Christmas markets are a European tradition, drawing tourists from around the world each December. Here in the UK, iconic Christmas festivals like Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland have been cancelled for 2020. In mainland Europe, huge Christmas markets in Germany, France, and Belgium are also closed this year. Rather than stalls upon stalls of Christmas ornaments, mulled wine, and festive foods, these squares are empty. But if you’re missing out on Christmas festivities and want to participate in this European tradition, all it takes is a bit of creativity. String up some fairy lights, turn on the Christmas music, and stock up on mulled wine: here’s your guide to creating a virtual European Christmas market experience.
Virtual Displays & Performances
Get inspired with a virtual trip to Christmas markets across Europe. This virtual tour of Vienna’s Christmas markets shows footage from previous years, so you’ll see what the market looks like in its usual glory. This 360 degree tour lets you explore Berlin’s Christmas Market at Charlottenburg Palace. Kids can also check out what Santa’s up to at his village in Lapland, Finland.
Ballet companies across the US and beyond are streaming performances of The Nutcracker. The Royal Opera House in London is streaming their Christmas Concert from December 18-January 17. The Old Vic theatre is also broadcasting performances of A Christmas Carol during the holiday period.
Baking is an excellent way to get into the Christmas spirit. Transport your tastebuds to Germany with stollen: a classic Christmas treat made with raisins, sweet and bitter almonds, candied orange and lemon peel. “Christollen” is said to have originated in Dresden in the 1400s, and was first sold at Dresden Christmas Market, the oldest Christmas market in Europe, in the 1500s. For gingerbread fans, German lebkuchen is one of the country’s most popular Christmas treats.
In Austria, one of their favorite Christmas dessert is vanillekipferl: small, crescent-shaped biscuits that are usually made with ground hazelnuts or almonds. Originally developed in Austria, these Christmas treats are popular across Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.
For a more Scandinavian feel, try your hand at a Danish Christmas tradition, aebleskiver: little doughnuts dipped in jam and doused in icing sugar. Or go for the Netherlands’ deep-fried delicacies, oliebollen — a treat usually had on New Year’s Eve, though it is often found at markets in December.
Glühwein and more
Mulled wine is the quintessential Christmas market drink. The names and recipes vary across Europe, but most recipes feature red wine and spices like cloves, citrus, star aniseed, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla pods. In Germany, the drink is called glühwein. The tradition dates back to the 2nd century, when the Romans would heat and spice wine during military marches across Europe. Sweden celebrates the season with gløgg, mulled wine finished with a shot of orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier, while in France, mulled wine, or vin chaud, is served less sweet.
To make mulled wine, start with a bottle of red in a big soup pot. Add spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, cloves, vanilla pods — as well as fresh or dried fruit peels. You can even pierce slices of orange and lemon with cloves and let them soak.
If mulled wine isn’t your thing (it can be an acquired taste), try a decadent hot chocolate or some festive eggnog. These can also be spruced up with Baileys, Kahlua, or whiskey for a more grown-up take.
Shop for gifts
With many local businesses struggling under the pressures of the pandemic, it is a great time to shop local. This year, some Christmas markets in Europe have gone virtual. In the UK, Bath Christmas Market, usually a major destination for shoppers around the country, offers online shopping opportunities to support local vendors. Browse for personalised presents, Christmas decorations, handcrafted and more.
The Virtual Oxford Christmas Market also allows shoppers to feel the European Christmas market spirit at home: their website even takes the time to set the scene before diving into the gifts.
Some vendors have turned to social media to share their crafts. Based in South London, SoLo Craft Fair’s 12 Virtual Night Markets of Christmas uses Instagram to showcase local makers in the lead-up to Christmas. Click through their Instagram story every Monday night at 7pm to find the perfect handmade gift.
Make plans for another year
Being stuck at home in 2020 has given us all extra time to think about future travel plans. Check out this list of Europe’s best Christmas markets — from Zagreb to Copenhagen to Brussels and beyond — and get excited for holidays to come.
Visit the oldest Christmas market in France in Strasbourg, located in the Alsace region. The city looks like a fairytale, and its Christkindesmäkir is one of the most popular in Europe.
Germany is known for its incredible Christmas markets. There are huge Christmas celebrations in Nuremberg, which holds one of the oldest Christmas markets in the world, dating back to 1628. This is the place to try the original Nuremberg Bratwurst. Cologne is also one of Germany’s top Christmas destinations, with its famous market in front of the Cologne Cathedral.
Vienna’s stunning architecture looks even better in the winter. The city’s biggest Christmas market in front of City Hall, known as the Viennese Dream Christmas Market, has an illuminated ice skating trail, and stalls full of delicious treats and Christmas punch.
Celebrating Christmas virtually this year? Let us know how you are getting into the festive spirit on Twitter!