Christmas is a magical time of the year and nothing says winter like a festive Christmas market. From cinnamon mulled wine in Prague to Belgian chocolate waffles in Bruges, the season of pure indulgence is almost upon us. With buildings lost underneath layers of fairy lights, ice skating rinks set up in public places, and outdoor markets lining main squares in all major cities, each provide a unique shopping opportunity along with a celebratory atmosphere, festive treats and seasonal delicacies you’ll want to write home about! Large or small, each market reflects the culture of the region and if you’re planning to be in Europe over Christmas this year and find yourself wondering which markets are the best, you can’t go wrong with our pick of 9 of the best Christmas Markets in Europe…
Dubbed the ‘Venice of the North’, you would be forgiven for thinking that Bruges, with its cobbled streets wound through with canals, could have been designed for hosting Christmas. With the finest chocolatiers, waffles and moule frites to warm up to after a day around town, Bruges is the perfect place for the gourmet traveller. The main square of Grote Markt, located in the shadows of the spectacular 13th Century Bell Tower, is the hub of Bruges and never more so than during the festive season. With fairy-tale surroundings, you’ll find chalets with Christmas gifts, handicrafts and many more stalls where you can enjoy a hot chocolate, mulled wine or refreshing gin.
When to go: 25th November – 1st January
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Voted the most affordable Christmas Market destination in Europe, Budapest is home to more than 100 wooden pavilion’s which attract hundreds of visitors every year. With fairy lights, mulled wine, outdoor ice rinks and illuminated avenues, you can experience the real wonders of winter in the Hungarian Capital. Each year, Vorosmarty Square is transformed into the annual Christmas Market hub where visitors can browse stands offering unique Christmas-themed gifts and arts and crafts. A giant advent calendar on the façade of the glamorous Gerbeaud building, exhibitions, live entertainment and traditional food and wine are also part of the festivities. Be sure to sample the local delights including cinnamon-pastry chimney cakes (kurtoskalacs) and toki pompos, a Hungarian-style pizza topped with bacon, onion and cream.
When to go: 11th November – 6th January
Year round, Strasbourg scores for traditional charm, but during Advent the capital of Alsace is even more magical. Half-timbered houses showcase giant red-and-white hearts; stars and festive angels while snowflakes line the cobbled streets. The oldest Christmas Market in Europe, the Christkindelsmärik was the first to be held in Strasbourg in 1570. With 300 stalls spread out over 12 locations in the city centre, the authenticity, warmth and festivity of Strasbourg Christmas Markets will be sure to leave you feeling festive. Come night-time, the Capital of Christmas is lit up by a plethora of Christmas lights and decorations while the centre piece, The Great Christmas Tree on place Kleber, brings a magnificent sparkle to the city centre. With 500 events organised throughout the city, including live music, exhibitions and festive shows, there’s something to suit every taste. Every year, Christmas is made just that little bit extra special with a special guest-country village. This year, Strasbourg will welcome Portugal whose traditions and charms can be found at the Portuguese village.
When to go: 25th November – 31st December
St. Gallen, Switzerland
For those who love Christmas time, St.Gallen is one of the best places to enjoy the festive atmosphere. Seven hundred stars shine above the city’s romantic old town, whilst the cheerfully decorated stalls of the Christmas market line the narrow streets. Ticking all the festive boxes, St. Gallen boasts a Baroque cathedral, wonderfully ornate medieval buildings, and picture-postcard views of snow-topped mountains. Kicking off the festive fun is the lighting of Switzerland’s tallest Christmas tree that accompanies a chorus of choir singers. With over 70 stalls serving steaming mugs of mulled wine, traditional rum punch, melted Swiss cheese on rustic bread and plates of delicious bratwurst, this is the perfect place to indulge. Aptly dubbed “The city of stars”, 700 suspended stars twinkle over the old town, adding a festive sparkle to the historic facades of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When to go: 26th November – 24th December
Prague, Czech Republic
When it comes to celebrating the festive season in style, fewer places do it better than Prague, where a stunning market scene illuminates the city from November through to January. From the brightly coloured traditional handmade toys, ornaments and gifts to the delicate glass baubles and sparkling Christmas decorations, there is plenty to explore. Czech glassware is a popular purchase in the destination, with high quality crystal making a very special gift for a loved one back home. Indulge with a sample of traditional Czech cuisine; whether you’re looking for a quick dinner or a delicious snack, local breads, sausages and cheese are worth a try, accompanied with a hot glass of mulled wine. As you treat your taste buds, sit back and pamper all your senses as you take in the magnificent Prague architecture and listen to the sounds of the street performers, carol singers of orchestras who take to the streets.
When to go: 26th November – 6th January
Croatia’s sun-soaked Dalmatian Coast may not seem like the most obvious destination for a trip to the Christmas markets, but the region certainly rises to the occasion during the festive season. Boasting celebratory decorations and displays that proudly illuminate the city’s historic landmarks and UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Croatian capital embraces Christmas festivities whole-heartedly. The market itself boasts a vast array of stalls and shops, specialising in handmade gifts, goodies and authentic Croatian food, like arancini and kontonjata (a sweet Christmas candy made with quince).
When to go: December 1st – December 31st
Every year, the city centre of Cologne is touched by the magic of the festivities in the run-up to Christmas. When they open the gates on the last Monday before Advent, millions of visitors from around the world delight at the contents of the quaintly designed huts. Christmas music, arts and crafts, toys, Christmas decorations and the scent of the Christmas bakeries create a wonderful atmosphere in the regions cultural hub. Beneath the Cathedral and the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland you can find well over 160 festively designed wooden pavilions. Here you can watch artisans at work, enjoy original “Christmas Mulled Wine”, out of festively decorated Christmas mugs or you can choose from an unlimited choice of sweets and local delicacies.
When to go: November 21st – December 23rd
If you’re planning on jetting off this winter, why not take a look at our 5 winter skincare favourites…