Europe is famous for many things, including affordable education and healthcare, Schengen zone, warm beaches and great ski slopes. But if there is one thing we really do better than anywhere else, it’s the Christmas markets. So here is a list of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Christmas markets have always been a favorite of mine. No matter the city, it always feels a little magical. As 2020 has been quite a year, it is more important than ever to feel transported to a new place, even when you are ten minutes away from your home.
I have a couple bits of advice when it comes to visiting a new city: don’t be scared to explore with no plan in mind, always look for traditional specialty and craftsmanship (eating a pizza in Prague is kind of a waste), and do the bus city tour! I know, it always feels very “touristy” but it is a great way to get a feel of the city, and plan the rest of the day while seated and seeing some sights.
Budapest is a beautiful city, often left aside for Vienna or Prague. It has been voted one of the most affordable cities to visit in Europe, and one of the best places to enjoy a Christmas market.
The principal markets are the ones on Vörösmarty Square and in front of Saint Stephen’s Basilica. There, you will be able to enjoy the traditional kürtős kalács, the chimney cakes that we see on every Christmas market. They are a specialty from Hungary. Soft in the inside, caramelised on the outside, it is a true Christmas delicacy. If you wish to taste something salty, I recommend trying out halászlé. This specialty, from the south of the country, is a soup made of different fish and paprika.
There are a few must see spots in Budapest. First, the parliament building in front of the Danube (yes, it starts in Germany then flows in Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade before reaching the Black Sea). Then, if you have the chance, try some of the city’s baths. You can go to the famous Széchenyi baths or the Gellért baths. Ride the funicular to Buda Castle Hill or take a stroll next to the river. The city might not be as magnificent as Prague or Vienna, but it is still worth a trip.
The markets will be open from the 6th of November until the 1st of January 2021.
It would not be a list of the best Christmas Markets in Europe if I did not mention Köln’s market. Who hasn’t seen pictures of the dark, tall, two towered cathedral ? It is the symbol of the city for a reason.
Cologne’s oldest Christmas market is the Angel Market on the Neumarkt, but Saint Nicolas village on Rudolplatz and the Old Town Market are a welcome sight for those who love Christmas also. Every year, millions of people come to Cologne to enjoy the Christmas displays and visit the shops. It is the chance to taste some homemade Gluhwein, or mulled wine, in the country that gave the drink a new youth.
There is a fountain in Cologne linked to an old fairytale: the Heinzelmännchen. The Heinzelmännchen were little house elves that were going to the city of Cologne at night to clean and tidy up people’s houses.
Soon, the citizens started to realize that someone, or something, was cleaning and so they stopped cleaning after themselves. They got lazy and the Heinzelmännchen had even more work to do. One day, the curious taylor’s wife put hard peas on the floor to catch the workers. When the night came, the elves slipped on the peas and fell on the floor. They were so angry that they ran away from the city, and never came back. The citizens had to start working again. The moral of the tale is that everyone should do their work, instead of leaving it to someone else. A second moral could be that one should not be too curious, nor leave peas on the floor, as someone could get hurt. If you see elves in the city, it is because of that old tale.
This year, the markets will be open from the 23th of November until the 23th of December. Some markets might be closed due to Covid.
Strasbourg is well known for its cathedral, half-timbered houses (maisons à colombage) and the European institution it holds. But did you know it was also famous for its Christmas markets? With markets taking place since 1570 and millions of people coming every year, the city names itself the Capital of Christmas.
With many markets all around the city centre, it is hard to resist the Christmas spirit when wandering the streets of Strasbourg. From the market in front of the cathedrale to the “sharing village” in Place Kléber, the city is filled with artisanal goods to bring home. The sharing village is a place next to the big Christmas tree where charities are placed to bring awareness on different subjects and raise money.
Strasbourg is also worth exploring, notably for the traditional architecture of the houses and many churches. The cathedral is magnificent, so is the Maison Kammerzell. If you are more interested in sight-seeing, then you should wander the streets of La petite France (small France) in the Tanneurs district.
The markets will be open from the 27th of November until the 30th of December.
This maritime city, facing Helsinki on the Baltic Sea, is a lesser-known destination in Europe. However, in 2019 it was named the most beautiful city in Europe and the best Christmas market in Europe. Tallinn was the first city to have a public Christmas tree, the ancestor of Christmas markets. About 600 years later, people are still coming to Tallinn to enjoy the Christmas markets tradition and the beauty of the city.
This year, the Christmas tree has been erected on Raekoja place. It has been filled with heart-shaped decoration, a reminder of the shape of Tallinn old town, where the markets take place, and called the heart of the city. Far from the big, crowded cities of Europe, this Christmas market feels cozy and traditional.
If you wish to spend some time in Tallinn in winter, be ready to tackle the cold weather and probably some snow, adding some magic to the old town. Don’t miss the beautiful architecture of the town hall district, as well as the city wall and the view from Toompea hill.
The Christmas market will be open from the 15th of November until the 5th of January. Due to the current conditions, it might be reduced.
Edinburgh is a “must-see” on many travelers bucket lists. While the city can, and should, be appreciated all-year round, it has a unique feel when decorated for Christmas. Even if the Christmas markets will not be held this year, I believe it was worth mentioning.
Traditionally, there are a few markets in the city. The biggest one is held in East Princes Street Garden, with many kiosks but also a big wheel that will give you a beautiful view of the city. On Saint Andrews Square you will find an ice rink to skate on in the heart of the city, and George Street is home to the more traditional Scottish market.
If you are in Edinburgh, make sure to see Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano that will give you a panoramic view of the city skyline. At the top of the second volcano is the famous Edinburgh Castle, a view of its own. The Shore, or Leith, is also a place to see. Make sure to taste the unique cuisine to Edinburgh, you will not forget it.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in the world, and shines most at Christmas time. If I mostly remember the cold, I also remember the winding street and the many, many lights around the city.
Christmas markets can be found all around the city centre. One of the busiest is held in Old Town Square and hosts a few live shows. On Wenceslas Square the market is specialized in steel and wood goods. If you visit the castle, you will find yet another market. It will give you the opportunity to try out trdelník, a cake rolled in cinnamon sugar, and citrusy mulled wine, inspired by the Hungarian chimney cakes. In Prague, you can enjoy them with chocolate, jam, honey and other condiments.
When in Prague, don’t forget to try out food specialties, and to wander the street aimlessly. There is so much to see, and the uniqueness of the city will transport you to another world. Some of the traveler’s favorite things to see in Prague include watching the astronomical clock strike an hour, see Charles Bridge, visit the castle and Saint Vitus cathedral, and witness the old Jewish Ghetto, a very emotional place.
Unfortunately, the Christmas markets have been cancelled this year, but don’t hesitate to visit Prague if you get the chance, you will not be disappointed.
Vienna is known around the world for its elegance and way of life. From croissants to hot chocolate with cream, we owe so much to the capital of Austria.
Vienna has a long tradition of Christmas markets and is today one the best city in Europe to enjoy the Christmas spirit. The biggest and most popular market, Wiener Weihnachtstraum (the Viennese Christmas dream) takes place at the Rauthaus (the city hall). On the weekends, international choirs carol and give the place a Christmas movie atmosphere. If you are looking for original crafts and delicacy, then the Belvedere market is the place to go. Situated in front of the Belvedere Palace, it is stunning. It is also the chance to visit the palace, with a very diverse collection and pieces of art by famous artists such as Klimt.
If you are looking for Austrian specialties, you should try Erdäpfelpuffer, a potato pancake similar to hash browns. Vienna is a city full of things to see. From the Schönbrunn Palace, to Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, or the Opera House and the Natural History Museum. If you visit Vienna in the summer, you will be able to enjoy the many gardens around the capital.
As in many cities, their Christmas markets have been cancelled this year.
Copenhagen may have been my favorite city to visit at Christmas time. If the city was nice, yet cold, I remember entering Tivoli gardens and feeling brought to a new world.
There is no place like Tivoli Garden. When this 175 year old park is illuminated by the Christmas lights, it’s impossible to resist the magic of the area. Of course, there are many other markets around the city. For example, Nyhavn market in the harbour should not be missed. The contrast between the harbour and the markets makes it really unique. For a free entry market, go to Julemarked Kongens Nytorv or the Højbro Plads market.
One of the best foods to taste at the market is æbleskiver, a spherical pancake filled with apple jam. For inspiration on what food to try while in Copenhagen, check out this guide.
The markets are open from the 16th of November until the 5th of January 2021.
While 2020 might not be the best year to travel and enjoy Christmas markets, it is a European tradition worth celebrating. Christmas markets are a perfect place to meet local artisan and buy handmade products to help little shops survive and find original gifts to offer.
There are many more beautiful markets in Europe, that I couldn’t possibly fit them all into one article. I particularly enjoyed Riga, Krakow and Antwerp. Most cities, whether big or small, have their own market to celebrate the holidays.