Prague There is a strong emphasis on fairy tales and folk-lore at the Prague Christmas markets and the organizers really go that extra mile to create a realistic "Winter Wonderland? setting. Here you will find a nativity style petting zoo, a very large (and very well lit) Christmas tree, singing concerts and horse carriage rides. The markets' brightly decorated stalls sell wooden toys, Bohemian crystal, handmade jewelry, classic Czech marionettes, and plenty of potential for tooth decay: honeyed gingerbread, vŠnocvka (a braided pastry studded with raisins), and vosŪ hnŪzda' (""wasps nests,"" nutty cookies heavy with rum). Wash it all down with mead and svarene vino (a sweet mulled wine). Prague's medieval Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square provide perfect festive backdrops to the city's classic Christmas markets. In addition to the Germanic-flavored festive stalls, local traditions are kept alive in food form with vŠnočnŪ cukrovŪ (Christmas cookies) and vŠnočnŪ rybŪ polťvka (Christmas fish soup), along with handicrafts such as delicate straw decorations, cut glass and wooden toys. The original St. Nick?the one with a bishop's miter and staff-is hugely popular in Prague, so a highlight of Christmas season is Mikulas, or St. Nicholas Day. This kindly saint takes his own day (Dec. 5) to roam town accompanied by an angel and a demon. The trio wades through the crowds of kids in the Old Town Square, tallying the naughty and nice.
Operates: Early Dec. - early Jan.
Vienna Come Christmas, the Viennese love to wrap up in furs, sip glŁhwein and nibble crescent-shaped Christmas cookies (Vanillekipferl) on the city's decorated market squares. Vienna's venerable Christkindlmarkt on Rathausplatz flings open its stall shutters in mid-November, and three million visitors flock here each year for beeswax candles, wooden toys, and glass ornaments. Shoppers snack on cream-filled pastries, candied fruit, roasted chestnuts, and Weihnachtspunsch (a spiced "Christmas punch" of wine, brandy, or schnapps sweetened with warm fruit juices). This market puts a premium on tradition: there are precious few tacky stands selling plastic toys, and Santa Claus, whom many locals view as the Hollywood harbinger of a commercialized Christmas, is strictly verboten. Instead, there's the traditional Wiener Christkindl, the official Christ Child?invariably played (following an odd Teutonic custom) by a young woman with long blonde curls. There's another market of luxe Christmas wares in the baroque forecourt of the suburban Schūnbrunn Palace, and a more intimate and sophisticated market lining the narrow cobblestone streets of Vienna's Spittelberg district.The "Christkindlmšrkte? in Vienna, Austria is a popular seven hundred year old Christmas market. It?s a very traditional event with an emphasis on nostalgia, fun and romance. There are also, more than three-dozen Advent season concerts. The city of Haydn and Strauss invites choirs from around the world to perform Christmas music in the Rathaus every weekend (Friday to Sunday) from late November to Dec. 24 as part of the Internationales Adventsingen festival.
Operates: Mid-Nov. - Dec. 24
Salzburg Salzburg is at its best in winter, when everything is covered with a dusting of snow. The city even smells like Christmas as the rich aromas of glŁhwein, roast chestnuts and freshly baked gingerbread from the numerous markets mingle in the cold air. Add the sound of church bells, choral singing and brass bands, and it's the perfect city in which to get into the festive spirit. Salzburg's Christkindlmarkt is one of Europe's oldest markets; there are documents from the 15th century describing the fine crafts being sold by elderly women in front of the Salzburg cathedral during Advent season. It is also smaller and more intimate, just 85 stalls ranged under the floodlit baroque stage set that is downtown Salzburg, with its fountains snuggled under avant-garde glass casings for the winter, church bells echoing off the buildings, and the medieval castle glowering down from the cliff above. It's a perfect postcard backdrop for browsing stalls selling pewter crafts, furry slippers, and loden coats while keeping warm with gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and almonds, sausages, and sweet mulled wine.
Begin with fairy tales and folk-lore at the Prague Christmas markets (ideally suited for children), then continue to Vienna`s 700 year old Christmas Markets, one of the most well rounded and finish with the smells of Christmas as the rich aromas of glŁhwein, roast chestnuts and freshly baked gingerbread from the numerous markets mingle in the cold air of Salzburg. Transportation between cities by train.
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