Christmas markets cancelled across Europe as infections surge

Emma Featherstone
·5-min read
cologne christmas market - Getty
cologne christmas market - Getty

The festive confection of glühwein, roasted chestnuts and shopping for handmade gifts enjoyed in Christmas markets is on hold in many European towns and cities this year as the continent weathers a second wave of Covid-19. 

Nuremberg and Prague are the latest to announce cancellations, with Germany and the Czech Republic both seeing a surge in infections. 

"After much deliberation and in order to protect the population, we have come to the conclusion that the Christmas market will not take place this year," Nuremberg mayor Marcus König said in a statement.

Berlin, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Frankfurt are among the other German Christmas market stalwarts to pause or curtail celebrations this year with the country's seven-day caseload now at 92 per 100,000 residents. 

Germany holds around 2,5000 Christmas markets each festive season, usually kicking off around November, and attracting approximately 160 million international and domestic visitors. 

These seasonal tourists bring in around €3-6 billion (£2.7-£5.4 billion) of revenue, according to the BSM Stallkeepers Industry Association. 

In Berlin, the Christmas market on the Gendarmenmarkt has been put on hold for 2020 as restrictions are ramped up across the country. 

Chancellor Angela Merkel has advised Germans to avoid unnecessary travel while regional leaders have agreed to an 11pm curfew for restaurants and pubs, a limit of 10 on gatherings and the mandatory use of face masks in crowded outdoor areas. 

They pushed back on Ms Merkel’s call for a limit on internal travel within Germany, although many states have agreed to a ban on hotel or holiday rental stays for people from areas with high infection rates. 

Meanwhile, the whole of the UK has been added to Germany’s high-risk list, meaning that arrivals from Britain must show evidence of a negative Covid-19 test, take a test on arrival (many German airports have testing facilities in place) or self-isolate for 14 days.

Many destinations famous for their Christmas markets are already unfeasible holiday options for most Britons. The Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria and France are all on the UK’s quarantine-list. 

The Christmas market at Prague’s old town was cancelled on Monday, although a large tree and decorations will still be in place. 

“Given the epidemiological situation, it would probably be very inappropriate to hold Christmas markets,” said Prague councillor Jan Chabr.

The Czech Republic’s seven-day infection rate had reached 805 per 100,000 people as of October 27.

France, which is also among the European nations with the higher infection rates (a seven-day caseload of 308 per 100,000), has begun to cancel or pare down this year’s markets. 

Strasbourg’s –  the country’s largest, attracting around two million people each year and comprising hundreds of stalls – will be much reduced. 

strasbourg - Getty
strasbourg - Getty

"The chalets of the Christmas market cannot be set up for this 2020 edition of Strasbourg, the Christmas capital," a spokesperson for the Strasbourg tourism office told Telegraph Travel.

"The Christmas atmosphere will, however, be preserved through the installation of the traditional Big Christmas tree on Place Kléber, by the illuminations that will adorn the streets and facades of the buildings, as well as by the shows and concerts that will be offered," they added. 

Paris has cancelled its Jardin des Tuileries Christmas Market for 2020.

Lille, which has been placed on maximum alert by the French authorities, has also cancelled its market, an attraction that usually attracts hundreds of thousands of people.

"We had been considering all possible scenarios since March," Romuald Catoire, head of the Federation of Commerce, Handicrafts and Services which organises the Christmas market, told Franceinfo.

"The deadlines have come closer and the deterioration of the health situation no longer allows us to guarantee the safety of the event," he added. 

Authorities in Lyon, Bordeaux, Arras and Clermont-Ferrand have also announced cancellations. 

Smaller towns, which tend to hold local markets and have lower Covid-19 rates, may be most likely to continue with planned festivities.

In Hungary, Budapest’s Vörösmarty Square market, which pulls in around 800,000 visitors, is off for 2020 – the country’s seven-day infection rate is 141 per 100,000.

Given this slew of cancellations, the river cruise lines that had scheduled Christmas market sailings this year have now decided to cancel, including Avalon Waterways and AmaWaterways. 

However, Tui River Cruises is still due to launch towards the end of November with a Christmas markets programme catering to British passengers on new ship Tui Isla.

"Our sailings are currently scheduled to go ahead as planned but we’re monitoring the situation closely. We do understand that customers may be feeling uncertain around travelling this winter, so we are offering free amends until November 3," said a spokesperson for the cruise line.

Closer to home, in London Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland has been cancelled, as has Lincoln’s Christmas market, York Christmas market, Manchester’s Christmas market and fairs and markets in Belfast, Edinburgh, Bristol, Bath, Aberdeen, Winchester and Oxford. 

salzburg - Getty
salzburg - Getty

However, there are pockets of Europe where festive celebrations are going ahead, somewhat as usual. 

This includes many of Austria’s Christmas markets: Salzburg Market and Vienna Market will take place between November 18 to December 26, for example. 

There will be measures in place to limit the spread of Covid-19, including regulating the number of visitors, spacing between stands and hygiene rules.