Published in Issue 19, October 2012
Written by Polly Allen
Best Craft Markets and Craft Shops in Europe
Europe is full of inspiration for crafters, from the beautiful festive markets in November and December to the eye-catching local products that you just have to bring back home as souvenirs. Here are some of the best destinations to give you some great ideas.
Berlin has some of the longest-running markets, typically from the end of November until New Year’s Eve, meaning there’s plenty of time to browse through glass ornaments, wood carvings and old-fashion toys on the stalls. Christmas trees are a German tradition so there’s no better place to get into the spirit than to visit the 20ft tree at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church market.
A Christmassy visit to Prague wouldn’t be complete without seeing Wenceslas Square, where one of the bigger markets takes place. Yes, Prague was the home of the famous Good King Wenceslas from the carol, and it’s also where you’ll find the city’s iconic puppets and marionettes – one of the best craft gifts you can bring back for children.
Austria is another popular choice, with Vienna and Salzburg boasting a wide array of stalls and several warming treats on offer such as mulled wine, waffles and sweet hot chestnuts. Vienna’s Schönbrunn Castle makes an incredible Baroque backdrop for bargain-hunting for tree decorations and themed presents from the end of November. Meanwhile Salzburg’s market in front of the Cathedral is open until 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays in 2012 and there will be choirs to entertain you with festive songs.
Essential Local Crafts
Cyprus has many traditions but its lace-making is definitely worth witnessing in person. The village of Lefkara is where you’ll see lace being made by hand, as it has been for centuries. Needlework in general is popular on the island and you will have plenty of choice when it comes to embroidered souvenirs and linen goods.
The Algarve might be more readily associated with golf than with handicrafts, but the town of Porches is a golf-free zone where pottery is king. You might notice that many of the houses in the region have blue and white tiles, or azulejos, adorning them: why not buy your own and ask the potters to customise it? Porches Pottery is just one of the outlets where you can have your purchases personalised during an Algarve holiday. Popular Portuguese designs include lemons and local scenery.
The humble espadrille is something of a summer wardrobe staple, but did you know that it’s a traditional choice of footwear for people from Majorca in Spain? It’s easy to pick up a pair of espadrilles in local market ssuch as those at Manacor and Son Servera, or even in the smart shopping streets of Palma City. Look out for alpargatas (which are made with rope) and abarcas (which have a strap and leather detail).
Florence is one of the best places in Europe to pick up leather goods. The Santa Croce workshop certainly won’t disappoint when it comes to finding anything made of local leather. Meanwhile if you want inspiration for jewellery designs then head to the Ponte Vecchio Bridge to find decorative pieces, though they often come with a hefty price tag.
On a city break to Lisbon you should make a beeline for the Baixa District, which is full of haberdasheries, bead shops and other independent shops. In the more commercial Chiado District it’s hard to avoid the draw of the Retrosaria (which means haberdashery) in the Rua do Loretto, but the shop isn’t very well advertised so keep your eyes peeled! As with the Algarve, you should also be looking out for azulejos on the buildings.
Copenhagen is ideal for crafting fanatics and you can see an all-female metalworking collective if you visit the Kvindesmedien at Christiania in the city. If you’re stocking up on basic materials like ribbons, paper and card decorations then Panduro, in Nørre Farimagsgade, will be right up your street.
It really is worth looking beyond the local high street when it comes to tracking down handicrafts. Whether you’re looking to stock up on seasonal treats at European Christmas markets or you want to watch craftspeople at work, there’s something to suit everyone.