The Best Christmas Markets in Europe

Prague's Christmas Markets are some of the best in Europe
Prague's Christmas Markets are some of the best in Europe | © Aivita Arika / Alamy
Photo of Lilly Graves
20 August 2021

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.

Copenhagen Christmas markets

Architectural Landmark
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Main entrance to Tivoli with Christmas decoration, Copenhagen, Denmark, Europe
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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.

Zagreb Christmas market

Architectural Landmark
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Zagreb upper town christmas market evening view, historic architecture of capital of Croatia
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Croatia’s capital and largest city gets a chance at the spotlight during the Advent season, when it puts on an award-winning Christmas market – it was voted Best Christmas Market in Europe by Europe’s Best Destinations. From late November until early January, many of the city’s parks, historic monuments and romantic green squares participate, making an urban patchwork of decorations and celebrations in each location. Walk to your heart’s content, discovering an ice skating rink, live nativity scene, stages with live performances and lots of family-friendly events – not to mention charming huts scattered throughout selling classic Croatian gifts and souvenirs.

Tallinn Christmas market

Architectural Landmark
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Christmas Market in Tallinn, Estonia
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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.

Bruges Christmas market

Historical Landmark
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Bruges - Christmas illuminations and decorations on restaurants in Grote Market
© International Photobank / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Salzburg Christmas market

Market
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Salzburg, Austria. Christmas Market  in the old town of Salzburg.
© Carmen Gabriela Filip / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Strasbourg Christmas market

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
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Christmas time in Strasbourg, Alsace, France, Xmas illumination, Christmas market in the old town,
© Jochen Tack / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Edinburgh Christmas market

Park, Natural Feature
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KMBFBK-for-web
© Iain Masterton / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Berlin Christmas markets

Architectural Landmark
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Christmas market in Berlin, square composition, toned image
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Unbelievably, there are up to 80 Christmas markets sprinkled around Berlin each winter, so you don’t have to walk far to find the scent of mulled wine or bratwurst. One of the classic markets is the Weihnachtszauber am Gendarmenmarkt, within easy reach from some of the city’s most-visited sites. Here you’ll find quality hand-crafted gifts and souvenirs, and regular live performances. Others include the new, LGBTQ-friendly Winterdays, and another behind Alexanderplatz with a ferris wheel and a large ice rink. The Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market has a toboggan run for all ages, while a market called “Holy Sh*% Shopping” features experimental Berliner artists and designers.

Prague Christmas markets

Building
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Prague Christmas market Old Town Square. Prague, Czech Republic Europe
© Cum Okolo / Alamy Stock Photo
Romantics can explore Christmas markets on either side of Prague’s Vltava River, but the two unmissable options are located at Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square – a five-minute walk from each other – from late November to early January. At either one, you’ll find a huge assortment of food and drink, and large Christmas trees that practically beg for photographs against the gothic architecture. Listen to local groups and choirs performing on stage while you shop for traditional Christmas goods, like woodcarving, Czech blown glass and hand-embroidery. At the Old Town Square location, there’s a small petting zoo with sheep, goats and a donkey. All Prague markets are environmentally friendly, serving locally sourced food and drink in 100% biodegradable cups and plates.

Vienna Christmas market

Market, Amusement Park
Map View
The Christmas market in front of the Rathaus (City hall) of Vienna, Austria.
© Hercules Milas / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Alex Jordan.

These recommendations were updated on August 20, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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