Brussels Food and chocolate addicts would almost certainly enjoy the popular Christmas fair in Brussels in Belgium. Plaisirs d'Hiver/Winter Pret ("Pleasures of Winter") is a festival with elegant style. The theatrics include a nightly sound-and-light show on the Grand Place and a market surrounding the Bourse (Stock Exchange) and along Place Sainte Catherine. In keeping with that Belgian spirit of a United Europe, the 240 wooden chalets host artisans from around the world hawking a kaleidoscope of Christmas wares, handmade crafts, and souvenirs. Not that Belgian traditions are left out; browse the many food stalls for pots of moules (mussels) and caricoles (peppery whelks or winkles), Belgian fries and fluffy Belgian waffles, seasonal croustillons (sugar doughnuts), and Belgium's two most welcome additions to world cuisine: fine chocolates and powerful beer. The stalls line the streets of Bourse, Marché aux Poissons and Place St. Catherines and look like gingerbread houses, twinkling with fairy lights and covered with ?snow-top? roofs. The shopping ends at the Fishmarket, which is transformed annually into a long ice-skating rink. A spinning 160-foot Ferris wheel glitters overhead.In the Île de la Réunion village, each year, Brussels invites a different guest of honor to set up a market-within-the-market to share some of its own traditions. Past invitees have included Provence, Québec, Tallinn, and Lapland.
Operates: Late Nov. - Jan. 1
Berlin Anyone who wants to experience the incomparable charm of "WinterMagic? has to go to Berlin! Whether you prefer a contemplative and magical Christmas Market or a lively and urban one, Berlin offers you a choice of sixty Christmas Markets. In keeping with the city?s largely contemporary feel, the largest features jewelry, paintings, textiles and sculptures from cutting-edge designers and artists, as well as more traditional gifts. The market at Charlottenburg Castle and its park are immersed in a special romantic light and a unique ensemble is created with approximately 150 vendors; the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market in one of the most beautiful squares in the city offers insights into old handicrafts such as flax embroidery; wood carvers; stonemasons; jugglers, acrobats, fire artists, dance groups, choirs, Berlin classical, jazz and Gospel ensembles, as well as internationally famous artists, alongside culinary temptations from top cooks also promise "Christmas spirit?.Lots of lights, handicrafts, music and delicacies ensure a reflective atmosphere at the Christmas Market at Potsdamer Platz. Alongside the handicrafts market the fast fun on the largest mobile toboggan run in Europe and the 500 square meter open air rink. At Spandau Old Town, an unmistakable Advent landscape comes into being with 250 stands during the week and 400 on weekends and a stage program (including a Christmas rock concert on Fridays from 6 pm) ensure multi-facetted entertainment. Highlights are a Christmas crib with living animals on Reformationsplatz, the St. Nikolai Christmas Garden and crafts and design at the historic crafts market on Reformationsplatz ? where a medieval plague procession also takes place every Wednesday. There is a special range for children and families around the St. Nikolai church.
Operates: 22nd November ?31st December 2011
Christmas Eve 11am-6pm
New Years Eve 11am-1am
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, vánocvka (a braided pastry studded with raisins), and vosí hnízda' (""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 vánoční cukroví (Christmas cookies) and vánoční rybí polévka (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.
Beguin with the Christmas Markets in Brussels, wonderful for food lovers, then continue to Berlin, with 60 markets ranging from the traditional to the urbane and end with the strong emphasis on fairy tales and folk-lore at the Prague Christmas markets. Travel between cities by flight and train.
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