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The festive market phenomena has taken Europe by (snow) storm! Every November to January, stalls, huts, rides and smells blend together to create markets which take over popular cities. Some of these European Xmas markets are older than the USA as we know it! With exactly a month to Christmas, lets get into the X’mas mood and plan on going to the nearest Christmas Market (keeping safety in mind of course)! This guide details the best cities for Christmas markets from the traditional twenty in Vienna to Edinburgh’s cosy bothie bars.
A decision about Europe’s Christmas markets and events will be made by each country individually. Please keep me updated if you hear of any changed decisions! Thank you.
Vienna Christmas Markets
Markets, yes you read it right, it’s not a typo. Plural! There are a total of twenty Christmas markets in Vienna, Austria’s capital. The biggest, and most touristy, is Vienna Christmas World on Rathausplatz which is usually the first stop for tourists. Under the curved sign which exclaims ‘Frohe Weihnachten,’ you’ll find hundreds of huts decorated in lights. These stalls sell typical Christmas gifts, some made by locals, others mass-produced. After Christmas, this market becomes a New Year one so you can even visit after the 25th.
For more authentic gifts, check out the market at Karlsplatz which has a strict application process so it is guaranteed that all sellers are producing and selling local and genuine products. Each of the Austrian markets in Vienna sells Glühwein and Punsch. You’ll be familiar with glühwein (mulled wine) as it is is sold at all of the Christmas markets in Europe but punsch is different as it is made with rum!
The markets operate a Christmas mug exchange process where you pay a deposit for a jazzy Christmas cup, drink until feeling warm and fuzzy then return the mug for your deposit back. Alternatively, keep the mug as a Xmas souvenir. If you are feeling very indulgent you should try the Bailey’s with cream punsch at Schönbrunn Palace. You can also enjoy live music and eat Maroni (roasted chestnuts) or thinly sliced potatoes on a stick here.
- Dates for 2020: Varies by market. Around about the middle of November until Christmas or New Year’s Day
- Search for accommodation options in Vienna, Austria.
Salzburg Christmas Market
Just before you turn the corner to Salzburg’s Old Town into Residenzplatz, the smell of candied apples, hot Glühwein, and sizzling sausages will fill the air. Add that to the explosion of color and beauty in the form of Christmas market stalls selling everything from advent wreaths to tree ornaments, it’s obvious that visiting the Salzburg Christmas market is bound to be a festive time.
At nearly 500 years old, Salzburg hosts one of the oldest European Christmas markets, and it has definitely learned something in all that time! The market is cheerful and stunning, and near-nightly carolers and events make the market a unique and fun place. While tourists do love the market, locals do as well, and you’ll almost always find a great mix out and about as the sun sets in Salzburg during winter.
The market is the best mix of food and shopping you could ask for, with plenty of food, drink, craft, and decor stalls to keep you busy regardless of what kind of Christmas market you’re looking for. While it does get busy, you won’t end up in line for hours here as there are enough stalls that there’s room for everyone to explore.
Utravlr Insider tip: Hoping to stay on a budget in pricey Salzburg? Consider eating dinner at the Christmas market. A kasekrainer (cheese-stuffed sausage) and a pretzel chased down with gluhwein is a tasty yet affordable dinner.
Once you finish up stuffing your face and shopping your heart out at the market, be sure to leave time for more of Salzburg’s Christmas festivities such as the birthplace of Mozart, concerts of his music are always popular, for example.
The famous Christmas Carol “Silent Night” was also invented nearby. Consider taking a tour to learn more about the history of the carol when visiting Salzburg! Salzburg’s Christmas market runs from 22nd November to 26th December, and lodging does tend to get booked up during this time of year, so if you’re planning an epic European Christmas market getaway and want to include Salzburg, be sure to plan ahead!
- Dates for 2020: 1st December to 26th December, with strict rules.
- Search for accommodation options in Salzburg, Austria.
Brussels Christmas Market
If you’re wondering what to do in Brussels, you’re in luck, because Belgium’s capital boasts a number of quirky attractions and a Christmas market that gives centuries-old German Christmas markets a run for their money. In the 17th century Grand Place, locals and visitors surround the Winter Wanders event where you can see huge Christmas tree on display. You’ll find hundreds of stalls selling anything from Christmas ornaments, jewelry, accessories and warm clothes to toys, crafts, and scrumptious food.
But perhaps the most unique feature is the incredibly cool steampunk themed carousel. Unfortunately, the carousel is only for the little ones, though I can’t say I didn’t see an adult or two (including myself) looking at it with envy.
While most Christmas markets are organised around the main town square, the one in Brussels is 2km long, going all the way from the Grand Place to Marché aux Poissons. You’ll find an amazing variety of local products, from cheese, waffles, and chocolate to fries, mulled wine, and fondue. Arrive on an empty stomach because there’s a lot of delicious food to try.
Utravlr Insider tip: Make sure you don’t miss the amazing light show organised in the Grand Place every night, the 3D video mapping on the facade of Sainte Catherine Church and the Christmas carol concerts organised inside churches around the city.
- Dates for 2020: 27th November to 3rd January
- Search for accommodation options in Brussels, Belgium.
Prague Christmas Market
Prague Christmas Markets have some of the most enchanted settings in Europe. There are six different markets held across the city between November and January. The most popular of these is in the magical Old Town Square. The Christmas tree and stalls are surrounded by the fairytale Gothic spires of Our Lady before Tyn Church, medieval houses and the Old Town Hall.
The other main Christmas market in the centre of Prague is a five-minute walk away, in the less inspiring, modern setting of Wenceslas Square. The most attractive of the other Prague Christmas markets are in St George’s Square on Castle Hill (Hradcany). What’s different about them? The Prague Christmas Markets bear some similarities with others around Europe but come with a Czech twist. The biggest difference you see is in the food and drink at the stalls, which include popular Czech food, snacks and, of course, beer.
Food and drink? The most common food stalls are the trdelnik ones, selling fresh spit-roast cake common in the Czech Republic and throughout Central Europe. Best time to visit? The markets get busiest in the evenings, but this is the most atmospheric time when the stalls and surrounding buildings are lit up. It’s quieter earlier in the day, or towards the end of the evening.
Utravlr Insider tip: The busiest spot is the belfry of the Old Townhall, where crowds come for the bird’s eye view of the Market and Square. It’s not somewhere to venture if you struggle with claustrophobia, vertigo or a combination of both. Wait for the crowds to thin out before venturing up.
- Dates for 2020: The Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square markets run from 28th November to 6th January. The St George’s Square market runs from 23rd November to 6th January.
- Search for accommodation options in Prague, Czech Republic.
Copenhagen Christmas Market
Copenhagen’s Tivoli Christmas market has to be one of the most Christmassy places on earth. Thousands of fairy lights twinkle around the theme park, which inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland. Pick up a gift at one of the high-quality stalls and pop-up shops, sip on some Gløgg, enjoy the traditional funfair games and ride the rollercoasters.
There’s no other Christmas market like Tivoli. Set in the Tivoli theme park in the centre of Copenhagen, the Tivoli Christmas market lets you eat, drink and shop – and then scream your head off on one of the many rides. The theme park restaurants are all open for the Christmas period, so there are plenty of options, from fast food to a sit-down meal. Traditional Danish gløgg (mulled wine) is sold at stands around the park.
Visit after dark to make the most of the thousands of fairy lights and beautiful illuminated displays. If you can, try to catch one of the parades. The Christmas market lasts into early January and is even open on New Year’s Eve, for a particularly magical experience.
Utravlr Insider tip: Tivoli is Copenhagen’s main Christmas market but there are smaller ones held across the city centre. You can even get a taste of a Swedish Christmas on your trip to Copenhagen by crossing the Øresund Bridge to Malmö
- Dates for 2020: 16th November to 22 December
- Search for accommodation options in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Birmingham Christmas German Market
The Birmingham Christmas German Market is one of the main highlights of the city during the festive season. Hailed as the biggest German Christmas Market outside Germany! People from around the world enjoy the festive cheer in town.
The market is filled with the festive log cabins shops that serve German beer, Bratwurst, German Gingerbread cookies, crepe (with fruits and Nutella), Mulled wine, hot chocolate, Nutcracker, sweets and up to various bric-a-brac. They also have some festive fairground rides for the kids.
The Birmingham Christmas German Market will be open from 7th November to 23rd December 2019. The market is open from 10 am until 9 pm every day. Guaranteed to have plenty of time to have fun and be merry with friends and family. The Christmas market is typically busy on the weekends and every happy hour around 5 pm onwards.
Utravlr Insider tip: During this festive season, Birmingham also arranges various lantern display in front of the Birmingham Library!
You can enjoy your visit to the Birmingham Christmas market by starting your stroll from the Bullring shopping centre and make your way down to the Birmingham City Hall. The German Market is one of the great things to do in Birmingham during the Christmas season.
- Dates for 2020: Cancelled
Tallinn Christmas Market
By far the cosiest Christmas market we have ever visited was the one in the Old Town Square in Tallinn, Estonia. It was the highlight of my winter trip to Tallinn. We visited the market every night throughout our stay because the ambience was so welcoming and relaxed.
It is a small Christmas market which makes it super cosy but not over-crowded, perfect for families, couples or anyone wanting to enjoy the Christmas spirit. The location of the market is just amazing. Not only it is central but the charming Town Hall Square, surrounded by century-old buildings, makes you feel like you are in a fairy tale story. You can enjoy the market for several weeks, even after the Christmas season has passed.
In the market, you will see many local artists displaying their beautifully handcrafted products and there is a variety of food and drink stalls offering local Christmas delicacies and the local Glogg (or Glühwein), with a variable amount of alcohol, from zero to 21%.
There is also entertainment for the little ones with a few fair stalls with games, a small carrousel and the Christmas road train which will take you around the town. Tallinn is a lovely place to visit around the holidays.
- Dates for 2020: November 15 to January 5
- Search for accommodation options in Tallinn, Estonia.
Helsinki Christmas Markets
Tuomaan Markkinat, in English known simply as Helsinki Christmas Market, is the largest and oldest holiday market in the Finnish capital. In 2018, Tuomaan Markkinat was listed among the best Christmas markets in Europe by Condé Nast Traveller and The Guardian. With Scandinavian design items, traditional crafts, regional Christmas delicacies, glögi (Finnish version of mulled wine), and its own pop-in sauna, Tuomaan Markkinat is a distinctively Finnish holiday market.
Grab a seat in the heated café and taste Finnish Christmas brews while gazing at the cheerfully lit, old-fashioned carousel and the white cathedral overlooking the market. There are more than 100 booths selling food, gifts, and crafts. Helsinki Christmas Market is open from the 6th December until the 22nd and although open from Tuesday to Sunday 11am until 8pm, the magical setting is best enjoyed after dark.
The market rarely feels too busy, except during special events, such as Finnish Independence Day on the 6th of December, and the last weekend before Christmas. If you come with kids, make sure to arrive during the daily visits of Santa Claus. Did you know that Santa is originally from Finnish Lapland? Helsinki Christmas Market is located in Senate Square, in the middle of the historic area of Helsinki. Be sure to stroll there through Aleksanterinkatu, the official Christmas Street of Helsinki, to admire the festive lights.
- Dates for 2020: 5th December to 22nd December
- Search for accommodation options in Helsinki, Finland.
Paris Christmas Market
If the smell of French cheese or hot roasted chestnuts doesn’t get you in the Christmas mood, not much else will. Christmas is a real festive time in Paris with the city’s squares and streets all lit up and adorned with Christmas trees, lights, and garlands. There’s no better way to join in the festivities than a visit to one of the Christmas markets scattered across the city.
Utravlr Insider tip: The market does tend to get busy immediately after dinner, so it’s best to visit during the day or early evening by taking the Metro to Trocadero to avoid the crowds.
The biggest, Jardin Des Tuileries Christmas Market, can be found at The Tuileries Garden. Here you will find festive gifts, souvenirs, and decorations by artisans from across France. There’s an ice rink for kids too. In addition to the French cheese and roasted chestnuts, keep an eye out for other delicious treats the likes of Nutella-filled crepes, macarons, and spice bread. Find out more at my guide to Paris in Winter
- Dates for 2020: Cancelled.
Cologne Christmas Market
For more than a decade, we’ve traveled extensively in Europe in winter. One of the reasons we love traveling during the colder season is Christmas Markets. I love everything about them; the hot Glühwein, the spectacular displays, and mostly the overall feeling of joy and merriment that abound.
After visiting quite a few markets in different cities and countries, I can confidently say that the best city to visit for Christmas Markets in Europe is Cologne, Germany. There are not one or two but seven major Christmas Markets in Cologne. They each have a different theme so they look and feel very distinctive. The most eye-catching market is the one directly under the Cologne Dom, one of the tallest cathedrals in the world.
The cathedral makes for a most majestic backdrop. It’s worth going inside to see the beautiful vaulted ceilings and stained glass, and if you’re fit enough, climbing up to the top of the tower to see the gorgeous views of the city. My favorite is the Christmas Market at Alter Markt. It’s the largest in the city, and is nestled among the atmospheric Old Town buildings.
It has a super fun ice skating rink and alpine huts where you can sip your Glühwein if it gets too cold outside. We found one of our favorite treats at this particular market. At most Christmas Markets you can get Schupfnudeln (flour or potato dumplings) with sauerkraut and speck.
But here, they serve some more gourmet options, including a truly delicious and decadent version with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and crème fraîche. Another fun and unique market is the one at the harbor. It’s appropriately nautical-themed, with huts shaped like ships and a good deal of seafood on offer. It’s also near the Chocolate Museum, which is great fun for pretty much everyone. You can also see some nice views of the city and the Rhine River from its roof (which is free). Read more about the seven Cologne Christmas Markets.
Utravlr Insider tip: a can’t-miss thing to do in Cologne is walking across the Hohenzollern Bridge. It’s great any time of year but is especially scenic during Christmas Market season with all the lights. The view of the Dom and the Old Town from the other side of the Rhine River can’t be beaten.
With so many markets in one city, you don’t have to worry about one particular market getting too busy or waiting in lines. If there are too many people, you can just move onto the next one. Cologne’s center is relatively compact and easy to get around on foot or by public transport. You can definitely hit all the markets during one visit.
There’s also a special trolley bus called the Christmas Market Express that takes visitors to see the four biggest markets (the above three plus the Angel’s Market). This is especially great for people with mobility issues and kids.
- Dates for 2020: Cancelled
Budapest Christmas Market
Budapest has two notable markets, Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market and Basilica Christmas Market. While the oldest and most popular is at Vörösmarty, the biggest sits in front of the famous St. Stephen’s Basilica. Both markets sell typical Christmas gifts and souvenirs which you will be accustomed to elsewhere but what makes these markets stand out is the local food.
Try the Instagram-worthy Chimney cakes or poppy strudel, washed down with Gluhwein or Hungarian palinka, if you are feeling brave. After hours at the busy markets, what better way to relax than in one of Budapest’s baths? Culturally the baths mean a lot to Hungarians as they not only provide medicinal benefits but also play a big part in their social lives.
- Dates for 2020: 6th November to 1st January
- Search for accommodation options in Budapest, Hungary.
Valkenburg Christmas Markets
This unique Christmas market in the Netherlands takes place within “caves.” Although these are called caves, the Netherlands doesn’t have any caves that naturally exist and these are old quarries that have been mined since Roman times. Within two of the many “caves” in Valkenburg, you’ll find two Christmas markets.
The largest and the most famous market in Valkenburg is the Gemeentegrot Kerstmarkt while the smaller market is the Kerstmarkt Flueweelengrot, which takes place in the historic Velvet cave near the Valkenburg castle. Within the quarries, you can admire carvings from medieval times, see an old chapel within the caves, and see where people lived during World War II.
Within the markets, you’ll find standard Christmas market fare, but it’s more about the location that truly makes this Dutch Christmas market stand out from the rest. Within the market, you’ll find typical Dutch snacks along with gluhwein, a warm mulled wine made with spices.
Utravlr Insider Tip: The best time to visit is first thing in the morning although you’re best off visiting on a rainy day. The Valkenburg market is well-known in the Netherlands, so expect significant lines. The is a limit on how many people are allowed in the caves, however, it’s possible to skip the line by buying tickets in advance.
If you’re considering visiting Valkenburg during the Christmas season, book your hotel early as Valkenburg and Maastricht are popular December weekend trip favorites with Dutchies, Germans, and Belgians. It’s much easier to visit by train to avoid pricey parking although those on a budget might prefer one of the cozy accommodation options, which include castles, in the beautiful Limburg countryside.
The entire city of Valkenburg turns into the Christmas City of Valkenburg during this period, so if you check the schedule, you can enjoy parades, fresh food stands, and other cute Christmas themed attractions. The most famous attraction of Valkenburg is the Valkenburg castle ruins, which can be toured during this time on a combination ticket with the Christmas markets. Maastricht is also nearby.
- Dates for 2020: 13th November to 3rd January
- Search for accommodation options in Valkenburg, Netherlands.
Bucharest Christmas Market
The Bucharest Christmas Market has a more recent tradition – as it was launched just a few years ago. But, since it launch, it became a huge success, both among locals and tourists. Hosted in front of the heaviest building in the world – the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest, the capital of Romania – in Constitution Square, this Christmas market is usually open from December 1st (Romania’s National Day) until December 26th.
While there are a few more Christmas fairs in Bucharest – at University Square, in big parks and malls – this is the biggest one and one to visit on your Bucharest trip. There are many things to do in Bucharest in December.
There are almost 130 small cottages where you can find numerous Christmas-related and traditional products. From Christmas food from all over the country to traditional costumes, Christmas decorations (including hand-made ones), to jewelry, paintings, pottery and more, everything is here. There’s also a food court.
Another great thing: concerts! Each weekend, from Friday to Sunday, in the evening (starting at 6 PM) you have concerts. Each evening has a theme and you’ll be able to listen to Romanian singers of all ages. During the concerts, there are bigger crowds, so consider that when visiting.
Children have Santa’s House – and they can meet Santa usually from December 17th to December 24th. There are also train rides for them and a carousel. You’ll also find here an ice skating ring for people of all ages. All the activities are free. You absolutely need to go and admire the city lights as well – Bucharest is decorated each year with new wonderful holiday lights and it’s a pleasure to see them all.
- Dates for 2020: Cancelled
Edinburgh’s Christmas Market
Edinburgh plays host to the world’s biggest Hogmanay party, which means New Year’s Eve to non-Scots, and although this event brings in the 1st with a bang, the month run-up is filled with festivities in Scotland’s capital.
The Christmas market at Princes Stree Gardens is similar to other markets in Europe in that it sells Gluhwein in rented mugs, bratwurst in rolls and there is an ice rink but what makes it differ, slightly, is the Scottish twist. You can expect haggis dogs sold alongside German sausage and a bothie bar selling whisky cocktails!
Utravlr Insider tip: If you are a fan of heights, ride the Star Flyer which soars at 60 metres above the market!
A bothie is a small hut or very small cottage which is used by hikers in Scotlands. Edinburgh’s Christmas has put a festive spin on the bothie and here you can get the best views on the market from this pub.
Warning: the market is super busy during the weekend so much so we gave up trying to enter one Saturday in December. Edinburgh’s Market doesn’t just stop at Princes Street Gardens. George Street and St Andrews Square also play host to festive events.
- Dates for 2020: Cancelled
Montreux Christmas Market, Montreux
With an average of 550,000 visitors each year, the Montreux Christmas Market – locally known as Montreux Noel – is one of the most popular Christmas markets in all of Switzerland. Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, this waterfront Christmas market definitely has a unique location – and it makes use of it.
The 160 artisans and merchants, who sell everything from Christmas ornaments to wood carvings to nativity scene snow globes, are all steps away from the shoreline. In the lake, there are even star-shaped lights floating around, giving the space a magical glow. We certainly can’t forget about the food at the Montreux Christmas Market!
In addition to the Christmas market staples of roasted chestnuts, freshly-made churros, and mulled wine, the Montreux Christmas Market also has over half a dozen restaurants. The vast majority of these restaurants serve Swiss or Vaud (the canton or state) specialities, such as raclette and rosti.
Utravlr Insider tip: Before heading to the market, check the website to see the opening hours for the individual vendors or sections. Certain sections open at different times of day than others.
In my opinion, the best time to go is around 5 p.m., just after the sun has set. You’ll be able to see the market and its view of Lake Geneva and the French Alps with the beautiful orange sunset glow.
Besides, the vast majority of the vendors will just be opening up, so the lines won’t be as long, the market won’t be as packed, and you’ll be able to enjoy the Swiss Christmas spirit.
If you’re looking for other festive activities to do in Montreux, head over to Chateau de Chillon – the castle that The Little Mermaid castle was based on – for some Christmas-themed workshops, stories, and shows!
- Dates for 2020: Cancelled
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