There is nothing more quintessentially symbolic of all that winter in Europe has to offer than it’s charming Christmas Markets. While they are a common sight during Advent across most of the western world, European cities, with their medieval charm, add a fairy tale character to these markets. Wooden chalets turned into shops selling handcrafted souvenirs, Christmas treats, gingerbread, and mulled wine are omnipresent. Add in a giant Christmas tree and an ice rink and you have the perfect recipe n for a dreamy winter wonderland.
Christkindlmarkts, as these markets are called in many parts of Germany, have their roots in the Christmas Markets held in Dresden in the 15th century. Few claim that the one in Strasbourg in Eastern France is where it all started. However, no matter where the origins lay, we now have Christmas Markets all around the world and the festivities around them leading up to the Christmas Eve is something I have always looked out for in what would otherwise be a cold and gloomy winter in much of Europe. So here’s my list of the 10 best Christmas Markets in Europe.
While Budapest is host to several big Christmas Markets, the prime contenders for the top prize are the Christmas Market at the St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival at the Vorosmarty Square.
Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival
The Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival is the oldest Christmas Market in Budapest and is located right in the heart of the city at the Vorosmarty Square. The market is set with a dramatic background of 19th-century townhouses and the famous Gerbeaud Coffee House. The exterior of this cafe is turned into a giant Advent calendar every winter. In-store for visitors are over a hundred shops selling everything from handcrafted gifts to Hungarian food and mulled wine. Must-tries include kürtős kalács (chimney cake) and halászlé (fish soup). The market also plays host to live concerts and folk dance shows every evening.
- Location: Budapest, Vörösmarty tér, 1051 Hungary
- Dates for 2020 Christmas: November 6, 2020 to January 1, 2020
- Website / Budapest by Locals
Christmas Market at St. Stephen’s Basilica
The market at St. Stephen’s Basilica, while not the oldest, includes an ice skating ring surrounding a large Christmas tree and a laser light projection on to the Basilica, which incidentally is Europe’s largest 3-D light show. This Christmas festival has been recently adjudged as the best Christmas Market in Europe. Located in Szent István Square facing the largest church in Hungary, the Advent Market at the Basilica has over 160 stalls selling all sorts of Christmas goodies including Hungarian food and mulled wine. Also worth witnessing are the weekend folk dance shows and concerts. A speciality of this market is the lencseleves or lentil soup, a Hungarian traditional food served on New Year’s Day.
- Location: Budapest, Szent István tér, 1051 Hungary
- Dates for 2020 Christmas: November 20, 2020 to January 1, 2020
- Website / Budapest by Locals
Every winter, Cologne turns home to a few of the most famous Christmas Markets in Europe. My favourite among them is the one just beside the iconic Cologne Cathedral. This is Cologne’s largest and grandest Christmas Market and has a ton on offer for tourists. Located in the Roncalliplatz, the Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market has over 150 stands each year selling everything from glühwein (mulled wine) to handmade German crafts to bratwurst and pretzels. It is also known for the 100 plus stages performances of Christmas music and dance over the course of advent. The Christmas tree here is famous for being the largest in Rhine Land.
- Location: Am Hof 27, 50667 Köln, Germany
- Dates for Christmas: November 25, 2020 to December 23, 2020
Other Christmas Markets in Cologne worth visiting include the wonderfully decorated Markt der Engel, the Nikolausdorf which tells the story of St. Nick, and Heinzel’s Winter Tale which is Cologne’s largest and is spread over two squares – Heumarkt and Alter Markt. Last but not the least in this list is Heavenue which is a Christmas Market dedicated to the LGBTQ community.
Among all the Christmas Markets that Copenhagen has to offer, it is the one at Tivoli Gardens which steals the show. The market is located in Europe’s most popular entertainment park and one which was a real-life inspiration for Disneyland. This is a year-round destination offering plenty even during the off-season. Come Christmas and Tivoli Gardens is decked with over 500,000 fairy lights, an ice-skating rink, and hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of Christmasy fare. Must-try foods at the Tivoli Gardens include Aebleskiver – pancake puffs topped with powdered sugar and filled with apple, Glogg– the Danish version of mulled wine, and Danish roast pork Sandwiches. Make sure to witness the Tivoli Youth Guard’s parade and the Fireworks Shows on the 25th and 26th of December and on the 1st of January.
- Location: Vesterbrogade 3, 1630 København V, Denmark
- Dates for Christmas: November 13, 2020 to January 3, 2021
Other Christmas Markets worth visiting in Copenhagen include the one at the old harbour Nyhavn and the market at Nytorv.
London, United Kingdom
London is one of my favourite cities to visit during Christmas. With so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming at times. From Oxford Street to Trafalgar Square to Picadilly Circus, every major street and public square is decked to the brim with festive lights. While London has many Christmas Markets and events spread throughout the city, my favourite is the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. This park in Central London is turned into a giant entertainment park every winter.
Winter Wonderland’s top attractions include UK’s largest ice skating rink, a giant Ferris Wheel, the Magical Ice Kingdom, a German Christmas Market and countless stalls selling all kinds of Christmas fare and drinks. There are live music performances and parades through the entire course of Advent. It is also home to the largest transportable roller coaster in the world called the Munich Looping.
- Location: Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH, UK
- Dates for Christmas: November 2020 to January 2021 (exact dates yet to be published)
Beyond Hyde Park, other must-dos in London during Christmas include the Christmas Markets at Leicester Square, the Natural History Museum, as well as Greenwich market. There is an ice skating rink at Somerset House and Christmas carol sing-along at the Royal Albert Hall. Also worth visiting are the events at the South Bank of Thames near the London Eye, the Tower of London’s Medieval Christmas and the Great Christmas Pudding Race at Covent Garden. Note that some of these sights require the purchase of additional tickets. Please check websites linked above for further information regarding pricing and event schedule.
Munich is one of the best places in Germany to witness Christmas Markets in all their glory. It is host to around 11 markets, the grandest of which is located in Marienplatz in the city centre. Located in the square facing the neo-Gothic town hall Neues Rathaus, the Marienplatz Christmas Market in Munich is where you will find a 100 foot high glittering Christmas tree. It is surrounded by stalls selling everything from gingerbread to glühwein (mulled wine) to a variety of traditional Bavarian crafts and souvenirs. There is a Christmas carol performance every evening at 5:30 PM from the balcony of the town hall.
- Location: Marienplatz 26, 80331 München, Germany
- Dates for Christmas: November 23, 2020 to December 24, 2020
Other markets worth visiting include Sendlinger Tor which is known for the crafts it sells, the picturesque market at the Chinese Tower in English Garden, and the Kripperlmarkt on Rindermarkt.
Prague, Czech Republic
The twin Christmas Markets at Prague’s Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, located 5 minutes away from each other, are the best in this historic city of Central Europe. These markets, apart from the usual Christmas fare, are known for the variety of Czech food that their stalls sell. Every evening, both the squares are brightly lit up in Christmas glitter. With the gothic architecture of the Old Town looming in the background and the festive atmosphere all around, the experience is almost magical. Stalls sell everything from Bohemian crystals to Czech marionettes. Must-try foods include trdelník – a hot rolled barbecued pork pastry and klobása – Czech sausage. Grog, a mulled wine alternative made from rum, water, and lemon, is also recommended. Last but not the least of experiences are the daily recital of Christmas carols in the evening.
- Location: Staroměstské nám., 110 00 Josefov, Czechia
- Dates for Christmas: November 28, 2020 to January 6, 2021
Apart from the markets in the Old Town, there are smaller Christmas Markets around the Prague Castle area worth visiting if you can spare the time.
Read More: Prague: The Ultimate guide to the Bohemian capital of Europe
Multi-award winner Strasbourg is one of the top Christmas destinations in all of Europe. Its claim to fame, apart from the fact that it is located in an extremely picturesque city, is that it is host to one of the oldest Christmas Markets in the world. Strasbourg is a fairytale town with half-timbered houses and gothic buildings situated in the Alsace Region of France. It’s Christkindesmäkir (French for Christmas Market) in Place Broglie, which has the distinction of being France’s oldest, attracts over a million visitors a year. Place Broglie hosts over 100 stalls selling Alsatian socks, hand-blown glass baubles, and beeswax candles. Do remember to try out the local Alsatian wine, roasted chestnuts, and bredele cookies.
- Location: 67000 Strasbourg, France
- Dates for Christmas: November 27, 2020 to December 30, 2020 (Dates are tentative as of now)
Also popular are the markets at Place Kléber with its giant Christmas tree dominating the square and the one in the square facing Strasbourg Cathedral.
Tallinn in Estonia is famous for being the city which is home to the world’s first public Christmas tree. The Christmas Market in Tallinn won Best Christmas Market award by European Best Destinations in the year 2019. The Christmas tree has been put on display in front of Tallinn’s town hall every winter since 1441.
While comparatively a smaller Christmas market, Tallinn makes up for it with plenty of entertainment and local Estonian food. This is one of the colder Christmas Markets, and its rooftops and cobbled stone streets are often dusted with snow adding to the magical charm.
Highlights include a Santa who arrives by a reindeer pulled sleigh and over 60 wooden huts selling all kinds of local handicrafts and sheepskin rugs. Must-try foods in the Christmas Market are Estonian dishes like Black Pudding and Sour Cabbage. Lastly, Vana Tallinn is a rum-based Estonian Liquor worth a shot in the chilly Baltic winters.
- Location: Raekoja plats 8-9, 10123 Tallinn, Estonia
- Dates for Christmas: November 15, 2020 to January 7, 2021 (Dates are tentative as of now)
While Vienna is host to over 20 different Christmas Markets, my favourite is the Viennese Dream Christmas Market (Wiener Weihnachtstraum) located in front of the magnificent Rathaus (City hall). This gorgeously decorated Christmas Market has everything from an ice skating rink to a curling rink to a giant Ferris wheel and an old fashioned merry-go-round. Stalls line up to sell artisanal handicrafts, mugs of mulled wine, Viennese Sausages, roasted chestnuts, and pretzels. Also, do not forget to check out the reindeer rides for kids. The market even has its own post office set up selling special festive stamps.
- Location: Friedrich-Schmidt-Platz 1, 1010 Wien, Austria
- Dates for Christmas: November 14, 2020 to December 23, 2020
Other markets worth visiting include the one setup in the forecourt of the Schðnbrunn Palace and the market in Vienna’s Spittelberg district. Both are known for selling luxury and boutique Christmas ware.
The capital of Croatia is a triple Best Christmas Market in Europe award winner. Christmas celebrations in Zagreb are spread out across many streets fanning from the central Jelacic Square. While the majority of market stalls can be found in Jelacic Square, check out Tomislavac for its ice rink, Zagreb Cathedral for its Nativity scene, and the concerts in European Square. There’s an area called the Fuliranje (Croatian for fooling around) where visitors can eat, drink, and dance on the street to their heart’s content.
Croatian specialities worth trying include Licitar – a honey gingerbread and Krpice sa Zeljem – a pasta and cabbage Croatian staple. Also worth checking out is the Tunel Grič which is a magical Christmas Carol tunnel where you can witness a combination of light shows and audio-visual projections. Check out the website below for the latest list of attractions in Zagreb during Christmas and individual visiting hours and entrance fees, if any.
- Location: Ban Josip Jelačić Square, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia
- Dates for Christmas: November 30, 2020 to January 7, 2021 (Dates are tentative as of now)
Other Christmas Markets worth visiting
With so many Christmas Markets that pop up every winter across Europe, its difficult to simply list out the top 10. As such, I have additionally listed a few other cities whose markets are equally worth a visit during Christmas. Let me know in the comments section below if you would have any other city included in this list.
Salzburg’s Christkindlmarkt is located in the centre of the historical old city. The birthplace of Mozart is home to one of the oldest Christmas Markets in Europe. This picture-perfect market, with around 96 stalls, sells everything from traditional German food to local handicraft. Also, check out the world’s largest advent calendar at Schloss Hellbrunn near Salzburg.
The Skansen’s Christmas Market in Stockholm is a Christmas aficionado’s dream come true. Located in the island of Djurgarden, Skansen is an open-air museum which turns into a Christmas Market every winter. Stalls here sell all kinds of Christmas goodies including Swedish handicrafts, smoked turkey, tunnbrod flatbread, sugared almonds, and sweet marzipan. For people willing to try out something different, join the traditional dance around the Christmas tree at Bollnas Square.
Set in and around one of Europe’s grandest squares, Brussels’ Winter Wonders is a Christmas festival with a lot to do and experience. It has over 200 wooden chalets, an ice rink, and a giant Ferris wheel. Check out the light and sound projection show at the Grand Place in Brussels old town. And when in Belgium, you simply cannot avoid having oodles of Belgian waffles, chocolate, and beer.
While Switzerland is beautiful all year round, Basel’s twin Christmas Markets at Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz hold a special charm and are Switzerland’s biggest. They feature nearly 200 ornately decorated stalls selling everything from handmade toys to traditional Swiss treats. Try the local Basel Läckerli (a swiss version of the gingerbread) and the classic fondue.
Berlin, the capital of Germany, is home to over 80 different Christmas Markets (there’s one for even dogs). Gendarmenmarkt is grandest of them all with the German and French Cathedrals and the Schinkel’s Concert Hall looming over in the background. With a plethora of classic German treats to chose from and a host of entertainment options, Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt is a true winter wonderland and is one of the best Christmas Markets in Europe.
Below is a map with pins for all the sights discussed above in this article.
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