Christmas Markets are one of the highlights of Europe in the chilly season
Set on the floor of the Inn Valley on the banks of the Wipptal River and ringed by the sharp peaks of South Tyrol, Innsbruck provides a postcard backdrop for its Christkindlmarkt. The city’s main Christmas market takes place on the cobblestones of the Old Town’s main square, surrounded by arcaded medieval buildings and overlooked by the glowing Goldenes Dachl, the glittering Gothic oriel built for Maximilian I. Traditional Tyrolean products are the mainstay, including carved cribs and decorative wood or straw figures. Folk bands in traditional costume provide entertainment. Another must-see Christmas market is the one high above the city at Hungerburg, reached via the spectacular Hungerburgbahn funicular.
The oldest Christmas market in Germany, Dresden’s Striezelmarkt takes its name from the local striezel or stollen, a fruity cake-loaf that has become Germany’s own Christmas cake. Among the goods for sale are pflaumentoffel, good-luck charms made from dried plums, representing the small boys once employed as chimney sweeps, Christmas pyramids, indigo-dyed printed textile products and pottery from Lusatia, gingerbread from Pulsnitz, filigree lace products from Plauen, blown glass tree decorations from Lauscha and candleholders from the Erzgebirge Mountains.
The capital of Alsace shows off its Teutonic heritage in its Christmas market, the oldest in France, dating back to 1570. The 300-plus chalets that make up the market are scattered throughout the city, with Place Broglie and Place de la Cathédrale, the medieval square in front of Strasbourg’s spired Gothic cathedral, as the heart of the action. Place Kléber comes to the party with a huge Christmas tree and orchestras, choirs, gospel groups, duos and soloists perform all around the city. Local crafts for sale include embroidered tablecloths, napkins and pillowcases, music boxes, glass paintings and marquetry, while foodstalls dispense treats from the Christmas cookbook such as spiced bread, traditional bredele cakes, mulled wine and Christmas cookies.