As the birthplace of many traditions now adopted across the western world, you'd expect a Germanic Christmas to be fairly spectacular. Towering fir trees, sparkling lights and the unmistakable aroma of glühwein drifting through the air are just some of the hallmarks of a traditional Christmas market – and although you'll now find them in place everywhere from Birmingham to Barcelona, there's nothing quite like the original. Germany, Austria and Switzerland all host numerous historic markets each year, so here are three of the very best:
Mediaeval Nuremberg calls itself “the capital of Christmas”, and despite fierce competition from Strasbourg, Lapland and the North Pole, it's truly deserving of the title. The city’s Christkindlesmarkt welcomes over two million people each winter, with around 200 stalls set up selling spicy gingerbread, sugared almonds, fruit loaves and the iconic "Nuremberg Prune People", adorable figurines dressed up to resemble traditional townsfolk like milkmaids, musicians and ministers.
The Christkindlesmarkt's name is derived from the concept of the Christkind, an angel who brings children their presents. Every two years, a young woman is chosen to represent Christkind and act as an ambassador of Christmas around the world. At the opening of the market, she greets the crowds and encourages them to "be young again”. To further encourage rediscovering childish joy, the Kinderweihnacht just around the corner has a classic funfair complete with a big wheel, miniature steam train and merry-go-round.
This Swiss city celebrates Christmas so enthusiastically it takes two markets to contain all their seasonal joy. You'll find one at Barfüsserplatz in the heart of the Old Town and the other next to the cathedral at Münsterplatz, a five-minute walk towards the Rhine. Illuminated pines lead the way down the longest Christmas street in Europe. Both markets open on 27th November, when the Governing President will switch on the Christmas lights. Basel's Horn Ensemble and Choir accompany the opening ceremony, after which guests will be free to fill themselves up on grilled sausages and explore 180 stalls selling hand-carved decorations, glass baubles, traditional toys and handicrafts.
The Schoenbrunn Palace Christmas Market makes full use of the gorgeous backdrop provided by the imperial abode. This is not the market to visit on a full stomach, as on every corner you'll be faced with the mouth-watering scent of roasted chestnuts, cheesy raclette or freshly baked Vanillekipferl, sweet cookies coated in vanilla sugar. Many stalls pride themselves on making the ornaments and crafts that they sell, ensuring that your souvenirs will be truly unique.
Once you've explored Schoenbrunn to your heart's content, follow the sounds of perfectly harmonised carols over to City Hall, where you'll find over 150 stalls selling everything from hand-blown glass to homemade honey. A choreographed light show illuminates the facade of the Rathaus, while inside, children can take part in Christmas workshops, teaching them how to make some of the food and gifts sold by the stalls outside.
Of course, cities as enchanting as Vienna, Basel and Nuremberg aren't just for Christmas. With strong, stable economies and thriving cultural scenes, they're also ideal locations for property investment. To find out more, visit Engel & Völkers online or in store.