Christmas markets have been brightening up the dark days of winter in Germany since 1434. It's taken a little bit of time, but now every city and town in Europe wants in on the action and Christmas markets are dripping with fairly lights and gingerbread everywhere you go. But each market is different and has its own way of doing things. To get you started on where to go and what to expect, we take a trip to winter wonderlands across Europe.
Christmas markets are so important in Cologne, they are spread all over the city. The largest of the markets is in the centre, beneath the gothic cathedral tower. As a trestle of stars shine brightly above your head, the Gluhwein flows and the real story of Santa Cluas is told in Nikolausdorf, St Nicholas's Village. A river cruise - Christmas Markets of The Rhine from Cologne, along the Rhine, takes you to Rüdesheim, where the Christmas markets include a tradition of representatives from 15 nations bringing their own contributions to the markets.
One of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany, the Frankfurt markets start in the main square of Romerberg, where German sausages send enticing aromas into the air, and spill out into the surrounding areas in the form of pop-up Christmas markets. Here you can sample some mead and munch on giant pretzels, while wandering the many stalls. The great thing about these smaller markets is they aren't always the same and some appear on selected dates never to be seen again, so you really feel like you're discovering something magical. To also take in the markets at Nuremberg and Brussels, take a train trip Bavarian Christmas Markets that includes all three.
Consistently voted one of the best Christmas markets in Europe, in Brussels more than 200 chalets stretch for around a mile in the centre of town. The Christmas markets here have more of a festival event feel than a simple market. It's where to pick up those Belgian chocolate gifts, try some Belgium beers, taste warmed waffles, and go skating on one of the ice rinks. A Ferris wheel and light shows liven things up, and it has a party atmosphere you don't often find at Christmas markets. Head to Bruges Christmas markets for a quieter atmosphere and to pick up some unusual handmade gifts, and to drink Belgium hot chocolate, of course.
If you thought mulled wine was just mulled wine, at the Christmas markets in Hanover you'll discover something called Glogi being served instead of the usual Gluhwein. Glogi is a mulled berry wine that's much fruitier than regular mulled wine and sets Hanover apart from other Christmas markets. Take a railway trip - Harz Mountains Christmas Markets to the town of Wernigerode for a Christmas market in the courtyard of the castle with the scent of roasting almonds wafting in the air, and a smaller, more intimate Christmas market feel. The traditional Christmas market in the main square in town takes you all the way back to those very first markets in Germany.