It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Since the Middle Ages, Christmas street markets have delighted locals and visitors with food, ornaments, gifts, and entertainment. The start of the Christian Advent season in late November ushers in the opening of festive Christmas markets across Europe, which help revelers prepare for the holidays.
Lasting a few weeks to several months, each Christmas market has its own character and cheer, but consistent mainstays include thousands of twinkling lights, seasonal treats like mulled wine and gingerbread, and stalls stocked with local crafts you can’t find anywhere else. It’s hard to not be jolly after a stroll through Europe’s best Christmas markets.
Best Christmas Markets in Europe
Christmas Markets in Germany
The German capital is populated with many Christmas markets, but one of the most beloved in Berlin is the Christmas Market at Berlin Town Hall near Alexanderplatz. Revelers listen to organ grinders while strolling arts and crafts stalls and sipping glühwein (mulled wine) and sampling bratwursts and gingerbread. Take a ride on the 164-foot-high Ferris Wheel or on the historic carousels and skate on a 6,458-square-foot ice rink. Santa Claus makes visits frequently to the market too.
In the run-up to Christmas, the city center of Germany’s “Cathedral City” is populated with several festive Christmas markets, each with its own theme. These lively markets include entertainment, arts and crafts, and food. Sip mulled wine and browse the stalls filled with trinkets, handicrafts, and holiday decor. One of the most popular markets in Cologne is the Weihnachtsmarkt am Dom (Christmas Market at the Cathedral), which features a massive Christmas tree and more than 100 free events.
The oldest Christmas market in Germany and the world is Striezelmarkt. While the first market in 1434 lasted just one day, held the day before Christmas, the massive market is now a month-long festival with the tallest Christmas pyramid in the world, largest nutcracker in the world, and 240 stalls stocked with sweets, stocking stuffers, and seasonal ornaments. The market is also known for its pflaumentoffel, miniature figurines made of dried prunes. Due to COVID-19, Striezelmarkt has been cancelled for the second year in a row.
One of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany, the Munich Christkindlmarkt has ushered in the holiday season for hundreds of years. Hosted in front of Marienplatz, the city’s central square, the market boasts the largest Kripperlmarkt selling Nativity scenes and figurines. Due to COVID-19, the Munich Christmas Market has been cancelled for the second year in a row. While in Munch, take the 256km northwest to the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany’s year-round festive Christmas town.
Christmas Markets in Austria
In the land where Silent Night was written, Austria’s Christmas markets are a must. The Schönbrunn Christmas Market in front of Schönbrunn Palace is the most classic. Decked in silver and gold lights, the stalls are stocked with gourmet foods like mustards, cheeses, jams, and gingerbread and arts and crafts like glass and wood handicrafts, candles, and traditional Christmas decorations. Concerts, a giant Christmas tree, and snacks like baked potatoes, gingerbread, lebkuchen (a gingerbread-like German cake), and mulled wine add to the Advent ambiance.
Christmas Markets in the UK
Some 100 miles north of cCentral London, the industrial town of Birmingham hosts Frankfurt Christmas Market, the largest German-style Christmas market outside of Germany and Austria. For seven weeks, New Street and Victoria Square are populated with dozens of stalls selling artisanal handicrafts, toys, Christmas ornaments, and seasonal treats like stollen (Christmas cake), roasted almonds, and glühwein. Don’t miss Chris, the singing moose in front of the entrance to Council House.
A quick day trip from London, Edinburgh is magic this time of year. The entire city gets into the Christmas spirit with Edinburgh’s Christmas, which runs from November to January. There’s much to see and do, including ice skating around Melville Monument and strolling Christmas markets like the Scottish Market on George Street and the European Market in the Mound Precinct. Holiday rites of passage include riding the Big Wheel, and soaring in the carriages on the 196-foot-high Star Flyer. Little ones love to visit Santa Land in Princes Street gardens, see Santa Claus at Santa’s Grotto, and try to find Santa’s Elves’ workshop hidden inside a Christmas tree maze. This is one of the most magical winter vacation destinations in Europe.
Christmas Markets in Belgium
Brussels’ Christmas market is the vast Winter Wonderland, which takes place at Grand-Place and Brussels’ city centre. For more than a month, the holiday market is bustling with visitors browsing the goods displayed in 200 chalets, skating on an ice rink, admiring a massive Christmas tree, and riding amusement rides like a ferris wheel and merry-go-rounds.
Christmas Markets in Czech Republic
Prague hosts two main Christmas markets a short few minutes’ walk from each other in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. Christmas carols fill the streets as do wood huts filled with traditional Christmas treats like roasted ham, knedlíky (sweet or savory dumplings), pancakes, grog (hot rum diluted with water), and mead. Handicrafts for sale include ornaments, puppets, and embroidered lace.
Christmas Markets in Denmark
The Christmas Market at Tivoli Garden in Copenhagen is a sight to behold. This winter wonderland has 15 Christmas trees and includes performances by the Tivoli Youth Guard. The market’s dozens of stalls are stocked with religious trinkets, crafts, and seasonal treats like gløgg (raisins, almonds, cinnamon sticks, and cloves steeped in aquavit or schnapps), Julebryg (Christmas beer), and æbleskivers (a donut-like treat dusted with icing, sugar, and a dollop of blackcurrant jam). Trivoli Gardens is also home to one of the best theme park bars in the world, Ølgrotten: a collection of shops and food stalls fashioned after a traditional Danish market.
Christmas Markets in France
Visiting Colmar in nNortheastern France is like walking into a real-life fairytale. The city hosts six Christmas markets in its historic city center, where its buildings that date from the Middle Ages to the 19th century are decked in holiday cheer. Colmar Christmas Market is divided into mini villages, each featuring artisans like ceramicists, milliners, hatters, and glass makers from France’s Alsace region and chefs selling treats like foie gras, schnapps, and bredalas (Christmas biscuits).
For four centuries, Christkindelsmärik, France’s oldest Christmas market, has been the ‘Capital of Christmas’ in Alsace. First opened in 1570, the sprawling Strasbourg Christmas market features 300 wooden chalets spread around the city’s Strasbourg Cathedral and different squares. One of the most illuminated places in Europe during the holidays, the market features a 98-foot-tall Christmas tree in Place Kléber and stalls selling ornaments, gifts, and seasonal treats like bredalas and mulled wine.
Christmas Markets in Hungary
Budapest’s Vörösmarty Square begins to glow on the first Sunday in Advent when the mayor lights the first candle of the Advent wreath. This ceremony ushers in more than a month of food, shopping, and festive fun at the Budapest Christmas Fair. Dozens of potters, wood carvers, leather workers, textile artists, and jewelers sell their wares as thousands stroll the shops and sample treats like lángos (fried bread), chimney cakes, mulled wine, and roasted chestnuts. While in town, don’t forget to grab a beer at one of Budapest’s ruin bars: dilapidated factories, warehouses, banks, or homes that were saved from demolition and turned into super unique spaces to snag a drink.
Christmas Markets in Italy
The month-long Bolzano Christmas Market in Bolzano in nNorthern Italy is the country’s largest Christmas market. For more than two decades, the Christmas market has taken over the town’s alleyways, which are awash in the glow of candles and twinkling lights. The merry market’s dozens of stalls sell sweets, artisanal handicrafts, and decorations.
Christmas Markets in Spain
Located in front of the Barcelona Cathedral, the 300-stall Fira de Santa Llúcia is the oldest Christmas market in Barcelona. Originally established to celebrate the feast day of Santa Llúcia, this three-week-long market is where locals stock up on Catalan Christmas essentials like caganer (a squatting, pooping gnome-like figurine placed in nativity scenes) and Tió de Nadal (a festive log that poops out children’s presents on Christmas Eve).
Christmas Markets in Switzerland
An oldie but a goodie, the Christmas Market Dörfli in the Niederdorf quarter of old town is one of the best known Christmas markets in Zurich. For one month leading up to Christmas, Zurich’s oldest Christmas market is packed with merriment with revelers eating raclette and fondue and sipping mulled wine while strolling the stalls for gifts, ornaments, and toys.