Christmas markets 2013

As part of our #12DaysBeforeXmas we bring you a lovely festive treat! By Emma Hannigan.

It’s fast approaching that time of year again; that magical time when you stuff yourself silly with Quality Street while watching ‘Elf’ for the fifth time and unwrapping dodgy socks from your Great Aunt Jean. That’s right, it’s Christmas! Dubious sock presents aside, there’s always something a little bit special about the run up to December 25th so if you find yourself lacking a tiny bit in festive spirit, your best bet is getting yourself down to a Christmas market pronto.

Luckily for you all, I’ve take it upon myself to visit four separate markets this year alone so snuggle up with a mug of mulled wine (yes, hot Ribena will do) and read up on this Christmas market rundown…

Salzburg, Austria

The Christkindlmarkt in Salzburg is the first market I hit this year, and what an introduction. Running from November 21st – December 26th, the Salzburg market is smaller than its other Austrian counterparts but no less magical – its quaint little market square is literally sprinkled in Christmas joy. Every wooden stall is covered in fairy lights and they sell an array of beautiful handmade Austrian decorations; from hand carved candle holders to sweets as big as your hand.

Salzburg is BIG on Mozart (he was born there, you know) so most chocolate-based things you can buy are some how related to the composer – even the chocolate alcohol!

In addition to the stalls, a walk through the archways on either side of the square will find you face to face with either a group of traditional carol-singers or a lone musician; I couldn’t be torn away from the violinist. One thing to watch out for is the Austrian tradition of the Krampus runs, a traditional day on December 6th that sees young men from the town dress up as a mythical beast and punish naughty children. They have permission to hit people so keep your head down!

Munich, Germany

We arrived in Munich on the opening day of the Christmas market, or Munchen Christkindlmarkt as its known, based in the Marienplatz in the city centre. The place was heaving with festive tension and the stalls led all the way up the high street, eventually opening out onto the main square which is dwarfed by the simply huge cathedral. It was an absolutely beautiful setting, although you had to fight for a space to take pictures!

The food on offer was traditional German fare of Bratwurst, Currywurst (which I tried, when in Rome and all that…) and copious amounts of Gluhwein – a spiced mulled wine. For two extra Euros you can keep the commemorative mug it comes in and many people carry them around all day, topping themselves up (highly recommended). The stalls offer unique Bavarian gifts including decorations, wood carvings and lots and lots of gingerbread.

Wander down a little further and you’ll discover separate smaller squares holding their own celebrations, one of which had a traditional German brass band, Lederhosen and all, well worth the exploration.

Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park

After my little European jaunt, I was back on English soil and found myself venturing into Hyde Park, London, to sample the Capital’s increasingly popular Christmas event. The main focus at Winter Wonderland is the activities and it’s packed full of funfair rides; ranging from the slight scary Ferris wheel (complete with fabulous city views) to a hall of mirrors and an Ice Kingdom. The event is also full of classic funfair games so make sure you have a go at racing some reindeer and see if you can bag yourself a giant snowman.

Alongside the rides, the bars are another huge attraction at Hyde Park. My favourite was the carousel bar that slowly spins round as you rest your mug of hot Kopparberg on painted horses – just make sure you try and get off where you got on!

Winter Wonderland is unashamedly loud and proud, with Christmas music blaring as you wobble your way across the ice rink. Don’t fancy skating? Grab some traditional German food and watch the skaters from a safe spot at the fairy-light lit bar.

Southbank Christmas Market, London

If you don’t fancy the hustle and bustle of Hyde Park but are still craving a Market fix in London then you can still get your Christmas on by visiting the Southbank market which runs until the 23rd December this year. 80 wooden stalls line the Southbank with a more traditional Bavarian feel than Winter Wonderland (there’s not an Ice Kingdom in sight!). You have the added bonus of the beautiful river views and between the London Eye and Big Ben; you can’t really get more British.

In regular Southbank style, there is a huge focus on the food. Wooden chalets serve up everything from German fare to salmon rolls, Mexican dishes, crepes and we even saw kangaroo burgers; so you definitely won’t be disappointed in the eating stakes. Pick up some unique Christmas gifts and support the small vendors – while drinking your weight in mulled wine, of course.

Emma is an English Literature and Creative Writing graduate and contributes to a number of different websites – mostly writing about Ryan Gosling. She can be found tweeting Mean Girls quotes and discussing her daily moments of humiliation at @emmahannigan