Christmas in Europe is a truly magical time. The streets are bright and festive, lit up with twinkling holiday lights and decorated with fantastic Christmas displays. The melody of carolers singing can be heard nearly anywhere – at shopping malls, street corners and other public spaces. Unless you’re in the Mediterranean portion of the continent, you can expect a blanket of snow covering the landscape. Europe is indeed a winter wonderland come Christmastime.Perhaps the best way to experience Europe’s magical Christmas is by visiting a European Christmas market. These markets are more than just places where you can buy unique gifts, holiday décor, and other knick-knacks. They’re opportunities to admire the handiwork of local artists and artisans, indulge in hot chocolate and other winter snacks, and simply have fun despite the winter cold. We’ve listed here 15 of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Barcelona isn’t known for its white Christmases, as it has mild weather all year-round. But though the city can’t be white for the holidays, it certainly makes up for it with an explosion of colorful lights and nativity displays.
One of the highlights of Christmas in Barcelona is the Fiera de Santa Llucia, the Christmas market that springs around the Barcelona Cathedral. The Fiera de Santa Llucia originally began in the late 1700s as a gathering of peddlers selling nativity mangers and figurines. Today, there are 300 stalls at the fiera, and the goods are no longer limited to Christmas décor. There are stalls that sell clothes, jewelry, toys, household items, and others.
If you’re visiting the fiera with children in tow, make it a point to stop by Plaça Nova. There, the kids can participate in children’s activities and traditional holiday games. A favorite traditional holiday game for children in Barcelona is hitting a Christmas log containing presents until it bursts. It’s similar to the Mexican piñata. You can also check out Plaça de Sant Jaume. At Plaça de Sant Jaume, Barcelonans typically put up a unique and unusual nativity scene.
Bologna has some of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe. And it boasts of not just one but four Christmas markets. Perhaps the most popular of these are the Fiera di Natale and the Antica Fiera di Santa Lucia. The Fiera di Natale is located on Via dell’Indipendenza near the San Pietro Cathedral. This Christmas market is a great place to shop for Italian goods, including shoes, bags, jewelry, clothes, soaps, and handicrafts. You can also indulge in traditional Italian holiday snacks there.
At the Antica Fiera di Santa Lucia, you can find Christmas home décor like holiday lights and figurines for your nativity scene. You can also buy whimsical household items there, such as soaps and candles carved in the shape of flowers. A highlight of the fiera are live Christmas concerts. The Antica Fiera di Santa Lucia is held in front of the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi.
While in Bologna, you should also see the Villagio di Natale Francese. This Christmas market at Piazza Minghetti is where you can grab French holiday goodies, such as tortes, cookies, and pastries. You should also stop by Natale a Porta Galleria near Bologna Centrale. It may not exactly be a holiday shopping haven, but it’s a good place to indulge your inner child, with hot chocolate and carousel rides.
Cities in Belgium typically hold their own Christmas markets. The biggest and grandest of them, though, is in Brussels, appropriately called Winter Wonders. The two-kilometer stretch between Grand Place and Place Ste. Catherine becomes lined with more than 200 snow-dusted shopping chalets.
What can you get from these chalets? Almost anything is the answer. From toys and traditional Christmas décor to non-holiday knick-knacks and fashion items, you can find them at the Winter Wonders. Belgian chocolates and holiday sweets are often bestsellers there. If you get an attack of the munchies while browsing the goods, you can easily find a chalet functioning as a pop-up restaurant and serving warm ale, hot chocolate, and other belly-warming snacks.
Shopping chalets are not the only attractions of the Winter Wonders. At Grand Place, you’ll find a giant Christmas tree. Grand Place is also the venue of a holiday-themed light and sound show. There are also light parades scheduled there every Saturday. At Marche aux Poissons, there’s the iconic Winter Wonders Ferris wheel, while a covered ice skating rink is at Place de la Monnaie. Place Ste. Catherine has carousels and other fairground rides, as well as nightly carol singing.
Budapest makes it a point to keep its holiday traditions alive with its Christmas markets. The city has two, namely the Christmas Market at Vorosmarty Square and the Budapest Basilica Christmas Market.
The Christmas Market at Vorosmarty Square is considered to be the oldest and grandest in Budapest. For most of November and December, Vorosmarty Square becomes filled with festive tents selling toys and trinkets handmade by local Hungarian craftsmen. You can also fill up on fantastic traditional Hungarian treats like the fragrant, cinnamon-rich chimney cake, as well as mulled wine and Hungarian street food like sausages and potato dumplings. The Vorosmarty Square Christmas Market also features choir singing and free concerts covering a wide range of musical genres.
The Budapest Basilica Christmas Market is a more recent tradition. It’s held at St. Stephen’s Square right in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica, the biggest and tallest church on the Pest side of the city. As with the Vorosmarty Square Christmas Market, the Basilica Christmas Market has stalls selling high-quality handicrafts made by local Hungarian artisans. You can also show off your moves at the skating rink or watch one of the weekend performances by the Goncol Folk Dance Ensemble. You’re free to join in the dancing if you wish.
Copenhagen is a city that venerates Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish writer considered to be one of the greatest storytellers of all time. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that Copenhagen takes Christmas quite seriously. The city holds not one but nine Christmas markets every year. You’ll find them at:
- Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens, one of Copenhagen’s most beloved attractions, becomes a true winter wonderland during the holidays, decorated with bright lights, snow-covered Christmas trees, and real reindeer. There you can shop for stocking-stuffers, warm up on hot chocolate and get stuffed with Christmas cookies and other treats. You can also let out your inner child at one of the Gardens’ 27 amusement rides.
- Freetown Christiania. Freetown Christiania hosts a rather unusual Christmas market every year. It’s like an Oriental bazaar, where you can buy a wide array of Christmas toys, décor, and other handicrafts. You can also score non-holiday goods there, such as jewelry, clothes, and mobile phones.
- Kodbyen. Kodbyen, also known as the Meatpackers’ District, has its own take on the traditional Christmas market. Instead of selling trinkets, the stalls there offer delicious Danish street food and other treats.
- Kongens Nytorv. Kongens Nytorv is the perfect place to admire the holiday décor that the Magasin Department Store and the Hotel D’Angleterre put up every year. This public square is one of Copenhagen’s largest. Aside from the magnificent décor, you can have a selfie with Santa Claus, ride the Ferris wheel, and go shopping for presents.
- Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market. Named after the revered Danish fairytale creator, the Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market has stalls decorated with brilliant lights. Each stall is named after one of his fairytales. Aside from shopping, you can go on a carousel ride and a meet-and-greet with Santa Claus. This Christmas market is located near Kongens Nytorv.
- Hojbro Plads. Also located near Kongens Nytorv is Hojbro Plads. This public square is another great place to grab unique Danish handicrafts. You can also buy roasted almonds, mulled wine, and other snacks to eat while strolling and browsing the stalls.
- Kronborg Castle. If you fancy spending Christmas in a fairytale-like Renaissance castle, then you must drop by Kronborg Castle. This castle, which served as Shakespeare’s inspiration for Elsinore Castle in Hamlet, becomes truly magical in winter. Its indoor Christmas market stalls offer different types of traditional Christmas goodies and munchies.
- Nyhavn Harbor. The historic waterfront of Nyhavn Harbor becomes even more colorful in winter. At the Nyhavn Christmas Market, you’ll find festive stalls selling Christmas gifts, hot drinks, and holiday snacks. You can also catch a musical performance and other live entertainment there.
- Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. If you want to give away one-of-a-kind presents for Christmas, the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts’ annual Christmas market is one place to get them. Students at the Academy sell their own creations there. You can score unique jewelry, ceramics, clothes, prints, and other trinkets at the Academy.
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
The City of Edinburgh strives to bring something new to the city’s annual Christmas festivities. Aside from the old favorites – the Forth Big Wheel and the ice rink – Edinburgh shall have The Ice Adventure themed attraction. It will also feature live Christmas spectacles performed at the Festival Square Spiegeltent.
And then there are the Edinburgh Christmas markets, namely the ones at George Street and at East Princes Street Gardens. The George Street Christmas Market is Edinburgh’s holiday craft central. Its stalls sell artworks and handicrafts created by the city’s local artists and artisans. The East Princes Street Gardens Christmas Market, on the other hand, is a great place to hunt for bespoke items to give as holiday presents. You can also grab some great Scottish holiday fare from both markets.
German Christmas markets are absolutely impressive affairs. The lights and décor are carefully designed to project magic and enchantment. The family-friendly activities available are guaranteed fun and indulgent for children and children-at-heart. And the holiday trinkets you’ll find there are exquisite and typically handmade works of art. The grandeur of Germany’s Christmas markets is hard to beat, and the ones at Hamburg are among the best of them.
Hamburg actually has many Christmas markets happening in different sections of the city. The most popular is the Rathausmarkt, held in front of the Hamburg Town Hall. Rathausmarkt commissions a specially designed market structure every year, and no design is ever the same. Merchants from all over Europe are invited to participate and offer their unique and high-quality goods to Hamburg’s populace. Rathausmarkt’s highlights include a giant Christmas tree and a Spielzeuggasse, also known as a toy street.
Hamburg has many other interesting Christmas markets:
- Fleetinsel. The Fleetinsel Christmas Market draws heavily upon Hamburg’s Hanseatic heritage. Aside from the usual cheerfully decorated Christmas stalls, Fleetinsel also features a classic children’s carousel and live music. The highlight of the market is the docking of vintage ships borrowed from the Museumshafen Ovelgonne.
- Gansemarkt. Gansemarkt takes its inspiration from German fairytales. Its stalls mimic gingerbread houses, and they look so good you could almost eat them. The setting fits well with the traditional handicrafts and holiday foods sold there.
- Santa Pauli. The Santa Pauli Christmas Market is a different kind of Christmas market in that it has something for everybody. For families, especially with small children, it has stalls selling conventional Christmas goods as well as an open-air art gallery and activities for kids. For the over-18 crowd without kids, there’s some naughty fun involving strip shows and erotic literature readings.
- Georg Winter Pride. The St. Georg Winter Pride is Hamburg’s first and only Christmas market that centers on the LGBTQ community. This Christmas market aims to promote tolerance. A part of the market’s proceeds is intended to help support LGBTQ projects and concerns.
Helsinki has limited daylight hours during winter, but that’s not a concern during the holidays. The bright Christmas lights and décor more than make up for lighting up the city in the darkness of winter. These lights and décor are most gorgeous along Aleksanterinkatu, one of the more popular shopping districts in Helsinki and the city’s official Christmas street. There, shops try to outdo each other in putting up the most splendid holiday décor and displays.
Aleksanterinkatu isn’t the only place where you can shop for presents and holiday goodies. Helsinki’s Senate Square is the home of the city’s annual Christmas Market. There you can find handicrafts and trinkets handmade by Finnish artisans. You can also buy non-holiday goods at the Helsinki Christmas Market, as well as traditional Finnish foods and drinks.
Lausanne becomes even more beautiful in winter, with magnificent holiday décor and the icy Lake Geneva in the background. Its Bo Noel celebrations are truly something to enjoy, not just for the locals but also for the visitors. There are gourmet tours where you can sample the foods Switzerland is known for, from the wines to the cheeses to the chocolates. The annual Lumiere festival of lights, which features many different art installations, often coincides with Bo Noel.
Lausanne has three main Christmas markets where you can buy authentic Swiss foods, handicrafts, and other goods. The biggest one is the covered market at Place St. Francois. This is where you can buy products made by local artisans and designers. The Place St. Francois Christmas Market also features live concerts in the evenings.
If you’re with kids, you can take them to the Children’s Village at Arches du Grand-Pont. There, they can engage in fun activities, visit with Father Christmas, and play under the giant Christmas tree. And if you can’t get enough of the artisanal goods and foods available at Place St. Francois, you can always stroll by the Place Pepinet Christmas Market, where Swiss craftsmen ply their best wares.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague dons a festive atmosphere come Christmastime, with its fabulous holiday lights and décor. Its Christmas markets certainly add to the celebratory mood. A lot of these markets pop around Prague during the holidays, but the biggest and most popular of them is at the Old Town Square.
At the Old Town Square Christmas Market, you’ll find traditional Czech toys and handicrafts. You can also find non-holiday items sold there, such as clothes, accessories, and other trinkets. But you can do more than just shop at the Old Town Square Market. You can also admire the giant Christmas tree selected from a specific region in Czech Republic and shipped to Prague. And you can do that while munching on barbecued sausages called klobasa and hot-sugar pastry called trdelnik.
Other interesting Christmas markets you can check out in Prague are Wenceslas Square, Republic Square, St. George Basilica, and Prague Castle.
Established in 1570, Strasbourg’s Christmas markets are some of the oldest in Europe. The city’s tradition of putting up these markets every year dates back to the time when Strasbourg was part of the German Rhineland. This explains why many of Strasbourg’s Christmas markets have German names.
The biggest of these markets is the Christkindelsmarik. Held around the Strasbourg Cathedral and Place Broglie, the Christkindelsmarik is a gathering of Alsatian craftsmen showing off their skills and plying their high-quality handmade goods. Alsatian farmers, on the other hand, set up their stalls at the Alsace Christmas Market in Place des Meuniers. This is where you can grab great specialty food items from Alsace.
For breads, wines, and beers, the place to go is the Place du Marche-aux-Poissons Christmas Market. If you have kids with you, you can take them for some fun-filled children’s activities at the Children’s World at Place Saint Thomas. And to practice the true meaning of Christmas, which is giving and sharing what you have, you can buy your presents and goodies from the Sharing Village at Place Kleber. There you’ll find stalls set up by charity groups and humanitarian organizations.
A white Christmas in a medieval town sounds like the setting of a fairytale, doesn’t it? Tallinn is exactly that in wintertime. And it turns up the charm even further with its Christmas Market at the historic, cobblestoned Old Town, right in front of the Town Hall.
What can you find in the Tallinn Christmas Market? Primarily, you’ll find stalls there that sell Estonian handicrafts as well as Estonian holiday fare, like sour cabbage and black pudding. They also have non-holiday goods such as clothes and fashion accessories, as well as regular Christmas street food like roasted chestnuts and mulled wine.
Shopping is not the only attraction of the Tallinn Christmas Market. It also has carousels and fairground rides for children and a display of sculptures made entirely from gingerbread. Tallinn also hosts Christmas jazz concerts throughout the city.
Vienna gets in touch with its inner whimsy whenever the holidays roll in. You can see this best while strolling down its streets decorated with bright lights in classic styles and colors. You can experience it even more when you drop by its many Christmas markets.
The biggest and most popular is the Weiner Christkindlmarkt on Rathausplatz. This is a great place to buy exquisite handicrafts and holiday décor made by artisans and craftsmen from all over Austria. You can also sample traditional Austrian street food like pretzels and sausages there.
Another Christmas market worth visiting in Vienna is the Spittelberg Christmas Market. Where other Christmas markets are usually located in open squares or long stretches of avenues, Spittelberg is a labyrinth of streets and alleyways. Exploring them can yield one-of-a-kind treasures.
Other Viennese Christmas markets worth checking out are:
- Am Hof. Probably the oldest Christmas market in Vienna, Am Hof features an arts and crafts market where you can watch artisans creating the goods they sell. Additionally, it has a food market where you can buy traditional Austrian holiday food such as sausages, jams, kiachl pastries, and gingerbread.
- Belvedere. The Belvedere Christmas Market is probably the most picturesque of its kind in Vienna. Located in front of the Upper Belvedere Palace, it’s as popular for its scenery as it is for its high-quality holiday goods.
- Freyung. Stretching from Austriabrunnen to Schottenkirche, the Freyung Christmas Market is a good place to shop Austrian regional foods you’ll want on your holiday dinner table.
- Karlsplatz. This Christmas market located in front of Karlskirche is where you’ll find unique handicrafts. More often than not, you can watch the craftsperson at work creating the goods they’re selling. It’s also a good place to sample regional holiday fare you typically won’t find in other Christmas markets.
- Schonbrunn. Located at the forecourt of the imposing Schonbrunn Palace, the Schonbrunn Christmas Market is a great spot for hunting exquisite, high-end handicrafts. If you’re craving for Victorian-style sweets, cookies, and gingerbread, you can get them at Schonbrunn.
Vilnius pulls out all stops when it comes to its Yuletide celebrations. The city becomes covered with fairy lights and a TV tower is transformed into a giant Christmas tree. Its Christmas markets are even more splendid affairs.
The biggest of these markets is the one at Cathedral Square. This market features 50 stalls designed as cozy wooden houses. From these stalls, you can buy traditional Lithuanian handicrafts and artwork. You can also shop for local foods like apple cheeses. A highlight of the Cathedral Square Christmas Market is its huge Christmas tree.
Another Christmas market in Vilnius you should check out is the one at the Vilnius Town Hall Square. The stalls there sell handicrafts, toys, and décor, as well as non-holiday items. The Vilnius Town Hall Christmas Market features the International Christmas Charity Bazaar. In that bazaar, you can buy sweets and souvenirs handmade by the wives of foreign diplomats to Lithuania.
Zagreb’s annual holiday festivities have earned the city the title “Best Christmas Market Destination” in 2016 and 2017. The city goes all out in its Advent in Zagreb Christmas programme, which features street dancing and parties, public cinema viewings, and live concerts.
Of course, the highlight of the Advent in Zagreb festivities are its Christmas markets. The city has many of them, but the most popular is the one at Zrinjevac Park. Its 220 plane trees are all lit up for the season, and its wooden market stalls offer handmade Christmas ornaments and souvenirs. If you get hungry browsing these stalls, you can tuck in some traditional Croatian snacks, like krpice sa zeljem, a pasta dish with cabbage.
If you’re a serious holiday shopper, you should head to Advent Wreath, a network of streets transformed into a Christmas market. There, you will find more wooden huts selling handicrafts, winter clothes, toys, and other goods. From Advent Wreath, you can also bring home food you can serve for your holiday dinner, like sausages and pastries.
There’s really nothing like a European Christmas market. Such a market is more than just a place to buy presents and snacks. It’s a place where you can immerse yourself in the rich culture and Yuletide traditions of the city hosting it.
Keep on traveling!