Envision sugar-laced stalls and wooden toy shops. Imagine angelic Christmas carollers singing. Think of walking down cobbled stoned streets adorned in colourful rows of glittering fairy lights. Dream of indulging in hot Belgium waffles doused in chocolate syrup. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
It’s this bygone aura suffused with heartfelt laughter, caroling and Gothic churches brimming with midnight masses that makes spending this time of the year in Europe extra special.
A Christmas break in Europe is brimming with exclusive festivities and experiences. You will set sights on everything from trendy eco-friendly get-togethers in Berlin to the twinkly lights of Cologne Cathedral to the traditional light festivals in Amsterdam and Vienna’s sparkling Schönbrunn Palace.
One thing is for sure - your delightfully wondrous expedition in Europe shall create enough memories to last a lifetime, even more!
With the winter just mild enough to enjoy, and festivities in full swing, Christmas is the best time to visit Europe. And Christmas markets, found in small and large European towns are the best ways to soak it all in.
Here are some of the best Christmas markets in Europe where you can amble through the chalets and stalls, nibble on gingerbread cookies and sip on mulled wine.
In Germany, the crown of all markets goes to this Christmas market. The Bavarian town is home to one of the oldest and best-loved of German festive markets. Here, you will find only locally made merchandise as mass-produced, modern goods are banned. Intending to create a nostalgic environment, the market looks elegantly simple and not as fancy as the other ones.
For good luck, buy a prune figurine, indulge in lebkuchen (traditional gingerbread of Nuremberg which is flourless!), rostbratwurst (small, juicy sausages or go on a beer tasting tour which will also help you to stay warm.
When: Nov. 29 to Dec. 24
Munich Christmas market
With roots dating back to the 14th century, today the market has over 160 booths where you can purchase traditional gifts like sheepskin jackets and hand-painted glass baubles to spoil your family and friends. You must try the baked apples and stolen, fruit cake and wash it down with herb liqueur or mulled wine.
When: Nov. 27 to Dec. 24
Cologne Christmas Market
Cologne has over seven Christmas markets that attract more visitors as compared to other markets in the country. The secret? Each market has its own unique character. To name a few there’s The Village of St Nicolas market, the Angel’s Market and the Gnome’s Market.
With a stunning setting of the distinguished Gothic cathedral in the city center, you will find one of the biggest markets - the Cathedral Market. In close proximity is the Heinzels Winter Fairy-tale located on the squares of Alter Markt and Heumarkt and the ice rink here is the main attraction. The Harbour Christmas Market exudes a maritime flair, and it’s located close to the Chocolate Museum, on the Rhine. Under a magnificently shining star-spattered sky, near Rudolfplatz on the square of Neumarkt is the Market of Angels. It’s in the center of larger shopping areas. With plenty to do and see, the Village of St. Nicholas is a market enjoyed by both the old and the young. On the edge of the popular Belgian quarter and within Cologne’s oldest park, lies the cozy Christmas Market at Stadtgarten. Opening its doors for the second time, Heavenue is between the streets of Schaafenstraße and Hahnen.
When: Nov. 25 to Dec. 24
Stuttgart Christmas Market
Known to be one of the biggest and oldest markets in Germany, you will find nearly 290 wooden huts bursting with Christmassy flair. When it comes to decorating, the stall owners festoon the roof with ornaments, lights and winter landscape. Foodies enjoy local treats like a fruitcake, anise biscuits, candied almonds, and roasted chestnuts or a glass of Eierpunsch. A day of festive decorations, jingling music, fun activities, and yummy snacks is brilliant for setting the mood for the Christmas season.
When: Nov. 27 to Dec. 23
Frankfurt Christmas Market
What makes this Christmas Market exceptional and distinctive is its beautiful location in St Paul’s Square and the Römerberg amidst magnificent, historic half-timbered houses where a colossal Christmas tree stands.
While Christmas shopping, snack on Zimtsterne (cinnamon star-shaped cookies) or try some apple wine which is hot and spiced with cloves and cinnamon. Feuerzangenbowle is a particularly famous traditional drink which is made by hanging sugarloaf that’s soaked in rum and set on fire over a glass of mulled wine. Other than the usual things and Christmas decorations, this market is more food-centric than others. Leaving this market empty-handed or on an empty stomach is unquestionable!
When: Nov. 25 to Dec. 22
Dresdner Striezelmarkt, Dresden
At this market, you will find one of the tallest Christmas pyramids, one of the biggest stollen’s (a cake consisting of butter, marzipan, nuts, spices and dried fruits) and the world’s biggest nutcracker. It’s also a great market for traditional handmade crafts which were invented in the Erzgebirge Region several thousands of years ago. You can get your hands on Moravian stars, nutcrackers, and smokers, angel-shaped candleholders, products made of filigree lace and pflaumentoffel, an edible figurine made from dried prunes.
When: Nov. 27 to Dec. 24
Strasbourg Christmas Market, Strasbourg
If you are into Christmas markets or not, Strasbourg market is a place that’ll make you fall in love. Its proximity to the border from Germany helps you meet two cultures in one experience - French finesse meets German cosiness and the escargot.
At Strasbourg, you’ll find stores all through the year; however, in December they up the ante. Here you can snack on a bredele (traditional biscuits baked in the region of Alsace) and pretzels, relish the foie gras, dine on sausages, choucroute (sauerkraut) or tarte flambée and finish off with sweet Alsatian wine. You can even climb 332 steps to reach the top of Strasbourg cathedral to catch a panoramic view of your surroundings and miles of fairy lights. There’s also a Christmas tree that’s 100 feet tall!
When: Nov. 22 to Dec. 30
Christmas market at La Défense, Paris
The Christmas market of La Défense is the largest in the Paris region extending over 10,000 m² and with over 300 chalets. There’s a huge variety of stalls selling all kinds of things like local produce, arts, and crafts, games, mulled wines, etc. It’s best to visit La Défense at night when you get to witness the lights of the market and the lit-up skyline adding to the magic. Climbing to the top of the Grande Arche gives you a great view of the district. After a long day of shopping, it’s time to indulge in some cheese — after all, you are in France.
When: Nov. 20 to Dec. 28
Bath Christmas Market
Set against the backdrop of the magnificent 16th-century Abbey and the Roman baths, it’s easy to see why people love getting into the festive spirit in Bath. There are over 200 twinkling chalets that spill along the cobbled stoned Georgian street. You will find the stalls selling tasty gingerbread and cheeses, cozy hand-knitted socks, handmade jewellery, and many more beautiful items - there is something for everyone! Throughout the day and night, you’ll find musicians, carollers, and choirs floating around the marketing and spreading smiles. You can pick up some tableware, felt animals, local fudge and a small batch of local gin. The perfect snack option is caramelized nuts which keeps your energy up while shopping.
When: Nov. 28th to Dec. 15
Birmingham's Frankfurt Market
A German Christmas market that is one of the longest and the biggest outside of Germany, this market brings real German gemütlichkeit to Britain. This market covers the important squares of the city like Centenary Square, Victoria Square and New Street. This month-long affair brings together artisans, regional producers and exotic gifts from all over the world. Adding to the fun is the jewellery market, a big wheel and ice skating! Definitely a festive place to spend your Christmas.
When: Nov. 17 to Dec. 29
Tumble into a magical winter wonderland with two Christmas markets, Edinburgh's Christmas and Edinburgh's Hogmanay, locals and visitors can choose from excellent food, drinks and shopping.
At Edinburgh's Christmas, there no dearth of things to do and see. Brave a twirl on the Star Flyer which is 60-metres high, spin around on the charming carousel or enjoy scenic views of the capital from the top of the Big Wheel. Younger kids can visit Santa Land, a fun playground for kids with activities, rides, and more. You can even hire a pair of skates and skate around the ice rink surrounded by the glittering city.
When: Nov. 17 to Jan. 5
Glasgow Christmas Market
This market takes place in St Enoch Square and George Square. Year after year, this market offers warming drinks, comforting local food and festive gifts. The family-friendly fairground rides and live entertainment add to its appeal.
When: Nov. 9 to Dec. 22
Southbank Winter Market, London
Beneath the London Eye, set along the bank of the Thames and with magnificent views of St Pauls, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, London joins the celebrations with Southbank Winter Market. Comprising of 50+ chalets, you can get your hands on festive produce, artisan gifts, and other treats.
When: Nov 9 to Dec 22
Vienna Christmas Dream
One of Vienna’s largest Christmas markets, the entrance to the market is marked by a candlelit archway in City Hall Square. There are lights everywhere, there is crowd-pleasing live music and nearly 150 stalls selling ornaments, decorations, handicrafts and Yuletide foods. Pick up an irresistible snow globe with Viennese landmarks inside, wooden puppets, or sizzling sausages. You can also visit the neighbouring ice rink for a spin.
The area inside the City Hall is a heaven for kids. Here they will learn how to make candles and Christmas cookies. Only a few cities steep themselves in the festive spirit like how Vienna does!
When: Nov. 16 to Dec. 24
Salzburg Christmas market
The pretty hometown of Mozart and The Sound of Music comes to a whole new life at Christmas. This historic market dates back to the 15th century and the market stalls have an ancient look. At this winter wonderland, expect hand-knitted socks rather than novelty candles as they focus more on quality than quantity. This sprawling market also offers lessons on how to bake gingerbread cookies
When: Nov. 22 to Dec. 26
Innsbruck Christmas Market
One of Europe’s most charming cities amidst the snow-laden Tyrolean mountains transforms into a magical winter wonderland during Christmas. You’ll definitely lose your heart to the city!
The Christmas market is complete with Golden Roof and colossal Swarovski crystals, traditional sounding Christmas carols and the aroma of freshly made kiachln (doughnuts topped with sauerkraut) fills the air and recreates an incredible ambience.
As you walk down the road from one market to another, the road is lined with dwarfs, giants, villains and heroes from the fairytales - it’s a one-of-a-kind concept. The experience is more enjoyable if you carry a glass of wine in your hand!
When: Nov. 15 to Jan. 6
Fira de Santa Llúcia, Barcelona
Dating back to 1786, earlier it was an event which was held for a day to celebrate the feast day of Santa Llúcia but eventually it transpired into a three-week fair. Over 300 stalls are situated in front of the Barcelona Cathedral which feature everything from jewellery to handmade puppets to musical instruments to nativity figurines to trees and Christmas decorations.
When: Nov. 30 to Dec. 23
Mercado de Navidad de Plaza Mayor, Madrid
One of the biggest Christmas markets in Spain, this market fills the grand Plaza Mayor with bright lights, pleasant aroma and Christmas music. There are more than 104 stalls which sell a multitude of things.
When: Nov. 24 to Dec. 31
Feria de Atracciones de Navidad, Valencia
Valencia’s Christmas market takes it one step further than Barcelona and Madrid with an element of fun. Apart from the usual stalls, this market’s protagonist will be cotton candy, lights and music. From the ride-on trains to bumper cars to ferris wheels, there are plenty of rides to enjoy as well.
When: Nov. 25 to Jan. 22
Mercado de Navidad, Granada
Although small in size, Granada packs a punch with its Christmas market. This market takes place on the central Plaza Bib-Rambla and you can spot it from a mile away with its decorations and lights. There are a variety of stalls that sell toys, traditional sweets and handicrafts.
When: Dec. 2 to Jan. 6
Piazza Castello, Milan
While the markets in Italy aren’t as opulent as the ones in Austria or Germany, they’re truly and purely Italian. Piazza Castello is locally known as ‘Oh Bej! Oh Bej!’ it means ‘how beautiful’ in the local dialect. It dates back to the 1500s and today, the market is bustling, and the stalls sell sweets, flowers, books, crafts and toys.
If you miss this one, you can head to Milan's Piazza Duomo which is a Christmas market that’s more modern. Set beside Milan’s famous gothic-style cathedral Duomo, you can shop for anything from Yuletide souvenirs to Italian cheese. Strolling through the market is the perfect way to end a day of sightseeing.
When: Dec. to Jan.
Piazza Santa Croce, Florence
The Franciscan Basilica provides the backdrop for this market with more than 50 stalls. It’s the ideal place to shop in an atmosphere which is rather tranquil as opposed to other markets or streets.
When: Dec. to Jan.
The number one Christmas town in the Netherlands, Valkenburg has markets that are underground. Amble through miles of passageways of the Velvet Cave and the Municipal Cave to find exclusive Christmas accessories. The best is that the caves will keep you warm when it’s cold outside. Once you’re done strolling through the market, you can pop into any of the bars close by or admire the Christmas parade.
When: Nov. 16 to Jan. 6
Maastricht Christmas Market
A winter fairy tale city, the festive atmosphere bursts all through the city. Vrijthof square is the heart of all activities during the Christmas market. Besides a variety of stalls, the market also hosts an ice-skating rink and ferris wheel. The city goes into full Christmas mode so enjoy the Christmas atmosphere!
When: Nov. 29 to Dec. 31
Royal Christmas Fair, The Hague
Immerse yourself in one of the loveliest Christmas markets in the Netherlands’ seat of government. This 12-day Christmas Fair with over 80 stalls includes thousands of lights, a children’s Christmas fair, the one and only real Santa Claus and a diverse cultural programme, appealing to both the old and the young.
When: Dec. 14 to Dec. 24
Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, Prague
With two Christmas markets, Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square at a short distance from one another, there’s no city that lends itself to Christmas better than Prague. The stalls are the usual looking which you find all across the country but what sets the one in Prague apart are the treats. Grab a Pilsner Urquell to quench your thirst and klobása (Czech sausage) to satiate your taste buds.
When: Nov. 30 to Jan. 6
Winter Wonders, Brussels
More of a festival than a Christmas market, Winter Wonders has over 200 chalets that serve waffles, Belgian beers, and glühwein. This is quite a huge market which is spread across Marche aux Poissons, Place Sainte Catherine, Grand Place, Place de la Monnaie and Bourse and comes with a huge Christmas tree, light shows, a ferris wheel, and ice skating.
When: Nov. 29 to Jan. 5
Zagreb Christmas Market
Come Christmas, the Croatian capital is set to go all out. A handful of streets are lined with wooden chalets and sell everything from decorations for the tree to sweet almonds to mittens and knitted scarves. At Park Zrinjevac you’ll find many more artisanal gifts plus you can sample some specialties from the city like apple strudel and krpice sa zeljem (pasta with cabbage).
When: Dec. 1 to Jan. 6
Are you Christmas ready?
Not only summer but winter with Christmas markets is also a great time to visit European countries. With the Christmas season approaching, it’s best to spend your vacation strolling through a few of these markets and enjoying the joyous atmosphere.
Interested? Book your customized itinerary with Holxo today!
by Holxo Travel Specialist
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