Bright Lights and Culinary Delights. Christmas Markets!

We’ve just come back from a long weekend pottering round Christmas markets, drinking glühwein and munching on chocolate/waffles/bratwurst/fondue – you name it!

I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Christmas but I must admit taking this trip has got the Hardy household in full festive swing. Here is an overview of what we got up to 
We went for nights/4 days including travelling, which isn’t that much if you have a lot to see. We had quite an ambitious itinerary but happily settled on Valkenburg, Utrecht, 16 hours in Amsterdam (our shortest visit ever) and a short stop off in Bruges. Originally we considered Cologne for our first night – I’ve read a lot of good things about the Christmas markets and atmosphere there and it often comes up in top 10 posts. But after much research and deliberation over travel time, accommodation costs, the necessity of using a P+R in Cologne and wanting something a bit more unique and ‘underground’ (you’ll see what I did there) –  Valkenburg won.  Cologne is still on our list of course.

Valkenburg by night

The weather decided it would be appropriate to hit us with gale force winds and stupidly choppy seas on the morning of our departure; not only was the ferry 2.5 hours delayed but the crossing over was no laughing matter. Luckily with tablets and ginger biscuits in tow, I just about managed it lying down with my eyes closed! Albeit strewn across a children’s soft play area: yes that’s right, I claimed it. What is a potentially sea sick girl to do? It’s ok, I wasn’t depriving them of anything; everyone was seated firmly as it was a little hairy wandering around – people were falling all over the place! The kids were far too excited to get to Euro Disney anyway so no one batted an eyelid, and if they had? The floor would certainly have been a viable option with no argument from me – it really was that bad 🙂 If you are making this trip in winter (which of course you are if you’re here getting tips for Christmas markets) then make sure you go prepared with all the remedies you can carry! Ok, ok – the seagull below has nothing to do with the ferry, but I obviously took no photos on the boat and I really like this one so it had to sneak in somewhere!

A greedy seagull in Utrecht – he was collecting our dropping croissant  crumbs

Valkenburg and the cave markets

Driving from Calais this should only take about 4 hours depending on traffic – it took us almost 6 hours due to the weather conditions but enough of that. Somehow, the rain just made it prettier – the festive lights sparkled and the smell of glühwein (mulled wine) in the air made it all the more cosy. This sweet little town lit up and all of a sudden it was Christmas. This is the most popular time of year in Valkenburg, they go all out and they do it well. There a few caves they transform into fairy-tale grottos and markets as well as an outdoor market. They have the biggest nativity set in Europe (made out of sand) and also the largest and oldest underground market in Europe. It was quite good for shopping; although there was a lot of the usual tat you’d find in any commercial market, let alone a Christmas one, there was also a lot of hand made bits and local crafts. I have a lot to say about this place with many hints and tips for you, so keep your eyes peeled for the Valkenburg specific post coming very soon. I only came across this place doing more specific research, it isn’t often featured in any ‘Top 5/7/10’ posts and it should be. I really liked it, it was magical wasn’t just another standard Christmas market; it has character and charm. The only downside was it was ridiculously busy and a little harassing but I would certainly recommend a trip here.

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Utrecht – my new home town, one day!

Well, well. What can I say? We decided to go here purely because before now, we have visited this country 9 times (only once were we able to release ourselves from the hold of Amsterdam!) and Utrecht is a place we’ve always wanted to go. A bit ridiculous really considering it’s only 30 mins from Amsterdam.  It’s not famous for it’s Christmas markets but there was a couple of lovely little ones with quirky handmade goods, a merry-go-round café and a children’s theatre set. We even bought ourselves two handmade glass tree decorations, a few gifts and went on our way. The vibe was cool yet still festive; it was comfortable like I’d been there forever yet a new thing round every corner that lured me to the unknown.  It may not have world famous Christmas attractions but I would certainly recommend coming for Christmas and every other day of the year no doubt. I will try and test that theory soon 🙂

Smoking salmon

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Hand made glass decorations. Unfortunately I’ve lost their card with details

Glühwein stall

A Christmas play

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Amsterdam. Would be rude not to….

Yeah yeah. I know what you’re thinking. AGAIN, REALLY?! But I remember being here around Christmas a few years ago and It was magical, the lights on the bridges, the cheer in the air and of course – more glühwein. They had a lovely market in Rembrandtplein where we actually ended up  getting the bulk of our gifts – again it’s another one that isn’t famous which made it a little more chilled with more local-ish crafts and delicacies.  Tons of stalls boiling up the glühwein and serving bratwurst and hot waffles with every topping you can think of. Christmas is a great time to visit Amsterdam. I also have a typical ‘only in ‘Dam’ story coming shortly. Really, as usual, only in ‘Dam!

Bratwurst stall

Waffles anyone?

Warm Nutella and cream on a freshly made waffle. Go on then….

 

The Royal Palace, Dam Square

Magical, stunning Bruges

This was the most famous and popular market we visited. Yes, it is just as magical as everyone says, it constantly comes up in top 10 Christmas market posts and I can totally see why. They certainly go all out; what with an ice rink in the main market and a smaller market just down the road, lovely variety of local produce and sweet continental gifts. A little on the pricey side compared to the other places we visited but they also had a different selection. Yes you still get the typical tat you could get anywhere but that goes without saying for more commercial markets, I think.  We got a lot of different culinary treats here for gifts, and of course that includes a silly amount of delicious Belgian chocolate. This is so close to the ferry and on most routes going north or west from Calais, you pretty much drive past Bruges anyway. It’s also really easy and cheap to park so it’s a no brainer to stop off here, whatever time of year. You can see my post about our time in Bruges in August 2014.

Chocolate tools

All in all we had a wonderful time and pretty much enjoyed each place and would recommend all of them for Christmas shopping and festive atmosphere. There are pros and cons to them all so keep your eyes peeled for more detailed posts about these places coming shortly. In the meantime you can see my posts Amsterdam Top 10 or Amsterdam – My Favourite City and Bruges. Are you interested in the Netherlands? Check out my post about Kinderdijk and there will be many more to hit your screen soon.
Thank you for reading. Have you been to any Christmas markets – if so, which were your favourite? What do you love the most? Comment below, click like if you do and share the love 🙂

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