Our 10 favourite Christmas markets in Europe

December is finally upon us with crisp weather and enough twinkling lights to charm us all back into our ugliest Christmas sweaters. And where better to begin the seasonal festivities than in Europe at a heritage Christmas market, steaming cup of mulled wine in hand. Though you might have heard of Germany’s Weihnachtsmarkts which date back to the Late Middle Ages, Christmas in Europe is much bigger than you ever expected, with under the radar Christmas markets in Strasbourg, Paris, Budapest and beyond. See our top 10 European Christmas markets below.

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Copenhagen | Photo: Katarzyna Dutkowska

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Walk the market snacking on traditional lebkuchen (gingerbread) and Nuremberg sausages, washing everything down with punch or more glühwein

1. Cologne Christmas Market, Germany

Starting with the Don of Christmas markets in Germany, we venture to the city of Cologne for its classic take on Christmas. Though there are several Christmas markets Cologne, the largest – Markt der Engel – takes place in the city centre, backdropped by the beautiful Cologne Cathedral. As well as an impressive spread of wooden stalls selling both glühwein and handicrafts, the atmosphere is kept lively with musical performances ranging from gospel to swing. Unleash your inner kid at Saint Nicholas’s village beside Hahnen Gate or get your skates on over at Heumarkt ice rink. Otherwise, the newest addition to the market may hold appeal; an LGBTQ+ themed Christmas Avenue with live shows and racy performances staged between Sparkasse bank and Westgate on Rudolfplatz Square.

Outside of Cologne, visitors can take their pick of Germany’s other cities, sampling the 80-odd Christmas markets in Berlin; notably, the Berliner Weihnachtszeit and Potsdamer Platz, plus the Weihnachtszauber am Gendarmenmarkt for traditional souvenirs and Christmas plays. Then, the Bavarian city of Nuremberg is also in the running for Germany’s best Christmas market, an event hosted within the medieval city centre since the 16th century. Here the seasonal icon is not Santa but rather ‘Christkind’, a female-presenting angel with wings and a crown representing the spirit of Christkindlemarkt. Walk the market snacking on traditional lebkuchen (gingerbread) and Nuremberg sausages, washing everything down with punch or more glühwein.

Cologne Christmas Market | Photo: Stefan Bernsmann

Photo: Bank Phrom

2. Prague, Czech Republic

Two back-to-back markets – one in Prague’s Gothic Old Town and the other on Wenceslas Square – are easily two of the most atmospheric Christmas markets in the Czech Republic, both easily walkable in an evening. Rather than warming up on mulled wine, while in Prague you’ll want some grog (a drink of rum, water, lemon and sugar) to enjoy while taking in the spires of Our Lady Before Týn and the 15th-century astronomical clock that loom above proceedings. Do all your Christmas shopping in one go, bartering for hand-blown glass baubles and other crafts before filling up on spit-barbequed pork and Czech pastries (especially the sweet trdelník). Time your visit before 5PM on Wenceslas Square in time for the nightly lighting of its centrepiece Christmas tree. See more of the city with our Prague gay travel guide in hand.

Prague Christmas Market | Photo: Maatcheck

3. Tallinn Christmas Market, Estonia

Dubbed the Best Christmas Market of 2019 by European Best Destinations, Tallinn Christmas market should be on every good boy’s wish list. Slightly more eccentric in its Christmas tastes than you may be used to, Tallinn serves up black pudding and sauerkraut delicacies alongside local sweets, honey and hot rum liqueur to keep you cosy while the snow falls around you. The Christmas tree in front of the city’s Town Hall has made an appearance every year since 1441, around which brass bands, dance troupes and bell ringers welcome visitors into the festivities. Shop at the 60 wooden stalls, meet Santa at his winter grotto and ride the merry-go-round, not forgetting to look around at the UNESCO-listed Old Town architecture along your snow-covered way. Explore the entire city with our Tallinn travel guide.

Tallinn Christmas Market | Photo: Hert Niks

Tallinn | Photo: Dmitry Sumin

4. Brussels Winter Wonders, Belgium

Based beside the Bourse stock exchange in the Belgian capital, Brussels Winter Wonders is a Christmas bonanza of brilliant proportions. Over 200 wooden chalets dot the kilometre-long area, serving handmade goods and specialities such as traditional waffles, Belgian beers and chocolates that won’t disappoint. Other than eating and drinking, visitors to Winter Wonders can also enjoy the ice rink or Ferris Wheel, later enjoying the enchanting light and sound show that animates the Grand-Place façade after dark. Join the 2.5 million other visitors and see why Brussels Winter Wonders is one of the nation’s most popular events, making sure to look outside of the main market for additional celebrations and pop up events occurring throughout the season. The city’s lively bar and restaurant scene is another reason to stay, allowing for cosy escapes from the cold.

Brussels Christmas | Photo: Amanda Nunez Tejera

Brussels | Photo: Ben Kerckx

5. Viennese Dream Christmas Market, Austria

Covered in snow the whole winter, Vienna comes through with all the right Christmas vibes. Vienna Christmas market, in particular, sees the city at its most festive, centred around City Hall (on Rathausplatz) where grandiose Habsburg architecture glints with fairy lights and icicles. As well as browsing Christmas decorations and artisanal handicrafts across 150 stalls, visitors can also try reindeer rides or ice skating, warming up with a steaming mug of coffee at any of the coffee houses surrounding. Other seasonal goodies on offer include roasted chestnuts and freshly baked pretzels, best enjoyed while watching gleeful kids play on the old-fashioned merry-go-round.

Also in Austria, the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt is another consideration, based in the UNESCO-listed heritage old city of Salzburg where Mozart was born. The city’s musical instincts go one step further at Christmastime, when carol singers take to the streets en masse for renditions of ‘Silent Night’, just as they did way back in the 15th century. Join in the singalong on Tuesdays between 6PM and 8PM in front of the cathedral, travelling to St Wolfgang on the Wednesday (a 90-minute bus ride from Salzburg) for a candlelit Christmas market affair on the lakeside.

Vienna | Photo: Aneta Pawlik

Photo: Maria Brauer

6. Budapest, Hungary

Rising fast up the ranks of Europe’s best Christmas markets Budapest has become a star thanks to its mix of old and new market offerings. Now, two main markets sit side by side in the central District V; Vorosmarty Square being home to Budapest’s oldest and most famous, complimented by a newer market in front of the basilica on St. Stephen’s Square. Attend the newer market for Hungarian folk arts, light shows and ice skating, while the older is a treasure trove of traditional wares, such as blown glass, leatherwork and Hungarian embroidery. With your Christmas shopping done, treat yourself to a Budapest feast of almond-coated kürtőskalács (chimney cakes), langos (fried dough topped with cheese), dumplings and sausages. And best of all, you can scoff all your Hungarian delicacies guilt-free using the market’s eco-friendly plates, cups and cutlery. See more of the city with our Budapest travel guide.

Budapest | Photo: Gábor Bejó

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On a fairy-tale location abutting the Strasbourg Cathedral on Place Broglie, Strasbourg market hosts over 300 traditional stalls which spill over onto surrounding squares, all alongside nativity scenes and nightly concerts

7. Christkindesmäkir, Strasbourg, France

Next up is Christkindesmäkir, one of the oldest and best Strasbourg Christmas markets, attended by several million visitors each year. On a fairy-tale location abutting the Strasbourg Cathedral on Place Broglie, Strasbourg market hosts over 300 traditional stalls which spill over onto surrounding squares, all alongside nativity scenes and nightly concerts. There’s an ice skating rink and the lighting of the famed ‘Great Christmas Tree’ to keep you busy, though foodies should make a beeline for the Market of the Invincible Small Producers of Alsace for a taste of local sausage, kugelhopf (a fruity, almondy type of brioche), and spicy gingerbread, washed down with hot Alsatian wine. Doing its bit for society too, Christkindesmäkir also hosts a Sharing Village where non-profits and charitable organisations pitch up for fundraising events. Outside of Strasbourg, France has a whole lot more Christmas potential, particularly the six timber-clad markets of Colmar Old Town, the Sentiers des Lanterne illuminations of Metz and the various Christmas markets in Paris, of which none can do wrong!

Photo: Cmophoto Net

Photo: Uriel Mont

8. Christmas in Tivoli, Copenhagen, Denmark

Denmark’s oldest theme park and the inspiration for Disneyland is a place called Tivoli, conveniently based in the heart of Copenhagen. A magical destination all year round, Tivoli really takes the biscuit at Christmas, decking itself out in 500,000 fairy lights, hundreds of Christmas trees and an ice rink for a market extravaganza like no other. Wandering the park amidst the lights and caramelised almond aromas is a joy alone, made all the better with stalls, live performances and access to the site’s permanent amusement rides. Besides numerous craft stalls, the park also hosts many food and drink stalls, touting everything from gløgg (mulled wine) and hot chocolate to flæskesteg (roast pork sandwiches) and æbleskiver (ball-shaped pancake). Other free Copenhagen Christmas markets include one at Nyhavn harbour, one at Freetown Christiania and another at Kongens Nytorv square in the old town, though, if you could do with escaping the lights, try the trendy bars and restaurants over in the Meatpacking District. You can also do a deep dive into the city’s nightlife and accommodations with our Copenhagen travel guide.

Tivoli Gardens | Photo: Ethan Hu

Copenhagen | Photo: Razvan Mirel

9. Advent in Zagreb, Croatia

Christmas completely takes over the city of Zagreb for the entire Advent period, making Croatia an unexpectedly good choice for December vacations. Oft voted the best Christmas market in Europe, with traditional stalls spreading out from Ban Jelačić central square, Zagreb’s markets can take days to fully appreciate! Visitors can go ice skating on Tomislavac, attend live concerts on European Square and see the nativity in front of Zagreb Cathedral, all before chowing down of traditional Croatian delicacies such as Medenjaci cookies, štrukle and many types of mulled wine as the revelry and dancing continues in earnest around town.

10. United Kingdom

Estranged from mainland Europe but not to be forgotten is the United Kingdom which boasts some neat Christmas markets all of its own. Down south, there’s the historic city of Bath, predominantly known for its 18th-century Georgian architecture, though taken over by twinkling lights and wooden chalets during the Christmas season. Set out on the cobblestones through town, the chalets tout homewares, baked goods and custom-made gifts as well as charity enterprises. Sidestepping the many Christmas markets in London, in favour of the northern city of Manchester, visitors can find one of England’s most popular Christmas markets, despite it launching just 20 years ago. The market comes centred on Albert Square but sprawls down the surrounding side streets, offering up a German beer house, ice rink and Christmas karaoke pop-up (in Spinningfields) alongside rows upon rows of gift and food stalls selling everything from handicrafts to mulled wine.

Further north where the weather gets ever frostier is the city of Edinburgh, with Scotland’s best Christmas market located at East Princes Street Gardens. Featuring a Christmas tree maze, ice rink and Santa’s Grotto, the market also keeps things cultural with various art performances and events leading up to the national Hogmanay Torchlight Procession on New Year’s Eve. Opt for a mulled Irn Bru and a trip on the Edinburgh Eye before retreating to the Royal Botanic Gardens for magical illuminations.

Christmas Market, Edinburgh, UK | Photo: Ross Sneddon

If considering travelling to the best European cities Christmas markets, be aware that Covid-19 restrictions may be in effect. Regulations differ dependant on the country and are ever-changing in line with new measures. Brussels Christmas market in Belgium for example plans to go ahead with compulsory mask-wearing, one-way walking systems, reduced numbers and a required Covid vaccination certificate for all visitors. Other European countries may be more lax.

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