10 most charming Christmas markets in Europe
Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas, children! Oops, I might have said it a bit too early, but that doesn't change the fact that the holidays are not that far! If you are one of the people who easily start to feel fuzzy inside just hearing the first chimes of the sleigh bells, then you are probably already getting ready for the season. Am I right? Even if you are not an all-in Christmas fan, it is great fun to visit the smallest and biggest Christmas markets in Europe. So let me tell you why. It has something for everyone, even if you look aside from the red-white-and-green decorations, the reindeers, and all the repeating tunes! The food, the drinks, shopping for presents… Best European Christmas markets even offer to ride on a horse-drawn carriage* and taking part in different traditional dances or singing! In this article, I will give a few hints on where to go for Christmas markets in Europe and when do Christmas markets start in Europe.
* Wink wink - besides the ones not mentioned on this list, you can do it in Riga and Prague Christmas markets!
When do Christmas markets start in Europe?
Each of the Christmas markets operates in its timeframe, but there are a few common similarities. Most of them open mid- or end of November and last until mid-January or so. However, instead of researching when do Christmas markets start in Europe, make it easier for yourself and check the dates for the market you are interested in!
1. Christmas markets in Germany
This country has earned a more elaborate and detailed paragraph in this article. Germany must be the champion in celebrating the season in this particular way. Each city has its own happy corner, and seemingly, the number of Christmas markets in Germany is as high as the number of the cities. Or really close to that. And it is no surprise because Germany is considered the country where Christmas markets originated!
If you are excited about this season and are on the quest to visit the best Christmas markets in Europe, it would be a shame to miss Dresden! Dresdner Striezelmarkt (that's the original way to call it) is considered the first among other Christmas markets in Europe. It was founded in 1434! It is just one reason why I call it one of the most charming Christmas markets. Some of their decorations have been used for centuries. And the atmosphere shows the inclination towards this historical aesthetic. Besides Dresden, you will easily find other stunning Christmas markets in Germany too. Some of the most popular is located in Erfurt, Aachen, Leipzig, Berlin, Cologne, Nuremberg, etc.
Let's take a look at the rest of the best European Christmas markets!
2. Brussels Christmas markets
The main Brussels Christmas markets are located in Grand-Place and Marche aux Poissons, but there are at least a few other ones to shower you with Christmas vibes. All of those together are a part of a bigger event called the Winter wonders. The event schedule includes a parade and light show in the Grand-Place too! What is so special about Brussels Christmas markets compared to the rest of Europe? Just imagine this scenario. You are in Brussels and go to the main Christmas market. You have fun and ice-skate in rank with your special one and then get a hot cup of really great chocolate to warm your hands and belly afterward. You buy some nice presents, a few Belgian waffles, and then you both embark on a Ferris wheel to see the most beautiful lit-up city from the top. Should I add something?
3. Prague Christmas markets
Christmas in this romantic European city is just like a fairytale. You will feel it also visiting one or all of Prague Christmas markets. To enhance the royal motif, opt for the one in front of the castle (wink wink). Among other treats, some particular ones to buy if you are looking for special presents for your friends and family. It would be a sin to leave the Czech Republic without a beautiful set of Bohemia glassware or cute marionette puppets for kids.
If you can't decide which Christmas market is calling you the most, then Prague will be a great location to visit several Christmas cities in one go. Vienna and Dresden are both less than 3 hours away by train!
4. Budapest Christmas markets
There are many events labeled as Budapest Christmas markets. One on Vorosmarty str. and the other one at Basilica and some smaller ones all over. But either one you decide to visit, you will be happy you chose exactly this city. Among all other activities, I would like to emphasize the possibility to enjoy relaxing in thermal baths after visiting the crowded marketplaces. And don't fret if you think that such open-air bathing is reserved only for the warm seasons. Just submerge yourself in the warm water, watch the snowfall slowly and get the most amazing and memorable SPA experience of your life. In Winter. In Budapest.
5. Riga Christmas market
Nominated among the best Christmas markets in Europe and the best destinations for the same reason, Riga is an excellent choice if you want to explore something completely new. Great prices, a cozy atmosphere, and definitely a more authentic approach towards celebrating this occasion. Folk dances once a week and pulling the yule around the city on winter solstice evening are just a few to name. By the way, similarly to many other Christmas markets, there is a resident Santa that you can visit. Chat with him, tell him about your secret wishes, and even get some candy!
6. Strasbourg Christmas markets
This is another destination with one of the oldest and biggest Christmas markets in Europe. They even call themselves the capital of Christmas because the one set up in the Old Town is considered the oldest in France. By the way, the city has 6 of them, so who knows? Maybe it is the capital of Christmas?
7. Vienna Christmas market
If you are into those massive scale events, then visiting the Vienna Christmas market in City Hall square is a great idea. It is one of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe, if not the whole world, and will not leave you empty-handed. Additionally, Vienna is one of the most beautiful destinations to visit at Christmas time, even if you are not bothered about all that jolly fun stuff!
8. Tallinn Christmas market
Figuring out where to go for Christmas markets in Europe is hard on its own, especially if you have seen some of the greatest players in the field. That is why I dearly suggest opting for lesser-known destinations to catch your seasonal feels. Tallinn will make your heart warm but be less stressful than other big guys in Europe. FYI - Tallinn is one of the countries where they first decorated the Christmas tree! Riga and Tallinn's fight about who was the first continues, but it still makes a nice story for visiting!
9. Poznan Christmas market
Yes, also this one is exceptionally charming and cozy. But the thing that sets the one in the Old Market square apart from the other Christmas markets in Europe is the annual International Ice Sculpture Festival. This year on December 8 and 9, contestants from all world will shape magical figures from huge blocks of ice right in front of the happy viewers' eyes. Ice, ice baby? Yes, in Poznan!
10. Seville Christmas markets
It is one of the best Christmas markets in Europe if you want it all - the holidays, the fun and the sun! I mean, just going to Seville would be great on its own, am I right? But around the time Jesus Christ is born, this place turns into a complete fairytale. And the best thing is - if you go there to get presents for your friends and family, you will be adored this Christmas very much. Why? Just a few keywords here: Spanish wine, cheese, and handicrafts.
Can't choose where to go for Christmas markets in Europe? I suggest choosing for Riga or Budapest Christmas markets. You will be happy for not choosing some of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe for the sheer sake of less crowd! More coziness and more time to enjoy the place in your rhythm.
So...are you ready to pack your holiday attributes and experience a great party somewhere in one of the best European Christmas markets? After all, Christmas markets are not the peaceful sit-with-family-around-fireplace thing. They are sheer joy and celebration. Visiting any of the ones mentioned above will be an adventure of its own!
Ieva Miltina is an activist and entrepreneur of many sorts. By profession project manager of marketing and culture events, in her heart she is a passionate traveler and a cook, soon to become a pastry chef. Deeply rooted in non-formal education she has been involved in youth work since her teenage years and up till nowadays holds a deep interest in innovative approaches to learning and personal development, which she transfers to people from all Europe during various international trainings. Always looking for new discoveries and adventures she happily shares her positive view on the world and the neverending stories with the people who cross her path. While studying hospitality and tourism management she wrote a thesis on home-chefs, which ignited her dream of owning her cozy and heartwarming home restaurant, which will hopefully materialize very soon. Meanwhile writing articles and doing food photography she is working towards another dream of hers - becoming a published author someday.