If you are fortunate enough to be stationed in Europe, then the most festive time of the year is rapidly approaching – Christmas Market season! It’s no secret that the winters in Europe can be dark, dreary and damp, but no one seems to mind (or barely notice) during that magical window between mid-November and early January. And let’s be honest, a little “gluhwein” or “vin chaud” makes even the dreariest days more festive!
Whether you’re stationed in Germany, Italy, Belgium or even the U.K., there are so many Christmas markets to choose from that it can be tough to decide which ones are the “must-do’s” and worth traveling to. It was a challenge to narrow it down, but the contributors here at Military Moms Blog have come up with a list of our favorite European Christmas markets:
Cologne (November 26 – December 23, 2018)
Cologne is probably my favorite Christmas market in all of Europe. Set against the backdrop of the Cologne Cathedral, there are 7 markets located throughout the city, each with a different theme (my favorite is the “Angels Market”). You can get around via the “Christmas-Market-Express” or if you’re feeling energetic and need to walk off the bratwurst and kartoffelpuffer, you can make your way by foot. Plan to spend the entire day in Cologne though – not only will you need the entire day to see (and eat!) everything, but also because the market is truly magical at night!
Aachen (November 23 – December 23, 2018)
Aachen is another very popular Christmas market in Germany. Similar to Cologne, the market is situated in the center of the city with the Aachen Cathedral in the background (where the emperor Charlemagne is buried). You can easily spend an entire day strolling through the market and sampling all of the delicious food and drink. Aachen is located near the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands, making it an easy day trip if you are stationed in Belgium. From Ramstein Air Base, make a weekend of it by combining Aachen with Cologne or Maastricht (see below).
Monschau (November 23 – December 23, 2018) Fri-Sat-Sun only; closed November 25
Monschau is a charming village located in Western Germany on the Belgian border. It’s narrow, cobblestone streets and timbered buildings make it an idyllic setting for this small Christmas market. The chalets are filled with delicious food and artisan crafts, and the local shops and restaurants also remain open throughout the Christmas market hours. Be sure to visit the the local mustard shop and the “Christmas House” which features THREE floors of Christmas decorations!
Strasbourg (November 24 – December 30, 2018)
If Cologne is the “mothership” of Christmas markets in Germany, then Strasbourg is the French equivalent. Strasbourg is situated along the border with Germany in the Alsace region of France, which has changed hands between Germany and France several times throughout history. With the strong influences of both German and French cultures, Strasbourg combines the best of both countries making the “Capital of Christmas” a must-visit.
Colmar (November 23 – December 30, 2018)
Also known as Belle’s hometown from the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast, Colmar is literally a “story-book village” made even more magical during the holiday season with six separate markets or “mini villages” located throughout the center of the city. New this year is a “gourmet market” that will feature nine chefs and their amazing creations. Only in France! Colmar is just 70km south of Strasbourg, so the two markets combined make a perfect weekend destination from Ramstein, Stuttgart or even Belgium.
Lille (November 22 – December 30, 2018)
If you can’t make it to the Alsace region, then Lille is a great alternative, especially for those stationed in Belgium or the United Kingdom. While it is a smaller version of the Strasbourg market, there is no shortage of French delicacies to sample (hello, Champagne bar!) and the view from the Ferris wheel on the Grand Place cannot be beat! Lille is accessible from both Brussels and London via the Eurostar making it an easy day trip – even from the U.K.!
Brussels (November 30, 2018 – January 6, 2019)
We were stationed near Brussels for three years, and I never tired of seeing the the magnificent Grand Place, but during the Christmas season it is even more breathtaking. One of the largest Christmas markets in Belgium, “Plaisirs d’Hiver” features over 200 chalets with food, drink and artisan crafts … and this is in addition to the myriad of places in Brussels where one can find Belgian chocolate, waffles and beer! Be sure to stick around until the evening when the light show on the Grand Place takes place. Brussels offers more than enough to keep you entertained all day!
Bruges (November 23, 2018 – January 1, 2019)
Bruges is stunning, and even more so at Christmas! Market stalls and the ice skating rink can be found in the historic city center, but the most unique attraction is the Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival located in front of the Bruges Central Train Station. Allow 1-2 hours for viewing and be sure to bundle up because the temperature inside the ice sculpture exhibit is only 21 degrees! (Note: there is an entry fee for the Ice Sculpture Festival which can purchased on site. No advance reservation is necessary).
Maastricht (December 1 – 31, 2018)
Located on the River Meuse, Maastricht is one of my favorite cities in Holland. It’s nestled in the narrow point right where Belgium, Germany and Holland come together, making it an easy trip for anyone stationed in the Benelux region. The market is small, but very festive, and there is great shopping throughout the city as well. In addition, there is a covered ice skating rink and a giant Ferris wheel for the kids to enjoy while you sip your gluhwein!
Salzburg (November 22 – December 26, 2018)
Several of our contributors who have been stationed in Northern Italy all agreed that the Salzburg Christmas market is one of their favorites. Located on the banks of the Salzach River at the northern boundary of the Alps, you can imagine how picturesque Salzburg is in the winter!
Vienna (mid-November through Christmas)
The Christmas market in Vienna (or Wein as it is referred to locally) is fairly extensive with the main market located right next to the impressive City Hall building and several others located throughout city. And the lights throughout Vienna during the holiday season are some of the best we’ve seen. With so many sights to see, Vienna is worth a trip in any season, but why not go at Christmastime and enjoy the holiday festivities too?
Bolzano (November 23, 2018 – January 6, 2019)
If you are stationed at either Aviano or Vicenza in Northern Italy, a trip to Bolzano near the Austrian border should definitely be on your list. Because of its location, Bolzano blends both Italian and Austrian influences into one beautiful market.
Verona (November 16, 2018 – December 26, 2018)
Verona’s Nuremberg Christmas Market is modeled after a German Christmas market with wooden houses and more than 80 exhibitors selling handcrafted goods. Readers stationed in Italy have remarked that this market reminded them the most of the German Christmas markets, but, of course, it still has that Italy feel with the Roman Arena in the backdrop and the city’s beautiful architecture on display everywhere you walk. Verona is a city worth making a weekend trip out of regardless of whether you make it during the holiday season.
So many Christmas markets and so little time! It is impossible to list them all, but we hope you enjoy some of our favorites!
Which ones would you add to this list?