Ahhh, a Christmas market. A truly wholesome European tradition, Christmas markets are definitely now as popular as they’ve ever been. And some have been going since the Middle Ages!
Imagine the scene. You, wrapped up in a thick coat holding a steamy, fragrant cup of mulled wine or Christmas punch. Carols float harmoniously across the cold air. And everything glowing under the lights of a towering Christmas tree. Beautiful!
Whether you choose a hilltop ice rink with the spectacular backdrop of Germany’s prettiest mountain town, a floating bar on a frozen Love Lake or the spectacular plazas of some of Europe’s most beautiful cities – these are the top Christmas markets to visit in Europe this festive season.
This historic capital of Austria is home to several gorgeous Christmas markets throughout December. Christmaskindlmarkt is the biggest and the most scenic, taking place in the Rathausplatz right in front of the incredible Vienna City Hall.
A cup of Glühwein, or mulled wine, is a staple of Christmas markets. Get one served in a souvenir cup, and warm yourself into the festive spirit! Christmaskindlmarkt stalls even have their own special brew, which is a berry punch concoction.
Although it can get crowded you’ll find artisan glass and wooden Christmas decks, gorgeous food, and glittering surroundings. Try your drink with a giant Lebkuchen cookie, or just some simple but brilliant gingerbread.
If the crowds are too much, there are many other markets in Vienna too. Try the market outside the Belvedere Palace or the upscale and artistic Am Hof Markt for some quieter alternatives.
The charming capital of Estonia has a truly excellent Christmas market, nestled in its UNESCO heritage Old Town area. Not only that but they were the very first city in Europe to put up a public Christmas tree apparently. A Christmas market here, with a decorated tree, was first mentioned in 1441!
Tallinn is definitely a quieter destination for a Christmas market, but it’s just as picturesque as some of Europe’s headline cities. It’s also open for longer periods – the main city square market starts in late November and runs til the 8th of January.
After your visit to the market, there are more spectacular sights. You can see the whole Tallinn Old Town area and the market from the top of Hellemann Tower, the only remaining open tower from the Medieval walls. Plus Tallinn has that magic potential for a snowy Christmas. There’s about a 50/50 chance the city is blanketed in snow for at least a few days in late December each year. No promises though!
Heidelberg is one of Germany’s prettiest, but also busiest, mountain towns. Of course, it has an equally beautiful Christmas market! This gorgeous valley town is a real fairy tale throughout the year, but it shines even brighter over the festive season.
Among the unique attractions is the Heidelberg barrel – a 120,000-litre barrel with a shop and a bar inside. It’s rolled down to the Marktplatz Christmas Markt every year, from its usual resting place inside the epic Heidelberg Castle. You can of course also see looming above the rooftops as you stroll around the wintry streets.
To take the most advantage of the Christmas tale views, try the ice rink on Karlsplatz in the old town. It’s one of the most picturesque rinks in the world, and you can hire skates on the spot. Open from 12 am to 9.30 pm, with half-hour breaks.
For a week-long German adventure that includes fairy-tale towns like Heidelberg, as well as vibrant modern cities, try our 7 Days in Germany Itinerary.
A city that comes alive in the night. Welcome to historic Bruges at Christmas.
The main thing you have to do in Bruges at Christmas is the Winter’s Glow. This series of eight incredible light installations mark out a path that takes you past some of this fascinating Belgian city’s best sights. And of course, through several excellent Christmas markets. And also an ice rink bar, floating on the beautiful Minnewater. Which only means Lake of Love!
Sounds all right, eh? Not only all that though, but Belgium is also famous for its chocolate and desserts. And Bruge is no exception! Speculoos are the original biscoff biscuit, and they were first made in Belgium. Baked fresh by experts these cinnamon sweet biscuits are absolutely perfect with an indulgent hot chocolate, to warm your hands as you walk the Winter’s Glow.
Or try a traditional Belgian Christmas beer. Some local marzipan. A horse-drawn carriage ride along cobbled streets. This cozy city’s market isn’t as large as the ones in Brussels, but it definitely steals the show in the overall experience.
The best Christmas markets stand out for many reasons. Aachen, a spa city in the West of Germany near the border with Belgium is a case in point. Centered around the stunning Aachen Cathedral, built in 819 no less, there are several markets here. However, over the years they’ve all grown and linked together into one city-center wonderland.
Not only that but this city literally has its own famous gingerbread recipe – Aachener Printen. These crunchy, caramelized gingerbread biscuits have a honeycomb texture and a rich winter-spice sweetness for a super unique flavor. You’ll find them all over the Christmas markets in Aachen, and they go well with a bubbly mug of hot chocolate.
Aachen isn’t a massive city, however, and things can get quite busy during its late November to December running period. It was a lesser-known Market option for tourists for some years but now it gets over a million visitors annually. So we suggest booking early for 2023, to get a choice of accommodation and cheaper travel.
Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is an expensive city – so of course, the only paid entry Christmas market on our list is here. But, it is so worth it! Every Winter Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world, opens up as a festive wonderland.
From November to late December, a fantastic light show takes over the winding lanes and trails of the park. Watch an incredible nightly illumination show, featuring lasers and smoke over Tivoli lake, all to the theme of the festive classic Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Or, the whole family can enjoy a troupe of performing elves, who pick out a different tree in the park to decorate each night.
Of course, there’s also a traditional open market at central Højbro Square too, and one by the waterfront at Nyhavn. Try a Danish mulled wine with extra cinnamon, called a Glogg. And of course, a famously crumbly and gooey Danish pastry!
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
This incredible walled German town in Bavaria is a picturesque dream year-round. But at Christmas time, and especially if it snows? It gets even better.
The world-famous German Christmas decoration maker Käthe Wohlfahrt is based in this very town too. So you can tell they know a thing or two about setting a festive scene! During the market season in December, they open up their doors for tours. That includes a very impressive Christmas Museum, full of historical and rare decorations.
The market itself isn’t the most impressive on the list, but the whole scenic Old Town and the Käthe Wohlfahrt connection make a visit well worth the experience. It’s nowhere near as big or busy as some in Europe like Strasbourg, or Vienna. But there’s still plenty to do and you might like the smaller crowds.
Rothenburg aub der Tauber is a small town though, and it can be quite difficult to get to by train. So make sure to book your accommodation and travel early, for the best value!
The French city Strasbourg is quite a sight in December. Its Christmas market is billed as the oldest and biggest in Europe. There’s been some sort of winter market taking place here since the 1570s! Today there are no less than 11 different markets in this historic city, many of them sprawling together across streets and squares in free-flowing festivity.
The biggest and most popular market, as with many Christmas markets in Europe, is around the plazas towered over by the city’s spectacular Medieval Cathedral. Or, Place de la Cathédrale. Here you’ll find all the artisan French bakers making pretzels, crepes, pain d’epices (a thick gingerbread) and of course, bars packed with people chatting and sipping mulled wine.
Celebrate the true spirit of Christmas in a more modern way, at Marche OFF. This Christmas market elevates fair trade and social solidarity in festive giving. That means sustainable upcycled or handmade gifts, live Christmas-themed jazz bands, and creative workshops. All in a trendy (and eco-friendly) space!
Right in front of the majestic Prague Cathedral, the main Christmas market in the Czech Republic has been open since 1918!
It features over 100 stalls on a historic cobbled square, stretching between the Medieval Town Hall and the Cathedral. There are actually two markets, on either side of the Town Hall about 5 minutes walk from each other. There’s a huge tree, loads of amazing light shows and a stage with carol singers – as well as all the tasty food and drinks stalls you could want.
Try Czech kolaches, a hot creamy cheese and jam pastry that looks rather frugal but tastes everything! Have it the traditional way with rye bread instead of pastry. And a mug of hot fruit punch to wash it down.
You can also check out the incredible Prague Astronomical Clock, first installed in 1410. This breathtaking Medieval timepiece is installed on the side of Prague Town Hall. As well as beautifully intricate workings, it has wooden mechanical bell ringers that pop out of two windows to mark each hour. A true romantic vision of Christmas!
There are six different markets, all across the narrow streets and Places of this historic French town. But it’s so nicely compact that you can see all of them in one day (and night).
Place de l’Ancienne Douane is the largest and most popular market in Colmar, with a wide mix of your usual Christmas market attractions. The others are more themed, and some of them are inside too – which is nice for escaping the chill air for a bit.
Try the Gourmet Market at Place de la Cathédrale for some of the poshest outdoor Christmas market food you’ll find. Black truffle and cranberry wine risotto anyone? All eaten to a backdrop of a centuries-old Cathedral, of course.
If that sounds too sophisticated with the whole family in tow, try the Petit Venis area of the town. This area has pretty canals and bridges, but also a whole market aimed at children. Small rides and kid-themed gifts aplenty, including a giant mailbox made by Papa Noel himself (aka Father Christmas).
So there we are. The 10 Best Christmas Markets in Europe. We tried to pick a range of Markets, from picturesque towns with local stalls to the hugely impressive but also hugely busy markets in many of Europe’s capitals. Each market has its own unique charm, with gorgeous regional foods, local crafts makers, and beautiful surroundings.
Whichever Christmas market you pick to visit, make sure to let us know how much you enjoyed your trip. And stay EarthCurious!