As today officially marks the start of the holiday season, I’ve had Christmas festivities on the brain. I’ve been known to go slightly overboard with decorating in the past, but in recent years I prefer attending to my growing collection of trinkets picked up at various Christmas markets on my travels.
Given Old Saint Nick’s enigmatic European heritage, naturally the best Christmas markets seem to be in north and eastern parts of the Old Continent, where the holiday tradition is strongest. The markets throughout Prague, mostly centered around the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, make you feel as if you’ve just stepped back in time, into a past of fairytales. The beautifully decorated huts dotted around sell hand-crafted jewelry and wooden toys, but the main attraction here are the seasonal specialties — roasted suckling pig, honey-flavored grogg, mulled wine and the unpronounceable “Trdelnik,” a wonderful hot sugary loaf.
A little further north, the Copenhagen Christmas Market takes place in the Tivoli gardens, which are transformed into a spectacular winter wonderland with lights galore. The severe polar temperatures can be momentarily forgotten as you nibble on the classic apple doughnuts and browse the Scandinavian specialties like traditional knitwear and sheepskin rugs.
For something more low-key, the market in the Austrian town of Innsbruck offers a good balance of shopping and skiing. The quaint little streets are lined with stalls selling Tyrolean furniture, handmade wooden decorations and plenty of yummy roasted chestnuts.
This year I might even forsake the winter sports and explore some yet undiscovered market towns from the comfort of an intimate A-ROSA ship, the latest in European all-inclusive luxury river cruising which calls at Cologne, Nuremberg and Vienna, all equally renowned for their stunning Christmas fairs.
If you can hop across the pond, the treasures that await certainly trump the generic offerings in big box stores. Deck the halls, indeed.
For more exotic finds, check out the “Exotic Escapes” issue of The Travel Curator featuring the ultimate shopping town, Marrakech. Happy Journeys!