A traditional Aussie Christmas featuring barbecues, trips to the beach and snoozing in front of a fan is a wonderful tradition, but there’s no denying the magic of a European white Christmas. There’s just something innately special about twinkly Christmas lights spread across a town blanketed in snow, and little can beat the feeling of wandering through a wintry Christmas market with a hot mug of mulled wine in hand.
While there is no official start date for the European Christmas markets, many will kick off on the Friday before Advent, which is four Sundays before Christmas Eve. Most will then end on December 24, aka Christmas Eve, but others will stay open until Epiphany on January 6. This means travellers have at least four weeks in which they can experience these wonderfully quaint festivities. But, which is the best Christmas market in Europe? While it’s hard to go wrong, as each market offers something unique, here are some of our favourites.
The German Christmas markets rank as some of the most famous in Europe. Almost every city in Germany boasts its own market, and every single one is worth your while.
Let’s begin with the Berlin Christmas market — or, markets, as Germany’s capital city offers more than one. Perhaps the most exciting option is Gendarmenmarkt, which features a collection of wooden huts beneath the imposing architecture of the Deutscher Dom and Französischer Dom. Wander through the stalls to spy a collection of arts and crafts, and be sure to stick around for the nightly concerts.
Dresden is another exciting Christmas destination, with this city’s market dating back to 1434, making it Germany’s oldest continuously running Christmas market. If you’ve been wondering what to buy at German Christmas markets, you can’t go wrong in Dresden, with some of the best artisans in the country flocking to the city to sell, among other things, wooden crafts, blown glass, art prints and Dresden’s famous blue and white ceramics.
And then there’s Munich, where the numerous craft stalls at Marienplatz surround an impressive 85-foot Christmas tree. This city is also known for hosting many small, themed markets, such as Kripperlmarkt on Rindermarkt (one of the oldest streets in Munich), and a medieval market at Wittelsbacher Platz.
If that’s not enough, you have yet more markets in Nuremberg (known for the ‘Nuremberg Plum People’, which are tiny puppets featuring prune limbs, fig torsos and walnut heads), Stuttgart (the market here dates back to the 17th century) and Cologne (where you can witness more than 100 stage performances throughout the festival). Plus, if you’re looking for the best small town German Christmas markets, look no further than Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Rüdesheim. Whichever market you end up at, be sure you give yourself permission to overindulge in traditional bratwurst, gingerbread and glühwein.
While the Paris Christmas markets are well worth a gander if you find yourself in France during December, perhaps the country’s best markets can be found in Strasbourg. Situated right on the French-German border, on the banks of the Rhine, the Strasbourg Christmas markets are the oldest in France, dating back some 445 years. Here, you’ll find all the classic trimmings: carolling choirs, an ice skating rink, mulled wine served in boot-shaped mugs, Nativity plays and more. Wooden Christkindelsmärik stalls surround the city’s cathedral, selling everything from delicate ornaments to pretzels, roasted chestnuts and Flammekeuche (a thin pizza topped with bacon, onions and crème fraîche). Garlands of Christmas lights bathe Strasbourg in a warm glow every evening, and an inviting smell of gingerbread permeates the streets for an entire month. With four and a half-odd centuries of practice, it’s not surprising that the people of Strasbourg have Christmas markets down pat.
Considering its picturesque location near the Eastern Alps, it makes sense that some of the best Christmas markets in Austria would be found in Salzburg. The city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed Old City not only offers the usual mulled wine and market stands, but features evening sing-alongs and traditional wind music performances on different days of the week. Plus, this might just be one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Europe.
The Salzburg Christmas markets aren’t Austria’s only offering though, and those who find themselves in the country’s capital of Vienna at Christmastime will find a city drenched in festive spirit. The first Christkindelsmärik was held here in 1298, and the city these days boasts more than 20 seasonal events. The original market is still held in front of City Hall, and features around 151 stalls serving warming drinks and tasty treats. Plus, there’s a huge ice skating rink, reindeer rides for kids and a classic Nativity scene. It’s pure magic.
If you can’t make it to an official German Christmas market, the Frankfurt Christmas market in Birmingham is the most authentic option outside of Germany and Austria. There are more than 130 stalls selling traditional trimmings, as well as jewellery and handmade toys. The market is imbued with a very British flair though, thanks to the singing moose (“Chris Moose”) that stands at the centre of the celebrations.
If spending your Christmas vacation in the UK, you also can’t pass up the opportunity to visit the Edinburgh Christmas markets. Located adjacent to the Scottish National Gallery, this market transforms the city’s sprawling East Princes St. Gardens into a veritable “Santa Land”, complete with a Christmas tree maze and mini train ride for kids. Top tip: the best seats in the house to take in this cosy and quaint affair is atop the 108-foot tall Edinburgh Eye.
Considering every festive photo ever taken of Switzerland makes the country look like an eternal winter wonderland, it shouldn’t come as a shock to learn this small, Alp-rich nation comes flaunting multiple Christmas markets. One of our favourites is the Bern Christmas market, which sees numerous hand-crafted products sold amidst the old town’s 15th- to 17th-century buildings. Rumour also has it that this market’s white mulled wine is some of the absolute best going around.
Alternatively, for a Christmas market not steeped in history but incredibly quaint nonetheless, be sure to visit the Basel Christmas market. While only in operation for around 40 years, the market consists of about 180 wonderful stalls, all selling delicious foods and adorable wares. It’s also incredibly kid-friendly, with Münsterplatz’s Christmas fairytale forest providing activities such as gingerbread decorating and Christmas tree decoration-making.
The Czech capital of Prague ups the Christmas market game by offering two of Europe’s very best markets: one on the slopes of Wenceslas Square, and one in the unbelievably beautiful Old Town Square. The latter is centred around a humongous Christmas tree, and features a manger and a small petting zoo to keep the kids entertained. Both markets offer plenty of brightly decorated stalls selling wooden toys, handmade jewellery, classic Czech marionettes, glass baubles and much more. You won’t go hungry at these Prague Christmas markets either, with such warming treats as honeyed gingerbread, klobása (barbecued sausages), trdelník (sugar coated dough, roasted over hot coals), vánocvka (a braided pastry with raisins), vosí hnízda’ (nutty cookies with rum) and medovina (hot honey wine) all on offer.
Running from early November through to the end of December, the Budapest Christmas market and winter festival pairs tradition with whimsy. Stalls sell everything from Christmas-themed trinkets to traditional Hungarian food and mulled wine, and the daily entertainment ranges from light shows and folk dancing to live music. There’s also a giant advent calendar at Vörösmarty Square, with the exterior of the famous Gerbeaud Coffee House transformed to depict 23 magical window displays, one of which opens every day in the lead up to Christmas Eve.
Ready to have yourself a merry white Christmas in Europe this year? Find cheap flights to Europe for December, or book a holiday package to take care of your flights and accommodation in one easy step.