Winter in Europe is absolutely stunning. Imagine snow-capped roofs along quaint cobblestone streets. Grand, tree-lined boulevards, lit up with twinkling lights. Cozy Christmas Markets where the gluhwein flows and the smell of gingerbread lofts through the air.
Here are ten of Europe’s most beautiful Christmas Markets (in no particular order), plus a bonus one!
Prague, Czech Republic
Dec 2, 2017 – Jan 6, 2018
To me, Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and it only gets better during the holidays.
There are two large Christmas markets in Prague, Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, and many smaller ones. Old Town and Wenceslas are only a five-minute walk from each other, so you can definitely enjoy them both during your stay. The markets have a different theme each year and the squares and stalls are decorated to match. This year’s theme will be announced in November.
Dec 1 – 24, 2017
The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, located in the heart of Nuremberg’s Old Town, is Germany’s most famous. The stalls are iconic, with their red & white striped roofs. Nuremberg’s popularity stems mostly from the fact that it’s one of the oldest and it remains very traditional.
Some of the unique experiences there include blueberry gluhwein, Sister Cities markets (with goods from places like Verona, Atlanta, Glasgow, Krakow, and San Carlos), and tours around the market in a horse-drawn postal coach.
Nov 16, 2017 – Jan 1, 2018
Wintertime markets in Vienna dates back to the late 13th century when King Albrecht I granted citizens the right to hold a December Market. They’ve changed a lot since then, but they’ve also grown in number.
Vienna may have the largest number of Christmas markets, the key ones being the Viennese Christmas Market in front of City Hall, the baroque Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace, the Christmas and New Years Market at Schonbrunn Palace, and the Christmas village Maria-Theresien Platz which will extend to Christmas Eve. as the “New Year’s Eve Village,” for the first time this year.
Dec 2, 2017 – Jan 8, 2018
Though it’s growing, Zagreb isn’t yet a big winter holiday destination. This makes it an excellent choice to avoid the crowds you’ll see in cities like Prague and Vienna.
With the main square’s white buildings, white stalls, and silvery trees, Zagreb’s Christmas market looks like a winter wonderland. You can experience traditional treats and shopping, but also watch a number of dancing events. And, over in Jelačić Square, there’s more traditional atmosphere with medieval-like creatures, fairies, and elves.
Nov 24 – Dec 24, 2017
I didn’t want to do two markets in the same country, but Germany is sort of the mecca for these things. Dresden has eleven Christmas market’s, the main one, Striezelmarkt, dating back to about the 15th century.
One highlight of the holiday season is the Stollen Festival on December 9th. After a color parade makes its way through Old Town, a giant stollen (a traditional German Christmas bread) is cut up into thousands of pieces and shared by guests.
Nov 10, 2017 – Jan 1, 2018
Budapest sits on the bank of the Danube and I know you’ve seen it on those Viking River Cruise commercials. A small ship sailing past its parliament building as the sun sets… It ranks up there with Prague for me when it comes to beautiful cities.
It also ranks high on the uniqueness scale too. If you’re eco-conscious, you’ll be happy to know that all the vendors will be use cups, plates, and cutlery that bio-degrades after 24 hours, and all waste collected will be recycled. Enjoy that chimney cake guilt-free!
You may or may not have seen the technology recently, but a 3-d video mapping is projected onto the Basilica. It turns the neoclassical structure into everything from a gingerbread house to a snowy winter scene.
Madeira Islands, Portugal
Dec 1, 2017 – Jan 1, 2018
I think Madeira might have the most color of all the markets, thanks to the many fruits and exotic flowers. The capital, Funchal, and many other villages on the island take pride in their illuminations and intricate decorations.
The most popular experiences are childbirth masses. There are a total of nine ceremonies that take place in different parishes from Dec 16 through 24. The occur at dawn and are followed by carols, tasty Christmas treats, and traditional music in the churchyard.
Dec 15 – Dec 22, 2017
Like everything Finland does, it’s Christmas market is unique. It’s very much about relaxing and enjoying time with friends and family.
The Helsinki Christmas market has a big focus on food. There is a food court serving lots of traditional fare and a number of nearby restaurants. Additionally, the stalls provide different traditional ingredients for your Christmas own feast (of course, check TSA’s website to see what you can bring back into the States).
Don’t forget to take a ride on the old carousel in the center of the market!
Nov 17 – Dec 30, 2017
Scandinavia’s largest Christmas market is actually located in an amusement park. Liseberg Amusement park in Gothenburg, Sweden. There are lots of Swedish specialties at the market like marinated herring and roasted reindeer meat (Rudolf?? Why???) served by Sami, the indigenous people from Lapland. Of course, there are festive goodies as well, like spiced wines and gingerbread.
There are different sections in the park, highlighting different eras and places, from the middle ages to Santa’s workshop. This year, they’ve added a new Traditional Christmas feature, reminiscent of the 1930s and 40s.
Nov 24 – Dec 24, 2017
Strasbourg considers itself the “Capital of Christmas”. Its market, in its current form, started back in 1570. Around 300 stalls spread out in eleven locations around the city center, with Strasbourg Cathedral in the middle of it all.
The most traditional part of the market is the Christkindelsmärik at Place Broglie. This is the area that dates back to the 16th century and it’s where you’ll find traditional craftsmen demonstrating their skills. Another unique experience in Strasbourg is the Village of Sharing in Place Kléber where you’ll find humanitarian organizations and service clubs.
Bonus! Québec City, Québec
Nov 23 – Dec 23, 2017
If you’re just not up to crossing an ocean for a good Christmas market, what about crossing a border? Québec City, the oldest city in North America, has a market to rival our European friends.
In the heart of French Canada, this traditional German market is full of Christmas cheer. Traditional wooden kiosks and hundreds of thousands of lights. The Lufthansa Group Winter bar will return for the third year, offering a traditional German bar experience with mulled wines and brandy imported straight from Germany.
Send the kids over to the Kindermarkt, a Christmas market just for the little ones!
Is it time to start a new tradition in your family? Or, maybe you want to get away from family this year! There are so many stunning Christmas markets in Europe, and the rest of the world too. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, there’s still a certain cozy feeling you get from drinking hot chocolate while strolling down a cobblestone street with fairy lights twinkling around you…