Home Christmas markets in Europe: An expat’s guide to the best
Last update on October 31, 2019

‘Tis the season for carols, Santa, mulled wine, and Christmas markets across Europe. Visit some of the best Christmas markets this holiday season.

When Christmas arrives, an incomparable atmosphere grips Europe – one that you will experience only in the continent. People flock after work to spend time at Christmas markets in Europe. Locals warm up with glühwein while listening to the strains of Silent Night in the background, or sort through mounds of specially crafted goods.

The more adventurous even travel afar to see the best European cities at Christmas to soak up the seasonal atmosphere. But with the abundance of European Christmas markets to choose from, which ones should you visit? Get into the festive spirit and head to the best Christmas markets in Europe.

Best Christmas markets in Germany

Germany is actually one of the leading countries when it comes to abundance of Christmas markets, where you can find one in pretty much every town. Find more in Expatica’s guide to the best Christmas markets in Germany.

Nuremberg (Nürnberg)

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 on the city’s Hauptmarkt, becomes filled to the brim with stalls.

Christmas market in Nuremberg, Germany

These stalls showcase the handcrafted wooden ornaments Nuremberg is famous for such as 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 28 November to 23 December 2019.

Dresden

Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is arguably one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany.

Christmas market in Dresden, Germany

Since 1434, millions of shoppers have visited this market near the Elbe River 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 27 November to 24 December 2019.

Cologne (Köln)

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.

Christmas market in Cologne, Germany

From 26 November to 23 December 2019, the Am Dom Christmas market will be awash in bright fairy lights and the wafting aroma of delicious cinnamon 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. Specialty markets include an Angel Market, a Harbor Market, and an LGBTQ-friendly Christmas Avenue.

Best Christmas markets in Belgium

Below are three popular Belgian Christmas markets, although you can find more in Expatica’s guide to the best Christmas markets in Belgium.

Bruges (Brugge)

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.

Christmastime in Bruges, Belgium

The fairy-tale medieval town is not one to miss for its sheer winter charm. The Bruges Christmas market, which runs from 24 November to 31 December 2019, never fails to deliver its yearly dose of gezelligheid with its whimsical stalls, ice skating rink, and packed cultural program for the season featuring a snow and ice sculpture festival, winter hikes, parades, and live concerts.

Brussels

Christmas in Brussels seems to grow bigger every year, earning the city a place on our list.

Christmas market in Brussels, Belgium

Car traffic in the capital city stops along the two-kilometer expanse from Grand-Place/Grote Markt to Place Sainte-Catherine/Sint-Katelijneplein 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 2019 to 6 January 2020. The markets offer arts, crafts, foods, drinks that flaunt the city’s diverse pan-European tastes.

Best Christmas markets in the Netherlands

The main Dutch cities hold various Christmas events and markets. Find Expatica’s list of the best Christmas markets in the Netherlands; in addition, consult a guide to Dutch winter events.

Valkenburg

In the small town of Valkenburg in Limburg, Christmas is their specialty.

Entrance to a Christmas market cave in Valkenburg, the Netherlands (Photo: Chris Friese/Flickr)
Entrance to a Christmas market cave in Valkenburg, the Netherlands (Photo: Chris Friese/Flickr)

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 in an intimate setting. The market opens from 15 November to 29 December 2019.

Best Christmas markets in France

To get you in the French Christmas spirit, read about Christmas foods in France and how to prepare a French-style Christmas meal.

Strasbourg

Strasbourg is home to one of the oldest and best Christmas markets in France.

Christmas market in Strasbourg, France

The Strasbourg Christkindelsmärik crowds the gothic Place de la Cathédrale with 300 stalls exhibiting traditional Alsatian specialties. The market starts on 22 November and ends on 30 December 2019.

Lille

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.

Christmas market in Lille

From 22 November to 30 December 2019, gourmands can savor regional delights from macarons, Maroilles cheese to babeluttes. Visitors can do this all while sipping vin chaud in this popular Christmas market.

Best European Christmas markets in Switzerland

You can also read about Swiss Christmas traditions in Expatica’s guide to celebrating Advent and Christmas in Switzerland.

Basel

Located at the meeting point of Switzerland, France, and Germany, Basel has diverse influences on its architecture and culture.

Christmas market in Basel, Switzerland

During the winter, Basel’s famous Christmas market puts these influences all on display. The market is situated in the heart of the city at Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz. It hosts over 180 traders and artisans offering their goods for sale in small, rustic wooden chalets. Basel’s Christmas market opens from 28 November to 23 December 2019. Swiss cuisine abound in Basel’s Christmas market from the Basel Läckerli gingerbread to the cheesy raclette. Culinary offerings from Basel’s German and French neighbors are also widely available.

Montreux

A Christmas market with a view of the Swiss Alps from the banks of Lake Geneva, the Montreux Christmas market has it all.

Traditional food and drinks at a Christmas market in Montreux, Switzerland

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 21 November to 24 December 2019. 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. You can also drive to the nearby Christmas village in Caux for more shopping.

Best Christmas markets in Spain

Read about Christmas holidays in Spain for everything you need to know about celebrating a Spanish Christmas.

Madrid

Madrid’s Plaza Mayor is the place to be during Christmas season; Plaza Mayor transforms into the annual home of the city’s grandest Christmas market.

Christmas market in Madrid, Spain

The main square overflows from 23 November 2019 to 6 January 2020. Plaza Mayor hosts around 100 small log cabins laden with nativity figurines, Christmas ornaments, toys, and food. After hours of shopping at the Madrid Christmas market, marvel at the canopy of colorful Christmas lights decorating the streets on your way to Plaza Isabel II, which also becomes sweet tooth heaven every winter where an overwhelming selection of Christmas desserts like turrón, marzipan, glacé fruitmantecados, and the seasonal roscón de Reyes are on offer.

Barcelona

230 years since its inception, Barcelona’s Fira de Santa Llúcia is still a spectacle to behold. One of Europe’s largest Christmas markets, the fira hosts around 300 stalls. The market bursts with Christmas fares and oddities found only in Catalonia. The market opens from 30 November to 23 December 2019.

"Caga

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. The tió is a poo-related Christmas staple in the form of a giant log pooping presents if beaten viciously enough.

Best Christmas markets in the UK

Find more in Expatica’s guide to the best Christmas markets in Britain.

Edinburgh

Edinburgh has two popular Christmas markets during the winter season.

Christmas market in Edinburgh, Scotland

The Scottish Market runs from 17 November 2019 to 5 January 2020 along St Andrew Square. It showcases traditional Scottish fares like sausages, cakes, seafood, whisky, and ale. In addition, stroll to the European Christmas Market at the East Princes Street Gardens for a more multicultural feel. The market opens from 17 November 2019 to 5 January 2020; during this time, the market has crafts and gifts from all over Europe on offer.

Best 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 favored choice is the main Luxembourgish Christmas market in the capital’s Place d’Armes. Over to the east is Moscow’s Journey into Christmas fair, where the area surrounding the breathtaking Red Palace transforms into 38 special zones including 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.

Finally, 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, although 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.