‘Tis the season! And if you’re traveling in Europe, nothing gets you into the holiday spirit in like a Christmas market. These markets, which originated in Germany, can now be found in many cities throughout Europe. I’ve been to several over the years, and fancy myself an expert. Here are my picks for some of the best Christmas markets for festive, holiday fun.
The self-proclaimed Capitale de Noël (Capital of Christmas) is home to the oldest Christmas market in France. More than 300 stalls are spread over 12 locations in Strasbourg’s historic city center, the most popular of which is located in front of the stunning Strasbourg Cathedral.
Make note of the many specialty items available, specifically hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments, Alsatian cookware, and the many delicious regional dishes such as choucroute, and foie gras, as well as sweet treats like manele, bredele, and the much-loved pain d’épices or spice bread. Strasbourg is in Alsace, a region famous for its white wine, so be sure to try the vin chaud blanc, (white mulled wine) infused with small pieces of orange or lemon and combined with honey, cinnamon, and other spices.
2019 Dates: November 22 – December 30
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The Budapest Christmas markets have become increasingly popular in recent years, even ranking as one of Europe’s most popular markets in 2018. There are several markets sprinkled around the Hungarian capital, the stand-out markets are Vöroösmarty Square, Budapest’s oldest and largest Christmas market, and the St. Stephen’s market.
Look for Hungarian handicrafts such as wooden tools and toys and pottery, and culinary specialties include grilled sausages and meat, Hungary’s legendary street food, Lángos, Rétes (Hungarian strudel), ginger cookies and Bejgli, the typical Hungarian Christmas dessert filled with poppy seeds or raisins and walnuts.
2019 Dates: November 8, 2019 – January 1, 2020
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The city of Prague is just so stunning, in that fairytale sort of way, and even more so when it is all done up for the holidays.
Prague’s beautiful Old Town Square is decorated with red-roofed huts selling everything from Czech handicrafts and glass to wooden toys and Christmas tree ornaments. In addition to the shopping, there are local culinary delights such as gingerbread, potatoes on a stick and trdelnik rolls, a sweet pastry smothered in cinnamon and sugar.
Markets can be found beyond the Old Town Square, on Wenceslas Square (he of the Christmas carol), Namesti Republky and Havelske Trziste.
2019 Dates: November 30, 2019 – January 6, 2020
The Christmas market in Brussels – known as Plaisirs d’Hiver (French) and Winter Pret (Flemish) – extends from the world-famous Grand Place to Place St. Catherine. Made up of 240 chalets, the market sells an array of crafts, decorations and gourmet treats, including the famous Belgian waffles, chocolate, and frites! There is also a large selection of gourmet delights to take home as gifts, such as artisanal sausages, cheeses, preserves and foie gras.
Along with stalls filled with gifts to put under your tree, there is a toboggan slope, a Ferris wheel illuminated with 18,000 lights and, a 200 foot-long skating rink in the center of the fish market.
Don’t forget to seek out the Manneken-Pis while in Brussels. The city’s mascot always dresses for the occasion and during Christmas time he’s sure to be rocking the Santa gear.
2019 Dates: November 29, 2019 – January 5, 2020
The Christmas markets in Barcelona are a little different than those in northern Europe. Maybe because the weather is mild and there’s no gluhwein. However, Barcelona does have Caga Tió and the Caganer, quirky Christmas characters and traditions giving the Spanish Christmas its own unique charm.
There are also more traditional features of Barcelona’s Christmas, like the nativity figurines at Fira de Santa Llúcia. Fira de Santa Llúcia, Barcelona’s largest Christmas market is located in front of Barcelona’s cathedral in the Gothic quarter. Sagrada Familia is home to Fira de Nadal, another traditional market, while the Plaça de Catalunya Christmas fair offers a theater, bookshop, sports activities, and most importantly, a toyshop.
2019 Dates: November 30 – December 23
Gingerbread house stalls and lots of lights are the hallmarks of the Christmas markets in Düsseldorf. The gingerbread houses, which have different themes, are sprinkled throughout the city. The Marktplatz Christmas market is at Düsseldorf’s city hall and sits at the feet of the statue Jan Wellem, a Düsseldorf landmark. Also at Marktplatz is the almost 100-year old merry-go-round and the hand-carved life-sized manger, which is always a major attraction.
While in Düsseldorf, take time to walk down the city’s elegant shopping street, Königsallee with its giant chestnut trees brilliantly illuminated with thousands of twinkling lights. Known as Kö, the street is noted for its numerous boutiques, shopping malls, and flagship-stores.
2019 Dates: November 22 – December 30
Cologne’s Christmas markets are considered to be among the most special in Germany. This is in no doubt due to the market at the Cologne Cathedral, home to the Sarcophagus of the Magi, which is thought to hold the remains of the three wise men. There are 7 Christmas markets in total in Cologne, including Heimat der Heinzel, the legendary house of gnomes, and the “Weihnachtsmarkt Express” or Christmas market hop on-hop off trolley, provides an easy way to get around to them all.
Tip: Cologne and Düsseldorf are situated a few miles apart from each other along the Rhine, and an easy 45-minute train connection between the two cities makes it convenient to visit both during one trip.
2019 Dates: November 25 – December 23
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The City of Lights shines even brighter during the holiday season with a number of traditional Christmas markets throughout the city. The Champs Elysées is home to one of the most popular markets that stretches from the Champs Elysées to the Place de la Concorde where you’ll find la Grande Roue (“big Ferris wheel”), which offers beautiful views of the city.
Christmas markets can also be found at a number of other places in Paris, including the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Montparnasse Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral.
Another fun holiday activity is looking at the festive Christmas window displays at many of the city’s department stores.
2019 Dates: November 24, 2019 – January 6, 2020
The Vienna Christmas Market is believed to have evolved from the city’s ‘December Market’ and has more than 700 years of tradition. The largest Christmas Market takes place in front of the city’s neo-Gothic town hall, the Rathauspark, which has elaborately decorated trees, and for children, pony rides on the Christkindl Express, and the Rathaus itself is transformed into an enormous Advent calendar, and each day a window is opened.
Other markets in Vienna worth visiting are the magnificent Schoenbrunn Palace located on the outskirts of the city, and the market in the historical enclave of Spittelberg where you’ll find more eclectic, quirky buys.
2019 Dates: November 15 – December 26
Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen
Tivoli Gardens is Denmark’s most popular tourist attraction and the inspiration for Disneyland in California. Normally closed during t
he winter, Tivoli opens its gates for the month of December and is transformed into a winter wonderland.
Take a stroll through the gardens and explore the many festive stalls full of Christmas cheer and goodies, then enjoy the rides of the amusement park that are also open for the season.
Another holiday tradition in Copenhagen is Royal Copenhagen’s Christmas Tables exhibition at the company’s flagship store. This annual event features six tables set by different artists and celebrities who use Royal Copenhagen china to create festive table settings.
2019 Dates: November 16, 2019 – January 5, 2020
Set around the town hall and Aachen Cathedral, the Aachen Christmas market is small but cozy. In addition to an abundance of the requisite Nutcrackers, Smokers and Christmas Pyramids that are staples at the German Christmas markets, Aachen’s local specialty – a type of sweet bread called Printen – is also sold at the market.
While in Aachen, sneak in a little culture with your shopping, and visit the cathedral. Built by Charlemagne, and also the monarch’s final resting place, Aachen Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in Northern Europe.
Read more about Aachen in this previous post.
2019 Dates: November 22 – December 23
While most Christmas markets have a bit of rustic charm, there’s no denying the buzz that comes from being in such a lively, urban setting like Berlin. The city has more than sixty markets that are as varied and diverse as its neighborhoods.
WeihnachtsZauber on Gendermenmarkt, situated between the in one of Berlin’s most beautiful squares, is one of Berlin’s best-loved markets and features an extensive daily performance program of choirs, dance ensembles, acrobats and theater.
Kids of all ages will want to experience WinterMagic at Potsdamer Platz, which, in addition to the typical Christmas market fare, features Europe’s largest toboggan run.
Berlin also has a Hanukkah market, which offers Jewish specialties from all over the world, as well as special events and live concerts.
2019 Dates: November 25 – December 29
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The Lutheran Church in Helsinki looms over Senate Square, which is also where you will find the St. Thomas Christmas market. With close to 150 vendors in red wooden stalls selling crafts, baked goods, and other Christmas specialties, it is the biggest Christmas market in Finland.
Along with the Christmas markets, another holiday tradition in Helsinki is the Christmas lights along the city’s main shopping street, Aleksanterinkatu. The tradition of the Christmas lights began in 1949 to symbolize the returning of the light and hope to the city’s residents after the war, and in recent years marks the start of the holiday season.
2019 Dates: December 6 – December 22
Set amongst medieval squares and cobbled streets, the Tallinn Christmas market is an absolute delight. A handful of stalls sit in the medieval square where, according to folklore, the first public Christmas tree in Europe was displayed. Vendors sell handicrafts, wool clothing, local food, and Glögg – the Estonian version of mulled wine.
There’s also a plethora of fun holiday activities at the market, including an outdoor skating rink, classical and jazz concerts, and Santa’s house where the littlest visitors to the market can mail their Christmas list and feed the baby reindeer.
2019 Dates: November 15, 2019 = January 7, 2020
Tip: The distance between Tallinn to Helsinki is 51 miles/82 kilometers and a ferry between is an easy and inexpensive way to visit both cities on the same trip.
Magical Maastricht is a brightly illuminated celebration of the Christmas season. A highway of lit streets connects the city’s squares, leading from one Christmas market to the next, one event to another; including ice rinks, cultural programs, and world-class shopping and gastronomy.
The beautiful Vrijthof square is home to the city’s largest market and an outdoor ice rink. Other markets include Kesselkade, which sits on the bank of the river Meuse and features a carousel and Ferris wheel, and in the shadow of the Basilica of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek) is a small, intimate market as well as a live nativity scene.
Magical Maastricht also features a sophisticated program of cultural events such as concerts, theater productions and art exhibitions that take place in the city’s streets, squares and museums.
2019 Dates: November 29 – December 31
While the Latvian capital might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinks of the festive season, Christmas in Riga is quite a pleasant surprise.
The are several Christmas markets in Riga, including the main markets located on Doma Laukum (Dome Square) next to Dome Church, Līvu Laukums next to the old Stock Exchange building, and in Esplanāde Park next to Nativity Russian Orthodox Cathedral.
All of the markets highlight local artisans and vendors selling handicrafts, traditional food, and the signature drink of warm blackcurrant juice, spiked with a Latvia’s herbal alcoholic drink, Black Balsam.
In addition to the Christmas markets, Riga features Christmas trees, as Riga has been officially recognized as the home of the first decorated Christmas tree. In honor of this designation, there is an annual open-air art installation around the city featuring artistic interpretations of Christmas trees.
2019 Dates: December 1, 2019 – January 6, 2020
Weihnachtsmarkt, Hamburg’s main market, is set in front of the Town Hall. Other Christmas markets around the city, including St. Petri-Kirche, Spitalerstrasse, Mönckebergstrasse and Weisserzauber on Jungfernsteig. For those who are more on the naughty side, Hamburg boasts the world’s first erotic Christmas market, the Santa Pauli festival.
There are stalls selling lots of wonderful handicrafts and holiday kitsch, and the ever-popular Kathe Wohlfahrt hut with the beautiful glass ornaments. As with any Christmas market, there is an abundance of food, like the incomparable German würst, potato pancakes, feurzangenboule, and glüwhein, and since Hamburg is famous for its food markets, it’s probably best to sample it all.
2019 dates: November 25 – December 23
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland in part amusement park, part Christmas market and totally fun! Free to enter, and very big, with a ton of rides and attractions, cafes, and music, it’s easy to spend an entire day there. It’s also easy to spend a lot of money, because while entry is free, the rides and attractions are not, and require tokens, which can be purchased at the token booths found around the park.
The entire city is wrapped in festive lights and decorations so combine the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland with a self-made tour of the Christmas lights and department store holiday displays.
2019 dates: November 21, 2019 – January 5, 2020
Have you been to a European Christmas market?
Which markets make your list?
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Updated Fall 2019