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Since the first Christmas market in Europe was held in 1300’s Germany, the event has become a popular tradition all around Europe. From capital cities to tiny mountain villages, Christmas markets can be found almost everywhere when the winter comes.
Streets and monuments are draped in fairy lights, squares are adorned with giant Christmas trees, and wooden stalls fill the streets with traditional and handcrafted holiday gifts.
To help you whittle down which markets go on your Christmas list this year, we have chosen the best ones for you. Would you rather go for a major event with all the thrills and frills of Christmas, or a more charming intimate affair?
Incredible Christmas Markets In Europe
Known as the Christmas Capital, this holiday is a big part of family and community life in Strasbourg’s traditional Alsatian culture. The city goes all-out with festivities, as families gather to make their own wreaths, bake bredele cakes, and create nativity scenes.
It will come as no surprise that Christmas markets and events are held in most of the city’s squares, but the biggest is set in Grande Île, an island in the center of the city filled with medieval half-timbered houses. During Christmas, the island is decked out head-to-toe with the most magnificent light and ornamental displays, a 300sqm ice rink, and market stalls selling all the trinkets and food you could possibly want.
Illuminated by thousands of LED lights each year, Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt is easily one of the most atmospheric Christmas markets in Europe. Schlossplatz, the manicured square affront Neues Schloss Palace, features eight dazzling light installations, each of which represents one of the city’s main attractions, including Wilhelma and the Stuttgart TV tower.
From Schlossplatz, make your way through the old town’s cobbled Medieval streets, filled with the sound of choirsong and smell of Nutella pancakes, to browse the 300-odd festive stalls, each proudly displaying the finest German crafts.
Afterwards, costumed merchants and maidens await at the nearby Esslingen Medieval Market to transport you back to the 14th century and entertain you with street performances.
Each year, Prague’s Old Town Square transforms into a magical Christmas market entranced by the hourly chimes and puppet dance of the Astronomical Clock.
While the eclectic mix of Gothic Revival, Medieval and Bohemian buildings in the square will woo you at any time of year, there’s something even more otherworldly about it under the guise of Christmas lights. And as Prague’s Christmas market is smaller than those most other European capitals, and its market stalls sell traditional Czech food and crafts like blown glass baubles and goulash, you get the feeling of being in an intimate local market with the benefit of having the whole city at your feet.
Crowned Best Christmas Market in 2019 by European Best Destinations, Tallinn should definitely be at the top of your winter destination list. Held in the city’s fairytale-esque medieval Town Hall Square, it’s as if Christmas has collided with a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale.
Whimsical pastel-colored medieval houses surround the square, whilst fairy-lit wooden stalls fill it, along with a giant Christmas tree and entertainment stage where you can watch spectacular nativities and other Christmas performances. As you’re in the far North, don’t forget to find yourself a delightfully handcrafted Russian doll, and a Scandinavian sweater.
If you want to spend quality time with your family over Christmas, and make unforgettable memories together, visit Cluj-Napoca Christmas Fair, a winter wonderland in the heart of Transylvania. Not only is it said to be one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Europe, the event is designed to bring families together.
As well as rows of stalls selling trinkets and gifts for all ages, Unirii Square (the focal point of the fair) features a main stage where plays, concerts, and other live entertainment can be enjoyed by both young children and their grandparents. And as the city usually sees plenty of snow during December, you can even take your family sledding and skiing.
The largest outside of Germany, Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market will provide you with hours upon hours of festive fun. Start by warming up with a traditional mulled wine after Christmas shopping in the buzzing Bullring Shopping Centre.
Once refreshed, peruse the kitsch seasonal crafts and homewares from sellers hailing all the way from Germany as you work your way up New Street, before settling in for the evening at Victoria Square. Filled with stalls selling bratwurst, wieners, and German drinks, it’s no surprise locals and tourists gather to socialize in the square each evening.
As Germany is where the tradition of Christmas markets began, where better to visit one than the medieval town of Erfurt where the event has been a long-standing tradition. Held in Domplatz, the festive market selling toy soldiers and schnitzels is dwarfed by the gleaming St. Mary’s Cathedral, which towers elegantly towards the stars.
Erfurt Christmas market offers a less commercialized and more intimate experience than many markets around Germany, yet it’s packed with equal amounts of festive fun. From nativity scenes and enchanted forests filled with mythical woodland creatures, to an event stage with daily performances, the market will undoubtedly keep the whole family entertained.
Set in the square before the magnificent St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest’s ‘Advent Basilica’ is perhaps one of the grandest and most upscale Christmas markets in Europe. The stalls sell higher end gifts from independent businesses, gourmet street food, and Hungarian delicacies like chimney cake and palinka, the country’s favorite fruity spirit.
The square features an ice rink, which circles around the dazzling Christmas tree, and the basilica itself is illuminated by an impressive animated light display. For a more traditional Christmas market experience, simply walk a few hundred yards to Vorosmarty Square, where you can get your hands on an array of charming handcrafted goods.
When winter arrives in Vienna, the city’s many Baroque palaces and castles become illuminated by thousands of fairy lights. After browsing the kitsch arts and crafts at Karlsplatz Christmas market, take the festive tram around ‘The Ring’ of the city to see Hofburg Palace, Parliament, and other treasured landmarks doused in this Christmas magic. Alight the tram at Rathausplatz, overlooked by the glowing, seasonally decorated City Hall, where the ‘Vienna Magic of Advent’ market is held.
This market has more Christmas spirit than any other in Austria — and the best food too. Pick up a bag of lebkuchens (traditional Christmas cookies), and head inside City Hall where an internationally acclaimed choir will await to sing your favorite holiday carols.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
While Monte-Carlo is known for being all glitz and glam, its quaint Christmas market is refreshingly modest and traditional in comparison. The market is held along the harbor front, illuminating the mega-yachts parked up for the winter season, and the Prince’s Palace of Monaco shines above it like the Star of David.
Get a closer look at the palace from the market’s dizzying Ferris wheel, or simply admire it as you sip on mulled wine and indulge in your chocolate-dipped churros from one of the heated outdoor stands. Afterwards, make your way up to the famous Monte Carlo Casino, which awaits with an iconic outdoor display of snow-covered trees and decorations.
Valkenburg, The Netherlands
For a truly immersive Christmas market experience, visit Valkenburg on the southern tip of The Netherlands; The city is built above a spectacularly preserved system of caves which transform into enchanting Christmas grottos as soon as winter descends. In Gemeentegrot and Fluweelengrot grottos, you can hunt through treasure troves of handcrafted toys, decorations and candies.
Meanwhile, storytellers await in the festive Mergelrijk Grotto to enthrall you with tales about the lives of the ancient cave dwellers. Remember to resurface in time for the ‘Christmas Fairytales’ parade through the historic city, which will entrance you with the sights and sounds of the marching band, costumed dancers, and giant floats.
On the countdown to Christmas, London’s famous Hyde park transforms into a spectacular ‘Winter Wonderland’, lighting up the city’s skyline in a thousand colors. Whether it’s with ice-skating, ice sculpting, toasting winter in the ice bar, or paying a visit to Santa, Winter Wonderland will certainly get you in the holiday spirit.
Start your day by wandering through the Bavarian Market where you’ll find the best Christmas nik-naks, street-food stalls, and beer gardens in the capital before getting your thrills on a roller coaster or five at the traditionally British finger-tingling theme park. Finish the evening in a warm event tent where you’ll find circus performers walking on ropes, comedians cracking jokes, and children’s characters coming to life.
About the Author: Emily Draper
Originally from the UK, Emily Draper has lived in Chile, with an Amazonian tribe in Peru, in a Wisconsin trailer park, and on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Considering herself, and the rest of us, as global citizens, Emily’s mission as a writer and journalist is to expand global consciousness of the fundamental importance of travel, culture, and diversity.