If Only in My Dreams
Update November 30, 2020: Mr. TWS and I have been fortunate to visit many European cities and Christmas markets during the holiday season over the years. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed much about our lives and plans, but we are optimistic that we will experience the magic of holidays in Europe in the future — perhaps in 2021. In 2020, many, possibly all, European Christmas markets will not be open or it is still unknown if they will be operating at least in some modified fashion due to the pandemic. Please visit city government and tourist office websites of each location to find out which particular markets are open, cancelled for 2020, or have a status still unknown.
My favorite places in Europe to kick off the Christmas season
Come along and dream with me about Christmases past and those to come.
My first time: England
Christmas in London
I’ll never forget our first European Christmas experience in London. We enthusiastically soaked up the festive decorations, lively pubs, busy shops, Evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the traditional tree lighting at Trafalgar Square. I think it’s important to note that for many years Norway has been giving the people of London a Norway pine to be the holiday tree in gratitude for British assistance during World War II.
So many markets, so little time: Germany
Germany is well known for its festive Christmas markets for good reason. My very first Christmas market experiences were here in Berlin. Although there are many more markets in many more cities in Germany for me to visit, this list should give you some great places to start.
Christmas in Berlin
As I neared Charlottenburg Palace I could hear the sounds of laughter and music. My mouth started watering from the aromas of grilling sausages. The lights and the festive sights were tantalizing. This was my first ever European Christmas market and I was forever hooked. I later went to the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas market and continued the enjoyment of food, drink, and holiday spirit.
Christmas in Hamburg
The markets of Hamburg have an especially warm and friendly feel. I reveled in the ambiance of the large market at the Rathaus and more modest ones in smaller squares around the city.
Christmas in Nuremberg
We began our Viking Danube River cruise in Nuremberg. The Christmas market on the Hauptmarkt, the main city square in Nuremberg, is Germany’s largest market and considered by many to be one of the best in Europe with high quality crafts and delicious lebkuchen, a traditional spicy gingerbread treat.
Christmas in Passau
Passau was a stop on our Viking cruise on the Danube River. Locals and tourists alike didn’t seem to mind the quite cold and damp weather as they celebrated the season with toasts of glühwein and shopping for gifts.
Christmas in Munich
There are several Christmas markets in Munich, a city that radiates a joy of the season in its numerous Christmas markets. I especially enjoyed the market at Neues Rathaus, a perfectly picturesque setting. We also took time for a glass of glühwein at the market at the Munich Residenz and shopped the booths at Mittelaltermarkt (a medieval-themed market).
Christmas in Prien-am-Chiemsee
The Christmas market on Frauenchiemsee Island near Prien-am-Chiemsee is one of my favorites for its unique setting on an entire island in Lake Chiemsee. It seemed much like a winter wonderland.
Christmas in Lübeck
In Lubeck, not only did I indulge in the typical market fare like sausages, I made sure to sample the city’s famous Marzipan cake at one of the top cafes. It’s a specialty that you don’t want to miss.
Sleigh bells ring in Austria
Christmas in Salzburg
The hills (and the city) are alive with the Christmas spirit during December in Salzburg. We loved our time here meandering the snowy streets decorated for the season and strolling the markets in the old town and at Hohensalzburg Fortress.
Christmas in Vienna
Vienna has many treasures — Mozart, the waltz, architecture, palaces, Sacher Torte, and the many Christmas markets throughout the city. The markets at Schönbrunn Palace and Rathausplatz are our favorites.
Simply magical: Czech Republic
Christmas in Prague
I dreamed of Prague for many years and when I finally got to visit it was during the Christmas season. It was so magical that we went back for another December visit to Prague a few years later.
Intriguing and beautiful: Hungary
Christmas in Budapest
Budapest is one of my favorite cities in any season and we’ve had the pleasure of visiting twice in the month of December. The main Christmas markets in this intriguing city are in gorgeous settings at St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Vörösmarty Square.
Christmas in Szentendre
Szentendre is a nice side trip from Budapest. We spent a few hours there getting a taste of Christmas in this small Hungarian village less than one hour away from the city on the HEV train.
A mysterious Christmas: Slovakia
Christmas in Bratislava
It was a quick visit — just one night and morning to get a taste of Bratislava and its Christmas festivities, but it was delightful. There was also a different kind of feeling here — a bit mysterious as exemplified by this scene of the Christmas tram on the foggy night that we visited.
Romance and rich cultural traditions: France
The French Christmas markets we’ve visited seem a bit more subdued than other European markets, but they are still full of fun and tasty treats. In fact, instead of glühwein, I sipped champagne while admiring the arts and crafts of the market vendors.
Christmas in Paris
In Paris, there is added element of romance to the Christmas season. Some of my favorite things are to stroll the Champs-Elysees and narrow streets of charming neighborhoods, admire the city-wide holiday decor and Christmas tree at Notre Dame, and the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower on a brisk winter evening.
Christmas in Provence
In the French region of Provence. we enjoyed learning about the rich Christmas traditions of the region, especially the 13 desserts and santons (the little saints).
Mr. TWS and I look forward to many more opportunities to experience the beauty, fun, and traditions of Christmas in Europe.