Christmas markets in Europe
The magic of Christmas markets in Europe is truly unparalleled. From the traditional wooden stalls lined with twinkling lights to the aromas of mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, and fresh baked goods filling the air, Christmas markets capture the spirit of the season perfectly. People from all around the world flock to Europe's famous Christmas markets to soak in the festive ambiance, shop for quality handicrafts and gifts, and sample delicious holiday treats.
In this article, we highlight 12 of the best Christmas markets across Europe that should be on your travel bucket list. We cover the top markets in traditional Christmas destinations like Germany, Austria, and Switzerland as well as some newcomers in Eastern Europe. Along with the key details on dates, locations, size, and what makes each market special, we also answer some frequently asked questions about visiting these festive events. Read on to start planning your magical Christmas market getaway!
As the birthplace of Christmas markets, Germany hosts some of the most impressive markets in Europe.
Where: Nuremberg's Old Town When: November 29 - December 24 Special Features: Nuremberg is home to one of the oldest and largest Christmas markets in the world, with nearly 200 wooden stalls packed in the city's central Hauptmarkt square. Vendors sell traditional Bavarian handicrafts as well as Nuremberg's iconic spiced gingerbread cookies shaped like hearts (Lebkuchen). A children's market with rides and activities makes this a very family-friendly destination. The market also has special craft days highlighting products from specific regions.
Where: Beneath the Cologne Cathedral and along several other squares throughout the old city When: November 22 - December 23 Size: Seven interconnected markets totaling nearly 250 stalls Special Features: Cologne's cluster of Christmas markets are beautifully decorated with lights designed to showcase the magnificent Gothic cathedral in the background. The Angel's Market has a romantic, cozy atmosphere while you can ride carnival rides at Heaven's Market. Make sure to try a hot mug of the traditional Glühwein mulled wine.
Where: Striezelmarkt on Dresden's Altmarkt (Old Market) Square When: November 22 - December 24 Size: Nearly 250 vendors Special Features: Dresden's Striezelmarkt lays claim to being Germany's oldest Christmas market, first recorded back in 1434. The market gets its name from the Dresdner Stollen fruitcake, which is sold by the thousands every year. A scenic setting and incredible handicrafts add to the appeal.
Austria hosts delightful Christmas markets in the capital Vienna and in Salzburg, backdropped beautifully by snow-capped mountains.
Where: More than 20 official advent markets scattered throughout the city When: Mid-November - December 26 Size: Large variety across all the Vienna markets Special Features: Vienna has a long history of Christmas markets dating back to the Middle Ages. For 2022, the Rathausplatz Christkindlmarket in front of theCity Hall is celebrating its 40th year. The market offers over 150 vendors selling quality Austrian gifts, decorations, and food. Be sure to check out the other Vienna Christmas markets too, each with something unique to offer. The Old Viennese Christmas Market in front of the imperial palace brings history to life with handicrafts in a Baroque setting.
Where: Cathedral and city center squares When: November 17 - December 26 Size: Nearly 100 stalls combined across all locations Special Features: The Salzburg Christmas markets hosted in front of the Salzburg Cathedral and Residenz Palace provide a fairy tale backdrop you have to see to believe. The markets have creative offerings like a historic nativity scene market and plenty of musical performers to enjoy. Warm up with a cup of mulled wine or Sugar Baker punch.
With its picture-perfect chocolate box mountain villages, Switzerland creates a truly magical Christmas market experience.
Where: Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz in the Old Town When: November 24 - December 23 Size: Nearly 200 wooden chalet stalls between the two markets Special Features: Basel's two main Christmas markets both offer something special. The market at Münsterplatz surrounds the historic red sandstone cathedral, while Barfüsserplatz hosts a grand Swiss fir tree decorated with thousands of stars. Creative gifts and decorations abound as shoppers stroll with steaming mugs of Glühwein to stay warm. Don't miss the Läckerli fair dedicated to Basel's signature spice cookies.
Lesser known Christmas markets in Eastern European cities like Prague, Tallinn, and Budapest are quickly gaining popularity for their low costs, unique cultural offerings, and festive cheer.
Prague, Czech Republic
Where: Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square When: Late November - Early January Size: Large markets with hundreds of stalls each Special Features: Prague's Old Town Square Christmas Market surrounds a central Christmas tree and Nativity scene orchestrated by the Astronomical Clock. The market has a magical, lively atmosphere with plenty of Czech handicrafts and holiday treats like trdelnik chimney cakes. Over at Wenceslas Square, the markets feel more modern with additional entertainment and carnival rides.
Where: Town Hall Square in the Old Town When: Mid-November - Early January Size: Nearly 100 vendors Special Features: What Tallinn's Christmas market lacks in size, it makes up for in rustic Baltic charm. The market's centrepiece is a huge fresh-cut pine tree donated by a nearby forest. Locally smoked sausages and piping hot blackcurrant wine provide fuel as shoppers peruse the handmade woolens, leather goods, ceramics, and other quality gifts from regional artisans. Estonian handicraft workshops provide entertainment as well. Budapest, Hungary Where: Vorosmarty Square in central Pest When: Mid-November - Early January Size: Nearly 100 wooden stalls Special Features: The Budapest Christmas market at Vorosmarty Square brings plenty of traditional Hungarian food, drink, and handcrafted gifts to enjoy. Strings of lights criss-cross above the market against an impressive backdrop of the late 19th century Gerbeaud Café and other historic buildings. Be sure to try langos savory fried dough and mulled wine spiced with cinnamon and cloves. The market also features live music and activities to spread holiday cheer.
FAQs and Commonly Asked Questions
Many visitors have questions about visiting Europe's magical and endlessly popular Christmas markets. Here we provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
What are the best Christmas markets for families and kids? Some of Europe's top Christmas markets for families include:
- Nuremberg, Germany: An entire children's market with rides and kid-friendly activities
- Vienna, Austria: Pony rides and cookie decorating workshops appeal at certain markets
- Tallinn, Estonia: Less crowded for easier stroller access and kid entertainment
- Cologne, Germany: Heaven's Market has carnival rides while the other markets have sweets
What are the best Christmas markets for shopping for authentic handicrafts? To shop for local handicrafts and gifts created by regional artisans, these markets come highly recommended:
- Dresden, Germany: Extensive variety of quality German handicrafts
- Salzburg, Austria: Unique Austrian gifts and decorations that can only be found in Salzburg
- Basel, Switzerland: Creative decor and artisan products from northern Switzerland
- Tallinn, Estonia: Woolens, smoked glass art, ceramics, and more from the Baltic states
What food and drink should I try at the Christmas markets? Indulging in festive food and drink is part of the Christmas market experience! Favorites to try include:
- Germany: Bratwurst sausages, potato pancakes, stollen fruitcake, lebkuchen gingerbread, and of course mulled wine (glühwein)
- Austria: Sausages, brezel pretzels, roasted chestnuts, sweet punsch hot alcoholic punch
- Switzerland: Raclette cheese, læckerli spice cookies, birnenweggen pear cake, vin chaud mulled wine
- Eastern Europe: Langos savory fried dough (Hungary), trdelnik sweet chimney cakes (Czech), blackcurrant gløgg (Estonia)
When is the best time to visit the Christmas markets? Most of the markets open in late November and run through December 24, with a few extending until after Christmas or New Year's. Late November and early December tend to be less crowded than weekends later in December. If you want to experience the markets covered in a picturesque blanket of snow, shoot for visiting in late December.
How can I save money on accommodations? Lodging fills up fast over the Christmas market season, so book early to score savings. Look for deals on vacation rental apartments on sites like Vrbo or Airbnb, which cost much less than hotels on average. Hostels and budget hotels also offer affordable rates, just don’t expect luxury. Another approach is staying farther outside the city center to pay less, then taking public transportation into the Christmas market area.
How much time should I budget for visiting each Christmas market destination? Most travelers spend 2-5 days in each Christmas market city in order to have enough time to see the sites and experience the festive atmosphere without feeling rushed. Nuremberg, Cologne, Vienna and other cities with multiple connected markets might warrant extra time. For Salzburg and Tallinn, two full days may be enough to see their more concentrated markets while also seeing other city attractions. One pro tip is to arrive on a weekday rather than the busier weekends for a more relaxing experience.
As this article illustrates, Europe explodes with stunning Christmas market destinations for travelers to explore each holiday season. From the unbeatable traditional markets in Germany and Austria to the up-and-coming Eastern European cities, each market destination has its own unique atmosphere, cultural traditions, holiday dishes and drinks, shopping specialties, and seasonal magic to discover. Planning a Christmas market holiday does take some advance preparation and budgeting when it comes to securing flights, lodging, and transportation. However, the nostalgic joy of meandering the wooden stalls while the aromas of roasted nuts and spices fill the air is an incredibly rewarding and memorable experience. We highly recommend adding these festive European Christmas markets to your seasonal travel bucket list. Just bundle up in your warmest winter woollies before sipping on a hot mug of mulled wine punch or ale! Whether you dream of wandering beneath twinkling lights in front of Cologne’s cathedral, weaving through Austria’s imperial palaces, or tasting Hungarian chimney cakes in Budapest, Europe’s one-of-a-kind Christmas markets scene has you covered. Immerse yourself in Yuletide spirit with Old World holiday charm and check some unique destinations off your travel list along the way. Frohe Weihnachten as you explore Europe’s Christmas treasures!