Winter is a fantastic time of year to travel to Europe, and Europeans believe that winter is truly something to celebrate. During the holiday season they really go all out!
Buildings are lost underneath layers of fairy lights, and ice skating rinks are set up in public areas. Outdoor Christmas markets line main squares in all major cities across Europe, and provide unique shopping opportunities along with a celebratory atmosphere, festive treats and seasonal delicacies you’ll want to write home about!
If you’re planning to be in Europe over Christmas and wondering which markets are the best, you can’t go wrong with any of the following.
If you’re inspired and want to travel with this information offline, I’ve created a free travel guide on Pearlshare which you can download straight to your phone so you don’t forget where your favorite markets are! Click here.
The Best Christmas Markets in Europe
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Christmas in Brussels is a magical affair. 240 wooden chalets/market stalls extend along the streets from Grand’Place to place Ste-Catherine each year in a Christmas market (Winter Wonders) which covers almost 2 kilometers.
Quaint wooden-roofed huts sell handmade arts and crafts, souvenirs, and Belgian delicacies – visitors can pick up pots of moules (mussels), scrumptious Belgian fries, fluffy Belgian waffles, seasonal croustillons (sugar doughnuts), and Belgium’s “two most welcome additions to world cuisine: fine chocolates and powerful beer.”
Renowned for it’s festive atmosphere and sparkling lights, the Brussels Christmas market also features 35m toboggan slopes, a glittering ferris wheel with 18,000 lights and, of course, the 200 foot-long skating rink complete with jugglers and street musicians.
The oldest Christmas market in France, Strasbourg Christmas market dates back to 1577, and plays host to over 2 million tourists every year who flock to witness hundreds of miles worth of glittering Christmas lights, themed events, a giant ice rink, and the famous 100 foot ‘Great Christmas Tree’.
“Half-timbered houses sport giant red-and-white hearts; stars, angels and snowflakes garland the cobbled streets. No wonder Strasbourg won the title of “Best Christmas Market in Europe” last year.”
Visitors have the chance to sample some of the regions finest food, including bredle Christmas cookies and Strasbourg’s traditional spicy hot orange juice.
The capital of Saxony, those who love Christmas will love the markets in Dresden! Germany’s oldest continuously running Christmas market comes alive each year in a blaze of lights, the scent of mulled wine and gingerbread, and Christmas music which spreads throughout the heart of this beautiful baroque city.
Dating back to 1434, the Striezelmarkt on Altmarkt Square is famous for it’s beautiful handicrafts, four-ton fruitcake and glittering stalls centered around a 48-foot high wooden “Christmas pyramid”.
Saxony’s best artisans sell stunning regional goods – everything from wooden crafts from the Ore Mountains, incense burners shaped like nutcrackers, delicate blown glass from Lauscha, and Dresden’s famous blue and white ceramics.
Every year, millions of people from all over the world flock to the Christmas market at the Cologne Cathedral.
Set against the backdrop of a magnificent cathedral and the largest Christmas tree in all of Rhineland, Cologne is one of Germany’s most impressive Christmas settings.
“Christmas music, arts and crafts, toys, Christmas decorations and the scent of the Christmas bakeries create a wonderful atmosphere. It is not just children’s eyes that light up when pewter pourers, wreath binders and glassblowers demonstrate their art, and the aroma of mulled wine, hot chestnuts and gingerbread fills the air.”
Come December, Germany’s second largest city and maritime treasure turns into a real life fairytale, and visitors enjoy the diversity of 15 different Christmas markets catering to all tastes.
Traditional markets line the streets in front of the city hall, with rows of stalls offering handmade crafts, children’s toys and tasty treats. One of the most popular attractions within the Christmas markets is the Schrottwichteln, or rubbish secret Santa! Visitors exchange their least favorite Christmas gifts, with the profits going to the Winter Pride charity.
The Jungfernstieg market offers posh food and luxury gifts, and the smaller Fleetinsel market is perfect for those looking to avoid the Christmas crowds, with fairy lights glittering on two antique sailing vessels.
There are many Christmas events in Budapest, and a number of different Christmas markets.
Budapest has smaller and bigger Christmas Markets, which usually open around mid November and close at the end of December each year. The two city central markets have been attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors, and are the most spectacular.
Keep in mind that many of the ticketed events sell out before December. So if you want to see a show, concert, enjoy a tour, or a treatment in the thermal baths, try to book in advance to get a good seat. Since it’s a busy time of year, booking a taxi in advance is a good idea too.
With the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the background, the Champs-Elysées hosts one of the most impressive Christmas markets Europe has to offer.
Stretching from the Champs-Elysées roundabout all the way to the Place de la Concord, rows of wooden chalets line the world’s most famous shopping street in one of the largest Christmas markets in France. It’s also one of the longest running Christmas markets in all of Europe.
Soak up the Christmas decorations, festive objects, regional produce and arts & crafts, and for an extra bit of Christmas magic, head over to ice-skate inside the Eiffel Tower.
Prague’s Christmas markets are world renowned, and take place in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. Czech carols echo throughout the market and the beautiful medieval surrounds.
“The idyllic setting is completed by brightly decorated wooden huts surrounding a giant glittering Christmas tree with an authentic manger scene and small nativity-themed zoo, where littles ones get to see and touch real-life animals.”
Adults can choose from regional handicrafts including intricate glassware and jewellery, bohemian crystal, embroidered lace, wooden toys, and Czech marionettes. And there’s plenty to satisfy your sweet tooth; honeyed gingerbread, vánocvka (a braided pastry with raisins), and vosí hnízda (cookies laden with nuts and rum) are all readily available, best washed down with a sweet mulled wine.
From mid-November to Christmas, Vienna’s prettiest squares transform into magical Christmas markets, an age-old tradition which dates back over seven hundred years.
Vienna is home to many different Christmas markets, though Christkindlmarkt in Rathausplatz square (in front of city hall) is one of the most renowned.
Over 150 stalls sell everything from Christmas decorations, beeswax candles and wooden toys, to Austrian handicrafts and glass ornaments, and the aroma of bakery items and hot punch creates a magical market atmosphere.
Berlin has over fifty Christmas markets across the city every year, though the market at Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche is the biggest and most popular.
Over 2 million visitors descend upon the Berlin markets every year for sales on jewellery, decorations and artwork, as well as to indulge in seasonal pleasures such as roasted almonds, hot chocolate, homemade eggnog and mulled wine.
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