I didn’t see the point of Glühwein when I first tried it on a balmy winter day in Texas, but Germany’s version of mulled wine (literally “glow wine”) made delicious sense years later on a December evening in Wiesbaden. If I hadn’t downed a mug at one of the city’s outdoor Christmas markets, I might never have survived the cold long enough to explore the stalls selling exquisitely carved holiday bric-a-brac, jewelry, pottery, Lebkuchen (spiced cookies) and marzipan, among other wares.
Longtime Nob Hill Gazette reader Jane Inch of Piedmont, her husband and her adult children got into the Glühwein spirit last year, during a Christmas market cruise along the Danube River from Budapest to Vilshofen, Germany. “In many of the places we would get a Glühwein mug that represented the Christmas market, such as the mug that’s shaped like a Christmas stocking from Vienna,” she says.
They also hunted for regional souvenirs such as Czech rhinestone Christmas trees, German Schwibbogen (carved arches with holiday scenes), and handmade husk angels from Slovakia, while sampling sausages, Baumkuchen (a tree-shaped cake) and other local flavors. The markets’ lively atmospheres, perhaps spiked a little by spiced wine, left a lasting impression, too. “Nobody’s on their phones, everyone’s out enjoying the lights and enjoying their Glühwein, and they’re socializing,” Inch says. “It’s like a glimpse into another era.”
While all major European cities have some form of Christmas market (also known as Advent markets, since most close by December 25), here are a few highlights from Central Europe and the British Isles.
Italy’s South Tyrolean culture gleams in the Christkindlmarkt (Christchild Market) in Piazza Walther through January 6. About 80 multihued wooden huts in the city’s medieval center sell handmade ornaments, pottery, glass and wood objets d’art, loden wool clothing, and regional fare such as Zelten, a traditional Christmas treat with dried fruits and nuts that may convert fruitcake haters.
This market closes at 7 p.m. most days (6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve), but it does get dark in the mountains early, so there’s plenty of time to enjoy the illuminations and bands playing Christmas music. And though close to skiing, Bolzano itself rarely sees snow, so you’re unlikely to turn into Ötzi the Iceman — the town’s famously preserved Ice Age resident.
When you’re the oldest Christmas market in Germany, you’re allowed to be over the top. The 589th edition of the Striezelmarkt in the Saxon city’s center through December 23 includes giant versions of a Christmas tree, Advent calendar and Christmas candle pyramid — available on a smaller scale in some of the 200-plus stalls. Also look for Erzgebirge carved wooden ornaments, Herrnhut multidimensional stars and the demonstration bakery revealing the technique behind Dresdner Christstollen, the city’s signature Christmas pastry.
The Striezelmarkt is just one of 11 Christmas markets in the city, including a medieval-themed fair in the Residenzschloss (Dresden Palace) courtyard that nevertheless includes an eight-person hot tub; Advent on Neumarkt, which showcases crafts of historic guilds; and the Augustusmarkt under the glowing lights of the Hauptstrasse, featuring more boozy and edible treats from around Europe.
The Irish capital may revel in Celtic traditions, but it boasts equally of its modernity. Gifted: The Contemporary Craft & Design Fair is one of Ireland’s largest and longest-running Christmas markets, brimming with the wares of more than 400 designers and makers and goodies from 100-plus food artisans. Sustainable gifts, from vintage clothing to “clean beauty” items, are another hallmark. This year’s market takes place December 6 through 10 inside the RDS Simmonscourt Arena.
For a vintage atmosphere, head to Dublin Castle for its more intimate Christmas market, which debuted in 2019 and hosts some 25 vendors. The Dandelion Market, usually held the six Sunday afternoons before Christmas next to the cheerily buzzing Grafton Street shopping district, is also expected to return this year.
You’d have to be Ebenezer Scrooge not to be charmed by London’s historic market halls at Christmas time, and God bless them, every one.
Covent Garden will deck its iconic Market Building with a 60-foot Christmas tree, 40 gigantic bells with bows and other enormous baubles through December, while a hand-painted sleigh in the West Piazza and “Wonder Wood” on James Street provide greeting card–ready backdrops. Browse for antiques and collectibles on Mondays and British arts and crafts on weekends, with a hodgepodge of everything else on weekdays.
Festooned with evergreen garlands, the Victorian shopping arcade of Leadenhall Market keeps its brilliant lights and towering Christmas tree up through January 6. Guided walks on Wednesday nights through December 13 discuss Christmases past and present, including the era of Dickens.
Thank goodness for the ice skating rink next to Zurich’s Wienachtsdorf (Christmas Village) — how else can you work off the calories from a Fondue Chalet? Open through December 23, this sprawling market on the Sechseläutenplatz also includes about 100 vendors of traditional crafts and contemporary designs, a carousel and children’s activities such as candle making, and plenty of Glühwein to ward off the chill.
Among Zurich’s other markets, it’s easiest to stay warm at the Main Station, where some 140 stalls greet passengers alighting or boarding from the main concourse indoors. It doesn’t require a ticket to ride, but you’re invited to help power the lights on the 32-foot-tall Christmas tree by pedaling one of the electric bikes around it.
Source : Nobhill Gazette