The aroma of steaming Glühwein, the crackle of roasting chestnuts and the twinkle of lights on the rustic wooden huts: December in Innsbruck is all about Christmas markets. In the weeks running up to Christmas, these festive markets, known as „Christkindlmärkte“, pop up all over the city, from the central Old Town through to suburbs such as Wilten and Hungerburg. Elisabeth’s Guide to Christkindlmarkt has a rundown of all the best ones to visit.

But Christmas markets aren’t a new concept. In fact, Innsbruck has been hosting festive markets since the 17th century. In this post, we’re going to step back in time and discover how Christmas markets have evolved into the events we know and love today.

The first Christmas markets

Today’s Christmas markets last for up to six weeks. But in previous centuries, most Christmas markets were open for just a couple of days at a time.

One of the oldest Christmas markets in the city was the Nikolaus market, which dates all the way back to 1657. This two-day market took place around the 6th December—the feast day of St Nicholas. It was originally located in the Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse (in the same spot as today’s Old Town market) before moving to the Maria-Theresien-Strasse in 1926 and the Wilhelm-Greil-Strasse a few years later. 

The Nikolaus market was also the first one to feature electric light! Previously the market stalls were lit up purely by candle or gas light, but in 1934, the Innsbruck Electricity Works provided electric light bulbs for the very first time, making it easier to see your Glühwein on a dark winter evening.

The Thomas Market

Later on in December, the Thomas Market would come to town. This one-day market extravaganza also started in the 17th century and took place throughout the city centre, including the Old Town, Maria-Theresien-Strasse and Innrain (close to today’s Terminal Marktplatz). But instead of Glühwein and Christmas decorations, the Thomas Market sold every item you can imagine: meat, fruit, grain, pulses and leather goods were just some of the wares on offer. For children, the highlight was in the Maria-Theresien-Strasse, where all manner of toys and sledges were available to buy.

But it wasn’t just Innsbruckers who shopped at the Thomas Market. People came from all over Tirol as well the neighbouring regions of Bavaria, Vorarlberg and Salzburg to stock up before Christmas. Many of these long-distance visitors arrived on special trains that were put on to bring people to Innsbruck for the markets. In 1903, a whopping 3.000 visitors arrived on these trains alone.

Today’s Christmas Market

Innsbruck’s Christmas markets as we know them today didn’t get going until the end of the Second World War. In 1945, the first „proper“ Christmas market was held in the Old Town, modelled on the popular markets in Munich and Nuremberg.

The new format, with its Glühwein stands and sizzling sausages or Kiachl, was a hit with visitors. But it wasn’t until 1973 that the „Christkindlmarkt“ became a fixed part of the Innsbruck Christmas season. Since then, the Innsbruck Christkindlmärkte have grown throughout the city, attracting visitors not just from neighbouring regions but from all around the world. 

If you want to see what the Christkindlmarkt used to look like, check out this video of the first regular market held in 1973.

Interested in the history of Christmas in Innsbruck?

This year, Innsbruck’s Schloss Ambras castle is running „Advent Tours“, where you can learn all about festive traditions in the region. Each tour also includes a visit to the nativity scene in the beautiful St Nikolaus chapel.

Visit the Schloss Ambras website for more information (in German).

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