Time to celebrate Christmas in Europe.
There is something certainly special about being in Europe around Christmas time. Colourful lights are shining bright, public spaces are decked with Christmas decorations aplenty, and the ambience of it all is unbeatable. The Christmas flair is certainly in the air and the best way to soak up the festive season is a visit to a traditional Christmas Market which can be found in most major hubs across Europe and in the UK.
Here I share the lowdown on my favourite Christmas Markets of Europe, and the UK mixed in with my personal experience of each market.
Brussels knows how to get into the Christmas spirit and spread the festive cheer around. Rated as one of Europes’ best Christmas Markets, the Winter Wonders market sprawls out from the heart of the city for over 2.5 kilometres with the centrepiece, the 21 metre Christmas Tree towering in Brussels’ opulent La Grand Place. It is a combination of old and new with wooden chalets aligned across the city with the market featuring an ice skating rink, a traditional Ferris wheel and magical light show dominating the city square. Paired with offerings of traditional Belgian, French and Dutch delicacies, unique crafts and souvenirs, multiple Belgian beers on tap and spiced mulled wine, this enchanting market is not to be missed when in Europe. Every year it also nominates a country as a guest of honour with Tunisia taking the title this year.
A Slice of the Christmas Nice
The Brussels Christmas Market demonstrated to me the true spirit of Christmas, and to this day, I think this market will always be my favourite.
As I stood in front of one of the food stalls, a quiche stand and gazed at ‘all the colours of the rainbow’ of quiche flavours they had on offer, I got talking to an Italian couple who were also salivating at sight with me. They asked me who I was with and I told them I was travelling on my lonesome and just wandering around the markets. As they made their quiche order, they also ordered one for me also and asked me to join them for a mulled wine in which I did. I was so touched with this unexpected kind gesture and invitation. With that said, their generosity and thoughtful nature really captured the true essence of what Christmas is all about.
Ah, Paris. The city of love, the city of lights and a city that hosts the perfect Christmas night. Take the world famous Avenue des Champs-Elysées and deck it out with Christmas trees, illuminate the strip with Christmas lights and you have the most magical Christmas Market you will ever see. The Village de Noël Champs-Elysées features over 160 wooden chalets offering the usual suspects of (overpriced) gifts, arts and crafts as well as many foods and drinks stalls that need to be tried and tested with good reason. This Christmas Market is basically a gastronomic present for the tastebuds as it serves up local specialties including foie gras, sandwich raclette (melted cheese over Jamon), various cheeses, macaroons and could be accompanied by the likes of the traditional winter drink mulled wine or if it tickles your fancy, a champagne or the easily drinkable Bavarian beer.
Attractions are also an integral part with a huge ice skating rink, pop up restaurants, merry-go-rounds all on offer. You can also choose to soak up the Christmas Road aka Avenue des Champs-Elysées, by taking a ride on the Ferris wheel at the Place de la Concorde located nearby.
The Odds of a Christmas Encounter
‘Hey, you look like a guy I know’ (What a silly thing to say I know!)
‘That’s because I am him!’
‘This is so crazy!’
We couldn’t believe the chances of randomly bumping into each other! We had previously met a few months prior at a Hamburg hostel and had been in regular contact however this was unplanned. I wasn’t staying in the same Paris hostel he was at, but I went to the hostel bar in the hope of meeting other travellers who would be up to explore Paris for a few hours considering I was en route from London to Rome and just in Paris for a few hours overnight.
We decided to make the most of our chance catch up and walk around the Paris city centre for the night. We spent a few hours at the Christmas Market with me constantly making a stop at every food stall we went by and just wanting to eat everything my eyes looked at (I really could have eaten my body weight in baguettes). We then went to check out the Eiffel Tower (well, when in Paris) which had all of its lights on and felt pretty magical considering the hounds of tourists were gone as it was close to midnight so we pretty much had the area to ourselves. After walking around the famous Montmartre area and checking out the Moulin Rouge street front, we ended up at a late night Asian street food ‘hole in the wall’ café and ate dumplings while sharing wine and talking for hours until I had to make a move to the airport. It is those types of nights that I love where they are completely spontaneous. The sheer randomness of it all along with festive vibes and spending it with good company made this one of my favourite travelling nights of 2014.
The Hyde Park Winter Wonderland only gets bigger, and better and this would have to be London’s most dazzling Christmas destination. Hosted in London’s most famous park, it features 200 plus market stalls, a fun German beer garden, a carousel bar and circus shows. With the full-fledged fairground rides and its’ centrepiece ice skating rink to boot, you would most likely be wanting to come back again due to the fact it easily makes your inner child come out.
Let’s have a dance – 10 years later
I had recently found out that a high school friend of mine (and also high school ball date) was in town and was about to leave in a few days. Quick! A catch up was in order! We decided to go for a quick pit stop to a traditional English pub to lap up happy hour drink specials before heading to the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.
Once we arrived, we were both just in awe of how beautiful everything looked and how it actually felt like Christmas with all of no expense spared decorations including many Christmas trees, fairy lights at every head turn, outdoor camp fires and big and colourful (for the most part tacky) illuminated Christmas stalls and rides.
After hearing someone belting out some 90s boy band covers from a small stage, we found ourselves drawn to a family friendly drinking area decked with small wooden huts and a two storey bar. We went up to the second storey of the bar, and it is there that we had the most spectacular views of Hyde Park.
We kept bar hoping until we found ourselves at the holy grail of the night, the German Beer Garden! It was here that they also had a stage with an old crooner belting out tunes including ‘Return of the Mac’ (a guilty pleasure of mine) amongst other cheesy pop classics and gangsta raps (Gangsta Paradise). Yep, we were going to be dancing the night away until the crooner decided to stop singing. Here I felt like I was becoming that old draggy adult or parent with me getting into the dancing to this guy doing covers, but I wasn’t the only one. My friend and the mixed aged crowd were getting into it. My jerky dance moves were coming out, and I didn’t have a care in the world – the night was just so much fun! Everyone was having a good time, and that is what Christmas is all about!