Europe holds the world’s oldest and most sparkling Christmas markets, from Berlin to Copenhagen, Tallinn and Bruges. Follow the scent of mulled wine and cinnamon biscuits, and do your Christmas shopping at these artisan markets. The illuminated, historic architecture at dusk, the charming huts strung with fairy lights and the merry music – and mulled wine – can put even the thorniest Scrooge in a festive mood. There are markets in every major European city, but you’ll want to put these special ones at the top of your wish list.
The Danish capital has more than a few notable Christmas markets throughout the cosy hygge season. For a traditional Christmas market, head to Julemarked on Hojbro Plads – a beautiful square in the heart of the city – which has 180,000 Christmas lights, little log cabins displaying artisan knick knacks and food and drink vendors. Families could spend an entire day at nearby Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen’s year-round amusement park that transforms into a fairytale winter wonderland with seasonal vendors, parades, fireworks and holiday music. Or there’s the alternative celebration at the car-free commune of Christiania, where you can peruse stalls selling handicrafts, clothes and jewellery from the creative people who live there. Most markets start from mid- to late November, through to just before Christmas – Tivoli’s festivities remain open a bit longer, until early January.
The walled capital of Estonia is a major tourist attraction thanks to its Unesco-listed, medieval Old Town – which becomes a magical backdrop to the city’s annual Christmas market between late November and late December. The market draws close to half a million people each year, who come for its charming kiosks offering quality, hand-crafted gifts from local artisans. Estonia has a rural bounty of foraged and farmed delicacies, and Baltic Sea produce – so expect hot mulled wine, roasted meats, champagne, oysters and even black caviar. A stage features local musicians and dance performances, while art students show off their installations in the area’s shop windows on Pikk Street. Make sure to check out the area selling books from local Estonian writers. Kids can visit Santa Claus in his cabin and ride on two carousels.
The chocolate-box, medieval city of Bruges has a spectacularly beautiful – and lengthy – Christmas market, on for six weeks from mid-November to early January. The main square, Grote Markt, is the centre of the action – filled to the brim with food, drink and craft stalls around the 15th-century belfry. Continue through the city’s narrow streets, where you’ll find more shops and vendors selling locally made gifts, as well as sweet mulled wine, a dizzying range of Belgian beers, cold jenever (a local gin), cheese, crepes, waffles, chocolates and yule logs. For the ultimate romantic activity, take a stroll along the canals and then rent a pair of skates on the Lake of Love, where there’s a sustainable ice skating rink.
As Austria’s fourth-largest city and the birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg is a popular day trip from Munich and Vienna. But the Unesco-listed historic core deserves more time – especially during the holidays, when the picturesque city comes into its own. In December, there are a handful of distinct markets held. The biggest and oldest is Christkindlmarkt, which has taken place near the Salzburg Cathedral since the 15th century. Check out the displays of more than 100 charming huts offering handmade bells, wreaths, wooden figurines, winter accessories and delicious food and drink – each market has its own signature mug that you can collect as a souvenir. Another market to visit is at Hohensalzburg Fortress, which you’ll get to by hiking or riding the funicular for more crafts, live music and the best views in town.
When you think of Christmas in France, Paris may come to mind. But the oldest and most famous Christmas market in the county actually takes place in Strasbourg, a city on the French-German border that calls itself the Capital of Christmas. The celebration from late November until Christmas Eve comprises over 300 wooden stalls spread throughout the city’s historic centre, with themed areas separated by impeccably decorated streets and illuminations. Serious shoppers can peruse quality regional products from fashion designers, ceramicists, goldsmiths and carpet weavers, before relaxing with a pint of beer and some bredele, traditional biscuit cookies from Alsace.
The quirky Scottish capital unveils its Christmas market at the East Princes Street Gardens from mid-November to early January. This is one of Edinburgh’s most beautiful city parks and you can’t miss it – it’s the home of one of Europe’s largest outdoor skating rinks and the 33-metre-high ferris wheel, dubbed the Edinburgh Eye. Check out Santa’s grotto and a range of vendors selling some of the best local crafts, food and drink that Scotland has to offer. Think glass baubles, Harry-Potter themed gifts and haggis sausage rolls. Special events and musical performances take place throughout the season.
From late November to late December, Vienna transforms into a winter wonderland with a spectacular, ecofriendly display of sparkling holiday lights, lamps and chandeliers. The largest of the city’s several markets is in the square just outside of Vienna’s elegant city hall at Rathausplatz, which draws millions of visitors each year. You’ll find 150 stalls positioned in long rows, selling hand-made gifts alongside sausages, chestnuts and doughnuts oozing with jam – to be washed down with some mulled wine, schnapps or hot punch. Burn off the sugar with a spin on the illuminated ice skating rink, which plays Christmas music in the background. Skip the weekend crowds and head to the market mid-week to join a fun, after-work scene of young Viennese locals.
Need somewhere to stay during your European Christmas break? Book one of these excellent ho-ho-hotels in London now via Culture Trip.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Alex Jordan.
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