By Meryl Pearlstein
Now is a wonderful time to visit the holiday markets in Europe. Beautifully lit and filled with people in high spirits, the markets, so much a part of the European holiday season, are a continuous block party that lasts into the evening filled with shopping, food, drinks and holiday merriment. It’s also a great chance to explore some of Europe’s finest hotels and cafes and take advantage of the strength of the dollar.
Munich, not surprisingly, is filled with Christmas markets, a serious tradition throughout Germany. You’ll want to start at the airport market where you can enjoy the onsite biergarden, a welcome respite after shopping the stalls of handicrafts and local treats. In the center of Munich, the city’s most famous Christkindlmarkt fills the Marienplatz with booths selling everything Christmas from hand-painted glass baubles to clothing and treats like stollen, spicy Pfeffermüse biscuits and Magenbrot cake. Near St. Peter’s Church, you’ll find Germany’s largest Kripperlmarkt, a manger market with authentic Nativity scenes. For something different, head to Wintertollwood for concerts and vendors selling quirky crafts and ethnic foods.
Where to Stay: Tradition-filled Bayerische Hof is notable for its unique styling, dining options and five-star service. The hotel has been attracting guests of note since 1841. Breakfast is a dream with an extravagant buffet set against a backdrop of the skyline of the city. Indulge in one of the few remaining Trader Vic’s, a kitschy, delicious throwback to the 50s when Polynesian-style dining was the epitome of glam and fun. A fine-dining restaurant and German cellar room complete the culinary choices, and a late-night piano bar and club with live music and dancing is a must-visit if only to see the rows of liquor lockers afforded to VIPs. A favorite among locals and visitors alike, Falks Bar sits at the top of the lobby-lounge in the Hall of Mirrors, the only part of the hotel rescued from the ruins of World War II. From the hotel, it’s a short walk to culinary mecca Dallmayr with its crave-worthy food displays and tempting cafe.
Berlin has no shortage of Christmas markets with two, in particular, worth noting. Close to the S-Bahn, the U-Bahn and the designer shopping area of Mitte, the smallish one near Hackescher Market is a great place to get your feet wet when it comes to navigating a Christmas market. Ready for more? Walk to the larger, nostalgic Christkindlmarkt at Gendarmenmarkt. Your first stop can be a food break where you’ll feast on potato pancakes, bratwurst, gingerbread and glühwein, all under a covered tent. Befitting the market’s location in front of the Konzerthaus, Christmas carols keep the mood festive while you walk among the booths selling crystal, holiday clothing and other goodies.
Where to Stay: The elegant five-star Adlon Kempinski next to the Brandenburg Gate and minutes from Grosser Tiergarten (public park) defines service and luxury. The magnificent Champagne and caviar breakfast is second to none and enjoying tea in the lobby is almost a religious experience. From here it’s an easy stroll to the museums along Unter den Linden and Humboldt Forum, a reconstructed former Hohenzollern Palace and Berlin’s newest must-see sight.
Leipzig becomes a Christmas wonderland in December. Visit the fairytale land on Augustusplatz or the historic Christmas market on Naschmarkt with its many stalls and enjoy a Leipzig holiday specialty, mulled wine. This German tradition is strongly represented in Leipzig with 40 wine stalls, all competing against each other in the test for the best. Mulled wine is available in red, white or rosé, giving you a chance to sample a number of varieties and judge for yourself. The perfect accompaniment, cheese, is available at the Swiss cheese hut or grab a pastry at The Wendl Bakery, a Leipzig tradition for 80 years. Completing your munch around the market, a Dresden hand bread with a variety of toppings or a classic Thuringian grilled sausage will keep you happy as you shop for your Christmas trinkets. Buy some local favorites, Schwibbögen, handmade wooden arches with little Christmas scenes, or incense candles from Crottendorfer and Huss.
Where to Stay: Steigenberger GrandHotel Handelshof is all about history, located in a former exhibition building in the heart of the city. Nearby is the pedestrian zone and the market with the Old Town Hall and the historic Naschmarkt.
In Paris, the Christmas market stalls previously along the Champs-Elysées are located near the Jardins des Tuileries and the Louvre. Called La Magie de Nöel (The Magic of Christmas), the city’s largest Christmas market stretches along the garden’s north edge. A mix of Christmas-themed carnival and Christmas market, this is where you’ll find food vendors hawking beer tastings, oysters, hot wine and sausages; a skating rink; the grand ferris wheel; and great arts and crafts. After shopping the more than 100 stalls, if you’re timing is good, you’ll be able to duck into the Louvre to take advantage of the museum’s fabulous exhibits at a time when crowds are at their lowest.
Where to Stay: Beautiful Relais Christine, a Relais & Châteaux hotel, is the choice for luxury and pampering, just a few blocks from the Seine. The hotel’s breakfast room and lobby are intimate and luxe, and you can get a room with a balcony that overlooks the roofs of the city. Caring service by staff members, an über-comfortable bed, and thoughtful touches like an honor bar and late-morning breakfast set-up in the lobby complete the experience. The hotel is a short walk from boulevard Saint Germain, literary landmarks like Café Deux Magots and Café de Flor, traditional boîtes like Brasserie Lipp, and high-end shops like Moncler and Comptoir des Cotonniers.
Bordeaux invites you to their lively Christmas festivities with more than 110 illuminated chalets presenting trinkets, clothing, games and handicrafts from local shops. “Gourmet chalets” sell hot chocolate, sweet treats and hearty dishes. The market also includes a program of workshops ranging from calligraphy to gift wrapping, candle making and cooking. To keep everyone entertained, the market is punctuated by shows and performances throughout.
Where to Stay: Villas Foch, one of the city’s newest and most elegant boutique hotels, is located within walking distance to the festivities. Bring your swimsuit, too, as the hotel has a wonderful warm indoor pool. Beautiful art adorns the walls throughout, and an expansive breakfast buffet and late-night cocktail lounge will keep you toasty and satisfied as will the luxurious guestrooms.
Vienna maintains its position as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. In addition to the special art exhibitions and musical performances featured throughout the year, the city gives you a choice of small to large Advent markets around the city center and off the Ringstrasse. Across from Stephansplatz and near the Austrian National Library, you’ll find two charming markets, each filled with booths of beautiful snow globes (they originated in Austria) and other crafts, as well as Glühwein mini donuts, and other goodies. The best, however, is the market on Rathausplatz against the backdrop of City Hall by the Rathaus, which extends for rows and rows with booths and booths and booths of treats. Be sure to try a palatschinke (a rolled up pancake) to go with your Glühwein (you pay a deposit and you can keep the ceramic mug), the perfect snack combo to enjoy as you meander. The kids will love the carousel and reindeer train, not to mention the ice skating rink. If you’re sightseeing in other parts of the city, Belvedere Palace and Schonbrunn also have their own colorful Christmas markets with lots of holiday cheer. Need another break? There’s nothing like a Sacher torte at the acclaimed Cafe Sacher Wien on Philharmoniker Str.
Where to Stay: In a great location to experience Vienna’s sites, the Hotel Imperial is five-star when it comes to service, accommodations and dining. You’ll pay for the privilege of staying here, but it’s worth every euro. And if you’re a music fan, you’ll love that the hotel sits right next to the Wiener Musikverein where the Vienna Philharmonic play. Also appealing is that the Haus der Musik, an interactive museum explaining music from classical to contemporary, is only a five-minute walk. Book well ahead if you’re interested in experiencing a performance by the Vienna Boys’ Choir or if you’d like to see the famous Vienna Lippizaner Stallions. Refresh at the Hotel Imperial’s beautiful Cafe Imperial Wien or in the cushy lounge, where their opera cake is a worthy contender as the city’s best pastry indulgence.
The Salzburg Christkindlmarkt on and around Cathedral Square and Residenzplatz Square in the Old City is one of the oldest Advent markets in the world. You’ll hear traces of Mozart tunes along with Christmas carols as you stroll among the booths. Did you know that the Christmas carol, “Silent Night, Holy Night” was written in Salzburg? Look upward towards illuminated Hohensalzburg Fortress and walk the festively lit lanes and city square — there’s no way not to be taken in by the Christmas feeling in this “City of Mozart.” The holiday festivities also include folk songs, an exhibition of mangers, and parades.
Where to Stay: Just a short walk from the Christmas market, The Hotel Goldener Hirsch is a 15th-century gem with the conveniences of the 21st century. Located on the pedestrian-friendly street where you’ll find the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Mozarts Geburtshaus), the hotel embodies service, quirkiness and charm. Staircases lead to various wings and corridors filled with antiques and artifacts, a breakfast room that’s as charming as its staff, and a cozy dining room and bar.
You don’t usually think of Copenhagen as a destination for Christmas markets, but, in recent years it has taken the concept and made its own with fascinating design pop-ups as well as traditional shops to take the Danish hygge outside. Værnedamsvej, regarded as one of the coolest streets in the world, as well as Tullinsgade are where you can find specialty shops that are centrally located while the industrial area at Refshaleøen offers an edgy choice where old machinery turns into a Christmas market. Tivoli becomes a Christmas postcard with fairytale houses, shops and a thousand Christmas trees. If you’re hungry, you’ll want to try æbleskiver, Danish puffed pancakes, and Denmark’s version of mulled wine, gløgg.
Where to Stay: Boutique Coco Hotel has a great location in the hip and vibrant Vesterbro area in Copenhagen. Sporting a colorful mix of French and Danish charm and design, the distinctive property with its fun café and lively wine bar is a welcoming choice for a distinctive stay.
Still haven’t made up your mind where to go? More than just a Christmas market, Dubrovnik’s Winter Festival is a joyous celebration of concerts, shopping and traditional cod dining in the historic Old City. From there, it’s an easy walk to the five-star Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik where you’ll get a panoramic view of the city and the colorful lights from atop the hill and a warm-up cocktail in the piano bar.