Christmas markets have been enjoying increasing popularity over recent years, with reach that now extends beyond their Central European roots. Strasbourg Christmas market however, lays claim to being one of the oldest and biggest Christmas markets in Europe. It has traditions dating all the way back all the way to the 16th century. One cold day in December, we took ourselves off to investigate whether the “Capital of Christmas” lives up to its name.
Historic city of Strasbourg
Although we both visited the city some time ago, we had somehow forgotten that Strasbourg is a stunningly attractive city. It has so much to offer even without its famous Christmas market. Strasbourg city centre, called the Grande Île (“large island”), is a UNESCO World Heritage site, dominated by the vast Gothic sandstone cathedral that is also home to an astrological clock. The Grande Île is a genuine island, set on the river Ill. In the summer, you can take slow river cruises along the river, taking in the gorgeous black and white timbered architecture that is a feature of the city centre. Strasbourg is also the seat of the European Parliament, as well as home to a number of other key European institution making it one of the capitals of the European Union.
Gift ideas galore at Strasbourg Christmas market
When we first arrived at the Christmas market, we made our way to the Place Kleber to admire the giant Christmas tree there, and started our walk with a hot Glühwein. It may not be widely known, but there is an ancient law involving this festive beverage. It states that Christmas markets must only be attended once the traditional opening Glühwein has been consumed (true story. Honest!).
Having paid due respect to the customs of our ancestors, we wandered around some of the 300 stalls at the different areas of the Strasbourg Christmas market. This is one of the things we really liked about this market as opposed to those in other European cities. It is actually spread out over 11 different areas across the city centre, so in exploring Strasbourg Christmas market you get to wander all over the beautiful city centre and take in the sights.
Strasbourg Christmas market has many stalls and traditions that are closely related to it’s Alsatian roots. You will see traditional Advent wreaths, and lots of stalls selling Bredle, which are the local version of Christmas cookies and come in different varieties. The most traditional stalls are located around Place Broglie.
Alongside, there are also stalls selling quirky gifts, like the stall we saw that was selling soaps that looked good enough to eat!
International guests at the Strasbourg Christmas market
Each year the Place Gutenberg section Strasbourg Christmas market plays host to the Christmas traditions of another European country. When we visited, this area had stalls and shows that were dedicated to Portugal. For Christmas 2017, Place Gutenberg is housing an Icelandic Christmas market. As each country in Europe has its own special local traditions, this is a lovely way to learn how other cultures celebrate the festive season.
Wandering the paths of the Ill
The paths that run alongside the river Ill are a tranquil escape from the bustle of the Christmas markets. Walking around, you can take in the views of the incredibly picturesque buildings of the old city.
We headed back into the city towards the Cathedral. On our way, we decided to stop for another Glühwein, this time because there was a small queue forming outside a tiny and very cute little deli/bakery. They were advertising their house recipe Glühwein made with mandarins. Although it was not the traditional recipe, it was absolutely delicious -sweet and citrus, and very warming.
We walked on to the cathedral, and took a few pictures. By this time it was getting dark so we walked around some more to look at the illuminations warming the streets.
About the tree
The Christmas tree towers over the Place Kleber, 30m tall. The tree is installed as an annual labour of the National Forestry office of France. They start this task in March each year with the sourcing of the tree itself. From deep in the forests of France, the tree must be felled and transported without damage to Strasbourg city centre. A spectacular display of lights and decorations are added to create the final glorious spectacle.
So ended our day out in beautiful Strasbourg. We had a great day there and can seriously recommend it for anyone who enjoys traditional European Christmas markets. There is a calendar of events that takes place over the time that the markets are open, so you can even choose to visit when your favourite concerts or events are happening. Wrap up in your warmest clothes and prepare to be dazzled!
You can enjoy the magical Christmas markets so many other European cities as well as Strasbourg. Many cities have other festive celebrations happening around the winter months too. Click here to read about a variety of the best Christmas hotels in Europe if you are considering a stay.