As this blog indicates, we’ve visited quite a number of Christmas markets in the last few years, some of which we’ve loved and revisited, some that we’ve been hugely disappointed with!
Which begs the question, what separates a good Christmas market from a bad one?
Here’s just a few of the things that make a Christmas market for us:
A Festive Atmosphere
This may seem like an obvious statement, but it’s quite easy for a Christmas market to be distinctly drab if the atmosphere is lacking. Sometimes this can’t be helped; the weather, the time of day, the day of the week can all influence the festivities, however we have walked around Cologne Christmas market on a drizzly November morning and still felt that festive tingle!
It’s the extras that create the atmosphere – the decoration on and around the stalls, the smells of mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, and other tasty treats, and the activities being held around the market.
It also helps if you visit a Christmas market in the late afternoon / evening, when the winter sun is fading and the twinkly lights are in full effect! A rainy Monday morning doesn’t quite generate the same festive spirit!
The Quality of the Food
We’ve visited several Christmas markets where the food on offer is akin to fairground refreshments… cheap burgers, bought in waffles with sickly toppings poured out of cash ‘n’ carry bottles, candy floss in plastic bags, yuk!
However, a good Christmas market serves up fresh, traditional food (often local), prepared and cooked on site, and tasting superb! German sausage, breads, cheeses, noodles, pastries, crepes, even oysters, the list is endless and delicious!
Glühwein, or mulled wine, or vin chaud is the staple of every Christmas market, so it’s such a shame when you see stalls selling it directly from bottles, no doubt made in a factory, not on site.
It’s such an easy drink to make, and the difference in taste between the bottled variety and one made freshly with citrus fruit and festive spices is vast! Watch out for the telltale bottles stacked up at the back of the stall and you’ll soon learn to identify a good Christmas market drink from a bad one!
We also love the tradition of leaving a deposit for your Glühwein glass, which you can then choose to keep as a momento (we’ve got quite a collection!) or return and claim your money back!
The Range of Products on Sale
A good Christmas market has a wide range of stalls selling products that are unusual, local, traditional or handmade. If we see stalls selling mass produced items that you’d find in any high street shop or online retailer, we start to think we’re in the wrong place!
The same goes for Santa hats, toy penguins and other Christmas related tat! We visit Christmas markets because we want to discover something unique and appealing, not see the same old junk everywhere we go!
A ‘Real’ Ice Rink
So many Christmas market organisers feel the need to include a skating rink in their festive offering, but it always lacks something if it’s a fake surface rather than real ice.
Don’t be misled, we aren’t skating extraordinaires, in fact we’ve never taken to the ice in the whole time we’ve been visiting Christmas markets, but a real rink provides a spectacle that fake ones don’t (and we’re not just talking about watching people falling over rather than shuffling round on a plastic surface… well maybe we are.)
The people behind the Christmas markets can really make or break your enjoyment during your visit!
Stallholders and food and drink servers who are passionate about what they’re selling, often dressed in traditional attire or regional costume bring a good Christmas market to life, and can also go a long way towards enhancing your experience with their knowledge and experience of the local area.