Christmas is such a magical time of the year and a major part of the magic is Christmas Markets, and Europe is home to some of the best Christmas Market’s in the world. While the winter weather may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the mood, lights and music that Christmas brings sure make up for it. Plus, a nice warm cup of mulled wine or hot chocolate doesn’t hurt in keeping out that winter chill.
If you’re planning a getaway to soak up some of the best Christmas atmosphere Europe has to offer check out some of these fantastic destinations that we have put together to help you work out which are the ones you should travel for.
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. Nowadays, from mid-November to Christmas, Vienna’s prettiest squares transform into magical Christmas markets. The aroma of Christmas bakery items and hot punch creates a pre-Christmas atmosphere. The best known Christmas Market is the traditional "Vienna Magic of Advent", which turns the City Hall Square into a shining festive fantasy world with over 150 stalls selling roasted chestnuts, all the Christmas decorations imaginable and Christmas Workshop craft fun for kids, where they can make cookies, candles or even take a ride on an actual reindeer.
Another hot spot before Christmas is the cultural and Christmas market in front of Schönbrunn Palace. It offers unrivalled romance in front of an imperial backdrop, and is converted into a New Year's market after Christmas for those of you planning to travel after the big day. The atmospheric market offers traditional handicrafts, hand-made Christmas decorations, Christmas concerts and an extensive children's programme.
The Christmas market in Old Town Square in the centre of Prague is the biggest of its kind in the Czech Republic. Set in the very heart of the city is a traditional Czech marketplace, where, in dozens of wooden stalls, merchants offer typical Christmas goods such as traditional Czech blown glass balls, hand-embroidered tablecloths, wooden toys, biscuit cutters and many other wonders.
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 of Prague’s history while celebrating the holidays with themed performances and handmade trinkets.
The Hungarian capital city has really risen up the ranks as a major tourist destination in the last few years, and its Christmas festivities are undoubtedly a big part of the reason why. It's easy to understand the allure of spending your days relaxing in the city's world-famous thermal baths, and then your evenings dining and drinking outside in the festive markets.
The two best known Christmas markets of Budapest are found in the central District V, Vorosmarty Square and St. Stephen’s Square. The Vorosmarty Square markets are Budapest’s oldest, most famous and definitely a must-see. Much newer are the markets outside the St. Stephen’s Basilica, which since 2011 have captivated locals and tourists alike with the ice skating rink and Hungarian folk art. For a small fee you can take the lift to the viewing platform at the top of the basilica.
One thing that’s really special about Budapest’s Christmas markets, is how real care is taken in making traditional handcrafts like glass-blowing, candle-making and leatherwork, as well as traditional Hungarian embroidery. It is immediately apparent that here in Budapest, genuine traditional goods are favoured over mass-commercial products because they celebrate and showcase Hungarian traditions. Make sure to save plenty of space in your travel luggage for these souvenirs.
Belgium has a vast array of wonderful Christmas Markets in Ghent, Antwerp, Bruges and Liege. But the true king is Winter Wonders in Brussels with its 2.5 million annual visitors, a celebration which sees the whole city put its collective best foot forward.
This spectacular event seems to get better and better every year, pushing the very limits of what can be expected. But the classics all remain intact, such as: magnificent Sound and Light shows at the Grand-Palace, a majestic tree, a life-sized manger, the skating rink, and many exhibitions which dot the event. The heart of the wonderland is the 240 chalets at the centre that serve classic Belgian beers and waffles, handmade souvenirs and decorations, and the decadent chocolates that the country is renowned for.
Edinburgh is one of the most charming cities in the world and this is especially true during winter with Christmas markets and Hogmanay celebrations coming together from the end of November until the start of January. The Christmas Market in East Princes Street Gardens is the place to be, where you’ll find an oval ice rink, fairground rides, an elves’ workshop hidden within a Christmas Tree Maze, with stalls selling wooden toys and Harry Potter themed gifts. And you can’t miss out on the local delicacy, mulled Irn Bru, whilst Santa’s Grotto can be found just around the corner on Castle Street.
After dark, a 20 minute stroll across town to the Royal Botanic Garden to sip spiced cider and marvel at its Christmas illuminations is well worth the short trip. What’s unique about Edinburgh is that the festivities actually intensify after Christmas Day with the city’s enchanting Hogmanay Torchlight Procession through Edinburgh’s Old Town on December 30. A fireworks display and the Hogmanay street party follow the day after and a chance for some home comforts with the famous ceilidh (Scottish version) and concert in Princes Street Gardens rounding off New Year’s Eve.
At the foot of Sljeme is one of Europe’s Christmas gems, the utterly charming Advent Zagreb in the “City of a Million Hearts”. In the past 5 years it has become a destination for visitors not only from Croatia but from all over the world, due to the incomparable, heart-warming atmosphere. It may not enjoy frost and snow in December, nevertheless, the city definitely demonstrates real Christmas cheer. The range of goods and food sold here can compete with what any major European city can offer and it’s elevated further by the hospitality of locals who use this magical time of year to present their city in all its glory. It’s not surprising, therefore, that for three years in a row, between 2016 and 2018, it was awarded the prize for the best Christmas market in Europe.
Instead of just one big Christmas market, it can be better to have lots and lots of smaller markets. For this more modern take on tradition, arty Berlin has it covered with between 60 and 80 separate markets scattered throughout the German capital. It may not be possible to cover them all, but at least the chances of finding some that tickle your fancy is through the roof.
The largest of all the markets is Spandau and the Weihnachtszauber in magnificent Gendarmenmarkt square is probably the prettiest with plenty of arts and crafts on offer. Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz is less about shopping and more about winter sports, with tobogganing, curling and a huge luge that is big enough for people to actually ride down. The market is also popular because it starts in early November, weeks before most others get going. And there’s even a market that’s dedicated entirely to dogs, (although it won’t run again until 2023).
No matter which Berlin markets you find yourself at, there’s plenty of food and drink to ensure your enjoyment. Schmalzkuchen and lebkuchen are baked goods for the sweet tooth with currywurst and more international fare like gulash perfect for satisfying the hunger that comes with all that wandering around. And best of all, this can be accompanied by a nice warm gluhwein or cold draught beer.
Another German entry on this list because they’re the kings of Christmas Markets. And the Christmas markets in Cologne are among the most beautiful in all of Germany. Wooden stalls begin popping up throughout Cologne at the end of November, marking the official start of the festive season. The biggest of all the city markets happens beneath the city’s symbol, the iconic Kölner Dom, a Gothic-style cathedral with hundreds of sparkling fairy lights decorating red-topped gables.
Markt der Engel offers some of the most magical moments, with hundreds of twinkling lights suspended overhead like stars, and angels flitting between elaborately decorated cabins. If you’re after tradition and have children, Nikolausdorf (Saint Nicholas’s village) in Rudolfplatz is aimed at kids, and tells the story of the real St Nick, with the 13th-century Hahnen gate looming majestically in the background.
With so many wonderful options across Europe it may be tough choosing where to go. What isn’t tough is making sure you have the correct holiday insurance in place. You can get an AIG travel insurance quote instantly and you can save 20% by purchasing online.