The holiday spirit is alive and well in the Christmas markets in Salzburg, Austria. Locals flock to the annual marketplaces to find festive decorations for their homes and to spread cheer with friends sharing a beer, brat, pretzel, toasted nuts, and hot cocoa. Tourists hunt for one-of-a-kind handmade crafts to bring the Christmas spirit back home.Strolling along the river Salzach is a treat in and of itself but is especially wonderful at night when aglow under the Christmas lights. The entrance to the markets is below the impressive Hohensalzburg Fortress and next to the Cathedral of Salzburg. November 20th begins the holiday season and it lasts until December 24th each year.
Winter scenes cut from balsam wood are a huge hit at the markets. The vendors go out of their way to ensure that these precious village portrayals arrive home intact. Each stall has the original boxes that fit the dioramas perfectly so you can hand-carry them home on the plane. Most of the smaller versions will fit into a FedEx box if you want to ship them home privately. Some assembly is required for the 3D effect pieces.
Hand-painted glass balls have openings for tea light candles that, when lit, illuminate the scenes beautifully. The clear stands are an option when purchasing the larger bulbs for one-stop shopping.
Of course part of the fun of the markets is stopping for some libations to keep you warm on the cold Austrian nights. Mulled wines and fresh fruit punches are heated and served in ceramic mugs you can bring home as souvenirs. A two Euro deposit is taken for each mug and returned to you if you bring the mugs back.
History is everywhere. Because Salzburg was home to the world-famous composer Mozart, his likeness is featured prominently on ornaments like the one shown above.
One of the local specialty shops hand-paints eggs with Christmas themes, but they also have gorgeous needlepoint versions as well.
Nativity scenes abound and have a wide range of prices depending upon whether they are hand carved or machine cut. Be sure to ask where the items were manufactured to ensure they are local creations.
Precious angels make simple but elegant decorations. Vendors will wrap them nicely for you so you do not have to worry about them losing their fluff on the journey home.
Of course, a trip to Salzburg would not be complete without sampling a pretzel or two from the stalls. These are not made on the premises, but other Austrian delights are and draw you in with the sweet and savory smells. My favorites were roasted nuts and popcorn. Wash the treats down with a local brew to complete your magical shopping trip to Salzburg.
Saint Peter Stifskeller restaurant is the oldest in Europe and is especially enchanting this time of year. Live music and wintry drinks are served under the stars. I was honored to be the only non-local the night I visited and it felt like I was attending a private party. Tucked away behind St. Peter Square, it is a spot to rest and enjoy the Austrian ambiance.
For more information on the markets consult the Austrian Tourism site.