2020 is here and, though we might not want to admit it, it’s a relief to see the back of the copious amounts of mince pies and chocolate that have been crammed into every spare nook and cranny in our cupboards and tupperware boxes this past month. I spent most of my December in Strasbourg and made it back home just in time for Christmas. Though I was itching to get back to Scotland, as the Christmas capital of Europe, Strasbourg was the next best place to be.
Every year for 38 days, the centre of Strasbourg transforms into Christmas incarnate and hosts the Marché de Noël or Christkindelsmärik – the traditional Alsatian name for the city’s famous Christmas market which has been around for hundreds of years. This year the market ran from the 22nd of November until the 30th of December, and saw crowds flock to the city centre, the Grand Île, to soak in the festivity. In fact, it’s estimated that around 2 million people visit the market each year.
As one of the oldest and most famous Christmas markets in Europe, the Christkindelsmärik has a lot to boast about. There are 11 markets throughout the Grand Île, meaning there is certainly no shortage of stalls – with around 300 across the different markets.
The markets vary in size and the produce that they offer, but the main markets can be found at Place de la Cathédrale, Place Kléber, Place Gutenberg, Place Broglie and Place du Château. The Grand Île is also a UNESCO world heritage site, so as you can imagine, the Alsatian architecture, sparkling light displays and Christmas décor make every street look like something from a postcard. One of the many highlights of the markets (there really isn’t just one) is the Christmas tree at Place Kléber – the pinnacle, if you like, as this year it stood at 35m tall.
The stalls, many of which are German-style wooden chalet stalls, offer a variety of festive food, decorations and other trinkets. There is an abundance of mulled wine (vin chaud in French and Glühwein in German), coming in different flavours using different wines, fruits and spices. In terms of food, there is a lot to try, but Place Broglie is where it’s at. You’ll find beignets, waffles, crepes, Kougelhopf, gingerbread, petits gâteaux, bagels, Currywurst, and many more Christmas market staples. Place Broglie is also the place to try Alsatian cuisine, such as Spätzle and choucroute d’Alsace (Alsatian sauerkraut).
If you’re not so hungry, there are many stalls showing off all sorts of craftsmanship, such as pottery, woodwork, handmade toys, tree decorations, jewellery and lots more.
So, although it is over for this year, here are some tips if you’re interested in visiting in the future:
- Bring cash, and as much as you can. It isn’t cheap, especially if you’re looking to collect a few souvenirs as well as sample the food on offer.
- The security is tight, so be aware that you will have to walk from outside the Grand Île and go through security at one of the bridges leading to the centre. Trams don’t stop at stations on the Grand Île for much of the time that the market is on, so don’t forget to hop off at the next closest stop.
- There is a lot to see, so if you are in Strasbourg for a few days, it might be an idea to tackle it in sections.
- You can sniff out the best vin chaud – some stalls are better than others.