Holiday Markets: A Special European Tradition

In Europe, summer’s sublime, but fall is fabulous—as the holiday markets offer up their distinctive pleasures.

Europe is marvelous at any time of year: In winter, skiers flock to the Alps for snowy adventures; tulips bloom and welcome spring in Holland; and in summer, the sun warms the Continent, casting a glow across centuries-old cities.

But Europe is especially magical in the fall. In late November, when autumn’s days have grown shorter and cooler, hundreds of Advent markets kick off throughout Europe. For more than 500 years, Christmas in Europe has centered around these markets, held in city or town squares against ancient Old World backdrops.

Families and friends socialize and shop under twinkling lights; carols are sung; and wooden stalls overflow with local handicrafts such as lace, sheepskin clothing and blown-glass baubles. The air is full of delicious scents, including cinnamon from the gluhwein (mulled wine)—served hot as a steaming antidote to the chilly air—and bratwurst grilling over open flames. Treats such as honigkuchen (honey cake) and lebkuchen (gingerbread) sweeten the experience—and the glow lasts long after one return’s home.

Here’s how to make the most of your visit to the markets.

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