Now that it’s Boxing Day and I’m back from my Christmas Market Tour, I thought I’d do a quick roundup of what the markets have to offer. The markets visited were the Champs-Elysees in Paris, Lille, Nuremberg, Munich and Dresden.
I will start by saying that even though I think Christmas is generally a commercial waste of time, the German Christmas markets I visited sell mostly locally produced, hand made products and fantastic local food and wine. While many people do their Christmas shopping at the markets, they are also used as a place to informally get together with friends and family and catch up over mulled wine and bratwurst. The markets are more of a social experience rather than just somewhere to shop which was a pleasant surprise.
The Champs-Elysees Christmas market is the most famous in Paris and while you can get a few traditional items like pain d’epices, there aren’t a lot of quality products around, not to mention everything is way overpriced. Paris is more about the experience. The lights along Champs-Elysees are gorgeous at night and from the top of the Grande Roue I witnessed one of the most incredible views of the city I have ever seen.
Lille’s Christmas market on Place Rihour is quite small and is probably not worth a dedicated trip but the city itself is absolutely beautiful. I now count Lille as one of my favourite cities in France and there is so much to do here, especially if you’re a foodie. The Swiss stall selling Raclette was the best food stall out of all I visited during my 10 day tour. All I can say is bravo, La Suisse. As far as sweet treats go, I loved the Croustillant Hollandais found at the markets and around the city. I’m not a huge fan of mulled wine but the speciality here is hot cidre which is a particularly tasty alternative.
Nuremberg’s main Christmas market is by far the most traditional out of all the Christmas markets I visited and probably the largest. They have strict regulations on what you can and can’t sell so you are guaranteed of getting local products and food. Nuremberg is most well known for the Nuremberg bratwurst which are small, thin sausages and the lebkuchen gingerbread. My recommendations are to try the pistachio candied nuts and the feuerzangenbowle which is hot wine with rum and sugar. Nuremberg is also the best option if you want to buy traditional ornaments and gifts. If you’re travelling with small kids, Nuremberg has a dedicated children’s Christmas market which should make them happy. Read more about Nuremberg’s Christmas market here.
There are so many different markets in Munich there is surely something for everyone. The main market in Marienplatz is by far the most crowded and I’d suggest heading to the little market in the courtyard off Odeonsplatz instead. It’s a much quieter market and is particularly good for kids. Just around the corner from there at Wittelsbacherplatz you’ll find a medieval style Christmas market and my favourite in Munich. The Nuremberg sausages I had there were cooked over open coals and were the best sausage of my trip. For something a little different, head to the Tollwood Winter Festival, located where they hold Oktoberfest each year. It’s promoted as an ‘alternative’ Christmas market but it seemed similar to what you find elsewhere. Arts and crafts were particularly popular and all kinds of organic food and wine are available. My favourite food here was the Hungarian Langos, a delicious vegetarian snack.
The Christmas markets in Dresden had a different atmosphere to elsewhere. The people seemed more relaxed and sociable and there was a huge variety of food, both traditional and from foreign cuisines. Dresden was by far my favourite destination and probably the only Christmas market I will return to. You can read about Dresden’s Christmas market food here but highlights for me were the vegetarian Fladenbrot sandwich, the Dresden Rahmklecks (melted cheese and ham stuffed bread) and the sweet baked apples. The Dresdner Striezelmarkt had lots of activities for kids and great local products. I felt right at home here and can’t wait to return.
That’s it for my 2011 Christmas Market Tour and even though each market was unique and I had a great time everywhere, I’m glad Christmas only comes around once a year.