Fairy lights, the aroma of mulled wine, tasty sweets, handcrafts, and roasted chestnuts. My memory floods back to the first
I ever visited in Europe when I think about these particular sights, tastes, and aromas. You don’t have to be caught in the Christmas holiday craze to enjoy the vast array of festive markets taking place during the holidays. Even the scrooges of the world will appreciate the wide selection of Christmas Markets Europe has. I am not crazy over Christmas, but then again, I do love another excuse to spread some cheer. Follow along as I share with you the
Best: Old-Style Atmosphere
Vienna is quite possibly Europe’s best Christmas destination. During the holidays, the city comes alive with over 20 pop-up markets. The Rathausplatz, the square in front of the Neo-gothic City Hall, provides an impressive backdrop for one of the most popular festive markets of all. No need for a map to get there, allow the smells and sights to guide you. Handcrafts, carol singers, and locally made goodies adorn the area. Elaborate decorations and lights cover the over 150 stalls and wooden huts that make up the beautiful square.
I vividly remember standing in the middle of Rathausplatz feeling the buzzing holiday atmosphere. As it was my first Christmas away, visiting Vienna during the holidays made up for spending the season so far from my family. The warmth and festive cheer were comforting to me as a solo traveler.
At the market, grab yourself a glass of mulled wine or snack on a Raclette Brot (bread with melted cheese from the Alps) while listening to the live music carrying across the city. Vienna is full of its share of holiday markets, and Christkindlmarkt
(known as the Christmas Dream market) is by far the best! If you haven’t had your Christmas fill after visiting Christkindlmarkt head over to the Weihnachtsmarkt Schloß Schönbrunn and Altwiener Christkindlmark. Vienna’s markets during the holiday season are sure to put you in the Christmas spirit.
2. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Best: City Wide Celebration
Amsterdam is not necessarily the first place that comes to mind when you think of Christmas markets, and in fact, there isn’t a designated holiday market per se. During the holidays, the city illuminates with Christmas cheer. That is because at the end of November the Amsterdam Lights Festival
kicks off, and runs all the way into mid-January. Other events and holiday activities take place throughout the city center. The outdoor ice rink at the Rijksmuseum is the perfect place to spend an afternoon with the family. Alternatively, visit the famous World Xmas Circus
at the Koninklijk Theatre Carré. Enjoy an unforgettable circus show on the banks of the Amstel River. Curious about which other European cities also kick it up a notch for Christmas, check out the festive celebrations in Rome
3. Strasbourg, France
Best: Experiencing the ‘Capitale de Noël’ (Self Proclaimed Title)
Strasbourg wasn’t on my radar as a place I would love to visit. Then again, that was before I started perusing through images of festive markets. For those that don’t know, Strasbourg lies within the region of Alsace, located on the border with Germany. Due to its proximity to the German border, the city has adopted many features from its neighbor. Many people say that Strasbourg looks more like a quaint German village than one in France
Enough about the city itself, it’s the Christkindelsmärik
(Christmas market) that is the real draw, from November 23rd - December 30th. Take a trip to Strasbourg and step back in time. Discover the oldest Christmas market in France
, dating back to 1570. The Christmas action centers around the Place Kléber over the holidays. In the square stands a giant fir tree, adorned with Christmas decorations and wrapped with 7km of lights. Over 300 market booths selling a variety of goods are scattered throughout the city as well.
Festival market booths enhance the Place Gutenberg, Place Grimmeissen, Place Austerlitz, Place de l’Homme de Fer, and Place de la Cathédrale. There are loads to see across the city! Traditional decorations and crafts are sold, as well as Alsatian food, such as pretzels and spiced bread. The classic book market and the Belgian village are also must-sees. This year my Christmas plans are set, but I will be seriously considering Strasbourg for Christmas next year.
4. Tallinn, Estonia
Best: Cozy Medieval Setting
Take a trip to Tallinn anytime between mid-November and the start of January to experience the Raekoja plats Christmas market. Browse the beautifully decorated stalls in the historical town hall square. Shop the handcrafted specialties (wreaths, sheepskin rugs, local honey) and sample the traditional Estonian delicacies such as black pudding and sauerkraut (sour cabbage). If you have a Slavic background like me, I’m sure the words sauerkraut alone entices you to visit.
Every year the market welcomes hundreds of stage performers throughout the holidays, animating the stage daily. Also, bet you didn’t know that Tallinn was the first city ever to display a Christmas tree in Europe. Yes, that’s right, the highlight of the Raekoja plats is it’s Christmas tree. The iconic tree has been on display every year since 1441.
5. Edinburgh, Scotland
Best: Festival Cheer
In my opinion, Edinburgh is one of the most magical and festive cities to spend the holidays
. They sure know how to celebrate Halloween
; however, when Xmas rolls around, the atmosphere in the city becomes even more vibrant! From mid-November to January, the historic center explodes, and the city embraces the Christmas season. St. Andrews Square transforms into an ice rink, the Princess Street gardens come to life with small wooden chalets
, and George Street sets out their lively Scottish market for all to enjoy. Having spent my first Christmas in Scotland, I can vouch for how vibrant the atmosphere is during this time of the year. Edinburgh is a breathtaking destination
worth visiting for the holiday season.
6. Stuttgart, Germany
Best: Old Style Christmas
Similar in style to the holiday market in Strasbourg, France, the Weihnachtmarkt, Germany’s oldest market, has over 300 market stalls spread over Schillerplatz, Marktplatz, and Kirchstrasse. The cobblestoned roads leading to the market combined with the stunning architecture of the Neoclassical Königsbau, Baroque New Castle, and the Old Castle (14th century) provides the perfect backdrop to the holiday festivities. There’s market fun for the whole family. I can’t help but think how much my nephew, who’s four now, would love to explore this old-school festival market. No matter your age, Stuggart during the holidays seems like the perfect place to visit.
Enjoy one of the many indoor or outdoor concerts and stage performances taking place over the Christmas season. Wander the assortment of stalls to buy wooden toys and decorations, roasted chestnuts, gingerbread, cakes and more! The seasonal markets in Stuggart without a doubt deserve to be on the list of best Christmas markets in Europe.
7. Prague, Czech Republic
Best: Fairytale Atmosphere
Are you heading to Prague this holiday season? If so, do not miss the markets during Christmas, taking place in the old town square (Staromestské Námestie). The beautifully decorated and illuminated Christmas tree garnishes the center of the action. Let the twinkling lights guide you through this cozy Christmas market. Think fairy-tale land mixed with traditional Christmas handcrafts and choir singing. Try the delicious local fare such as trdelnik, a tasty dough coated in sugar and medovina (hot honey wine). Yummy! What’s not to love.
If you’re not interested in hot bevies or sweets, many of the red-canopied stalls sell beer on tap and a wide variety of other Czech snacks like klobása (bbq sausage). There I go ahead bringing up food, as my father would say, ‘if there’s klobása on the menu, I’m there.’ Shoppers will be satisfied too at the selection of unique gifts sold in the seasonal markets. You can find anything from wooden children’s toys to embroidery and baked treats. The Wenceslas square, only a short walk from the old town square, is the largest and most magical of all the holiday markets in the city. Visit one of Europe’s most romantic capitals during Christmas; you’ll be glad you did!
8. Zagreb, Croatia
Best: Handmade Knits
During the season of Advent, Croatia’s capital is a winter wonderland and the ideal setting for celebrating the holidays. Last year was my first visit to the North of Croatia; after over 12 tiring hours and 600 km hitchhiking from Italy, I arrived in Zagreb. I was warmly welcomed by the sights, smells, and sounds of the holiday markets. In my opinion, Zagreb has some of the best Christmas markets in Europe. Thanks to the stunning architecture and the cozy market stands spread throughout the old center, the incredibly picturesque city of Zagreb brightens up even more during the winter season.
Enjoy brass ensemble concert, lace up the skates and take a spin around King Tomislav Square or watch one of the pastry demonstrations. If you’re shopping for a unique holiday present, you can also browse the knit scarfs, decorations, and artisanal gifts sold at one of the stands at Park Zrinjevac. As December is quite cold, the many food stalls offer you an opportunity to warm up with some of Zagreb’s specialties like apple strudel or krpice sa zeljem (a traditional dish of pasta & cabbage).
9. Annaberg-Buchholz, Germany
Best: Enchanting Feel
Welcome to the small-free state of Annaberg-Buchholz, situated in the region of Saxony. Spending the holiday season in this small town is sure to leave you with the warm fuzzies. Over 80 carefully decorated market stalls line the historic streets, offering baked goods, brandy punch, artisan crafts and so much more. The highlight of a visit is by far the iconic Christmas pyramid. If you are lucky enough to visit during December, you can witness the ceremonial "cutting of the Stollen cake," or the Bergmann parade as well.
10. Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina
Best: Unique Christmas Getaway
It is true that Christmas themed markets are not so common in many of the Balkan countries, however, the fact the majority of Sarajevo’s population is Muslim doesn’t stop the city from joining in the festive holiday events. Santa’s village, the children’s playground, local crafts, and an assortment of foods offer visitors to Sarajevo’s Holiday Market plenty to enjoy. I couldn’t help but add in this beautiful Balkan city to the list of best Christmas markets in Europe. I can't wait to explore Serbia for myself this holiday season; where are you spending your holidays? Head over to Facebook
and share your upcoming holiday plans with us.