Friday, July 25, 2014

Christmas Markets

Ever since my first European Christmas Market in Aix-en-Provence, France I have been infatuated with Christmas Markets. There is something about Europe's Christmas markets that are so special to me but I can't put my finger on exactly what it is. I have not been able to find the same magic in New York's Christmas Market or in San Francisco's Great Dickens Christmas Fair. Maybe it is the feeling of being bundled up, eating seasonal and regional street food, and knowing that I'm taking part of an Old World tradition; or maybe the special feeling comes from drinking warm alcoholic drinks.

In years past, it was hard to justify flying out to Europe around Christmas time so I was really excited that I could gorge on markets this holiday season. Here are all the markets that we visited this past holiday season.


Zürich Hauptbahnhof, Switzerland
Europe's largest indoor Christmas market is located in Zurich's main train station. With market stalls located in the main hall and underground in the RailCity shopping mall, in my opinion, this place has the best selection of gifts and Christmas decorations for sale in Zurich. And to no surprise this swanky city has the swankiest Christmas tree I've even seen - a tree entirely covered in Swarovski ornaments crystal. There were plenty of gift buying opportunities but we only went there for dinner, dessert and some Glühwein.
Since my German class is across the street from the train station, I couldn't help but walk through here after each class in December.
Reminds me of my grandmother's Christmas village display that decorated the living room for the holiday.
But she didn't have this adorable piece.
My favorite part of Christmas, Glühwein!
Enjoying Raclette -- melted Raclette cheese over bread or potatoes, topped with seasoning.


Zürich Bellevue, Switzerland
This is Zurich's largest outdoor market, located adjacent to the Opernhaus. Food stalls here out numbered the gift stalls, which must have been why there was always lively crowds around lunch and dinner time. This market has an adjacent outdoor ice rink and something special for adults, a Merry-go-round converted into a bar that slowly rotates. We came here numerous times for dinner and a drink on the converted carousel.
Houses may not be lit up like back in the US, but these light-filled markets make up for it.
I love you too!
Moves just slowly enough to hop on and off.
It still has carousel decorations topped with Christmas decorations.


Basel, Switzerland
The Basel market is located in two spots in the city (Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz) and is known for being the prettiest and largest market in Switzerland. And I have to agree that it was pretty - even during the daytime. I especially liked how the underside of the roofs of the shops were decorated.
Münsterplatz Market


Hallstatt, Austria
This small picturesque village holds a small Christmas Market only one day a year in the village center. The low key atmosphere allowed us to chat with the people working at the tents who actually make the items for sale. Nothing can beat enjoying a cup of Glühwein with welcoming locals.
Small and quaint market.
We bought a hand made ornament from two teenage girls. It was sweet that they said an endearing good-bye to their creation.
Locally made garlic covered speck (cured meat).


Strasbourg, France
This is the oldest Christmas market (dating back to 1570), voted as Europe's Best Christmas Market, and is the self proclaimed Capital of Christmas. This market is so large that you need a map to navigate your way around. Multiple small markets are spread throughout the city, many with its own theme. As one strolls with the crowds from market to market, the beautifully decorated streets are a feast for the eyes. This market was hands down my favorite overall market for the best decorated and best variety of gift and food shops; plus the city is beautiful on its own. The market runs until the end of the year and it is definitely worth dealing with crowds during the evenings before Christmas.
Mulled Wine or Vin Chaud, a nice change from Glühwein in Switzerland but just didn't rock our boats.
I was in love with how the small pedestrian streets were decorated
So many streets and alleys were decorated.
The original market location is around the city's cathedral.
After sunset, the city's streets light up.
Walking around after sunset is a must.
So many different items for sale.


Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is known for being beautiful on a normal day. The Christmas market brings the city to a whole new level. We were able to visit during Christmas Eve and were amazed by how many locals and tourists were enjoying the market. We had no clue it was such a huge tourist attraction. In our opinion, Prague's market has the best variety of street food. The main market is located outside in the Old Town Square selling more food than gifts. There is also a second market in Wenceslas Square selling plenty of food as well.
Impressive Christmas Tree is the centerpiece of the Old Town Square Market.
Great place to grab dinner
Prosciutto di Praga -- the guys' favorite street food.
Deep fried, long, thinly sliced ribbons of potatoes. Think of a long curly potato chip.
"Trdlo" or "trdelník" is a warm pastry to which we were totally addicted.
"Baked" over coals and topped with cinnamon and sugar. We couldn't get enough of this treat.


Berlin, Germany
Germany really knows how to do Christmas markets. Without even trying, we stumbled across several markets. We found ourselves spending one evening in the Christmas Market at Potsdamer Platz with plenty to keep us more than content. It had Europe's largest mobile toboggan run 70 metres long and an Austrian Salzburg hut with a DJ and dance floor for an après-ski party. It also had a "curling bowling" court and ice rink just outside the hut.  Here you put down a deposit for your mug, which you can later keep as a souvenir or return for your deposit. I love it! We found this to be a common practice in German speaking countries. This market ran until the new year.
Super cute mug but I'd rather get my 4 Euro deposit back once I've polished off the Glühwein.
Lunch time at the Christmas Market
I am Single!
Q beat Guillermo down the toboggan run. Looks like someone owes Q a beer.