Europe

The Ultimate Guide to the Europe’s Best Christmas Markets

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If you love getting into the Christmas spirit, why not do it in Europe? These enchanting Christmas markets are well worth planning a trip around.

Town squares across Europe are transformed into bustling markets in the weeks leading up to Christmas, ready for locals and visitors alike to shop for that special gift or trinket to hang on the tree. The aroma of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts fills the chilly air in fairytale settings aglow with twinkling lights and holiday cheer. These standout European Christmas markets really do capture the spirit of the festive season!

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg isn’t known as the Capital of Christmas for nothing. Strasbourg’s Christmas market dates back to 1570, making it one of the oldest in Europe. Much of the city is adorned in Christmas finery throughout December, with shop windows, balconies and streets lit up with lights and decorations. In the city centre, carols echo from churches and a 30-metre-high Christmas tree takes centrestage, creating a magical setting to shop for original gifts and ornaments. Little Christmas biscuits, known as bredle, are just the thing to go with your glass of hot mulled wine.

Cologne, Germany

Roncalliplatz comes to life in front of the illuminated Cologne Cathedral each year, as 150 stallholders set up for the festive season. Running from 23 November to 23 December, red-canopied stalls are arranged in a star shape around a towering Christmas tree, selling everything from handcrafted toys, trinkets and keepsakes to delicious donut balls, potato pancakes and bratwurst. The cooking of all these culinary delights fills the air with mouthwatering aromas, and live music adds to the atmosphere.

Vienna, Austria

Vienna is known for several Christmas markets, but the Rathausplatz Christmas market, held in front of City Hall between 10 November and 26 December, is the one you really don’t want to miss. Get your skates on at the ice rink, take a spin on the giant merry-go-round and take your time exploring the beautifully decorated stalls. Everything for sale now must meet sustainability criteria, making it that bit easier to justify your purchases. Snack on roasted chestnuts, cream-filled pastries and flatbread as you browse, and warm up when you need to in the enclosed coffee house.

Prague, Czech Republic

Christmas markets abound in Prague, their brightly decorated wooden huts and array of wares creating a magical ambience. The must-visit markets are held in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square (five minutes’ walk apart). On display, expect to find ceramics, jewellery, embroidered lace, wooden toys, candles, ornaments, winter hats and gloves, puppets and dolls dressed in traditional costumes. Each year a huge cauldron of traditional Christmas fish soup (rybí polévka) bubbles away, or why not indulge in some smoked meat dumplings, crepes or Trdelník (dough cooked on a stick and topped with sugar and walnuts). Salivating yet?

Other must-visit markets:

Nuremberg, Germany: the magical Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is known for its handmade Christmas decorations, and delectable gingerbread and almond cookies.

Brussels, Belgium: Brussels’ annual Winter Wonders event turns the Grand-Place into a crowd-drawing spectacle. Market stalls stretch for 2.5km through the heart of the city, and there’s a giant ice rink, rides, live music and light shows.

Edinburgh, Scotland: In true form, Edinburgh puts a Scottish twist on traditional Christmas markets as part of the city’s annual Winter Festival.

Other incredible Christmas markets can also be found in:

  • Stockholm, Sweden
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Tallinn, Estonia
  • Salzburg, Austria
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Basel, Switzerland
  • Krakow, Poland
  • Merano, Italy.

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Author

I grew up in the US, Germany and Australia, so it feels more foreign for me to stay in one place than to move around. Since then, I’ve called Boston, London, Seattle, Brisbane, Madison and Sydney home for study and work as a journalist, travel writer and photographer. I specialize in adventure travel, social issues and interiors/architecture. Home is now an 1890s cottage in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. I traveled to my seventh continent last year – an action-packed expedition to Antarctica – and have memories galore of my travels. Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies, galloping with gauchos in Chilean Patagonia, trekking through Japan, and camel riding in Jordan are among the most memorable. My least favourite travel hiccup was being stranded in Cameroon when I should have been winging my way to Paris for a little me-time. You win some, you lose some.

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