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  • Entertainment

TRAVEL: Europe’s Christmas markets

Saturday, 14th October, 2017 10:00am
TRAVEL: Europe’s Christmas markets

11 new zzz ChristmasPragueMarkets.jpg

TRAVEL: Europe’s Christmas markets

11 new zzz ChristmasPragueMarkets.jpg

TRY as we might, we Irish can’t match the Europeans when it comes to creating a festive shopping atmosphere.

In recent years winter markets have begun to spring up during December in towns and cities all over Ireland, but countries like Germany, Czech Republic and Belgium are still streets ahead of us.

That’s hardly surprising, given that they’ve been doing it for centuries.

Markets are an integral part of the build up to Christmas on many parts of the continent, with main city squares transported back to medieval times and filled with old fashioned stalls decked out in twinkling lights, holly and some of the cutest decorations imaginable.

The crisp air is filled with the delicious Christmassy aromas of mulled wine and spices and the sounds of bells and carol singers.

It’s just magical, and a stroll around is the perfect way to get in the festive mood and pick up some wonderful, unique gifts that you won’t find in Ireland.

Here’s the low down on what you can expect to find.

• Prague

Prague is just perfect for Christmas. Christmas markets in the appropriately named Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square light up the city centre, bringing tourists and locals together to enjoy the festive spirit in a true winter wonderland setting. 

The city’s centrepiece is the Christmas tree shipped in from the Krkose Mountains in the south of the Czech Republic.

The blaze of lights against a gothic skyline presents a spectacular sight. 

Christmas markets can be thirsty work so thankfully there’s plenty of those famous Czech beers and traditional warm drinks to keep you going. Make sure you sample a cup of hot wine (svalené víno or svalák). Delicious!

• Berlin

Berlin doesn’t need a Christmas market to make it worth a visit, but from late November there’s more than 50 of them helping to create a unique atmosphere in this fascinating city.

Since 2007 the Charlottenburg Castle Christmas Market has played host to one of the best.

For 35 days the castle and its park are immersed in romantic light and over 150 vendors from all over Germany descend to offer carefully selected arts and crafts, ancient handicrafts, and scrumptious Christmas food inside decorated cabins and glass pagodas.

Berlin’s largest Christmas market takes place in the Spandau Old Town, casting a winter spell on the its historic backdrop.

Highlights are a Christmas crib with living animals on Reformationsplatz and the St Nikolai Christmas Garden.

• Munich

A traditional Bavarian Christmas can be experienced at Munich’s famous Marienplatz, in the heart of the city centre, which hosts a festive market that attracts thousands each year.

The smell of gingerbread, mulled wine and roasted chestnuts fills the air of the streets that are lined with thousands of fairy lights, bauble-laden branches and festive carol singers.

Located close to the Alps, the city is often dressed in a blanket of snow, perfect for those dreaming of a white Christmas.

Munich has been hosting some of Germany’s best festive markets since the 14th century, and the city has just about perfected the art.

• Brussels

The Brussels festive market is known as Winter Wonders and boasts 240 wooden Christmas chalets dotted along the cobbled streets of the old town looking like sugar-topped gingerbread houses.

The town hall is lit up in a variety of different colours and patterns and the main square is home to a giant Christmas tree.

Market stalls on Place Sainte Catherine are set around an ice rink with a giant Ferris wheel at one end that offers spectacular views of all the activity below.

There are plenty of activities for both adults and children in Brussels and of course there’s all the Belgian beer to sample when the mulled wine gets a bit tiresome.

• Budapest

The Christmas market in Vörösmarty Square is one of the best in Europe with local folk artisans and craftsmen working from around 150 cottage-style wooden stalls selling handmade gifts, souvenirs and all sorts of festive fare.

The quality is guaranteed, as all goods have to pass stringent quality tests by the Association of Hungarian Folk Artists.

The market has a great gastronomic side and visitors can sample traditional Hungarian foods like kenyérlángos (flat bread like dough cooked in a cob oven), kürtlskalács (a cone-shaped sweet yeast cake), rétes (strudel) and pecsenye (roast meats).

There’s also various cultural and musical events held during market season and every year there’s a sweet Nativity play performance.

There’s even a fantastic advent calendar placed in the windows of the Gerbeaud Patisserie in the main square.

• Vienna

The first Christmas markets were held in Vienna more than seven centuries ago, and they still hold a unique appeal for locals and visitors today.

The Austrian capital boasts a really spectacular festive fair at Rathausplatz, thanks to the magnificent City Hall as its backdrop.

Illuminated by a giant Christmas tree the city square is dotted with quaint huts selling gifts and serving a selection of foods, hot punch and Glühwein, a type of heated, sweetened wine.

Children can take part in Christmas workshops, where they can make trinkets and bake cookies to their heart's content


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