Continuing on from our article “The best Christmas markets to spread the festive spirit”, here are some more festive wonders for you to indulge in this winter. Ranging from the local charm of Stratford-Upon-Avon to the exoticism of Krakow, this second part of our guide should give you plenty of ideas for festive getaways this Christmas.
Beginning with local festive offerings, the Stratford Victorian Christmas market is unique in many ways. Those working on the stalls are all dressed in traditional clothing, with some in full top hats and waistcoats. It can be disturbing to see some dressed as lower-class Victorian citizens, given the Victorian’s renowned population of the desperately poor who suffered great hardship. Nevertheless, it is a nice touch for the community to work together and uphold a market-wide theme.
Stratford’s Christmas celebrations are also different to others as they focus less on attractions. While Winter Wonderland boasts large roller coasters and Paris has a large reindeer slide, Stratford has only a small section of amusements. Due to its Victorian theme, the rides at the top of the market are traditional, consisting of a carousel, helter skelter and few others. This means that much of the market consists of its stalls, meaning it is that little less family-friendly.
The market, however, provides more variety than many other markets and you will be hard pressed to find two stalls that are identical. Although this is not my favourite market, there is something to be said for its dedication to a theme and – of course – the beautiful setting of Shakespeare’s Stratford.
Getting lost between walls of six foot high trees, each one twinkling with lights, was a fun and festive way to kill some time
Next, the Edinburgh Christmas market has the advantage of being set in one of the most beautiful places in Britain. Edinburgh’s architecture is magnificent and – although the weather can be too cold for some – it is the perfect winter wonderland. The market this year is the biggest Edinburgh has seen and spans the width of the gardens. The bright lights and music absorb Princes Street, the centre of Scotland’s capital becoming a fairy tale.
The market has much to offer with separate bars and children’s areas – Santa Land is perfect for families as it has smaller rides and stalls. The Christmas tree maze can be found here, my personal highlight of Edinburgh’s market. Although it is aimed at children, the maze was full of couples enjoying the attraction. Getting lost between walls of six foot high trees, each one twinkling with lights, was a fun and festive way to kill some time.
There are plenty of bars and food (despite the fact that the crafts and gifts sold were largely the same as any other Christmas market) and you are spoilt for choice when looking for something to munch on. The city does nothing by halves and, although Christmas will be here and gone before we know it, just a little further down the road, preparations have begun for the city’s famous Hogmanay celebrations.
The food here is unrivalled and, although beautiful, the market is quiet enough that you can take your time when deciding which of the many treats to choose
Venturing across the English Channel, the Christmas markets in Paris can be seen from the top of the Eiffel Tower. As with any good Christmas markets, Paris’s are draped in lights, twinkling through day and night. The big wheel rivals that of Winter Wonderland and the ice rink is surrounded by life size nutcrackers: if you are brave enough to try skating, you will do so with a mix of first time skaters and near professionals.
While there is a lot to do here, the food is the real attraction: it is no surprise that the smell of fine cheese floats through the air (which is great if you like this delicacy, but as someone who can’t stand it I had to hold my breath at times). The food here is unrivalled and, although beautiful, the market is quiet enough that you can take your time when deciding which of the many treats to choose.
If you feel like venturing a bit further afield this Christmas, you should definitely take a trip to Heinzel’s Wintermärchen in Cologne. It’s obviously a bit more of a trek, but is absolutely worth the extra effort.
Complete with an ice skating rink and curling, you really could spend a whole day at this one market. Its endearing charm comes from it’s kitsch-ness and authenticity: little model elves and employees in costume make it feel like a Santa’s village.
If you really want to feel like you’re getting the proper German Christmas market experience, Heinzel’s Wintermärchen is definitely the place to go
The market also has a wide range of food and gifts, making it the perfect place to buy Christmas presents for friends and family. So if you really want to feel like you’re getting the proper German Christmas market experience, Heinzel’s Wintermärchen is definitely the place to go.
Then, around 500km north-west, you will find Berlin. Germany’s capital is famous for its Christmas markets, with more than a hundred, both small and large. Since there are so many, you may come across smaller ones even while walking down a high street (for example, Weihnachtsmarket am Gedachtniskirche right next to the zoo). These will usually be slightly more commercialised, with the same big chains of bars and pancakes on sale, but the bigger markets provide more variety in the way of food and drink.
My favourite was Weihnachtszauber Gendermarnmarkt. A short walk from Checkpoint Charlie, it is situated in front of the Konzerthaus, a beautiful concert hall that overlooks the market. This is one of the biggest markets, with free tasters at every corner and many handmade products and ornaments perfect for gifting. The market costs €1 to enter but is open until late, so it is well worth the money.
Berlin caters to all your Christmas market needs
Whatever your fancy, whether it be shopping and taking in the markets or having a traditional early 1900s style experience (the Berliner Weihnachtszeit), Berlin caters to all your Christmas market needs.
Also a little further afield is Poland’s largest Christmas market, in Krakow, which takes place in the main square. Although it might not be the first reason you choose to visit Krakow, it’s definitely worth planning your trip so that it happens during the Christmas season, because it is not to be missed.
What was so distinctly lovely about it was the laid back atmosphere and the cheap food and drink. Unlike in England, where Christmas market snacks can set you back over £10, everything is reasonable, so you don’t feel guilty or worry that your card will be declined when you go and get a drink. There are beautiful Christmas decorations and the general atmosphere is very laid back and relaxed – quite unlike the sometimes crazy Winter Wonderland in London, or the Birmingham Christmas market that can be heaving in the run up to Christmas.
The things on offer are delightful
What better when you’re feeling a bit chilly than a very boozy mulled wine, or a spiced tea at only £2 a cup? I was unsure about Polish food when I first went, as it wasn’t something I had ever really encountered before, but I have to say, having been, everything we ate was delicious. For those who love dumplings or gyoza, pierogi are not to be missed, where you can choose from an assortment of fillings, for vegetarians and meat eaters, boiled or fried. Or for those with a sweet tooth, traditional chimney cake tasting a bit like a soft pretzel, which can be covered in anything from cinnamon to chocolate and sprinkles. The food and drink in Poland is incredibly reasonable, and the things on offer are delightful, so make sure you go with room for lunch!
What better place to buy your Christmas presents than here? Especially for those in your life who love a bit of jewellery, the selection at the Christmas market is excellent and a real bargain. Traditional Polish amber, in the well known orange hue but also in a green-blue colour, deck the benches at the market. Sheep’s cheese also seemed to be a big deal here, so if you fancy getting a bit to have with your Christmas cheese board, this might be the place to pick some up. I won’t deny that with a bit too much mulled wine in our systems, we all fell into a bit of a shopping frenzy but it was definitely worth it.
Ultimately, while you may not come to Krakow exclusively for the Christmas market, there are many other things to do in the area which would fill out a long weekend spent here. If you become bored of the market (or are just feeling a bit cold) there are many delightful little coffee shops and bars nearby. We came across several, including one we stopped in, that did the most amazing drinks, ranging from cherry hot chocolate to every spiced latte imaginable. If you’re tired of walking around, stopping off in one of these just for a chat, or for a game of cards, it is such a nice way to spend your time.