Top 10 Christmas Markets in Europe
Celebrate the Holidays at These Magical Markets
by Brian Major
Europe’s Christmas markets are the ultimate winter wonderland for travelers. Traditionally timed around Advent season, Christmas markets have filled town squares adjacent to many of Europe’s main cathedrals each December for hundreds of years.
Christmas markets offer travelers an especially joyful way to ring in the holidays. Besides magnificent experiences in some of the world’s treasured cities, Christmas markets in Europe offer endless gift-buying opportunities in time for the holiday season. Along the way, you may enjoy traditional holiday fare, including fruitcake, glühwein and pastries created from recipes found in medieval cookbooks.
Midnight masses in stately Gothic churches and quirky local Christmas traditions are also part of the experience. Most of the Christmas markets begin the Friday before Advent (four weeks before Christmas Eve) and end on December 24; while others keep going straight through Epiphany on January 6. Here’s our list of 10 Top European Christmas markets to sample during the holidays.
Christkindelsmärik (Strasbourg, France)
Christkindelsmärik in Strasbourg is one of Europe’s longest-running Christmas markets, dating back to the 16th century. It’s also one of its largest with 10 separate locations. Strasbourg’s historic city center celebrates the holiday season with half-timbered houses festooned in lavish decorations and elaborate lighting designs strung across the cobbled streets. A highlight is Place Kleber, where the massive Great Christmas Tree stands adorned in fairy lights and hundreds of giant bulbs. Strasbourg’s Christmas markets run through December 26.
Vienna Christmas Markets (Vienna, Austria)
The charming Christmas markets here are positioned around this historic city. There are more than 20 festive, pop-up villages located in the city’s public squares and adjacent to stately imperial backdrops, including the Schönbrunn and Belvedere Palaces. The city’s feature Christmas market is the Vienna Christmas Dream on Rathausplatz, where you will find a stunning array of more than 150 stalls in front of the City Hall building. The Christmas markets in Vienna run through December 26.
Prague Christmas Markets (Prague, Czech Republic)
The Christmas markets in Prague offer travelers a two-for-one experience as the two main markets are no more than a 5-minute walk from each other. That means you can easily visit both in the same day! The centerpiece of Old Town Square is its gigantic Christmas tree draped in lights. Kids will enjoy a stable to pet live animals, and families can stroll through rows of red-canopied wooden huts, where vendors are selling wooden toys, embroidered lace, traditional Christmas decorations and more! The markets here are open through early January.
Florence Christmas Market (Florence, Italy)
Florence’s annual Christmas Market turns the historic Piazza Santa Croce into a yuletide wonderland as storekeepers decorate their shop windows with Christmas-themed decorations and the municipality strings traditional decorative lights along the city streets. The Florence market is influenced by traditional German markets and feature the traditional small wooden huts, plus items ranging from crafts to food to small furniture, and of course, Christmas decorations. This Christmas market runs through late December.
Tivoli Gardens Market (Copenhagen, Denmark)
In December, the famed Tivoli Gardens amusement park becomes a Christmas market all its own, offering visitors a magical array of special Christmas decorations, light shows and traditional pixie bands. Firework displays are held between December 25 and 26, and again on New Year’s Eve.
Beyond the park, Copenhagen’s cobblestoned streets and squares are filled with the scent of mulled wine and roasted almonds and trees are strung with lights. Stroll among the vendors selling Christmas crafts, wool sweaters, marzipan pigs, tea light holders and seasonal foods like æbleskiver (sugar-dusted pancake balls). The market runs through December 31.
Brussels Christmas Market (Brussels, Belgium)
Sweet treats are a highlight of the Brussels’ Christmas Market. Vendors offer a cornucopia of delights, including tartiflette, pretzels, oysters, sumptuous Belgian chocolates, glühwein, Belgian beer and the country’s world-famous waffles.
This is Belgium’s largest market and it features 200 chalets selling an amazing array of seasonal souvenirs. Visitors will also find an ice rink, a fairground with a carousel and a giant Ferris wheel, and a nightly Grand Place spectacle, featuring choreographed displays of lights and music. The market runs through January 6, 2019.
Fira de Santa Llúcia (Barcelona, Spain)
Fira de Santa Llúcia is the Barcelona’s oldest and largest, open annually for more the 230 years. Explore the handmade gifts, nativity scenes, and traditional Christmas decorations found in and around the market’s 285 stalls on Avenida de la Catedral in the Gothic Quarter.
These stalls feature a wide range of items including natural and artificial trees, clothing, jewelry and even instruments including "zambombas," a traditional Christmas instrument. Fira de Santa Llúcia usually closes a couple days before Christmas.
Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival (Budapest, Hungary)
This is oldest, largest and most prestigious Christmas market and event in the city. The Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival features 2 outdoor stages and more than 100 stalls located on Vörösmarty Square.
Imagine wandering among the dozens of cottage-style wooden stalls as you enjoy the scent of traditional honey cookies, mulled wine, cinnamon and fir. You will also find lovely handmade Hungarian gifts and fun and festive gifts at the nearby Christmas Fair on St. Stephen’s Square. The market is open through January 1, 2019.
Tallinn Christmas Market (Tallinn, Estonia)
The Tallinn Christmas Market has a genuine fairytale quality with colorfully lit tiny vendor stalls gathered around a huge Christmas tree in the center of the Town Hall Square of the same name. Families with kids should go for a spin on the merry-go-round. Folk dancing and choral performances are usually scheduled on nearby stage during the weekend.
Traditional Estonian cuisine and handmade goods are available among the rows of stalls, where visitors can try local food and drink, including mulled wine, gingerbread, sauerkraut and black pudding. The market is usually open through the first week in January.
Krakow Christmas Market (Krakow, Poland)
Krakow’s annual Christmas Market is held on Rynek Glowny in the Old Town’s historic district. The city’s central square is filled with Christmas decorations, toys, sweets and local foods. Visitors will also find youth and village choral groups singing carols, and local artisans, such as blacksmiths and carvers, selling their handmade crafts.
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