A highlight of most years is to visit a Christmas market somewhere. There is honestly no better way to get into the festive spirit.
This year a trip into London and watching dvds of Elf, Christmas Vacation & Wonderful Life will have to do the trick.
Germany and Austria are considered as the homeland of Weihnachtsstimmung (Christmas mood) and the German speaking world takes the credit as the source of the modern Christmas.
They were the first nation to bring a tree into the house and decorate it and are also the original region for Christmas markets or Christkindlmarkt as they are known in German.
Here are some of my favourite markets from recent years.
Salzburg is undoubtedly my favourite. I have visited 5 times around the festive period and each time I leave with a warm glow. And not just because of the mulled wine!
The main market is around the cathedral. Loads of colourful stalls, a huge tree, strings of lights hanging from every vantage point and an atmospheric skating rink.
I of course also love the bratwurst & gluwein.
One thing that you need to keep an eye out for is the Krampus. In legend they were ghoulish creatures that punished naughty children at Yuletide.
Nowadays they are usually accompanied by St Nicholas and are most likely to whip you gently on the legs with rope, a brush or sticks, whilst Santa hands out sweets.
You can see a very short clip of them in action here.
The last time we went in 2019 we also took a train to the skiing town of Zell am See located on an attractive lake.
The market was very modest but atmospheric all the same.
I visited Cologne in 2016 as part of my visit to watch a Champions League football match.
Köln Weihnachtsmarkt is brilliant – all you have come to love of the German variety of Christmas market.
With the towers of the Groß St. Martin church & the Rathaus (town hall), plus the enormous cathedral as imposing backdrops, the market has everything that you would expect in the way of gifts, decorations and refreshment.
Everything really does look homemade, even if this is highly unlikely. The colourful stalls are wonderful to linger at and even though bargains are hard to find, buying from one of them as opposed to a shop is somehow very special.
Apart from the great setting and the myriad of shopping options, I also loved the skating rink that takes you on a circuit around some of the market area.
The wooden bridge over the ice gave a great view too. As well as skating you can also try your hand at curling – if only I could stand up on skates!
There was also a jolly lady pushing around a music box, a melodic merry-go-round and an entertaining troupe of colourfully clad musicians hanging out of a restaurant window and captivating the small gathering below. The Christmas spirit was definitely stirring!
You can see a few seconds of the band by clicking here.
A visit to the Czech capital is special any time of the year. I have been ten times or more but the Christmas we spent there in 2003 was extra special. They even laid on snow for us!
As is the tradition in many countries, Christmas Eve is when you have the main festive meal. Twelve courses as I recall. We ate in our hotel and were in no state to go wandering afterwards!
The main market is in Old Town Square below the towers of the magnificent Tyn Church and around the corner from the famous clock tower.
Just in case we were not feeling festive enough already, we also went to see a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker on Christmas Day at the National Theatre.
Generally I do not think the UK does Christmas markets very well.
I have been to versions in London, Winchester, St Albans and Birmingham and they just didn’t induce much festive spirit in me. Maybe I am being harsh but they just seemed too money-grabbing for my liking.
An exception to this was Manchester, where there were several markets, the main one of which was by the Town Hall.
Manchester did manage to get the spirit flowing. If I hadn’t known better I could easily have been in Germany.
We travelled to Nice way back in 2002 and had not expected to find a Marche Noel.
It was in fact a very good one and my most memorable element was that they had some reindeer that just looked lovely!
Unfortunately I have no pictures, so here are some reindeer that I photographed in Norway instead to make you coo!
Photo taken from the Nice tourism website click HERE for the link.
We stayed in Krakow during the festive period in 2019.
Like Prague Christmas Eve was the evening for the big meal and we followed this with a beautiful Midnight Mass service at Saint Mary’s Church on the Old Town Market Square.
You can watch a very nice rendition of Silent Night on my Youtube channel.
The square was also home to the excellent Christmas market. All the usual stalls, a marvellous tree and an all round gorgeous setting.
We also paid to go and see a carol concert at the church of St Peter & St Paul in the city. It was blessed cold but we were warmed by some atmospheric musicians & singers.
The whole city was decorated wonderfully and I look forward to returning another time.
Being Christmas I of course had to treat Mrs Wilbur to a horse-drawn carriage ride through Krakow’s cobbled streets.
I know that there are loads of other fabulous Christmas markets in the likes of Berlin, Brussels, Nuremberg and many others. Where are your favourites?