December 20, 2010

Christmas Markets

I love the Christmas markets around here. They are big open-air markets with little decorated shacks, that remind me of being in a Harry Potter novel (at least the ones in Koln did). These markets are held in various city plazas all over the city center. They are really beautiful. I find myself enjoying the holiday spirit here because the celebrating is done in communal spaces and is a gathering place for people to come and celebrate, or visit, or drink a few gluhweins (a steamy spiced wine-based hot beverage).

Melissa, if you are reading this, these pics are dedicated to you! Thanks for the gentle reminders to share some of these pics after selfish boasting.

My favorite parts of the market are the regional foods and drinks. So far I have visited the Belgian Christmas markets in Brussels, Leuven, and Liege, and the German Christmas markets in Cologne. The Belgian markets all have oyster and champagne bars, and huge temporary indoor brasseries. There are no festivals in Belgium that do not include at least these items: champagne bars and Belgian beers.

Brussels has the highest number of cheesey market vendors. Some of them are often selling tourist stuff, but they have an overabundance of hot gluhwein at almost every other stall. Many tents are set up to mimic bars, and I found this sort of boring. The lights are really beautiful, and they seemed to have a lot of kids stuff (an ice monster, ice rink, ferris wheel, and many merry-go-rounds).  All-in-all something for everyone. The market extends out of the the Grand Place area and ends into the St. Catherine area, you are bombarded by delightful smells since the food vendors are congregated close together.  Lots of tartiflette, large cast-iron pans filled with sauteing mushrooms, hot waffles, crepes with nutella, steaming gluhwein. Yum.
Brussels Grand Place

Christmas Market Brussels

Leuven’s market is cozy, smaller in scale, and well, gezellig. Although it is awkwardly fenced in, once inside, it feels much larger and spacious.  The tents and vendors are similar to the Brussels market, but it feels like there are more handmade crafts. This is a wonderful market to hang out with friends and family, as we had done with Hans and Linda during our Leuven day. We tried to warm up at the fire pits in the market. There is a temporary stylish brasserie set up in front of the KU-Leuven library. I was happy sampling churros and warming up with gluhwein.
Leuven Kerstmarkt

Leuven Kerstmarkt


Cologne’s various markets surpass the Belgian ones. Karl and his friend, Tom, had organized a surprise Cologne visit over the weekend for their significant others (Aida and myself, woohoo!) The markets are really done up and are located all over the city. The small shacks make you feel like you are in a winter wonderland. Their is so much great food everywhere. One can simply eat their way through the market.  You can have raclette cheese, which is heated over flames, and scraped onto toasted garlic-bread, roasted hot chestnuts, potato pancakes with apple sauce (called reibekuchen mit apfelmus), Hungarian fried pita-like breads that are topped with sour cream and parsley. Then when you are cold and tired, you can duck into a brauhaus for a nice Kolsch.  Cologne’s markets were rich, entertaining, and very fun to explore.

Weihnachtsmarkt Koln


Finally, Sara, this one is for you, where we brought them back for a Kolsch tasting:
German Kolsch

I am forgetting to mention that it was snowing the entire weekend. Huge 1” flakes fell upon us and it transformed the historical centers into gorgeous areas. This is especially true for Liege - where we drove to after leaving Cologne. I have heard that Liege has a less than beautiful city center, although with the Christmas markets placed strategically throughout the town, it really made the city feel quite cozy. The Liege market was filled with vendors selling hot fondue pots, steaming pans of tartiflette, more roasted chestnuts (an easy favorite), Belgian chocolates and beer, and vendors selling tropical cocktails.  After perusing the market, we headed up the 400-step stairway called the Montagne de Bueren that leads up to a gorgeous outlook, where a massive snowball fight unfolded (and where, fortunately, we left the camera behind). It’s too bad we didn’t have more pics from Liege, because the market was beautiful and so were the city areas that we explored. It snowed all day in Liege and presented the police with a difficult task of getting people out of the city. The return drive took almost 2 hours, but we arrived home safely.

Liege with snow


  1. I cannot believe you were in Cologne this weekend - I was there too!!! I have to say, I think compared to the markets there, the markets here in Leuven look pretty dinky. I loved it. And the snow made it all the more Christmas-y!

    Crazy coincidence. I'm sure I'll be blogging about it in the next few days...

  2. Sara, that is awesome! Maybe you are in my photos =) I look forward to your post, hopefully you will rave on and on about the food as well.

  3. You're making me miss Europe so much. Beautiful pics, you guys look so happy!


  4. I agree with you Nilam, the more eastward you go, the better get the Christmas markets. I used to _love_ the Christmas market inside the Zuricher Hauptbahnhoff (Zurich main train station). They even have a huge Swarovski christmas tree adorned with tons of crystal ornaments to complete the picture. I'm glad you made it to the Cologne one!

  5. Nico, are you sure you don't want to move back to Europe?

  6. We definitely will make a pass in the not-so-distant future - it's a work in progress, but the real question is: will you still be there? Allison and I certainly hope so!