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November 21, 2022

Favorite Christmas Markets in Europe

Every year from mid-November through late December, thousands of Christmas markets transform town centers throughout Europe into winter wonderlands with twinkling lights, Christmas music and alpine-style wooden chalets overflowing with local crafts and seasonal treats set against a snow-dusted backdrop of historic squares. Many of our travelers ask us to plan private Europe tours that include the best Christmas markets and local holiday festivities.
The tradition of open-air Christmas markets in Europe dates to the Middle Ages in Germany, with the Dresden and Nuremberg markets among the oldest on record. Over the centuries, the German Christmas market spread across Europe, merging with other traditional winter markets and adapting to showcase regional holiday traditions. In recent years, many Christmas markets in large cities have incorporated ice skating rinks, carnival rides, visits from Santa Claus and more.
Regardless of their location, however, these open-air street markets retain their traditional charm with festooned stalls selling local crafts, decorations, toys and ornaments; seasonal food and drink; and holiday performances of carols and traditional dances. Many Christmas markets produce their own annual mug that visitors can sip gluhwein from while strolling the stalls before taking home as a souvenir.
Travelers can enjoy shopping for local crafts, including hand-carved toys, traditional ornaments…
…ceramics, candles, jewelry and more.
Other highlights include savoring the scent of cinnamon and roasted nuts, enjoying seasonal treats like lebkuchen (gingerbread), stollen (fruit bread with spices), pastries with marzipan or mince pies and warming up with gluhwein (mulled wine), apple cider or hot chocolate.
Christmas markets are a highlight of winter holiday travel and a wonderful way to experience a destination’s seasonal cheer. Some of our favorite Christmas markets in Europe include:


Vienna, Austria

Vienna in Austria has several notable Christmas markets but our favorites for their magnificent settings, wide range of gifts on offer and delectable treats like vanillekipferl (Christmas cookies dusted in icing sugar) and savory favorites like bratwurst and spaetzle are the Christkindlmarkt at the Rathausplatz (City Hall Plaza) and at Schonbrunn Palace.


Salzburg, Austria

Framed by snowy mountains and presided over by the medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress, the UNESCO-listed historic center of Salzburg looks like a storybook setting any time of the year but is especially magical during the Christmas season. The Salzburg Christmas market has its roots in a 15th-century winter market held on Cathedral Square, making it one of the oldest known Advent markets in Europe.


The romantic city of Prague, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has wonderful Christmas markets, notably the two located in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. These are spectacular settings for browsing traditional glassware, lace and hand-carved toys while sampling the local Christmas pastries like trdelnik (baked pastry topped with sugar and walnuts) and grog (rum with lemon and sugar).
We also recommend taking a private excursion to Cesky Krumlov, a well-preserved medieval town that has its own small but bustling Christmas market showcasing local folk traditions.


Budapest, Hungary
Our favorite Christmas markets in Budapest are in Vorosmarty Square and on St. Stephen’s Square in front of the Basilica. Organized by the National Association of Folk Artists, the Basilica Christmas Market is a wonderful place to browse for traditional crafts including ceramics, felt accessories, blown glass jewelry, leather gloves, wreaths and more.


Berlin, Germany
With around 80 Christmas markets, Berlin has no shortage of Advent festivities. Our favorites include the renowned Weihnachtszauber in Gendarmenmarkt Square, where heated tents between two cathedrals offer gourmet cuisine, high-quality crafts and cultural performances.


Munich, Germany

Bavaria is a winter wonderland during the Christmas season and the capital Munich is an ideal base for exploring the region’s highlights, including local Christmas markets, Neuschwanstein Castle in the snow and traditional, rural villages. The most famous Christmas market in Munich is the Christkindlmarkt at Marienplatz, the medieval town square known for the famous Glockenspiel, a mechanical clock with life-size figures that pop out when it chimes.

 Travelers can enjoy sipping on warming gluhwein and indulging in pfeffernusse cookies (Christmas spice cookies) and magenbrot cake (gingerbread and honey) while shopping for Bavarian crafts.


Nuremberg, Germany
The Nuremberg Christmas market is one of the oldest and most famous in Germany. Hundreds of wooden huts on the main square sell handmade toys, ornaments, nutcrackers and nativity scenes, and local seasonal specialties like Nuremberg gingerbread.
Nearby, the Children’s Christmas Market has an abundance of festive entertainment for little ones, including a steam train, carousel and hands-on booths with activities like baking or candle-making.


Dresden, Germany
First recorded in 1434, the Dresden Striezelmarkt is famous as Germany’s original Christmas market. We love browsing the wood carvings from the Erzgebirge (Ore) Mountains, Moravian stars, candle arches, trying the Dresdener Christstollen (Dresden’s local stollen) and seeing the giant Erzgebirge Christmas pyramid.
The Christmas pyramids originated in the mining communities of the Erzgebirge Mountains and are a feature at many Christmas markets in Europe. Essentially an extravagant candleholder, a propeller at the top and a central carousel display of traditional figures rotate from the heat rising from the candle flames.
Miniature versions are displayed in homes, shops and restaurants during the Christmas season, and they make a delightful souvenir to bring home.


London, England
Although a relatively recent import in recent decades, London’s Christmas markets have become a holiday staple during the Christmas season. Some of our favorites include the Southbank Centre Winter Market, Covent Garden Christmas Market and Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, a vast Christmas fair with hundreds of booths, an outdoor ice-skating rink, a Ferris wheel and other carnival rides.
London during the Christmas season is especially enchanting, and Artisans of Leisure arranges private London tours that showcase the best of the city’s festivities.


Paris, France
Paris is a great destination during the holiday season, with lavish decorations around the city,  fantastic holiday shopping and favorite luxury hotels sumptuously adorned for the season. We recommend browsing the artisan stalls at with a glass of vin chaud at some of our favorite Christmas markets, including the Tuileries Christmas Market, the Marche de Noel by Notre Dame and La Defense Marche de Noel.


Reims, France
A great day or overnight excursion from Paris, the ancient city of Reims has one of the largest Christmas markets in France. Over 100 wooden chalets in front of the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sell high-quality local artisan crafts, gourmet specialties and, of course, Champagne. For travelers wishing to stay longer, we recommend combining Reims and the Champagne region with Dijon and Beaune.


Strasbourg, France
Strasbourg, the self-proclaimed Capital of Christmas, is located near the German border in Alsace. The half-timbered houses, narrow medieval streets and scenic canals make an enchanting setting for one of the oldest—and prettiest—Christmas markets in France. Hundreds of wooden chalets around the city center sell high-quality local crafts and gourmet Alsatian specialties like bredele (traditional Christmas cookies).

Brussels, Belgium

Located around Grand-Place, Bourse, Place Sainte-Catherine and Marche aux Poissons, the Brussels Christmas market is a sprawling festive event with chalet stalls, a Ferris wheel, carousel, ice-skating rinks, pop-up restaurants and more. The Grand-Place, one of the most beautiful squares in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, makes for a magnificent backdrop to the holiday festivities.


Bruges, Belgium
The medieval town of Bruges, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is incredibly romantic at any time of year, but we especially love visiting during the Christmas season when the crowds are smaller and the beautiful gabled buildings are adorned with twinkling lights, boughs of holly and garlands. The two Christmas markets are a great place to try traditional Belgian waffles and Belgian chocolate and browse stalls selling the famous Bruges lace and other local artisan crafts.


Zurich, Switzerland
Sophisticated Zurich, Switzerland has several notable Christmas markets, including the historic market, Christkindlimarkt at Zurich Main Train Station and the Zurich Viennese Village (Wienachtsdorf) in front of the Opera House.
The Christmas village is great for enjoying mulled wine, raclette and fondue and activities like traditional candle-making.


Basel, Switzerland
Home to one of Switzerland’s largest and most beautiful Christmas markets, Basel’s historic Old Town is a wonderful holiday destination. The Basel Christmas Market is spread across two locations, Barfusserplatz and Munsterplatz. Glittering lights in the trees, a mulled-wine pyramid and family-friendly activities like candle-making and baking add to the holiday charm.


Krakow, Poland
In the center of Krakow’s Old Town, the vast medieval square, Rynek Głowny, hosts one of the best Christmas markets in Poland. With an immense Christmas tree, horse-drawn carriages and wooden huts selling regional ceramics, amber jewelry, embroidery, hand-painted glass and metalwork, Krakow’s Christmas market is a must for its impressive UNESCO-listed setting and high-quality crafts.
The food is also a huge draw, and it’s a great place to indulge in pierogi dumplings and traditional smoke cheese as well as pierniki (Polish gingerbread), makowiec (poppy seed cake) and krowka (Polish fudge).


Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn’s famous Christmas market is set against the magical snowy backdrop of the city’s medieval Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Locals and visitors love the program of cultural performances, appearances by Santa Claus, upscale handicrafts from master artisans across Estonia…
…and Estonian Christmas cuisine including elaborate gingerbread creations.
The Tallinn Christmas market runs through early January and incorporates a spectacular New Year’s Eve celebration into the festivities.


Stockholm, Sweden
The atmospheric Christmas market in Stockholm Old Town has its roots in the city’s medieval winter markets, although the Christmas market we know today started in 1837 and preserves its traditional charm. Located in picturesque Stortorget square, it features Swedish Christmas treats like lussekatt (sweet saffron buns), almond tarts and gingerbread cookies; traditional Swedish Christmas decorations and regional crafts like ceramics and iron works.
For travelers in Sweden on December 13, we can arrange attendance at Lucia festivities.


Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen has a number of Christmas markets, but the most famous one is Christmas at Tivoli Gardens. One of the world’s oldest amusement parks, Tivoli Gardens transforms into a Nordic Christmas wonderland during the holiday season.
Highlights include Santa Claus with his reindeer, magnificent illuminations and fireworks, music performances, carnival rides and market stalls filled with Danish Christmas decorations and treats such as gingerbread hearts, marzipan and cherries and kransekage (Christmas cake).


Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Amsterdam’s ICE Village on Museumplein in front of the Rijksmuseum is a festive mix of ice skating, seasonal cuisine and great Christmas market shopping at wooden chalets. We love combining the Christmas market with a private tour of the city’s iconic museum. Another option is the Amsterdam Winter Paradise, a sprawling indoor-outdoor festival with skating rinks, cross-country skiing, a Ferris wheel, a lineup of performances by famous Dutch artists and even an apres-ski village.

Edinburgh, Scotland
Princes Street Gardens in the heart of the city makes a beautiful setting for the Edinburgh Christmas market. A relatively recent German import, the first Christmas market started in 1999 but has grown to be an iconic part of the holiday season. Bavarian produce and Scottish delicacies like clootie dumplings (the Scottish version of Christmas pudding), marzipan cakes and shortbread fill the traditional wooden stalls, along with Scottish artisan crafts, including tweed and tartan textiles and leatherwork.
Spread across the gardens, it also encompasses an ice-skating rink, the Children’s Market, Santa Land, Christmas Tree Maze beneath Edinburgh Castle and carnival rides. We recommend staying for Hogmanay celebrations too!
Contact Artisans of Leisure to plan a private, customized tour that includes the best Christmas markets in Europe.

Destinations:  Austria, Baltic States, Belgium, Central Europe, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, Europe, France, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Scandinavia, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, UK

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