European Christmas markets: A guide to the best Christmas markets in Europe
‘Tis the season for Christmas carols, Santa, mulled wine and European Christmas markets. Head to some of the best European markets at Christmas to discover on holiday.
When Christmas in Europe arrives, an incomparable atmosphere grips Europe – one that you will experience only in the continent. People flock after work to some of the best Christmas markets in Europe to warm up with gluhwein while listening to the strains of Silent Night in the background and sorting through mounds of specially crafted goods.
The more adventurous travel to the best European cities at Christmas to soak up the seasonal atmosphere. But with the abudance of best European Christmas markets to choose from, which ones should you visit?
Get into the festive spirit and head to the top Christmas markets in Europe located in Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg and Russia.
Best European Christmas markets in Germany
Any list of the best Christmas markets in Europe is not complete without Germany's Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg. Dating back to the 1600s, the market, which is hosted yearly in the city's Hauptmarkt, becomes filled to the brim with stalls showcasing handcrafted wooden ornaments Nuremberg is famous for like the Christmas angel, Prune Men (Zwetschgenmännle) and nutcrackers. Once you're exhausted from all the shopping, feast on other local specialties like sweet gingerbread (lebkuchen) and the thin 'Original Nuremberger' bratwurst. The market runs from 25 November to 24 December 2016.
Dresden's Striezelmarkt is arguably one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany. From 1434, millions of shoppers have been visiting this market near the River Elbe to sample traditional Saxon delicacies like the fruit and marzipan-infused Striezel cake – the market's namesake – and glimpse the world's tallest Christmas pyramid and nutcracker. The baroque city welcomes visitors to the Striezelmarkt this year from 24 November to 24 December 2016.
Set with the backdrop of the towering Gothic Kölner Dom, Cologne's stunning Christmas market is a huge draw for people in search of the perfect photo op and unique market finds. From 21 November to 23 December 23 2016, the Am Dom Christmas market will be awash in bright fairy lights and the wafting aroma of delicious cinnamony mulled wine as over 160 quaintly designed huts (or buden) set up shop in front of the monumental cathedral. After exploring the main Christmas market, head over to six of Cologne's specially themed markets from the Angel Market, Harbour Market and the gay-lesbian Christmas Avenue.
Read Expatica's guide on the best Christmas markets in Germany for more of the best European Christmas markets in the country.
Best European Christmas markets in Belgium
Imagine soaring medieval towers and idyllic canals covered with a blanket of ivory snow and streams of fairy lights all over – Bruges ups its charm as one of the best European cities at Christmas. The fairy-tale medieval town is not one to miss not only for its sheer winter charm but also its cozy Christmas market. The Bruges Christmas market, which runs from 25 November 2016 to 2 January 2017, never fails to deliver its yearly dose of gezelligheid with its whimsical stalls, ice skating rink and packed cultural programme for the season featuring a Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival, winter hikes, parades and live concerts.
Christmas in Brussels seems to grow bigger every year, earning the city a place in our best European cities at Christmas list. Car traffic in the capital city stops along the two-kilometre expanse from Grand-Place to Place Ste-Catherine to be replaced with throngs of holidaymakers buzzing around its Plaisirs d'hiver (Winter Wonders) Christmas market. Over 240 market stalls – along with a gigantic skating rink, toboggan slope and a cavalcade of lights – will be stationed in the city centre from 30 November 2016 to 7 January 2017 offering arts and crafts, foods and drinks that flaunt the city's diverse pan-European tastes.
Read Expatica's guide on the best Christmas markets in Belgium for more of the best European Christmas markets in the country.
Best European Christmas markets in the Netherlands
Dordrecht's Christmas market may only last a whole weekend from 12–14 December 2016 but it remains as the largest and most visited Christmas market in the Netherlands. Thousands of visitors amass in the ancient seaside city to browse through the 200 stalls and watch the jam-packed cultural programme.
In the small town of Valkenburg in Limburg, Christmas is their forte. Set in a one-of-a-kind underground setting inside a vast cave system, the Valkenburg Christmas market is among the best Christmas markets in Europe. Head to the Gemeentegrot and Fluweelengrot caves to discover stalls offering Dutch specialties like hand-crafted goods, food and drinks within an intimate setting from 18 November to 23 December 2016.
Best European Christmas markets in France
Known as one of the oldest and best European Christmas markets in France, the Strasbourg Christkindelsmärik crowds the gothic Place de la Cathédrale with 300 stalls exhibiting traditional Alsatian specialties. The market starts on 25 November and ends on 24 December 2016 and will feature Portugal as a guest country in a special Portuguese exhibition.
It's not secret that people go to Christmas markets for the food and food is no doubt the star in Lille's Christmas market. From 18 November to 30 December 2016, gourmands can savour regional epicurean delights from macarons, Maroilles cheese to babeluttes all while sipping vin chaud in this popular European Christmas market.
Best European Christmas markets in Switzerland
Ideally located at the meeting point of Switzerland, France and Germany, Basel has enjoyed diverse influences on its architecture, culture and during the winter, its famous Christmas market. The market, which is situated in the heart of the city at Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz, will see over 180 traders and artisans offer their goods for sale in small, rustic wooden chalets from 24 November to 23 December 2016. Swiss cuisine abound in Basel's Christmas market from the Basel Läckerli gingerbread to the unparalleled cheesy raclette while culinary offerings from Basel's neighbours Germany and France are also widely available.
A Christmas market with a view of the Swiss Alps from the banks of Lake Geneva, the Montreux Christmas market has it all. One of the most picturesque and best Christmas markets in Europe , Montreux opens it shores to 150 exhibiting chalets and half a million visitors from 24 November to 24 December 2016. If you have yet to satisfy your fill of traditional Swiss Christmas activities, hop on a cog train to visit Santa in his 'house' at Rochers-de-Naye or drive to the nearby Christmas village in Caux for more shopping.
Read Expatica's guide on celebrating Advent and Christmas in Switzerland for more Swiss Christmas traditions.
Best European Christmas markets in Spain
Madrid's Plaza Mayor is the place to be during Christmas season as it turns into the annual home of the city's grandest Christmas market. The main square will be overflowing from 26 November to 31 December 2016 with around 100 small log cabins laden with Nativity figurines, Christmas ornaments, toys and of course, food. After hours of shopping at the Madrid Christmas market, marvel at the canopy of colourful Christmas lights decorating the streets on your way to Plaza Isabel II, which becomes sweet tooth heaven every winter where an overwhelming selection of Christmas desserts like turrón, marzipan, glacé fruit, mantecados and the seasonal roscón de Reyes are on offer.
After 230 years since its inception, Barcelona's Fira de Santa Llúcia is still a spectacle to behold. One of the largest Christmas markets in Europe, the fira will host around 300 stalls bursting with Spanish Christmas fares and oddities found only in Catalonia from 27 November to 23 December 2016. Amidst Nativity scenes displayed across the market, you will find a curiously crude figurine infamously known as the caganer (crapper). The small figure depicts a man or woman wearing traditional Catalonian clothing in the act of defecating. Walk around the market and you will also undoubtedly spot a caga tió, another poo-related Christmas staple that comes in the form of a giant log pooping treats and presents if beaten vicously enough with a stick by children.
Read Expatica's guide on Christmas holidays in Spain for everything you need to know about celebrating a Spanish Christmas.
Best European Christmas markets in United Kingdom
Bath's magical Christmas market never fails to impress and will continue to do so from 24 November to December 11 2016. With the shadow of the Bath Abbey looming over it, the ancient city welcomes over 170 chalets, 87 percent of which are local artisans and traders from Bath and surrounding areas. From handmade toys, freshly baked minced pies to funy jewellery, Bath's christmas market – one of the best European Christmas markets in the UK – won't leave you wanting more.
Edinburgh has not one but two popular Christmas markets during the winter season. The Scottish Market, which runs from 26 November to 24 December 2016 along St Andrew Square, will showcase traditional Scottish fares like sausages, cakes, seafood and of course, whisky and ale. For a more multicultural feel, stroll to the European Christmas Market just a stone's throw away at the East Princes Street Gardens. The market is open from 19 November 2016 to 7 January 2017 and will have crafts and gifts from all over Europe on offer.
Read Expatica's guide on the best Christmas markets in Britain for more of the best European Christmas markets in the country.
Best European Christmas markets in the rest of Europe
Wherever you point the compass, there are always great Christmas markets in Europe that you can visit. In Luxembourg, a favoured choice is the main Luxembourgish Christmas market in the capital's Place d'Armes, which runs from 23 November to 24 December. Over to the east is Moscow's Journey Into Christmas fair where the area surrounding the breathtaking Red Palace transforms into 38 special zones featuring products, treats and holiday activities from different countries all over the world. The extravagant winter displays definitely makes Moscow one of the best European cities at Christmas.
Lastly, on the continent's west coast, Portugal's Madeira Islands come alive during the holiday season. Avenida Arriaga at the heart of island capital of Funchal hosts a traditional Christmas market that rivals those in the Germanic regions – albeit with a Portuguese twist by having exotic flowers on display and typical saccharine snacks and drinks rife for taking. For more information on Christmas celebrations in the country, read Expatica's guide on European Christmas markets in Portugal.
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Published 2008, updated 2016.
Photo Credits: LH DD/Dittrich (Dresden), Miguel Discart (Brussels), Sarah Taguiam (Valkenburg), photophilde (Lille), Michael (Montreux), Jesús Corrius (Barcelona), Rob Schulze (Edinburgh), kishjar? (Moscow).
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