Christmas up north – traditional markets in the Nordic countries

By | Category: Travel destinations

Liseberg in winter

Cosy and convivial, without being too kitsch, Christmas markets in the Nordic north have a long-standing tradition, similar to that of Germany, but with fewer visitors and more of the fluffy white stuff.

Gothenburg, on the Swedish west coast, turns into a city of light from mid-November onwards to keep the cold and dark at bay. A three-kilometre “Lane of Lights” runs from the harbour, along main shopping and entertainment street Avenyn, all the way to amusement park Liseberg, home to one of the city’s best-loved Christmas markets. Liseberg’s traditional market opened its gates on the 15th of November and with no less than 80 rustic stalls and 700 Christmas trees, it’s the largest in Scandinavia. The stalls sell uniquely Swedish arts and crafts from all over the country and there are seasonal Swedish nibbles and drinks, including herring, reindeer meat (yes, they eat Rudolph) and glögg, spiced, mulled wine.

New for this year is a traditional market area inspired by the 1930s and 40s. The adventurous can take a real reindeer sleigh ride around the park and there’s an ice-skating rink for the energetic or less shopaholic among you. Liseberg’s market might be the jewel in the crown, but Gothenburg has no less than five other markets to choose from, including one in the old quarter of Haga, a picturesque 19th century part of town and also at stately home Gunnebo House and Gardens, just outside Gothenburg, the last two weekends of November.

Oslo's Christmas market

In neighbouring Norway they also go to town at Christmas. Oslo and surroundings have plenty on offer to get you into the Christmas spirit this season. The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (Folkemuséet,) hosts one of the most traditional Christmas fairs in the country, the first two weekends of advent (30th Nov – 1st Dec and 7th – 8th Dec). This open-air museum depicts Christmas as celebrated in the olden days in a number of its buildings, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. You can choose to experience Christmas in an early 18th century farmstead or at a 19th century parsonage, to name but two options, while browsing traditional gifts, taking in a Christmas concert or folk dance performance, or sampling the home brewed Christmas beer. Just an hour outside of Oslo, Blaafarveværket, an old cobalt mine, provides an unusual setting for another Christmas market well worth a visit. Open daily 30th Nov – 15th Dec, the cobalt works’ market offers unusual jewellery and gemstones, as well as homemade Norwegian food, in a beautiful setting near the Haugfossen waterfalls. The mines are open to the public for historical tours and the old cobalt works hosts regular art exhibitions. Further west, the city of Bergen has the world’s largest Gingerbread Town, open until the end of December and there is also a Christmas shop open year-round here, should you find yourself getting some Christmas cravings off-season.

Heading south to Denmark, there might not be as much snow as in the neighbouring countries further north, but that’s not to say you won’t find fabulous Christmas markets and plenty of Christmas cheer here too. Capital Copenhagen is one of the best cities for a pre-Christmas knees-up and its Tivoli Gardens plays host to perhaps the most romantic of all the markets. Tivoli is magical in winter, even just for a stroll around its Pavilion and quaint fairground attractions. The market stays open for over six weeks from mid-November onwards. Tivoli’s Peacock Theatre is home to Santa Claus, if you fancy sitting on the knee of an aging, bearded man and there are some 50 stalls to explore for cute gifts and Danish culinary delights, including salamis and herring. Christmas parades, such as the Santa Lucia parade on the 13th of December, add to the magic of the market. In Odense’s old town, on the island of Funen, the Hans Christian Andersen market is a great family favourite. Held right next to the former home of the fairytale master himself, this market features Christmas choirs, horse-drawn carriages and much more 6th – 15th of December.

St Thomas' Christmas Market in Helsinki

Skip across the Baltic Sea to Finland and rumour has it you’re not too far away from the home of Santa Claus himself, up in Rovaniemi, above the Arctic Circle. There’s no need to venture quite that far north to find Finnish Christmas markets, of course. Helsinki is usually a good bet and St Thomas’, the biggest market, held in Senate Square, offers lots of varied arts and crafts housed inside cute wooden stalls 7th – 22nd of December. Also worth a visit is the Ladies’ Christmas market, 4th – 8th December. Have no fear, men are allowed to enter and shop – this is a market focusing on arts and crafts made by women.

Ice sculpture at Tampere's Christmas MarketNearby city Tampere’s fair, also in the main square, features live Moomin troll performances and ice-sculptures, along with traditional crafts and glöggi, the Finnish version of mulled wine. In the great outdoors outside of town, there are plenty of sauna and ice-dipping opportunities for the very (fool)hardy. All four countries offer multiple opportunities for fun, feasting and frivolous pursuits, in some of Europe’s prettiest settings.

Let the Christmas commerce commence.

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