With the holidays just around the corner, it is not too early to start making travel plans — especially if you are thinking of going to the Christmas markets in Europe.
With its Alpine scenery and colorful holiday traditions, Switzerland offers some of the best Christmas markets on the continent, plus the country is concluding its celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year. Not only do you get to shop for treasures and enjoy all the beautiful decorations, but you also can sample special holiday foods and drinks including gluhwein (mulled wine), grilled sausages, cheese fondue, and Swiss raclette (various vegetables and meats cooked at the table).
A number of cities and towns in Switzerland, including Zurich, Basel, Lucerne, and Einsiedeln, host Christmas markets. Pack warm clothing, including hats and gloves, as well as comfortable boots that are suitable for snow and ice.
You might start your tour in Zurich, which boasts huge holiday displays, Nov. 23–Dec. 24, around the main train station and a variety of shops offering Christmas crafts and foods inside. It’s the largest indoor Christmas market in Europe.
A towering live tree decked out in sparkling Swarovski crystals dominates the center of the station, where there’s always a rush of people catching trains to other places. The “Illuminarum” show at the Swiss National Museum nearby is a sight to behold during the evening hours.
Basel offers two enticing Christmas markets: one on Barfuesserplatz and the Muensterplatz in the heart of Old Town and the other on the Rheingasse. The Old Town Marktplatz features 180 craftsmen and artisans offering a variety of Christmas gifts and special foods, including Basel Lackerli, a gingerbread that’s a Basel specialty. If you like fine stationeries, check out the gift shop at the Paper Museum in the restored medieval Gallician Mill, which traces the history of paper and allows visitors to make their own paper.
You would have to be a real Scrooge if you didn’t catch the Christmas spirit in Lucerne, the “City of Lights,” located on Lake Lucerne and surrounded by mountains. On a winter evening you may wander through more than 70 stalls at the Christmas market, Nov. 23–Dec. 23, watch the “Live on Ice” show, and take a raclette dinner cruise aboard the MS Diamant on the lake. You might even encounter Brother Klaus, also known as St. Nicholas, and his companion, Schmutzli, as they parade around town.
Picturesque Einsiedeln, located in the foothills of the Alps and less than an hour’s train ride from Lucerne, welcomes visitors to its Christmas market, Dec. 2–10. It’s held on Main Street and around the square at the Abbey of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, home of the famous Black Madonna and a destination for pilgrims for hundreds of years. With 130 stalls, the market is quite large for a village of this size, and it offers a wide variety of holiday gifts and foods. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, bring your skis or bicycle.
For information on traveling in Switzerland, visit myswitzerland.com.
Mid-Atlantic Christmas markets
Christmas markets also are held all over the United States, including within the Mid-Atlantic region.
The Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem, Pa., recognized by Travel + Leisure magazine, offers live theater, brass bands that play Christmas music, ice-sculpting demonstrations, giant playhouses for children, handcrafted candles, handmade pottery and other crafts, gourmet foods, and more. Held at the Steel Stacks in Bethlehem, the market runs weekends, Nov. 23–Dec. 23. Historic Bethlehem, founded by the Moravians on Christmas Eve in 1741, is a must-see, decorated for the holidays with multi-pointed Moravian stars, live greenery, and beeswax candles.
The 14th annual Downtown Holiday Market in Washington, D.C., begins Nov. 23 and runs daily until Dec. 23 in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and Fifth streets NW. Exhibitors and artisans sell fine art, crafts, jewelry, pottery, clothing, and food items.
Baltimore’s Christmas Village, patterned after the Christmas market in Nuremberg, Germany, opens the weekend of Nov. 17–18 with the original Christkind prologue and runs through Christmas Eve. Located on Light Street at the Inner Harbor, the market features European foods such as waffles, gingerbread, bratwurst, and mulled wine, as well as interna- tional gifts, ornaments, and arts and crafts.
Celebrate the holidays at Mid-Atlantic resorts
The holiday season is the ideal time to get together with family and friends at a hotel or resort known for outstanding accommodations, dining, and activities.
Here’s a sampling of packages available this holiday season:
- The Omni Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., which has been catering to families since opening in 1766, is offering its Holiday Escape Package, Nov. 1–Dec. 22. It includes a 10 percent discount on accommodations and a 15 percent discount on outdoor activities, plus daily breakfast, overnight parking for one vehicle, and a take-home Christmas ornament. (800-838-1766 or omnihotels.com)
- The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., has a two-night Holiday Prelude Package that includes daily breakfast in the dining room and a $100 credit that can be used for dining, a spa treatment, or other item. It is available Nov. 1–Dec. 23, except for Nov. 21–24. (833-264-0548 or greenbrier.com)
- Colonial Williamsburg Resorts’ Holiday Getaway Package, Nov. 29– Dec. 28, includes accommodations at The Woodlands, Griffin Hotel, Governor’s Inn, or Williamsburg Lodge, daily breakfast, tickets to Busch Gardens’ Williamsburg Christmas Town, and daily parking at Busch Gardens. Among special hotel benefits included are discounts on Colonial Williamsburg evening programs, ghost tours, and carriage rides.
- Hersheypark in Hershey, Pa., has a Hersheypark Happy Christmas Package, available Nov. 16–Dec. 29, that includes deluxe accommodations for two nights, milk and cookies on the night of arrival, two-day admission to Hersheypark Christmas Candylane per person, admission for one vehicle to Hershey Sweet Lights, season admission to Hershey Gardens, and admission to The Hershey Story Museum Experience. A similar one-night package is the Hershey Christmas Candylane Package, but it includes access to Hershey Lodge’s Water Works indoor pool.