletide treats, the city's modern, industrial edge is impossible to ignore. The city's most famous and well-attended market resides below the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, or the Memorial Church, which was bombed in World War II. Graffiti-covered walls loom over clusters of stands, and trams whiz by as Christmas shoppers browse goods ranging from traditional crafts to cutting-edge art and decoration by some of Europe's best new artists. Berlin markets are also known for carrying a wide variety of old and new jewellery.
Cologne hosts seven Christmas markets and attracts over 2 million visitors a season. The city's most impressive display is at the Cologne Cathedral, where its twin gothic spires overlook a cluster of wooden stalls surrounding Rhineland's largest Christmas tree. The atmosphere is bustling with music and entertainment, and the 160 vendors sell all the traditional wares, from handmade Christmas decorations and ceramics to Glüwein, the mulled wine of Germany.
Among Cologne's other Christmas markets are the fairytale-themed market on the Rudolfplatz, the floating market on the MS Wappen von Mainz, the medieval Christmas market outside the Chocolate Museum, and the child-friendly Alter Markt.