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October 25, 2021

We’re inching closer and closer to the holiday season, which means it’s time to start shopping for presents for the ones you love most. And there’s no better place to do just that than at Europe’s famed Christmas markets.

All across Europe, the start of the holiday season is signaled by the arrival of Christmas markets. Cities transform into winter wonderlands with string lights illuminating every cobblestone street and finely decorated trees standing on every corner. Spiced, savory notes waft through the air, while cozy wooden chalets filled to the brims with festive finds and mouthwatering delights populate snow-dusted town squares. It’s a sight straight from the pages of a storybook, and a tradition that dates back as far as the late Middle Ages.

While many beloved markets chose not to open in 2020, numerous historic European markets are back this holiday season with safety measures in place to ensure guests can enjoy them while practicing social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. Be sure to check out each markets’ website to learn about its safety protocols before attending. Some festivals even have online marketplaces which allow you to support the local artisans and craftsmen without having to be at the festival in person.

Whether it’s the zesty mulled wine in Prague, the hand-carved musical instruments in Madrid, or a visit from Santa in Tallinn, Estonia, these markets offer one-of-a-kind experiences that are sure to put you in a festive spirit. Read on to discover more magic from the 24 most charming Christmas markets in Europe.

Helsinki Christmas Market, Finland
 
The Helsinki Christmas Market welcomes over 300,000 people each year to discover the over 120 chalets and attractions decorating the city’s Senate Square. You’ll, of course, find the traditional market stalls and hot mulled wine at every corner, but the market also appeals to a more modern crowd with countless vegan options and even a wood-heated sauna. After picking up a few handmade wooden lanterns, take a twirl on the old-time carousel near the towering Christmas tree.
 
Poznan Christmas Market, Poland
 
One of the oldest cities in Poland, Poznan has been dazzling guests every holiday season for centuries. The town’s renaissance Old Market Square transforms into a wintry escape with snowflakes, winter delicacies, and handmade trinkets. Merchants sell a variety of carefully crafted toys and decorations, but it’s the vendors selling delectable pierogies, smoked cheeses, and warm goulash that really stand out. The International Ice Sculpture Festival happens each year around the same time as the market making the heart of Poznan truly a Christmas wonderland.
Bath Christmas Market, United Kingdom
 
Darling wooden chalets with golden lights overhead line the cobblestone streets of Bath each winter as a part of the city’s renowned market. Known for its wide range of handcrafted housewares and personalized presents, the market also makes it easy for people to learn about and support local charities by allowing organizations to take chalets for free. Be sure to stop at The Lodge on Stall Street for a piping-hot cup of mulled cider.
 
Vilnius Christmas Market, Lithuania
 
Design aficionados, the Vilnius Christmas Market is the one for you. Year after year, the Lithuanian city is regarded as having one of the most beautiful Christmas trees in all of Europe. Not only that, the dazzling fairy light displays seen throughout the Christmas market almost always coincide with the breathtaking tree display at the center of the Old Town. Stop into the chalets and igloos for delightful honey cakes, gingerbread, and teas.
 
Funchal Christmas Market, Madeira
 
One may not expect a subtropical island to be a Christmas haven, but Madeira proves to be the exception. Its main capital, Funchal, hosts a market filled with rare flowers, delicious Portuguese entrees, and plenty of Christmas spirit. You won’t get enough of the wine-marinated grilled meats and local Madeira punch while there. There are also performances every night from traditional Christmas carolers to folklore groups.
 
The Christmas Markets of Budapest, Hungary
 
Budapest hosts not one but two magical Christmas markets within walking distance of each other. At Vorosmarty Square, you’ll find the oldest Christmas market at the center of the capital with countless food vendors and craftspeople offering traditional Hungarian goods. While a bit smaller, the market outside of the St. Stephen’s Basilica also has hundreds of stalls lining the square, as well as a skating rink and weekend folk dance shows.
 
Sibiu Christmas Market, Romania
 
You may never find a town with as much joyous Christmas spirit as the ancient Transylvanian city of Sibiu. The colorful market takes place in the heart of the city at Piata Mare, which just so happens to be surrounded by jaw-dropping displays of Baroque architecture. The merchants sell a wonderful range of jewelry, handcrafted ornaments, and delectable treats, but keep your eyes out for the stalls with one-of-a-kind leather goods. Oh, did we mention there’s also an ice rink?
 
Tivoli Gardens; Copenhagen, Denmark
 
A year-round favorite of locals and tourists, the whimsical park in Copenhagen turns into a winter wonderland with extravagant light displays and countless stalls selling sweet items like honey cake. As you walk through exploring the market, you’re sure to be greeted by traditional bands playing festive songs at various points.
 
Cologne Christmas Market, Germany
 
Wooden stalls begin popping up all throughout Cologne at the end of November, marking the official start of the Christmas season for the residents of the classic German city. The most impressive of these markets happens beneath the city’s iconic Gothic-style cathedral with hundreds of sparkling fairy lights decorating red-topped gables. Each year, the market grows to include more and more attractions like the “Christmas Avenue,” an LGBTQ+ market featuring live performances.
 
Basel Weihnachtsmarkt, Switzerland
 
The quaint town of Basel glows each holiday season from thousands of twinkling lights lining two squares—Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz—and spotlighting rustic wooden chalets. The market officially starts each year with the lighting of a towering Christmas tree filled with Johann Wanner ornaments at the center of Münsterplatz. Kids will also love exploring the fairytale forest and decorating their own gingerbread houses.
 
Weihnachtsmarkt Santa Croce; Florence, Italy
 
At the beginning of December, the piazza outside the Basilica di Santa Croce transforms into a festive German-style market filled with tasty treats and gifts from around the world. For nearly 500 years, the market at Piazza Santa Croce has served as one of Florence’s most treasured traditions with its 50 stalls of artisanal treasures. Be on the lookout for stalls selling the market’s must-try item: chimney cake covered in cinnamon and chocolate.
 
Strasbourg Christmas Market, France
 
Twinkling fairy lights illuminating narrow alleyways, a magnificently dressed tree at the city’s center, and nearly 300 wooden chalets lining every square make Strasbourg the Christmas capital of France. One of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe, the end-of-year festivities have embraced the traditions and flavors of an Alsatian Christmas since 1570.

Guests can explore stalls for hand-blown glass ornaments and carved wooden toys and enjoy spicy gingerbread cookies and crisp Alsatian wine. The market also hosts a Sharing Village that allows people to donate to local nonprofits and charities.

Old Town and Wenceslas Square; Prague, Czech Republic
 
With stalls nestled between soaring examples of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, the markets at Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square feel as though you are exploring a bit Prague’s history while celebrating the holidays with themed performances and handmade trinkets. A mere walk away from each other, visitors can stay warm while exploring both of the festive venues with delectable Czech treats such as trdelník, a spit cake rolled in cinnamon sugar, and citrusy mulled wine.
 
Bratislava Christmas Market, Slovakia
 
Draped in thousands of fairy lights with hundreds of chalets selling wooden toys and a gleaming ice rink in the center of town, the Slovakian capital is the ideal wonderland to take your children during Christmas time. The ceremonial lighting of the magnificent tree at Main Squares kicks off the season and the opening of the markets. An added bonus: Bratislava also has an official Christmas tram that makes it easy to travel between the different squares.
 
Frankfurt Christmas Market; Birmingham, United Kingdom
 
An ode to the traditional German Christmas market, Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market boasts over 120 stalls selling unique presents such as delicate crystal lamps, one-of-a-kind jewelry, and, of course, winter wines and beers. Holiday-lovers can enjoy buttery pretzels and mouth-watering schnitzels as they listen to the festival’s singing moose, Chris, serenade the masses on the corner of Waterloo Street.
 
Tallinn Christmas Market, Estonia
 
With blankets of snow covering the cobble streets, a clear starry sky, and a heavenly aroma of gingerbread permeating throughout Town Hall Square, the Advent market in Tallinn looks and feels as though you just walked onto the set of a Christmas movie. It was at this market in 1441 that the first-ever Christmas tree was displayed in Europe. While the towering masterpiece remains one of the market’s highlights, families can also look forward to meeting Santa, who often pays a visit in his reindeer-pulled sleigh.
 
Vienna Christmas Dream Market, Austria
 
The first recorded winter market in Vienna dates back to the Middle Ages, when Albrecht I of Habsburg allowed citizens of Austria’s capital to hold a December event in 1298. Centuries later, Vienna hosts an impressive 20 official Advent Markets, but none are quite as charming as the Vienna Christmas Dream. The market, which takes place in front of City Hall, has over 150 stalls selling roasted chestnuts and all the Christmas decorations imaginable. Children can even learn how to make Christmas cookies and candles on the ground level of City Hall and take a ride on an actual reindeer.
 
Kraków Christmas Market, Poland
 
The iconic Cloth Hall, magnificent St. Mary’s Basilica, and storied medieval streets prove to be the perfect backdrop for a bustling Christmas market in Kraków’s Old Town. Local vendors offer a fun array of goods and gifts from hand-crafted Bolesławiec pottery and sweet boiled candies to fresh pine wreathes. But one of the main attractions of the market is the honored Kraków Christmas Crib Contest, where decorated re-creations of nativity cribs and Baroque churches are paraded around the square for judging. The winners are shown in the Historical Museum of Kraków.
 
Salzburg Christmas Market, Austria
 
The origins of the Salzburg Christmas Market date back to the late 15th century, when locals would gather at Cathedral Square to buy simple goods for their holiday celebrations. Today, the famous Advent market has over 95 stalls with the sweet smell of flaky apple strudels flooding the square, traditional wind music ringing from high above, and sparkling lights highlighting the entire city. Singers and Christmas-music-lovers alike can even partake in a daily sing-along.
 

Plaza Mayor Christmas Market; Madrid, Spain

At the heart of Madrid, the Plaza Mayor stands as a reminder of Spain’s royal past and is the site of one of the country’s most celebrated traditions: its acclaimed Christmas market. Unique collections of hand-painted and decorated nativity figurines and musical instruments flood the nearly 100 stalls across the square.

 
 
Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt earned the nickname “The Little Town of Wood and Cloth” from its 180 wooden booths with red-and-white-striped cloth roofs that flood Hauptmarkt Square during the holidays. While the market offers a large selection of gingerbread, mulled wine, and traditional decorations, the true stars of the show are the “prune people.” Made from dried prunes, the well-loved figurines have been staples of the market for decades and are viewed as good-luck charms during the holidays.
 
Winter Wonders; Brussels, Belgium
 
Much more than just a market, Winter Wonders puts the shine on Brussels as one of the premier destinations to celebrate Christmas. From ice skating and a ride on a Ferris wheel to a marvelous light-and-sound show, guest can get lost in holiday fun at the festival that stretches across Grand-Place. The heart of the wonderland is the 240 chalets at the center that serve classic Belgian beers and waffles, handmade trinkets, and decadent chocolates.
 
Trento Christmas Market, Italy
 
Set at the foot of the snow-dusted Brenta Dolomites, the quaint Piazza Fiera and Piazza Cesare Battisti of Trento become a picturesque “Città del Natale,” or Christmas Town, with sparkling trees, thousands of golden lights, and 90 wooden huts. Vendors sell sheep’s cheese, sweet panettone, wood-carved nativity scenes, and glass ornaments across the two squares. With its commitment to environmental sustainability, the Trento Christmas market only utilizes clean energy and uses local products and eco-certified paper bags.
 
Advent in Zagreb, Croatia
 
Regarded as one of the best Christmas market destinations, the Advent in Zagreb puts the global spotlight on the Croatian capital. The fountain that doubles as a light display and towering Christmas tree at Jelacic Square acts as the festival’s centerpiece and a cozy meeting place for guests.

Candles and lanterns cast a glow onto neighboring streets lined with well-dressed trees and lead to an ice rink, ice sculptures, pop-up bars, street-food stands, and music stages. The Advent even holds a gastronomic event devoted to “fooling around,” where people can enjoy various mulled wines and gooey štrukle all while dancing in the street.

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