The Holiday season is upon us, and although I am not a huge fan of Christmas decorations, cheesy songs, and most of all cold weather, it is not a big enough reason to stop looking for contemporary art around the world. And since this time of the year is incredibly popular for Christmas markets, why not pairing some winter shopping with some contemporary art visits?
The Christmas markets tradition originated in Germany in the Late Middle Ages, but today they are popular all over Europe and beyond, with cities turning entire areas into festive villages with mulled wine and all sorts of decorations. Popular among children and adults alike, Christmas markets offer seasonal treats, traditional songs and dances, and many cute stalls with all sorts of festive goods. They are usually held in one of the main squares of the city, so they function as a great starting (or ending) point for winter city sightseeing.
And since the weather is (generally) cold during this time, there is no better way to warm up a bit than visiting a museum or a gallery, especially when you are out and about visiting markets.
So, if you plan a winter weekend gateway, here are 5 cities to consider where you can pair Christmas markets and contemporary art.
Budapest – Hungary
Regularly among the best Christmas markets in Europe, Budapest market has just been nominated best market for 2022 by European Best Destinations. Running until January 1st, the market has 2 locations, Vorosmarty Square and Basilica.
And when you are tired of sweets and handicraft presents, Budapest offers plenty of good destinations for contemporary art. From the Ludwig Museum and the city Kunsthalle, to spaces like Q Contemporary, a museum entirely dedicated to Central and Eastern European contemporary art, the city has something for everyone. And don’t forget galleries, many of which are located right in the center of the city.
Vienna – Austria
Possibly one of my favorite cities in the world, Vienna is amazing in every season. I particularly enjoy it in Spring, when you can walk around the city center or visit Prater on a beautiful sunny day, but I have to admit that during the Holiday season Vienna turns into the quintessential winter beauty. Contemporary art in Vienna needs no introduction. In fact, I have talked about the best museums and galleries many times already. When it comes to contemporary art, Vienna is a true gem, and all the major attractions are super easy to visit, as they are all close to one another.
And when you are done with contemporary art, you just need to follow the fairy lights or the hot chocolate smell to end up among the stalls of Vienna’s Christmas market. Hosted in the city center, it is the perfect place to enjoy mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, and freshly baked pretzels.
Leipzig – Germany
Much smaller than Budapest and Vienna, the German city of Leipzig is another real gem. Incredibly beautiful and well preserved, with its Renaissance-style and Baroque buildings, the capital of Saxony is an amazing destination for a quick gateway full of history and beauty.
But when it comes to Christmas markets, Leipzig has one of the largest and oldest in Germany, with more than 250 stalls tucked in the historic Marktplatz. The market’s first edition was in 1458 and it is still one of the most popular today.
What else does Leipzig offer? Great contemporary art, of course. Like many German cities, Leipzig has plenty of spaces for contemporary art, including Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, the contemporary art museum exhibiting post-war art, HALLE14, an art center hosted in a former DDR industrial space, and G2 Kunsthalle.
Tallinn – Estonia
Did you want a cold, wintery market? You can’t go wrong with Tallinn. Open until January 8th, Tallinn’s Christmas market is hosted in the Town Hall Square, right in the beautiful medieval city center. And if the Christmas market was not enough for you to plan a visit, maybe you will be enchanted by the beautiful cobblestoned streets and the snowy rooftops. Probably the coldest destination on this list, it is well worth a visit if you like Christmas and winter. Here you can find Estonia’s biggest Christmas tree, set up in front of the Town Hall each year since 1441, making it one of the first cities to embrace this tradition.
And if it is too cold to stay outside, Tallinn has enough museums and art centers to keep you warm and entertained for days. You can choose between the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (EKKM), the Estonian Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), the Tallinn Art Hall, or the Kai Art Center, not to mention the National Film Archive and Fotografiska Tallinn, dedicated to photography.
Bozen – Italy
Lastly, a small city that is particularly dear to me, as it was one of my family’s favorite destinations when I was a kid. We used to pass by Bozen, or Bolzano as we call it in Italian, on our way to Dolomiti, where we would go skiing in winter. Both the areas of Trentino and South Tyrol are extremely rich when it comes to contemporary art destinations, with parks, museums, and art centers nested in some of the most spectacular landscapes you can imagine. In particular, in Bolzano, you can visit the Museion, a museum dedicated to contemporary art, or the Antonio dalle Nogare Foundation.
The Christmas market is located just a few steps from Museion, in Walther Square. Although smaller than the previous one, here you can find genuine products of the South Tyrolean tradition, wooden decorations, loden clothes, and stalls offering products of the amazing local cuisine, like speck, strudel, and Knödel.