Okay – so as a self-confessed lover of the sun, Hot! Hot! Hot weather, Caribbean waters with cocktails and tunes – I am the ultimate convertee to a European Christmas. And I'll tell you, as an Australian who grew up in 45-degree average Christmas Days, you must experience a White Christmas at least once.
Why have I picked now to talk about this, considering our current travel restrictions? Because, this is an experience that needs to be planned, and having a year and a half to do this – now is actually the perfect time.
The build-up to a White Christmas is not even about Christmas itself. In fact, you will find it difficult to celebrate in Europe the way we do in Australia. Most places shut down early on Christmas Eve and may not open again until after Boxing Day. It really is about family time for many Europeans, so finding a restaurant to have Christmas Lunch or Dinner is not all that common, so keep this in mind and do your research to ensure you are in a city that will have some options for you.
And don’t be surprised that the lights are coming on around 3.00 pm and it is getting dark already - this took some adjusting!
Why a White Christmas? Noooo, not the snow, but the Christmas Markets and the absolute beauty and charm of European cities at this time of year.
I am not a Christmas fanatic but have now been back a few times as I was truly captivated by the experience of the markets. I could not get enough of the lights, the food, the truly magical warmth in my heart (no, really I felt something in my heart and this was not due to the Mulled Wine I had to consume to keep me warm).
And, to keep your true Christmas dreams alive, and if you are going to want Snow, head to Lapland, find Santa, sit on his knee, and for 60 euro you can ask him where that new car is that you have been asking for....
Most markets run from around the 10th-23rd of December and operate all over Europe, though my personal favourites are those more towards the East.
For me, after being in Munich and experiencing markets that were quite social and reminded me more of Oktoberfest than Christmas, Salzburg was lovely.
It is so small and so traditional, and even though there was no snow in town, the nightly markets were traditional, and filled with Christmas stalls. They also had music, both live and piped through speakers, so these background Christmas carols really added to the ambiance.
As this is such a large city and quite spread out, there were multiple market venues set up. The Christkindlmarket near the Town Hall is a mix of traditional stalls for gifts and food, and in the park nearby is a usually a Christmas Wonderland set up with an ice skating rink. Altweiner Markets are in the heart of the city and have handmade gifts as well as serving traditional food. With more then 10 markets operating in and out of the city, it is advised to plan your time which to see.
Apart from being a fantastic city, it is one of the biggest European markets – and with lots of food!!!! I was looking at sharing photos whilst writing this, but it would seem I was too busy eating and drinking to take many. Haha. The smell of the food here though at the stalls and the array of sausages, and drinks to keep your belly warm was brilliant. Stay awhile in this City, as the extent of the Museums and history is so interesting!
Oh, if you are after a more social time rather than traditional gift buying, this is the destination for you. Markets are set up in multiple locations in the City and historic sites, traditional and modern themes, and then in the park DJs and play areas and lighting – there is a reason why Zagreb has won the award of Best Christmas Market and is not allowed to compete for the title at present. Zagreb is easy to walk around, and quite quirky, and you can still do day trips from here to see areas such as Lake Bled.
If you truly love Santa, if you have not experienced snow, if you want to see a real reindeer, if you want to stay in an igloo and try and try and catch the Northern Lights, then jump on a flight from Helsinki and try it all. I don’t want to give too much away, but for me, the silence of snow, the pink skies for the few hours of daylight you have, and snowmobiling on Christmas Night to witness the sky alight with magical green swirls then finishing up listening to Christmas Carols performed by death metal bands; a one off Christmas experience.
( Accept that your photos of the Northern Lights may not look great – but hey, you have seen them!!)
Visit at the right time: Do you need to stay away from the gigantic group at the well-known markets? At that point, come in the morning, or when the business sectors open. Might you want to appreciate the twinkling lights all around? At that point intend to touch base at nightfall, and experience the business sectors during the evening.
Bring Small Cash: Some stands will accept credit cards, yet many only cash.
EAT AND DRINK UP!!!!! Make sure to try: Maroni (simmered chestnuts), Kaisekrainer (Sausage with cheddar in the center), Bratwurst (broiled hotdogs), Soup in a Bread Bowl, Pretzels, Kaiserschmarrn, Waffeln (waffles), Lebkuchen (gingerbread), Gebrannte Mandeln (toasted almonds), Bratkartoffel (prepared potatoes), Heisse Bauernkrapfen (hot agriculturist’s doughnuts), Krapfen (filled doughnuts), Glühwein (thought about wine) and Punsch (or Kinder Punsch without liquor).
Mugs as Souvenirs: Glühwein, Punsch and alternate heavenly beverages at the Christmas Markets come in charming mugs. After you are done with your drink, you can either keep the mug as a souvenir or return it and recover your store. (Ordinarily around €2-4) Each market has its own extraordinary mug, and they are diverse every year.
Dress for it: The Christmas Markets are primarily outside, and it can get sharply cold in Vienna in December. Wear loads of layers, including warm base layers, caps, scarves and gloves on the off chance that you need to remain out more than a couple of minutes. On the off chance that and when you do get cool, warm up with some hot Glühwein or punsch!
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