Three very different European Christmas Market experiences 🎄

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a land of summer Christmases spent at the beach, with endless seafood and fresh cherries, or maybe it’s because I watched too many romanticized American movies as a kid. But for as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of a snowy, white winter Christmas with all the Northern Hemisphere traditions. So as Helsinki experiences it’s first snow of the season and the temperatures plummet into negative degrees, I decided to get excited about winter by putting together some photos from two Christmas markets I visited last year and two I’m excited to visit this year. I hope you enjoy and get some ideas about where you could go for some European Christmas cheer!

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black and white xmas

Helsinki: Senate Square and surrounds

The annual Helsinki Christmas Markets, often referred to as the St. Thomas Market, is held at the famous Senate Square from the first weekend in December up to the Friday before Christmas. With the majestic all white Helsinki Cathedral standing tall above the square and a beautiful old carousel in the middle of the market, this is one elegant affair, with 100 well-organised stalls and many places to sit and drink. As well as delicious sweet and savoury food there are also many Finnish craft and design stores. A little further down Aleksanterinkatu, outside the famous department building Stockmann, there’s also a small cluster of Christmas stalls during the festive season, with many cheery lights, spruce trees, roasted chestnuts and hot Glögi on offer.

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Dates and Opening Hours:  1-22 December, Mon-Fri 11am – 8pm, Sat-Sun 10am – 7pm

Location: Map link here

Vibe: Elegant, majestic.

Must try: Smoked reindeer meat and hot Glögi- the Finnish version of mulled wine, served with raisins and slithered almonds in the cup.

Prices: On the expensive end, as Helsinki is in general. A hot mug of Glögi is around 5€.

Further Details:  For the Helsinki market and here for more information about Christmas markets and other festive events around Finland

Tallinn: Raekoja Plats

Tallinn is one of my favorite cities in Europe, and around Christmas time the enchantment of the old town is at it’s highest. Since 1441 the old Town Hall Square has been home to a magical Christmas Market and it’s said that the Brotherhood of the Blackheads erected the world’s first Christmas Tree here, although others claim that neighboring Riga holds this title. Either way, the Tallinn market is full of old world charm.

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Dates and Opening Hours:  16th November – 7th January: Open every day 10am – 8pm with hot Christmas drinks till 11pm. There’s also a Christmas program every Friday from 5pm – 7pm and on Sundays from 12 noon – 2pm. 

Location: Map link here

Vibe: Like stepping into a Medieval Fairy Tale

Must try: There’s plenty of delicious smoked and spiced nuts and very strong mulled wine! I found the food in Tallinn to be slightly heavier and heartier than that of Helsinki, with many hot pastries on offer. The handicrafts include a lot of amber and wood carvings as well as many hand knitted goods.

Prices: much cheaper than Finland but still more expensive than normal Estonian non-touristy prices. You can get strongly alcoholic mulled wine for around 3€.

Further Details:  see here.

Germany

As most of my trip will be after Christmas and the German markets tend to finish a little earlier than most, I will only have time to squeeze in two markets- but as one of them in Nuremberg I am confident that I’ll get my fair dose of German festive flare!

Image result for german christmas market
http://www.departful.com

Berlin

Initially I didn’t realise this… but there are many, many Christmas Markets in Berlin. This website lists four of the most popular ones. As I only have a few days in Berlin I’ll likely only check out the one in Schlossplatz in the old town Köpenick area of Berlin. Located amidst cobbled streets, a Baroque palace and the town hall, with traditional food, drink and gifts, the atmosphere is sure to be just what I’m after.

Dates and Opening Hours:  14 – 16 December, Friday 2pm – 9pm, Saturday 12pm – 9pm, Sunday 12pm – 8pm.

Location: Map Link here

Nuremberg

This is meant to be the mother-load of all Christmas Markets and I just can’t wait!!!

Dates and Opening Hours:  30th November – 24th December. Daily 10am  – 9pm, except Christmas Eve when the market closes early at 2pm.

Location: Map Link Here

Further Details: Here

If you want to hear more about the German markets then keep an eye out in late December when I post photos and info about my Nuremberg and Berlin visits 🙂

Five Of The Best Things To Do In Riga

Riga is both effortlessly cool and elegantly rustic. I didn’t plan anything before I arrived, but here are 5 things I stumbled onto and am so glad I didn’t miss!

With a lively and effortlessly cool atmosphere, Latvia’s capital, Riga is the largest city in the Baltics.

Founded in 1201, the city has a rich history, with the old town listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Unlike Estonia’s medieval fairy-tale town of Tallinn, Riga is entwined with more modern architecture, and diverse local culture.

Here are 5 things you should do if you visit the Latvian capital

 

Riga

 

1. Stay in the Art Nouveau Area

Riga’s Art Nouveau district is full of beautiful, intricately detailed buildings and trendy restaurants, cafes and shops. Street names to look out for include Strelnieku iela, Dzirnavu iela and Alberta iela. 

The best eateries I found were Mr. Fox for breakfast,  PiraniJa for pizza and board games, and Burga for excellent value drinks, burgers and traditional dishes.

Art Nouveau Area of Riga

Art Nouveau Area of Riga

Riga
“Labor omnia vincit” – work conquers all!

2. Explore the Old Town: Vecrīga

On the east side of the Daugava River, this UNESCO world heritage site is full of beautiful churches, colourful buildings and many pedestrian-only streets to wander down.

Some of the more famous buildings include  St Peter’s Church, the Cat House and the Building of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, And then there’s the statue of the Bremen Town Musicians, based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale and proclaimed to grant wishes if you touch the animals of the statue!

Riga old town

Riga town square

 

3. Walk Through the Beautiful Parks

There’s nothing quite like a morning walk or jog through a foreign land! Riga provides plenty of stunning parks, centered around a gentle winding river.

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4. Enjoy Riga’s Markets

Just out of the city is the wonderful produce and handicraft market Kalnciema Street Market.

Full of a huge variety of delicious, cheap local food, this is a must for any foodie. The market is open 10am – 4pm on Saturdays and is a 40 minute walk across the river from Riga’s Old Town.

If you want a market a little closer to the Old Town then head to the Central Market. With over 3,000 stalls covering 72,000 square meters, this is Europe’s largest market! To top it off, the market is housed in old German Zeppelin hangers which are now World Heritage listed. The central market is open daily from 7am – 6pm.

Riga Market

Market food
Quail eggs so many different ways… fried on skewers, picked in soy sauce, used in liqueur, meringue and quail meat jerky!
Market food
Oven baked doughnuts with natural colouring like blackberry or spinach… yum!
Riga's Central Market
Riga’s Central Market

 

 

5. Take in the View of the City From Above

There are several locations throughout Riga where you marvel at the layers of history below, whilst also getting your bearings of the somewhat chaotic city.

St. Peter’s Church offers views from near the top of it’s 123 meter tower for 9€. A little expensive compared to other touristic attracions in Latvia.

Vertigo Bar, at the top of a cinema complex in Forum offers discount cards for 2 for 1 cocktails. A cheap and wonderful way to watch the sunset over the spires of Riga!

Skyline bar on the 26th floor of the Radisson Blu hotel also has reasonable drink prices and an unparalleled views.

The Academy of Sciences Building was by far my favourite place to view Riga from above. It has a decidedly Accidentally Wes Anderson look about it, and the building itself is as spectacular as the view from the top of it’s 17th story.

Riga Skyline

The Academy of Sciences Building
The Academy of Sciences Building

The city from above

An Alternative Day Trip From Tallinn: three interesting sights

While Tallinn’s old town provides an enchanting time-warp, if you’re visiting Estonia and want to get out of the city to see an alternative side of the area then here are a few lesser-known options. As each place is quite far from the next, you will either need to hire a car for the day or join an organised day tour. I decided to do a day trip with Traveller Tours and had a wonderful experience.

1. Keila-Joa Manor House and Waterfall

Built by a German aristocratic family on banks of the Keila river in 1833, the neo-gothic manor house and surrounding walking paths provide a beautiful place to relax on a sunny day.

Just up stream you’ll find a wide waterfall- touted as Estonia’s most romantic. In winter the waterfall often freezes over, creating a beautiful icy curtain.

 

Keila Waterfall
Keila Waterfall

2. Padise Abbey and Manor house

In the 14th century, monks who had been dispossessed from their Latvian Dünamünde Abbey founded this Cistercian Monastery. Over the years it became a fortress and then a country house in the 18th century. Now, abandoned ruins are all that remain.

Like most places in Estonia, you have free reign to explore the site, including the musty dirt-floor cellars and high tower, reached by old wooden and stone steps.

Padise Abbey

Padise Abbey

 

3. Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu quarry was formed in the late 1930s, with prisoners from nearby prisons used in the excavation of limestone until the 1990s. To stop flooding, groundwater was pumped out during the quarry’s operation. However, after it’s closure the water built up to form a lake, submerging part of the utility buildings and machinery.

The quarry is not accessible to the public as it is now private property. However, tour companies do offer diving and kayaking in the lake during summer, and day tour options in colder months. By far my favourite alternative site!

Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Sunken Prison

Rummu Sunken Prison