Just how much of a magnet is the Christmas Market mania?
The allure of these seasonal pop ups is monstrous. They are the biggest people-mover in the European winter, casting a spell over millions of travellers, who traipse all over the continent, in the worst of weathers, for the market magic fix. Some German markets lure 4 million tourists to their main squares, over the course of 4 weeks, so the passion for these markets is insatiable.
What’s the oldest Christmas market?
Well, it depends how you cut the cake and define a Christmas market. But after much investigation, I think that gong has to go to Vienna, which has staged a Christmas-focused market every year since 1294. Plus Vienna is also the city that invented the snow-dome, for better or worse, and they take the holiday season very seriously, with elegant street decorations, al fresco choirs, and a super-stylish Christmas Market in front of City Hall.
What about fairytale Prague?
The Czech capital is a huge drawer. In fact Praque’s ornate public squares and storied past are pitch-perfect for a spell-binding market. After all, this is the city of Good King Wencaslas, and Wencaslas Square is aglow with market sparkle. The marionettes and hand-carved Bohemain crystal are big buys, but I wouldn’t rave about Prague’s Christmas fish soup, which the locals binge on.
Estonia is trending as one of the most popular markets?
Yes, some market-aficionados rate the country capital, Tallin, as the go-to locale for Europe’s best Christmas market. Fun fact about Tallin. The city displayed the world’s first public Christmas tree in 1441, so they know a thing or two about baubles. But their current Christmas market has only been running a decade. Unshackled from the claws of Communism, Estonia has rocked the market charts. There are round the clock flights between the UK and Tallinn, to cater to demand. It is the Susan Boyle of Christmas markets.
Is Germany still the market king?
The Germans would certainly say so, and virtually every town and city sports a market in the main square. Nuremberg’s 400 year old market remains the world’s biggest, with over two hundred wooden chalet stalls packed into the Old Town. The vendors are under strict rules. There’s no tat in Nuremberg. All of the toys, gifts and decorations have to be handmade. There’s steam trains, carousels and super strength mulled wine, which will knock your socks off.
What about Munich’s market?
Well, this is Germany’s oldest Christmas market, tracing its origins back to 1310. It’s staged on the Marienplatz, beneath the city’s gothic town hall, famous glockenspiel and hundred foot Christmas tree. I sampled the Munich market in sub-zero conditions last week, and absolutely loved it. Like Nuremberg, it’s the handcrafted gifts and decorations that impress. More Black Forest cuckoo clocks are sold in Munich, than anywhere else in the world. And of course, if you’re starting to feel a little queasy from all the market sparkle, you can always pop into the Hofbrauhaus for a thirst-quenching stein and bratwurst.
Are you a fan of the gluhwein?
Argh yes, particularly when the outside temp is minus 5. The German’s spike their mulled wine with all manner of spices, so its extremely therapeutic. I’m not sure whether it has ingenious internal heating powers, or is simply a numbing agent, but it certainly made strolling the markets in polar conditions pleasingly easy.
What’s the easiest way to zip around an assortment of markets?
Well, if you want to check out all the buzz about Tallin, you’re best to fly direct from the UK. But Europe’s trusty trains are definitely the best way to thread together the other markets I mentioned. In fact, Prague, Vienna, Nuremberg and Munich are doable within a week. If you’re one of those people who often say at this time of the year, hmm , it doesn’t feel like Christmas, Dr. Mike’s cure is Europe’s market action. They will leave you feeling marinated in yuletide spirit. Make a date with them, 12 months from now.
For more travel tips, advice and inspiration, check out the website of New Zealand’s premier travel magazine, For the Love of Travel. www.fortheloveoftravel.net.nz
Mike Yardley’s travel notes from Newstalk ZB’s Jack Tame Show. Dec 7. http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz