Cochem Castle in Germany makes a stunning backdrop for the living nativity scene staged there every year.

Cochem Castle in Germany makes a stunning backdrop for the living nativity scene staged there every year. (

Think of a typical Christmas market setting, and most likely, images of an idyllic historical city center spring to mind. While it’s true that half-timbered houses, majestic town halls and imposing churches surround some of Central Europe’s most iconic seasonal gathering spots, these are far from the only locations in which Christmas markets unfold. Today we take a look at markets that transpire in some more unusual environments:

Caves: The town of Valkenburg in Netherland’s southerly tip is home to Christmas Town, a holiday extravaganza featuring a skating rink, toboggan run, chalets adorned with twinkling lights and chairlift gliding up to a scenic viewpoint. But the town’s defining feature is found underground. In the festively lit marlstone corridors of the Municipal Cave (Gemeentegrot), Europe’s largest underground Christmas market offers cozy stalls selling gifts to take home alongside tasty treats to sample in place. Beneath the ruins of an ancient castle, a separate market unfolds in the Velvet Cave. Entry to either cave market is by ticket only; these should be booked online in advance. Entry to either cave costs 8.50 euros adults and 5 euros for those ages 5-11. The caves remain open through Dec. 30. Online:

Germany’s subterranean entry is found in Traben-Trarbach, a town along the Mosel River. Here, 16th century wine cellars host a market offering gifts, home décor, antiques, culinary specialties and no shortage of wine. The Mosel Wine and Christmas Market is open Fridays through Sundays through Dec. 18 and again Dec. 26-Jan. 1. Online:

Gorges and quarries: As darkness descends upon Germany’s Black Forest, a small but unique market unfolds far below the stunningly illuminated arches of a viaduct. At this market in the Ravenna Gorge, some 40 vendors offer handicrafts and specialties of the region. Shuttle services ferry visitors to the market from the train stations of Hinterzarten and Himmelreich to this market that’s open Fridays through Sundays only. Tickets must be booked in advance. Adult entry costs 6 euros; children ages 5-15 can enter free but pay 2 euros to ride the shuttle. Parking tickets go for an additional 7 euros. Online:

A disused quarry in the southeast corner of Bavaria makes a unique setting for the town of Hauzenberg’s “Granite Christmas.” Within the illuminated walls of the Stoabruch Quarry, visitors will find crafts from the Bavarian Forest and southern Bohemia, including items made from natural materials such as stone, wood, glass, linen and wool. A handful of artisans will also be on hand to demonstrate their skills. Delicious local food and drink will keep the crowds well fueled and happy. The market is open on 2 p.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Adult entry costs 3 euros and children under 14 enter free. Online:

A red light district: Santa Pauli is the name for the Christmas market found in Hamburg’s nightlife district. Just off the notorious Reeperbahn, this cheeky market attracts with a stage offering strip shows, live music and stalls selling gifts that are strictly for the grown-ups. It’s safe to bring the kids on Sundays, when an all-ages program plays out. The market runs through Dec. 23, and entry is free. Online:

Wild west theme park: The town of Eging am See in southern Bavaria is home to Pullman City, a German interpretation of what the American Wild West would have looked like in its heyday. The park’s annual German-American Christmas market serves up musical shows with a touch of country, a singing Santa, a light show, animated characters and many stalls to peruse. The market runs Thursdays through Sundays through Dec. 18. Adult admission costs 8 euros, children ages 4-14 pay 2 euros each. Online:

Away in a manger: It’s not really a manger, but the courtyard of Germany’s Cochem Castle by the Mosel River makes a stunning backdrop for the living nativity scene that’s staged annually there. Reenactors in historical costume and live animals bring to life the story of Jesus’ modest birth, while a handful of stands offer warming drinks and snacks. The Cochem Castle Christmas experience is offered from noon-6 p.m. on Dec. 10 and 11 only. Admission costs 7 euros adults and 3.50 euros for those ages 4-17. Online:

Commune: Copenhagen, Denmark shows its edgier side in Freetown Christiania, a former military base that’s been occupied by squatters since 1971. The area known for its counterculture vibe hosts a Christmas market selling unusual articles accompanied by a lively world music program on weekends. The market is open noon- 8 p.m. daily Dec. 9-20. Online:

Harbor: Through the heart of Cologne, Germany, flows one of Europe’s most important waterways. The city’s location alongside the mighty Rhine is used to best advantage by the staging of a maritime-themed Christmas market. What’s known as the Harbor Christmas market at the Chocolate Museum offers some 70 stands hosted under pagoda-like tents reminiscent of ships’ sails. In keeping with the theme, an assortment of fish specialties is served. The market is open from noon-10 p.m. daily through Dec. 23. Entry is free. Online:

Train station: Zurich, Switzerland’s main train station is home to a bustling, cheery Christkindlimarkt, watched over by a twinkling, 32-foot-tall Christmas tree. With its 140 stalls offering gifts and tempting treats, it’s one of Europe’s largest indoor markets. The free-entry market is open daily through Dec. 24. Online:

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