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It’s no surprise that Europe offers countless idyllic settings for Christmas markets. Cobblestone streets, historic village squares, Gothic cathedrals, and the snow-capped Alps provide a magical backdrop to celebrate the holiday season. This year, with so much on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many markets are offering virtual tours of the illuminated market stalls and snowy streets, as well as online ordering of Christmas goodies, gifts, ornaments, and decorations from around Europe. While some of these Christmas markets won’t open this year, several are still welcoming visitors. (Please be sure to double-check restrictions and closures before planning to attend any of these festivals.) Read on for 15 of the best European Christmas markets to put you in the holiday spirit.
The city of Nuremberg, Germany, which is popular for its bratwurst sausages made from a 700-year-old recipe and an impressive array of Gothic-style churches, hosts one of Europe’s most beloved Christmas markets. The notable Christkindlesmarkt first launched in the 1530s, making it one of Germany’s oldest holiday markets. In addition to tasty brats, holiday crafts, and lights and ornaments on display, visitors can enjoy a stagecoach tour of this memorable market while snacking on Nuremberg’s world-famous gingerbread cookies.
Tuomaan Markkinat, Finland
What makes the stunning Tuomaan Markkinat in Helsinki most unusual (and appealing) is its wood-heated sauna. If holiday stress is getting to you, you can relax in the sauna before exploring the market stalls scattered throughout Senate Square. Local choirs sing carols, while visitors sip hot mulled wine as they wander through the illuminated pathways, shopping for handmade trinkets or gourmet delicacies including smoked reindeer meat and tart berry jams and desserts from Saimaa island, which can be purchased online this year.
Edinburgh's Christmas, United Kingdom
Edinburgh’s massive annual holiday market sprawls throughout East Princes St. Gardens and is best viewed from the “Edinburgh Eye,” a Ferris wheel over 100 feet tall. Edinburgh’s Santa Land features a sweet pine-scented Christmas tree maze and miniature trains for younger visitors to ride on. There’s no shortage of tasty holiday treats to shop for, which are also available for purchase online this year. If you visit, the Scottish National Gallery right next to the market is not to be missed.
Wiener Weihnachtstraum, Austria
To wander through Vienna’s Rathausplatz (City Hall square) at Christmastime and explore the city’s Weihnachtstraum market feels like being transported into a snow globe. This seasonal market includes everything that makes Christmas magical, from a rink for ice-skating and curling to an old-fashioned merry-go-round and reindeer rides. Inside the monumental City Hall, children are invited to learn to make their own sugary pastries and desserts, while adults enjoy mulled wine and shopping for handcrafted gifts and decorations. This year, the festival is canceled, but efforts are underway to spread holiday cheer in the square. There’s also an online marketplace for Christmas shopping so you don’t feel left out if you can’t make it.
Tallinn Christmas Market, Estonia
It’s no surprise that Tallinn's Christmas market in the Gothic-style Town Hall Square, was recognized as the Best Christmas Market of 2019 by European Best Destinations. At the market, Santa dashes through the snow in a regal sleigh pulled by reindeer, while a towering, spectacularly lit Christmas tree stands in the same spot as it has each holiday season since the mid-1400s. Offerings of Estonian Christmas delights, including sauna-smoked meat and local fish, Christmas bread dumplings, and marzipan in every shape and form, ensure attendees don’t go hungry. This year, the market is open, but spread out across the city to avoid crowding. Culinary and other Christmas tours are available to visitors as well.
Christmas in Tivoli, Denmark
To attend Christmas in Tivoli during the pandemic, be sure to book your required individual timed tickets in advance. The winter wonderland festivities at the amusement park known as Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen are kicked off with a parade led by the Tivoli Youth Guard orchestra playing Danish and English marches and Christmas songs. The historic amusement park, a key inspiration for Disneyland, is decorated in over 500,000 twinkling lights. Rides for all ages include an elf train, a snowman merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel, and one of the oldest operating wooden roller coasters in the world. Amusement park visitors can also enjoy Danish donuts, mulled wine, caramelized nuts, and honninghjerter — a sweet, gooey honey cake filled with buttercream and drizzled in chocolate.
Dresdner Striezelmarkt, Germany
There are several reasons not to miss this annual Christmas market in Dresden’s stunning Altmarkt (Old Market) Square. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is arguably Germany’s oldest Christmas market and is set to host its 587th market in December 2021. Highlights include a miniature train that runs through the market for kids, a parade featuring Santa Claus, and a mesmerizing, illuminated, spinning pyramid standing 45 feet tall and completely crafted by hand using traditional erzgebirge wooden carving techniques. In addition to smaller erzgebirge wooden pyramids for sale in the market stalls, visitors can also shop for traditional Lausitz fabric, deliciously spiced Pulsnitzer gingerbread, and the buttery, famous Christmas stollen — a fruit cake dusted with confectioners’ sugar.
Basler Weihnachtsmarkt, Switzerland
Nestled along the Rhine River in Switzerland, the city of Basel delights visitors any time of year with its historic architecture and many shops and art galleries. But Basel’s Weihnachtsmarkt at Christmas in the Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz squares is the real draw come winter, featuring around 200 stalls selling handmade trinkets and toys crafted of metal and wood, in addition to artisanal cheeses and chocolates. Don’t miss the opportunity to try a real Swiss fondue or raclette dinner in one of the countless cozy traditional Swiss restaurants when you visit. Although the market isn’t open this year, you can still enjoy a virtual reality tour of the magical atmosphere.
Advent in Zagreb, Croatia
As one of the few holiday markets in Europe taking place this year, this Christmas market in Croatia shouldn’t be overlooked. Advent in Zagreb was recently voted the best Christmas market in Europe for three consecutive years from 2016 to 2018. Holiday market stalls and an ice-skating rink take over the main city square of Trg Bana Jelačića, while a live nativity scene in front of Zagreb Cathedral brings the story of Christmas to life, including camels and sheep. This year, in addition to gifts and goodies available for purchase online, there will be live streamed concerts, as well as traditional holiday recipes and virtual tours of the market and surrounding streets, to bring this merry holiday event right into your home.
Târgului de Crăciun din Sibiu, Romania
The Christmas market in Sibiu, Romania is canceled like many other holiday markets this year, but is planning for a brighter 2021. As a newer holiday market launched in 2007, Târgului de Crăciun includes over 100 merchant stalls, as well as a holiday-themed amusement park and Santa’s workshop for children. Visitors can enjoy cookie-baking events, in addition to a whimsical carousel, glowing Ferris wheel, and large ice-skating rink all displayed under strings of fairy lights over Piata Mare, the large city square.
Village de Noël de Lille, France
The French city of Lille’s Christmas village in Place Rihour might be on the smaller side, but it’s also planning to remain open this Christmas. You’ll find many stalls selling provisions from northern France. The smells of roasted chestnuts and spiced mulled wine lure visitors to this market dedicated to displaying locally made gifts and ornaments, while a giant Ferris wheel offers stunning views of the city lit up for the holidays. Pony rides and puppet shows are offered for kids — and don’t pass on the sweet and savory pastries and tasty cheese tarts made with local maroilles. Many of the trinkets and treats are available for purchase on the official Christmas market website.
Marché de Noël Médiéval, France
Hailed as one of the most beautiful villages in France, the quaint town of Ribeauvillé in Alsace has an annual Christmas market inspired by the merriment and traditions of the Middle Ages. Animated by jugglers and jesters in colorful, elaborate costumes, this festival feels more like a trip back in time, with music and theatricals such as the parade of the Three Wise Men with their live camels. There’s much to savor here, including countless local delicacies such as succulent, spit-roasted wild boar, chocolates, pastries, and wine from Alsace.
Münchner Christkindlmarkt, Germany
Move over, Oktoberfest. Munich also goes all out for Christmas. The city’s Christmas market, which sprawls out from Marienplatz to Altes Rathaus (old Town Hall), is one of the liveliest, largest Christmas markets in Germany. Handmade glass baubles are a specialty here, as well as sugary Bavarian breads and pastries. Roasting chestnuts and apples make the market smell like Christmas, while attendees sample fruitcake, gingerbread, zwetschgenmandl (edible figures made from dried fruit and nuts), berry mulled wine, and herb liqueurs. The real spectacle of the Christkindlmarkt is a massive Christmas tree decorated with thousands of candles. The market is canceled this year, but there’s still entertainment online, from caroling to Christmas tree lighting and craft workshops for kids.
Featuring a towering, 15th-century belfry and historic, multicolored merchant houses, Bruges’ Market Square is one of the most beautiful backdrops for a holiday market. At the city’s Kerst and Wintermarkt, visitors can enjoy charcuterie boards, artisanal cheeses, hot chocolate, the famous Belgian waffles, and cookies galore. This year, the market is open, and throughout the city you can enjoy more than 500 decorated Christmas trees and a “Trail of Light” through the historic streets.
Natale a Merano, Italy
In the South Tyrol region of Italy at the foot of the Alps, old German Christmas traditions combine with Italian flair to offer a unique holiday experience at Natale a Merano (Merano Advent). A red trolley carries passengers through the cobblestone streets to help them explore the many wooden chalet market stalls, filled with delicately painted ornaments, handwoven sheepskin slippers, and wooden toys. Don’t leave town without taking a scenic hike, trying some local honey and zelten, a spiced bread featuring fruit and nuts that’s a beloved specialty during Christmas. (A detailed recipe is available online for home bakers, too.)