The festive season will soon be upon us. This usually means Europe’s cities transform into winter wonderlands, but 2020 will undoubtedly be very different. With a sense of nostalgia, we explore some of the finest Christmas markets around, in destinations that will still come alive at the end of the year. As most of these markets are outdoors, the hope is that with additional social-distancing precautions in place you’ll be able to enjoy a stroll down these stunningly decorated attractions.
The great thing about these particular locations we’ve picked out is that even if the markets remain closed due to coronavirus, the cities themselves still offer a unique festive experience.
Experience hygge (the Danish art of cosiness) with a trip to Copenhagen this Christmas. There are a whopping eight Christmas markets to choose from, including the impressive Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and Nyhavn harbour with its rows of chocolate-box houses along the waterfront. The most festive of all is Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market which celebrates Denmark’s famous storyteller. Foodies should head to the Meatpacking District for a taste of New Nordic cuisine with a hot chocolate and warm blanket. Denmark has been taken off the UK quarantine list.
For a romantic weekend away this Christmas, look no further than Lindau on the shores of Lake Constance (Germany’s largest lake). This special Christmas market takes place right on the harbour, with stunning views of snow-covered Alpine mountains, best enjoyed with a glass of glühwein (mulled wine). The surrounding woodland is illuminated by thousands of bulbs and you can take a tour through the enchanting fairytale forest with one of the town’s night watchmen, or check out the ice-skating rink in nearby Reutin.
The Tallinn Christmas Market is an absolute must-see on a winter break in the Estonian capital. The market usually takes place in the medieval Town Hall Square, which has been decorated with a sparkling Christmas tree since 1441. Visitors to this picturesque part of town can enjoy Estonian Christmas delicacies including blood pudding, sour cabbage and ginger breads, or shop the stalls for handmade festive gifts.
Bruges is home to some of Europe’s best Christmas markets and oozes seasonal cheer. Walk through the cobbled streets sipping mulled wine or Belgian beer while enjoying traditional waffles and frites. Check out the Grote Markt with its pretty wooden chalets surrounding a glittering ice rink in the shadow of the iconic Belfry of Bruges. Easy and inexpensive, Bruges is the perfect destination for a short and magical Christmas break.
In the 19th century, locals would head to Krakow’s central square to collect their Christmas trees, choosing from rows of idyllic firs. Today, Rynek Główny is home to hundreds of wooden stalls selling wares from local toymakers, homeware designers and metalworkers. Pick up a traditional Christmas decoration for your tree, like one of the hand-painted glass baubles (a Polish specialty). The Krakow Christmas market traditionally lasts from the last weekend of November until early January.
Zagreb pulls out all the stops come winter, with events scattered throughout the city. Visit King Tomislav Square, which transforms into an enormous ice skating rink with ice ballet performances, then try traditional Croatian cuisine including strudel and štrukli in Zrinjevac Park under the festive lights – perfect for couples. Then head to Zagreb’s main square (Ban Jelačić) for the seasonal market, with performances on the big stage.
The people of the quintessential French town of Colmar love Christmas. Take a stroll along its medieval canals to watch boats of carol-singing children sail by, then head for the ice rink in the town square or take a wreath-making workshop in a wine bar. Colmar is home to six Christmas markets (Place des Dominicains, Place de l’Ancienne Douane, Place Jeanne d’Arc, a children’s Christmas market, an indoor craft market and a gourmet market) each with its own theme.
Looking around Edinburgh, it feels like the postcard-perfect city was made for Christmas. For 2020, 12 locations in the capital will host the Community Christmas events to spread cheer with projections and performances bringing local talent together. There are two Christmas markets to explore: one on George Street and the other at East Princes Street Gardens.
This famous Roman settlement, recently voted one of the UK’s most liveable cities, is the perfect winter staycation. Shop for Scandinavian accessories and locally made wares among more than 200 Christmas stalls. Watch Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol (1843) performed by students at Bath University, a festive tradition among the people of Bath, along with singing carols by candlelight.
Known as the pearl of Switzerland, Lausanne, on the banks of Lake Geneva, is perfect for a festive weekend getaway. The Christmas market coincides with Lausanne Lumières festival of lights, with installations by 15 artists. There are also gourmet guided tours, making Lausanne a great choice for culture vultures and foodies alike (think cheese, chocolate, wine and fondue).
Like Lindau, Bolzano is perfect for a romantic winter getaway. The medieval city is a gateway to the Dolomites, surrounded by vineyards in the summer and snow-capped hillsides come winter. It’s also worth visiting to experience some Tyrolean food (a mix of Italian and Austrian influences) including gröstl (bacon, onion and potato fry-up), kaspressknödel (flat-bread dumplings with mountain cheese) and strauben (Tyrolean churros).