The Best Christmas Markets in Europe
Our excitement for Christmas markets may have gotten the better of us, so we started early this year. We've included links to the markets below, but you may find that some pages haven't been updated for 2021 yet. If not, check back in later October.
The sweet smell of trdelník wafting through a Medieval square in Prague, falling snowflakes melting in your rum-infused mulled wine as you browse the wooden chalets in Tallinn’s Old Town, and the view of a million Christmas lights from a thrilling funfair ride in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens. All over Europe, Christmas markets bring warmth and light to the December darkness, and each one offers a glimpse into its country’s traditions, as well as delicious food and drink, unique gifts, and a special atmosphere. Have a read, then visit our city breaks page to find deals and make the dream a reality!
Here’s a guide to our favorite European Christmas markets.
Dating back to 1570, Strasbourg’s Christkindelsmärik is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe. Today it attracts visitors from across France and beyond, largely thanks to the city’s high-speed rail links. As well as crafts, the market's little wooden chalets offer a perfect opportunity to try regional Alsatian dishes like flammekueche — a tarte topped with fromage blanc or crème fraîche, onions, and lardons that’s cooked in a wood-fired oven — or choucroute d’Alsace, a dish featuring sauerkraut and sausages. The market takes place at various locations; including Place Kléber (home to a 30-metre Christmas tree), Place Broglie, and the area around the city’s Gothic cathedral; on Strasbourg’s central Grande Île.
Edinburgh’s magical architecture is the perfect backdrop to the Scottish capital’s six weeks of festive activities. Head to Princes Street Garden, where you can go for a spin on the big wheel, and take the kids to Santa Land, with its fun rides including a helter skelter and a carousel, a Christmas tree maze, Santa's grotto, and a children's market. All of the city’s main festivities take place within a short walk of each other. St Andrew Square hosts an ice rink that loops around the base of the Melville Monument, while Edinburgh’s main Christmas market, where you can pick up some traditional crafts and warming snacks, stretches along George Street. There’s also the European Market at the Mound Precinct, which features gifts from the continent, such as German wooden toys.
Tallinn’s Old Town is perhaps the best-preserved Medieval city in northern Europe, and is especially atmospheric in winter, when there’s usually a decent dusting of snow. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to city walls, cobblestone passageways, and spires, towers, and domes that reach up into the cold Baltic sky. Tallinn’s Christmas market takes place in Town Hall Square, at the heart of which sits the impressive Christmas tree — Tallinn was one of the first cities in Europe to display one back in 1441. The wooden cabins that fan out from the tree offer handicrafts, woollens, souvenirs, and more, while you can refuel on local fare including black pudding with sour cabbage, as well as gingerbread. For a local tipple, try a steaming mug of vana Tallinn glögi — a mulled wine containing a rum-based liqueur.
Copenhagen has several Christmas markets where you can buy gifts, including handmade wooden kitchen tools, candles, and Christmas decorations, with true Scandinavian flavor. Perhaps the most stunning market takes place at the famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park, which transforms into a winter wonderland thanks to hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights and festive music. Stroll among the wooden huts in the Christmas Village Market and perhaps sample some aebleskiver, a cross between a doughnut and a pancake that you dip first into jam and then icing sugar. Wash it down with a mug of glögg (mulled wine). You can also take the kids to see Father Christmas, go ice skating, and try out the park's rides, which include Demon, Star Flyer, and Monsoon. You'll need to buy a ticket to enter the park, and then pay for any rides, as well.
Vienna is home to many Christmas markets, but arguably the most popular is the Wiener Christkindlmarkt, which dates back to the 18th century. It takes place in Rathausplatz, in front of the impressive City Hall, and features more than 150 stalls selling wooden toys, clothing, scented candles chocolates, roast chestnuts, and much more. The sound of choirs, brass bands, and trumpet fanfares fill the square, while the adjacent park offers more festive attractions, including a nativity scene trail, a Ferris wheel, an ice rink, and plenty of romantic lights, including those adorning the Tree of Hearts.
With its castles, spires, and domes forming an enchanting backdrop — not to mention thermal baths and grand cafés for you to warm up in — this city on the Danube is the ideal setting for a winter break. Budapest is home to several Christmas markets, including one in Vörösmarty Square, where more than 100 craftspeople sell unique goods, plus there are concerts and puppet shows. Another takes place outside St Stephen's Basilica and features 3D light shows, an ice rink, and traditional stalls. The Castle Garden Bazaar market, meanwhile, takes place at the foot of Castle Hill, below Buda Castle, and offers lovely views across the river to Pest. Whichever market you visit, look out for hand-made gifts including ceramics, jewelry, and clothing, plus kürtöskalács, a cinnamon chimney cake cooked over an open fire, which pairs nicely with the local spicy forralt bor (mulled wine).
Christmas markets in Germany are famous the world over, and Berlin offers a great choice. One of them is Weihnachtszauber, which takes place in the Gendarmenmarkt, one of the prettiest squares in the capital. It's lined with historic buildings, including Deutscher Dom, Französischer Dom, and Konzerthaus Berlin, which were restored after World War II. Unlike many other Christmas markets, this one has an entrance fee, but it's only 1€, and it's partially donated. You’ll find all the usual Christmas market staples, such as crafts and glühwein, plus there's a wide range of entertainment. But it also offers several temporary indoor restaurants where you can sit down and warm up with treats such as fondue.
Prague is particularly magical around Christmas, when its twinkling lights brighten up the city’s historic center. Prague has two main markets within a short walk of each other: in Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square. Expect stalls selling items like ceramics, jewelry, wooden toys, scented candles, Christmas decorations, woollen hats, and traditional puppets and dolls. There's carol singing around the Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and workshops for kids, too. When you get hungry, head to the food stalls for local treats including klobása (barbecued sausages), ladké knedlíky (sweet dumplings), trdelník (the Czech take on chimney cake), and perníčky (spicy gingerbread), plus there are plenty of opportunities to wash it all down with a Czech beer or two.
There's plenty going on around the Croatian capital during Christmas season. Head to Zrinjevac Park, where the trees are lit up by lanterns, for wooden huts selling artisanal gifts, as well as local specialities such as krpice sa zeljem (pasta with cabbage) and apple strudel. European Square, by the cathedral, offers another Christmas market with stalls and live music, or head to King Tomislav Square and have a go on the ice rink. You can also stroll along the tree-lined Strossmayer Promenade, where gas lamps are still lit by hand every evening, to Caffe de Matoš, where you’ll find food stalls, bars, live music, street performers, and a spectacular view over the city.
Cologne is famous for its Christmas markets and fairs. Perhaps the most popular is the one that takes place next to the stunning twin-spired Gothic Cathedral in the city's Old Town, and features around 150 wooden pavilions and a towering, beautifully lit Christmas tree. Local gifts to look out for include toys, woodcarvings, and a type of Christmas cookie called lebkuchen. Away from the shopping there’s a children’s carousel, plus live music and other entertainment, while you can add some extra magic to your day with a tour of the cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bruges is full of Medieval buildings and picturesque cobbled streets that draw visitors throughout the year, but from the end of November, its historic city center is transformed into a Christmas wonderland. Its main Christmas market takes place in the Markt (Market Square), where wooden chalets surround an ice rink, all watched over by the 83-metre-high Belfry of Bruges — you can climb the 366 steps for the best views across the city. The market stalls sell all kinds of gifts, including handcrafted Christmas decorations, clothes, and arts and crafts. There are of course plenty of opportunities to satisfy your cravings for two of Belgian’s most scrumptious food offerings: waffles and chocolate. Bruges also hosts Winter Glow, a light trail that extends across the whole city and is a great way to experience the streets after dark.
Krakow’s annual Christmas market takes place in the city's central square, Rynek Glowny, in the Old Town. The market offers stalls packed full of artisanal gifts, including pottery, embroidery, metalwork, wooden sculptures, and Christmas decorations (from old-fashioned hand-painted baubles to modern LED lights), as well as bric-a-brac. You can also buy colorful candies, spiced nuts, and frosted gingerbread, and listen to carol singers while taking in views of the buildings of the surrounding UNESCO World Heritage Site, including St Mary's Basilica and the historic Cloth Hall, now an art gallery.
Italy is home to many excellent Christmas markets. One of the most atmospheric takes place in Piazza Walther in the Medieval center of Bolzano from late November. Bolzano is in South Tyrol, so it's no surprise the market has a Germanic feel to it. The 80 or so stalls host artisans selling home-made candles, glass balls, carved wooden sculptures, and much more. You can also tuck into zelten, a cake made with nuts and dried fruit that’s a local Christmas tradition, strudel, hot apple juice, and mulled wine. With its flickering candles, carousel, and miniature train for kids, and a backdrop of the Dolomites and the city's late-Gothic cathedral, the market resembles something out of a fairy tale, especially when the snow falls.
Feeling festive? Visit our other Christmas market blogs: visit the UK's best Christmas markets, our favorite Christmas markets in Austria, the top Christmas markets in Eastern Europe, and Germany's favorite Christmas markets.
Or see our deals for city breaks here and visit one this year.
Nick Elvin, Anne-Sophie Thivolle, and Susanne Lettenmeier contributed to this post.