By Jeannine Williamson – October 2019 – 7 minute read
Whether it’s a traditional market selling gingerbread or a vegan-friendly Christmas break, there’s a holiday out there to bring festive cheer to your client.
“Would you like six, eight, ten or 12?” asks the waiter as I place my order for the most famous dish in Nuremberg. To an uninitiated diner, like me, his question is a little alarming as he’s referring to the number of sausages I want to eat. But, unlike Germany’s traditional bratwurst, I soon discover the Nuremberg sausage is much smaller.
The local adage goes: “In der kurze liegt die wurze” (the shorter the spicier) and the small fried sausages, traditionally served with sauerkraut and horseradish, turn out to be a tasty alternative to some of their oversized cousins.
Although I wimp out and go for the smallest option, the hearty meal sets me up to head out into the crisp winter air for an evening wandering around the Bavarian city’s Christkindlesmarkt, which dates back to the 16th century and is one of the oldest and most traditional festive markets in Germany - a country of many.
I wander through atmospheric streets of half-timbered buildings and arrive at the Hauptmarkt, the central square in Nuremberg’s old town.
I browse around the 180-plus stalls laden with decorations - many of them homemade - and traditional toys and games that don’t need batteries or an applied degree in rocket science to turn them on or make them work.
Nuremberg’s passion for toys goes back to the 14th century and by the turn of the 20th century there were 243 factories catering for the young and young at heart.
The tin cars made by Schuco and the Fleischmann miniature train sets are now valuable collector’s pieces.
I opt for some affordable gingerbread and spicy almond biscuits, buying double the quantity I need for presents just in case I won’t be able to resist the temptatiaon of opening some before I get home.
Festive market breaks will fill your clients with Christmas cheer and although Germany is the heartland of the yuletide market scene, there are plenty of other destinations to choose from and different ways to experience them.
“Christmas markets remain one of the most popular reasons to visit Germany,” said Beatrix Haun, Director of the GNTO UK and Ireland.
“While the festive markets are one of the country’s oldest and most famous traditions, some trends have definitely arrived more recently. Across the country we now have more than 15 vegan Christmas markets, alcohol-free mulled wine is on the rise and in Frankfurt and Munich there are ‘pink’ Christmas markets for LGBT visitors.
“Every town hosts its own Christmas market; there are thousands of them, so no matter where travellers go they’ll be enchanted by the special atmosphere - and less than two hours from home.”
At Shearings Holidays, Managing Director Jane Atkins said there is a growing demand for shorter duration tours and holidays, combining several markets in one break, such as Shearings’ Cologne, Dusseldorf and Aachen itinerary and the Three Countries Christmas Markets tour which includes Liege (Belgium), Aachen (Germany) and Valkenburg (Netherlands).
“We also offer a selection of drinks-inclusive Christmas market tours which are proving popular as they provide some added value,” she says.
“River cruises are also popular and we feature them with A-Rosa. They’re a great way to combine a journey along the rivers, taking in towns and villages all decorated for Christmas, with the opportunity to get off the ship and visit the local markets. And of course you only need to unpack once.”
John Fair, UK Sales Director at CroisiEurope, said festive sailings are an ideal way to introduce new-to-cruise clients to river cruising.
“They combine a relaxing cruise through stunning scenery with a city break, numerous shopping opportunities and delicious local delicacies such as gluhwein and lebkuchen,” he commented.
“Not only will clients find a treasure trove of unique decorations and gifts to take home, but the sights, sounds and scents of the season are guaranteed to get everyone into the festive spirit.
“Our Christmas market itineraries take in destinations such as Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava, as well as lesser known cities such as Strasbourg, which is the birthplace of Christmas celebrations and has one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe.”
Other lesser-know options include Denmark. In Copenhagen there is a magical festive market in Tivoli Gardens and a smaller market on the cobbled harbourside in Nyhavn, which opens in the second week of November. One of the country’s largest markets is held at Elisnore in the dramatic setting of Konborg Castle, which was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Inntravel offers a trip combining markets in Finland’s Helsinki and medieval Tallinn in Estonia. Other more unusual options include the Flemish city of Ghent and art-rich Lecce in Italy, often called the ‘Florence of Puglia’.
For a pre-Christmas break with a difference, Arena Rail Holidays has combined a three-night German Christmas market tour with an exclusive concert in Cologne performed by Aled Jones of The Snowman fame. Departing on December 11, prices lead in from £1,095pp.
Frankfurt: One of the largest Christmas markets in Germany, the market on Romberberg and St Paul’s Square is dominated by a huge Christmas tree and surrounded by historic timber-framed buildings. Things to try include quetschemannchen figures made out of prunes and nuts.
Strasbourg: Founded in 1570, Strasbourg’s market, set against the backdrop of the city’s distinctive one-spired cathedral, is the oldest in France. Look out for food stalls selling Alsace three-meat baeckeoffe stew, a local speciality made with mutton, beef and pork.
Salzburg: Birthplace of Mozart and one of the most famous carols of all time, Silent Night, you’re guaranteed music on a festive break in Salzburg. The Christkindlmarkt on Cathedral Square is the oldest in Austria and the windows at Hellbrunn Palace are turned into a huge advent calendar.
Prague: The capital of the Czech Republic’s cobbled streets, ornate bridges and huge castle add up to a perfect festive setting. One of the main markets is in Wenceslas Square, named after the ‘good king’ Svaty Vaclav, the country’s patron saint and subject of the carol.
Budapest: Divided in half by the Danube, Hungary’s first city is a beautiful winter destination. The market on St Stephen’s Square, in front of the beautiful the basilica of the same name which is one of the biggest churches in the country, sells traditional crafts made by skilled artisans.
Tour operators: Shearings offers new four-day Christmas market breaks by air to the Croatian capital Zagreb and Slovenian capital Ljubljana starting from £522pp.
Accommodation: Opened this september, the Nobu Hotel Barcelona is well-placed to explore the Market of Saint Lucia, the oldest in the city, and the traditional Fira de Nadal de la Sagrada Familia. The five-star Jumeirah Frankfurt has introduced the Advent Brunch, every Sunday in December and including live cooking stations and a kids’ corner. Offering affordable hostel accommodation for clients on a budget, a&o has opened a&o Warshau Wola in Warsaw, its first Polish property, and a&o Wolfgang, the second Salzburg property.
Cruising: AmaWaterways has a new seven-night Christmas Markets on the Danube sailing between Vishofen and Budapest that includes cruises on the recently launched AmaMagna featuring the largest staterooms on the Danube and four dining venues.
The River Cruise Line’s new ship, MS Arena, launching next spring, will cruise to the German Christmas markets in 2020, with four-night breaks leading in at £499.
Adante Travels has two new four-night archaeological-themed Christmas itineraries with A-Rosa: Christmas Market and Festivities on the Danube and Medieval Cathedrals at Christmas.
Amadeus River Cruises recently launched Amadeus Star, which includes an all-new sunken wine bar. It will spend its first winter season sailing festive market cruises on the Danube.
Excursions: Eating Europe has a new pre-bookable three-hour Strasbourg Christmas Market Tour, running from November 22 to December 23, including food tastings and a workshop to design a festive ornament.
Flights: For Danish festive markets, this year Ryanair launched flights to Copenhagen from Liverpool and Southend and to Billund from Manchester and Edinburgh.
Transport: Copenhagen Metro’s new City Ring metro line opened in September and connects to the three existing lines, including the airport line.
Where to book it
Shearings offers a four-night Cologne, Dusseldorf and Aachen trip includes three nights at the Mercure Dusseldorf Kaarst Hotel. The tour has two departures, on December 1 and December 8. Priced from £399pp, the tour includes four breakfasts, three dinners and coach travel from several regional pick-up points across the UK.
Crystal Cruises has a seven-night Budapest to Passau Christmas markets-themed cruise departing on December 8 is from £3,403pp if booked by October 31. The cruise, aboard Crystal Mahler, also stops at Bratislava in Slovakia and Vienna and Linz in Austria