Be a part of the jolliest season of the year. Photo by MTG Archiv.
If you fancy the most wonderful time of the year — we mean Christmas, of course — with its crisp temperature and blankets of powdery white snow, Europe is your safest bet when it comes to getting in a gleeful mood. Come winter, the entire continent starts donning its festive attire, creating a unique ambience and spoiling holidaymakers with local delicacies, special drinks, music and cheer to any traveller’s heart content.
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While traditional markets have been on the Christmas radar for centuries, sometimes the quirky and less touristy ones best convey the tight spirit of community and conviviality. Quotient handpicks five of the most unique Christmas markets in Europe famed for their unusual setting, allowing you to enjoy a bona fide winter wonderland with a twist.
Velvet Cave Christmas Market in Valkenburg aan de Geul, Netherlands
It’s not often that Christmastime finds you browsing through heaps of seasonal items in an underground grotto. But in the Netherlands’ little-known and charming town of Valkenburg (located about two hours away from Amsterdam) set on a hill around an ancient decrepit castle, you can literally wander into the bowels of the earth to discover a fairytale-like land bedecked with lovely twinkling lights.
In 2018, from 16th November to 30th December, the Velvet cave hosts the largest and oldest underground market on the continent, displaying numerous quaint stalls stacked with handmade decorations, homemade produce and unique items galore.
In the cave’s winding galleries, besides more than 50 stalls to browse through, you’ll also be able to admire sculptures and murals as well as an incredible 18th-century chapel. If you fancy a mug of steaming hot chocolate and munching on tasty sweets, head straight to the cosy café. You’ll also be able to visit the castle ruins during its regular opening hours, and all proceeds from the Christmas markets go to the Valkenburg Castle Foundation, which means you’ll also be contributing goodwill upon your visit!
The charming market in the Black Forest is nestled beneath the brightly-lit Ravenna Gorge. Photo by Hochschwarzwald Tourismus GmbH.
Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market, Germany
There are few places in the world that can match the Hochschwarzwald’s allure during winter. Nestled beneath the impressive Ravenna Gorge viaduct in Germany’s enchanting Black Forest near Freiburg, this Christmas market, held every weekend from 30th November to 23rd December, encapsulates the Christmas spirit perfectly.
The only market in the world held in a gorge, its main asset is the truly romantic setting in a deep, illuminated canyon in the heart of the forest (you’ll even get to trudge through the snow on a brightly-lit trail that leads to the market in the forest), but the local crafts and entertainment also add to its charm, attracting lovers of winter festivities each year.
Check out its 40 stalls piled up with local specialities and wares, imaginative gifts created by talented craftsmen and don’t miss listening to the live music. You’ll also appreciate the magnificent laser light show enveloping the arched viaduct as well as the old Alemannic customs that have been perpetuated for centuries.
Licques Market and Turkey Parade in Licques, France
Located about 20 kilometres from Calais, the small village of Licques holds a wonderful Christmas market every year. In 2018, pop by on 14th to 16th December to participate in the spectacular Fête de la Dinde or the Turkey Festival, which boasts umpteen turkeys parading through the streets of the town in a unique celebration to honour the Christmas bird.
For a couple of days, onlookers will be transported into another era, as locals take over the city decked out in spectacular regalia, almost convincing you that you are face-to-face with a veritable Knights of the Order of the turkey.
Other than sticking your neck out to see which turkey gets the prize for being the best bird, indulge in the to-die-for local produce as dedicated producers from all around France gather here to display their amazing gourmet delicacies from the famous local firewater liquorice drink to great wines, champagne, meat, cheeses and cakes — a selection of all the French produce any foodies needs to celebrate a proper gastronomic Christmas!
The picturesque fjord-like lake located high in the beautiful Alps hosts a yearly Christmas market. Photo by MTG Archiv.
Christbaumwald im See at Lake Millstatt, Austria
A stone’s throw from the Austrian city of Villach is Lake Millstatt, a picturesque fjord-like lake located high in the beautiful Alps. When the winter’s chill starts setting in, an endearing little market pops up in the pyramid structure atop a platform on the lake with local vendors and just a handful of stalls providing original handicrafts and a packed program of special events.
Here, travellers can stop by from 29th November to 31st December to enjoy the ubiquitous glühwein and seasonal treats such as boiled sausages and fresh farmhouse bread, as well as hot sweet chestnuts outside by the open fire, surrounded by richly decorated Christmas trees with their glistening lights that shimmer brightly on the lake’s surface.
Besides lovely Christmas concerts that’ll regale you, you can also partake in New Year’s celebrations when fireworks light up the lake on 30th and 31st December.
Mount Pilatus is home to the highest Christmas market in Europe. Photo by Pilatus Luzern.
Mount Pilatus Christmas Market in Switzerland
It’s incontestable that when it comes to breathtaking alpine vistas, Switzerland is the preferred poster child for mountain beauty. What’s more, every winter, at the peak of the mountain, a cluster of stalls run by local artisans dish up a smorgasbord of foodstuffs, mulled wines, gingerbread and nativity decorations to treat visitors with.
To get to the mountaintop, hop on the steep cogwheel railway through alpine meadows along dominating cliffs to visit the market between 16th and 18th November 2018. As the mountain is 2132 metres above sea level, travellers will also admire fantastic views of the scenery and Lake Lucerne below and conclude their shopping spree by dashing downhill on a sled or snow-bike.