Christmas markets: Festive cheer in Europe
Selling a trip to one of Europe’s ‘Christmas Capitals’ can bring plenty of festive cheer to agents, says Jeannine Williamsom
Browsing through the wooden chalets topped with twinkling lights I have one eye firmly fixed on my watch.
It’s just before noon and as I walk through Strasbourg’s Christmas market, the crisp air is filled with the tempting aromas of gingerbread and food stalls selling the famous Alsace three-meat baeckeoffe stew, made with mutton, beef and pork.
Home to the European Parliament and headquarters of Europe, Strasbourg during the festive season also makes a strong claim for being the ‘Capital of Christmas’.
Founded in 1570, the Christmas market is the oldest in France and I feel as if I’m in a winter wonderland as I stock up on traditional wooden toys, crafts and handmade gifts to take home.
Overlooking the market is Strasbourg’s distinctive one-towered cathedral – the money to build the second spire ran out – and I head inside to join the crowd gathered around the 60ft astronomical clock, one of the largest in the world.
Bang on 12.30pm, a mechanical cockerel crows and the amazing timepiece that also charts the exact position of the sun and moon comes to life, providing the one chance each day to see the 12 Apostles and other figures move around.
Afterwards, and much to my relief, there’s still plenty of time to continue my Christmas shopping.
Festive markets are guaranteed to fill clients with a little Christmas cheer. Germany is the heartland of the yuletide market scene but there are plenty of others to choose from including an increasing number in the UK.
Patrick Millar, Kirker Holiday’s Marketing Manager, said: “The Baltic States are back on the radar for many discerning travellers, and make excellent alternatives to the more wellknown Christmas market destinations in Germany and central Europe.
“Tallinn offers picturesque medieval cobbled streets; Riga’s Art Nouveau facades make an elegant backdrop to its pretty market and Vilnius is one of the most underrated capital cities in Europe.”
The markets appeal to all age groups, not just couples, and can also cover several countries, said Matthew Herbert, Product and Yield Director, Shearings Holidays.
“Our coach tours visit more than one destination during a trip, providing much more of an experience and the chance to enjoy all the scenery along the way.
“They provide an excellent hook to travel at a time of year when agents can be quieter and looking for sales opportunities.
“Christmas markets allow agents to connect with their current customer base and sell them something a little different, along with providing a great opportunity for cross-generation travel, such as mother and daughter trips.”
As the home of Christmas markets, most towns offer festive shopping opportunities: in Cologne alone there are seven markets, including a gay and lesbian one.
Dresden’s market dates back to 1434, making it one of the oldest in Germany, and a novelty is the 45ft nutcracker that’s the tallest in the world. Another historic market is in the toy-making city of Nuremberg where food stands sell the city’s famous slim sausages – there’s three in every bun.
Top tip: Suggest a river cruise such as Tauck’s (tauck.co.uk) new Holiday Magic family itinerary, from Munich to Vienna, or reverse. Ships stop close to the heart of towns and within walking distance of the markets.
Vienna’s 20-plus Xmas markets include one by City Hall, where children can learn how to make cookies and candles, and a Christmas village in front of the grand Belvedere Palace. Innsbruck’s Family Christmas Market at Marktplatz has puppet shows and a petting zoo, and in Linz the Volksgarten market features a lifesize crib and half-hourly nativity plays.
Top tip: Recommend excursions during the day when attractions such as art galleries and museums are often quieter than at other times of the year. In Vienna the Kirker Concierge service (kirkerholidays.com) can book concert, ballet and opera tickets in advance.
“Christmas markets appeal to all ages and are a great opportunity for cross-generation travel, like mother-daughter trips” Matthew Herbert, Product and Yield Director, Shearings Holidays
With its links to fairy-tale author Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark’s capital Copenhagen is a magical place to visit when the Tivoli Gardens are transformed into a Christmas market.
In Sweden, Stockholm’s Old Town market boasts a quirky living advent calendar. At 18.00 daily in the countdown to Christmas, a different window is opened in a building in Stortoget square.
The Norwegian capital Oslo has a stylish market featuring clothes and products made by local designers.
Sell it: Best Served Scandinavia (best-served. co.uk) offers the threenight B&B Copenhagen’s Christmas Market break. Priced from £655pp, it includes flights and a Tivoli Gardens tour.
Festive shopping in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania offers excellent value for money. With one of the best-preserved medieval town centres, UNESCO-listed Tallinn provides a picture-postcard backdrop for shopping. It’s said the first Christmas tree was put up in Riga in 1510 and magnificent examples grace the two main markets. A large and colourful Christmas tree that’s decorated differently every year is also the centrepiece of Vilnius market.
Sell it: Get two Christmas markets for one with Inntravel’s (inntravel.co.uk) new three-night B&B itinerary in Helsinki, with the option to take a ferry to Tallin for the day. It is priced from £465pp including flights.
Christmas markets have become an established feature of cities and towns across the UK. From an estimated 30 markets in 2007 the number grew to more than 100 in 2017 and there will be more still this year.
Birmingham hosts what it claims is the largest ‘authentic’ festive market outside Germany and Austria while London events include the Nordic-themed market in Rotherhithe. Other markets can be found throughout the country including in York, Beverley (probably the most popular festival of its kind in Yorkshire, with over 100 stalls), Newcastle, Exeter, Bath, Lincoln, St Albans and Stratford-upon-Avon. Themed breaks are sold through operators including Newmarket Holidays (newmarketholidays.co.uk).
Top tip: Boost earnings by booking an experience such as a London West End show or a Prosecco afternoon tea at Marco Pierre White’s Bardolino in Birmingham through Do Something Different (dosomethingdifferent.com).
Best of the rest
Enjoy festive treats such as panettone cake in Italy where Venice’s markets offer the chance to buy stylish Murano glass and gourmet goodies. In the French culinary
“The Baltic States make excellent alternatives to the more well-known Christmas destinations in Germany and central Europe” Patrick Millar, Marketing Manager, Kirker Holidays
capital Lyon the spectacular Festival of Lights is held in December, with amazing illuminations projected onto the facades of historic buildings.
The aptly-named Wenceslas Square provides a perfect festive setting for the seasonal markets in the Czech Republic’s capital city Prague. Running from December 1 to January 6 2019, the winter wonderland set-up will feature gift items like cut-glass ornaments and delicate decorations made from straw.
For those clients who just can’t make up their minds where to go, Shearings Holidays (shearingsagents.com) has a new weeklong Four Countries Christmas Markets Tour taking in Germany, Austria.
Sell it: Ramblers Walking Holidays (ramblersholidays.co.uk) offers a seven-night half-board Christmas holiday in Venice. Priced from £1,225pp including flights and dinners in local restaurants.
Trier Christmas Market, Germany, a town on the banks of the Moselle River
Clockwise: Strøget, Copenhagen’s main shopping street; Christmas decorations in the town square, Vilnius, Lithuania; hand-made gifts on show in Riga; gingerbread hearts in Nuremberg, Germany; Manchester’s Christmas market will feature more than 300 stalls
Above: Colmar in the Alsace region of France, near the border with Germany, has five Christmas markets. Right: hot chocolate at a Munich Christmas market