8 Christmas Markets You Can Visit While Studying Abroad

In the wake of Thanksgiving and the impending holiday celebrations, this is the time that most students really start to miss home, but don’t let that heimweh (homesickness) get in the way of enjoying what may be your last few weeks abroad. ‘Tis the season for Christmas markets! Follow us as we explore the Christmas Market traditions throughout Europe.

Lüneburg, Germany:

While Christmas markets are common all over the world today, some of the oldest and largest Christmas markets began in Germany, where they are called Weihnachtsmärkte. Lüneburg, a small city in Northern Germany is where we’ll start our tour. Lüneburg has many small festivals throughout the year, but it really comes alive during December. Booths with a variety of wursts, pastries, and giant heart-shaped Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) line the main street all month long.

What to try:
● Schmalzkuchen – these tiny German donuts are covered in powdered sugar and are a staple at Christmas. They come in a paper cone and are eaten with a wooden stick until all that remains is the left-over powdered sugar at the bottom. Buy them to share or keep them to yourself, these will be gone before you know it!
● Kinderpunsch – a delicious hot punch that keeps you deliciously warm as you wander through the market stalls.

What to buy:
● A souvenir mug—these are available at Christmas markets all over Germany and make fantastic souvenirs. You can return them for your deposit but you won’t regrete keeping one… or several!

German Christmas mugs

Hamburg, Germany:

The Hamburg market is huge and just a 30-minute train ride from the study abroad program in Lüneburg. Conveniently adjacent to Hamburg’s shopping district, it’s definitely the place to do some seriously holiday shopping – all while enjoying the festive lights and musicians on every corner. Oh, and did we mention that Santa Claus himself flies his sleigh over the market stalls daily?

What to try:
● Kartoffelpuffer – these potato pancakes with applesauce do not disappoint and will introduce you to a delicious new food combination
● Fischbrötchen – these fish sandwiches are not for everyone, but if you’re a seafood lover you won’t find fresher fish anywhere!

What to buy:

● This is a great place to look for some gifts to bring home to your family.

Christmas Market in Hamburg Germany

Lübeck:

A coastal city in northern Germany, Lübeck looks like it was made for Christmas Markets. The city has a lot of charm already, but in December their Niederegger marzipan shop fills up with everyone buying marzipan and chocolates in festive shapes and sizes.

What to try:
● Marzipan – of course!

What to buy:
● A festive ornament to remember your time abroad

Christmas Market in Lubeck

Nuremberg, Dresden and Munich:

Some of the oldest and biggest Christmas Markets are in southern Germany, so they are a great reason to see a new area of the country. The Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg dates back to 1628 and is visited by about two million people a year. Dresden has eleven Christmas markets around the city, including a medieval Christmas market and the world-renowned Striezelmarkt, which is Germany’s oldest Christmas market. Finally, if you haven’t yet made it to Munich, go in December to see the town squares and courtyards lit with Bavarian Christmas character.

Nuremberg Christmas Market

What to try:
● Nuremberg Rostbratwurst—three smaller sausages in a roll, usually with mustard
● Nuremberg Lebkuchen – a traditional German baked treat that has been created for more than 600 years and available in every size
● Dresden Stollen – a rich bread with fruit or nuts, “official” Stollen is produced by only 150 Dresden bakers

What to buy:
● An iconic Nuremberg Rauschgoldengel or Prune Man
● A handmade Nutcracker, Christmas Pyramid, or incense “Smoker man” – these are available all over Germany, but they come from the nearby Erzgebirge mountains. It will make a fantastic keepsake

Dresden Christmas Market

Budapest, Hungary:

Late November and early December, just as the Christmas Markets are beginning, is a magical time to be in Budapest. The churches and even the Dohany synagogue are lit up with beautiful lights and in each square artisans set up shop with goods to sell.

What to try:
● Kürtőskalács—the most delicious pastry, rolled around a stick and baked on a spit over heat. These are topped with sugar and walnuts and hands down one of the best pastries you’ll ever eat. These are also very common in the Czech Republic if you’re in the area, there they are called Trdelník!

What to buy:
● If it’s early in the season, then get a hand-knitted hat and mittens to stay warm.
● Small wooden trinkets, beautiful glass ornaments, and delicious pastries.

Photo by: Ashley Warren ashleywarrenresearch.com[ashleywarrenresearch.com]

Umeå, Sweden:

Umeå is a city in northern Sweden. The market in Umeå is smaller than in most other towns but has the most delicious warm beverages. Stop into any coffee shop for fíka, the Swedish coffee break made for eating pastries and socializing with friends.

What to try:
● Glogg, a warm Swedish beverage—they put nuts and raisins in the bottom of their glasses, so at the end you get a sweet treat to eat with a spoon.
● Saffransbullar – the Swedes have the best pastries; try the Saffransbullar, Swedish saffron buns, and Peppakakor, gingerbread pastries.

What to buy:
● Get some authentic leather gloves and wool knit socks to protect yourself from Sweden’s freezing temperatures.

Christmas Markets in Sweden

Cork, Ireland

Cork, the second largest city in Ireland, sits along the southern coast. The city itself if lively, full of street performers and several events year-round, making the city centre pulse with music, dance and laughter. Christmas time is no different, just bigger. The Ferris Wheel is the first sign that the Christmas market is here. It lifts you up into the sky, giving you the perfect view of the city, and once your feet are back on the ground, you can treat yourself to a variety of different foods and drinks.

What to try:
● International foods – stop by any one of the food stands for favorite foods from around the world.
● Chocolate – fudge from the Aran Islands is popular, offering a wide variety of different flavors to spark your interest.

What to buy:
● My time at the Cork Christmas Market was more about atmosphere and experiences, but there are plenty of souvenirs you can pick up along the way.
*Extra, stop by Bishop Lucey Park for a Christmas storybook come to life. Walk through the park and interact with different characters and take photos.

Christmas Market in Cork Ireland

Christmas Market in Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast is a large, beautiful city. If you ever visit, you will find your itinerary fairly full, and if you visit during the holiday, you will have even less trouble filling your day. The city fills with lights and once you set foot into the Christmas Market, you will never want to leave. City Hall opens up with a beautiful, and very tall, Christmas tree, reaching up into the already beautiful building. Once you step outside, you are surrounded by aisles and aisle of stands featuring foods, treats, games and more.

What to try:
● Hot chocolate – a stand featuring various varieties of hot chocolate (including Irish hot chocolate) is a must-stop to keep you warm.
● Something sweet – pick a pastry tent and try anything they have on the menu. You won’t be disappointed.
● Traditional foods – foods from all over the world are available. Stay traditional with German bratwurst, or venture out and try something new.

What to buy:
● From ornaments to dolls; sweaters and more, anything would make a great souvenir or a present to bring back home.

Christmas Market Belfast

Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy:

Il Mercatino di Natale a Piazza Navona (The Little Christmas Market of Piazza Navona) fills this famous Roman piazza from November 26th-January 6th. Make this famous market a part of your Roman holiday and see the ancient streets of Rome come alive with Christmas spirit. The entire piazza bustles with booths selling local goods, street performers, a merry-go-round, and in true Italian fashion, an extensive Nativity scene.

What to try:
● Roasted Chestnuts–pick up a cone of warm, freshly roasted chestnuts while you explore all of the different sights Piazza Navona has to offer
● Panettone–Christmas in Italy wouldn’t be complete without a taste of panettone, a traditional sweet bread that graces storefronts during the holiday season

What to buy:
● Pick up a figurine of La Befana, the ugly but good witch who brings presents to childrens’ stockings on her broomstick for The Epiphany on January 6th.

Ortisei, Northern Italy:

Ortisei is a small town nestled in the heart of the Val Gardena Valley and boasts breathtaking views of Dolomites on all sides. The Christmas Village in this town runs from December 1st-January 8th and offers a winter-wonderland of a Christmas market experience. With twinkling lights, an array of wooden huts selling local foods and gifts, and Christmas carolers braving the cold of Northern Italy, Ortisei is made for Christmas cheer.

What to try:
● Cioccolato Caldo–Hot Chocolate in Italy is an experience in itself. With a consistency nearing chocolate pudding and a spoon to make the most of each decadent bite, Cioccolato Caldo is a must for those cold winter nights.
● Vin Brule– This classic Italian beverage will warm you from the inside out. With cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and citrus, this mulled drink will add a special spice to the afternoons roaming the Christmas markets.

What to buy:
● Local meats and cheeses– bring a selection of fresh local meats and cheeses back to your Air BnB for a bit of an Italian aperitivo (appetizer) before getting back to the holiday festivities

Christmas Market Italy

I could go on, and maybe someday I’ll make it to every Christmas Market in the world, but I’d rather you go out and experience the holly, jolly holiday spirit for yourself! No matter where you go, find the celebrations, be a part of the culture and share it with me. You won’t regret it!

Thanks for tagging along. Let me know where you want me to go next! Until next time…
–Cicerone Ciara

 

See where else Cicerone Ciara has been!

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