My first time visiting European Christmas markets was last year on a Viking Rhine River Cruise. These charming markets are a wonderful reason to visit Europe in winter. European Christmas Markets date back to the 11th century and a wonderful glimpse into each town. If possible, visit several markets during your European winter vacation.
Get ready for lots of Gluhwein (glüwein), sparkly lights, handmade foods and crafts as we take a spin around some of the most magical European Christmas markets! You’ll find Christmas markets throughout most of Europe, but the highest concentration seems to be in Germany. Each city has a unique take on the market and you’ll find that souvenirs, ornaments, food, decorations, and mulled wine will differ in each location.
17 Must Visit Christmas Markets in Europe
The Santa Lucía Market in Barcelona is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Spain, and is definitely amongst the sights you must see in Barcelona, if you visit during the winter. It’s organized every year in the square in front of the Cathedral. What makes this Christmas market special is that apart from the usual Christmas things (pine trees, Christmas cribs, etc.), you will find everywhere Caga Tió and Caganer, the main characters of the quite peculiar Catalan Christmas traditions. Caga Tió is a wooden log with a smiling face painted on it. Before Christmas parents fill these logs with sweets, and at Christmas Eve kids have to beet the log with a stick telling the log to “poo” the sweets out of it. Caganers are small porcelain figures that show a person taking a dump. Although at first this seems something disrespectful, these figures (Catalan pheasants originally) are fertilizing the land to ensure good harvest in the following year. Nowadays these Caganers can be any kind of celebrities from local politicians to international pop stars.
Contributed by Gábor Kovács & for more on Barcelona: surfingtheplanet.com/en/what-to-see-in-barcelona-in-3-days/
There are only two Christmas Markets in Basel, Switzerland, and they are called Basler Weinnacht. They are located at Barfusserplatz and Munsterplatz and are easily within walking distance to each other. What I loved about these markets was that they are less crowded and easy to get around. Yet they had all the elements of the wonderful massive markets without all the crowds.There is definitely something to be said about that! While there, I saw Christmas “cabins” that had candle making, glass firing, jagertee (tea), glühwein (mulled wine) and jus chaud (hot juice in orange or pomegranate), as well as chestnuts roasting! I can recommend these two smaller markets.
Contributed by Dr. Cacinda Maloney & for more on Basel Christmas markets: pointsandtravel.com/basel-switzerland-christmas-markets/
The German Market in Birmingham, UK is the most awaited and visited Christmas market in England. It typically starts on the last week of November and runs until the Christmas period. The German Market kick starts the festive season in the city with its beautiful log cabins, over-flowing German beer, pretzels, bratwurst and much more! Oh! Don’t forget to try the mulled wine and the hot chocolate. It is definitely a great day and night out with friends and family. The Christmas German Market also have log cabin stalls for all the Christmas trinkets and possible gift option for the festive gift giving.
Contributed by Ryazan Tristram & for more on Birmingham: Points of Interest: Places to Visit in Birmingham (UK)
The Christmas market in Brasov, Romania is not huge, but it’s perfectly European and beautiful. Set in the Old Centre, the market comprises dozens of wooden booths set strategically around the large open square. With shops, a cathedral, and the town hall overlooking the proceedings, the sight is postcard-perfect. In the center of it all stands a tall, bedazzled Christmas tree. You can walk through the market and check out the many crafts and other wares to buy, but don’t leave without a cup of hot mulled wine, known in Romania as Vin Fiert. It’s delicious, and at around 5 LEI or ($1.25USD), you can afford several cups to keep you warm!
Contributed by Amy Harte & for more on Brasov: twodrifters.us/blog/things-to-do-in-brasov.html
Cagliari isn’t exactly the kind of place one would think of at Christmas. Located in Sardinia, famous for its amazing beaches, it is a lovely place to visit in any season, and that literally shines at Christmas, with gorgeous decorations and lights across its most beautiful squares. If the area of Villanova is the most charming one in terms of lights, the prettiest market is the one that goes from Piazza Yenne (overlooking the port) through Corso Vittorio Emanuele. A number of small wooden boots open and they sell anything from hand made Christmas decorations to local food and toys for children. It is lovely to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere there.
Dubrovnik, Croatia is famous for two things: being the spot where Game of Thrones is filmed, and being one of Croatia’s most touristy cities. Luckily, Croatia very much has a “high season” — summer. So if you happen to visit around Christmas time, not only will you find a serious lack of visitors, you can also imagine you’re spending Christmas in King’s Landing, thanks to the modest market that lines the main drag in the walled city.
The Christmas market in Dubrovnik is very much NOT a tourist thing — it’s small, and don’t expect to find throngs of people there. That lends it a charming, quiet atmosphere: perfect for sitting at a stall and warming yourself against the Adriatic chill with a cup or two of hot, mulled wine. Another don’t miss food: the huge sausages. We ate two a piece, and didn’t regret it one bit.
London, United Kingdom
From October, a range of Christmas markets and Winter festivals start to appear all around London. Popular places to visit are the South Bank Winter Festival (don’t miss the cider lodge!), Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland (try and avoid the weekends), the alternative Winterville in Victoria Park and the ice skating rinks at the magical Natural History Museum or Somerset House. Don’t miss the carol singers, the famous decorated shop windows of department stores like Harrods and Selfridges and make your way to one of the many rooftops for a nice and warm mulled wine or cider.
If you’re looking for something different, I can recommend visiting the illuminated Kew Gardens, walking the ‘Enchanted Woodland’ trail through the gardens of Syon House, or stepping back in time to celebrate an Elizabethan Christmas at Hampton Court Palace. But whatever you do, make sure to enjoy the typical British Winter foods such as roasted chestnuts, Christmas puddings and mince pies!
Contributed by Nienke Krook & for more on London: thelondontester.com/nieuw-in-londen/
With its soaring gothic spires, glowing holiday lights and snow-clad half-timbered houses within the Old City’s fortified walls, Nuremberg Germany is a Christmas-card worthy holiday destination. Similar to many of Germany’s original Christmas Markets which were clustered around their city’s main church to attract churchgoers, Nuremburg’s Christkindlesmarkt dates back to the era of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and its festive season kicks off when the flaxen-haired Christmas Angel (Christkind ) appearing on the Church of Our Lady on the eastern side of the market.
A highlight of the holiday season is the opening of the market stalls filled with gift items such as glassblown decorations, brightly-painted wooden toys and woolen goods. Nuremberg is also famous for its Christmas cuisine. Nurnberger bratwurst–a minced pork sausage smoked over beechwood charcoal,is traditionally served on a bed of sauerkraut. Also popular at Christkindlesmarkt are the giant gingerbread, mulled wine and roasted almonds.
Contributed by Michele Peterson; founder of A Taste for Travel
Oldenburg isn’t the biggest Christmas market in Germany. For that, you’d have to go to Munich or Berlin or any other big city. As far as I’m concerned, though, with my tendency to get anxious and overwhelmed in large crowds, Oldenburg is perfect. Spread over several city plazas, the Oldenburg Christmas market has something for everyone. Children can go on child-sized rides, speak to the German version of Santa Claus, ride a pony, or listen to a storyteller. Adults can shop for handcrafted gifts from the prettily-decorated stalls or just eat and drink their way through the market.
Speaking of drinking, make sure to try the classic German Christmas market drink: a heated, sweet, spiced wine called glüwein. And while the glüwein helps keep your hands – and your insides – warm, you can also duck into the old St. Lamberti church for the special Christmas musical performances they offer.
Contributed by Rachel Heller & for more on Oldenburg Christmas markets: rachelsruminations.com/christmas-markets-germany/
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is like a fairy-tale city, so what better place is there to go to a Christmas market? The main market in Old Town Square can be overlooked from the Old Town Hall Tower above the astronomical clock, but the real magic can be found among the traditional wooden stalls and around the giant Christmas tree. There are delicious sweet foods to sample like Trdelník, or chimney cake, as well as savory options liked fried cheese, barbecued sausages and large hams. Czech beer is on offer, or warm up with Svařák, the Czech take on mulled wine. For something different try Medovina, which is a sweet sort of honey wine. The Prague Christmas Market is a great place to get into the Christmas spirit, and a great reason to visit this beautiful city in the winter season.
Contributed by Sonja Thomson & for more on visiting Europe in Winter: migratingmiss.com/10-favourite-city-breaks-winter-europe/
As the capital of Christianity, it’s normal to expect a special atmosphere in Rome for Christmas. With colorful lights, Christmas trees, Nativity scenes, the eternal city exudes Yuletide spirit from all corners and can give you an all-encompassing experience. If you happen in Rome during Christmas celebrations, make sure you enjoy its colorful open markets that can be found all around the city. Every year there are new openings, but the ones that never fail to amaze locals and tourists alike are the one in Piazza Risorgimento and the one in Piazza Mazzini.
The first, right outside the Vatican Walls, is a scenic collection of objects and decorations, from fine bath linens to handicraft jewelry to quirky kitchen tools, everything meant to become a perfect Christmas gift. The other market you won’t want to miss is the exclusive collection of stalls set around the fountain of Piazza Mazzini in Prati neighborhood. Populating the gardens of the square are Christmas objects such as ceramics and presepi, or gift ideas from the Italian tradition and also more international such as herbal products and artisan clothes. Alongside the handicraft work, the market of Piazza Mazzini is a great place to find culinary delicacies from other Italian regions, with local producers gathering there for the special occasion.
Note: Rome has many Christmas markets, but every year they change. Above are the two that usually take place every year.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Contributed by Dean Williamson & for more on Rothenburg Christmas markets: lavidaglobal.com/european-road-trip
Stuttgart is located in southern Germany, slightly northwest of Munich and north of Zurich, Switzerland. I had the pleasure of finding myself in this wonderful area during their holiday season and was able to enjoy their Christmas Markets! The nice thing about their market area is it’s smaller than larger cities, like Munich, so it’s easier to feel more cozy and less overwhelmed. They truly beautifully decorate their kiosks too! A wonderful holiday spirit surrounds it all. You can buy ornaments and trinkets, and classic German holiday cookies that are more for display than eating. A glass of warm Gluhwein (hot mulled wine) is never far away and the bratwurst sandwiches are plentiful and delicious!
Although the winter days are short in Tallinn, the Estonian capital city comes alive in the historic Town Hall Square during the holiday season with its popular Christmas market. Tallinn’s sparkly Christmas market is filled with dozens of vendors selling local crafts and tasty treats in the cobblestoned square, making the market a great spot to shop for holiday gifts while munching on gingerbread and sipping traditional mulled wine. The market also features a colorful merry-go-round, live entertainment, visits with Santa Claus and a massive Christmas tree. Since Tallinn is reputed to have displayed the first ever Christmas tree in Europe (and perhaps the world!) back in the 15th century, this is a European Christmas market and Christmas tree not to miss.
Contributed by Daryl & Mindi Hirsch & for more on Tallinn: 2foodtrippers.com/tallinn-food-guide/
You may not know this but Zurich, Switzerland has 5 Christmas Markets! Having visited 4 out of the 5, I was quite taken with Christkindlimarkt located inside the main train station. This is Europe’s largest indoor market with a whopping 150 stalls offering everything from sweet treats and handmade gifts to apparel and beauty items. To be honest, the one thing people come to see is the 50-foot Christmas tree decorated with over 7,000 Swarovski crystals! You need to see it in person to appreciate the sparkle and shine. Too bad there’s a glass wall around the tree keeping people away from those pricey crystals!
After you check out the tree, take your time and enjoy the atmosphere while sipping a cup of Glühwein (mulled wine) at Glühwein-Hütte. If you’re not into mulled wine, grab a hot cocoa made with real Swiss chocolate. This year, Christkindlimarkt is open from 23 November to 24 December.
Contributed by Mia Herman & for more on Zurich Christmas markets read Mia’s post: travelwithmia.com/christmas-markets-zurich-switzerland/
There are so many magical Christmas markets in Europe and this list just scratches the surface. For example, here is a guide to Austria’s best Christmas markets.