Looking for something to get you in the festive spirit this year? If mulled wine, carols and beautiful artisanal gifts are all you need for a merry little Christmas, then look no further – we have the perfect destination for you this holiday season.
From cobblestone European streets that come alive in the winter to dazzling parks in Asia that have been turned into whimsical winter wonderlands, the list below is sure to make even the most stubborn of scrooges feel a little festive.
1) Alsace, France
Located in the northeastern region of France near the border of Germany, Colmar is a small town that transports travellers to what feels like a much earlier time. With cobblestone streets lined with half-timbered medieval and early Renaissance buildings, one can only imagine the beguiling charm that the festive season holds. For six weeks only, Old Town in Colmar is transformed into a multifaceted Christmas market.
The Old Town itself boasts six separate Christmas markets with over 180 stalls, along with a Christmas ice rink and, maybe most impressively, choirs performing on gondolas down the river. Each market is its own ‘mini village’ with a unique collection of works that reflect its own individuality and originality. These artisanal products are only available during Christmas time and cannot be seen at any other time throughout the year. A favourite for many is definitely the cosy Christmas cellars, where guests are invited for a wine tasting and a can partake in a festive wreathmaking workshop.
2) Sapporo, Japan
Sapporo, the capital of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, has been hailed as a winter destination for skiers, beer lovers and avid Christmas fans. Once home to the Winter Olympics in 1972, Sapporo has been hosting its annual Christmas market at Odori Park since 2002, where for one month only visitors are transported to the world of Germany. Replicating its sister ties with Munich right here in Asia, the German Christmas market in Sapporo boast stunning stalls, commemorative décor, outdoor concerts, indoor workshops and of course, booths that are packaged with food and drinks that will warm your soul from the inside out.
The Sapporo ‘White Illumination’ has been a time held tradition in Japan since 1981. Starting precedence for a practice that is now adorned all over the country, approximately 520,000 light bulbs illuminate Odori Park with magnificent artistry. Market-goers marvel at endless rows of trees draped with strings of light against a white snowy backdrop; making it a magical shopping and exquisite photography experience.
Europe is home to some of the finest Christmas markets in the world. With Germany, London, Switzerland and France as frontrunners, many overlook their friendly neighbor, Spain. Fira de Nadal de la Sagrada Família, in Barcelona, is set around Gaudí’s magnificent Sagrada Familia church – a prime location for not only exploring Christmas goodness, but also the city itself.
This traditional market dates back to the 1960s and boasts never-ending rows of food, artisanal gifts and handcrafted decorations, making it a local favourite. If time permits, extend your stay a week into the new year to witness the experiential Feast of Epiphany parade that is celebrated annually all over the country on 6 January. Family and friends, tourists and locals alike pack the sidewalks to watch colourful parades that commemorate the journey that the three wise men are said to have taken to present the baby Jesus with gifts.
Ljubljana, the charming capital of Slovenia, is nothing short of a fairytale. Home to green expanses, castles and rivers, it is only fitting that the Ljubljana Christmas Market – also known as the Ljubljana Festive Fair – provides a magical experience for all those who visit.
As you stroll along the banks of the Ljubljanica River, wooden stalls are adorned with dazzling ornaments, the crisp air is filled with aromas of fresh pastries, roasted chestnuts and mulled wine (kuhano vino), and angels dotting the river banks pass out little bags of sugar cookies. Towards the city centre you’ll find children’s choirs performing classic carols and bands livening up crowds of people, getting them dancing. There is also an ice rink in Congress Square, making it a romantic yet lively atmosphere for both couples and children.
5) Moscow, Russia
Christmas time in Moscow is a truly magical experience. The majestic architecture comes alive when it’s coated in snow, and the white skies compliment it perfectly. Moscow’s Christmas markets are famous all over the world and are visited by tourists and locals alike.
With the Kremlin as a majestic backdrop, the Red Square Christmas Market is a wonderful choice for tourists, selling everything from festive Christmas decorations, to more traditional Russian Matryoshka Dolls and Khokhloma painted toys. Enjoy the many ice-skating rinks, dotted around the market, and marvel at the spectacular Christmas tree. The tree is chosen by experts and must be of a specific height and diameter to be ‘aesthetically beautiful.’