The best Christmas markets in Europe

There’s nothing in the world quite like the holiday season in Europe. There are wooden chalets in 13th-century towns, snow-capped cathedrals, seasonal cookies and cakes in display windows, and of course, all the hot mulled wine you can drink. Put all of it together, and the continent practically twinkles with fairy-tale festiveness.

Here, in no particular order, are 20 of the best Christmas markets in Europe for your amazing trip.

Christmas Markets, Prague

Location: Old Town and Wenceslas Square

Why we love it: Just five minutes apart by foot, Prague’s Old Town and Wenceslas markets are the best in a city that already tops our list of places to spend Christmas. (Chalk it up to the Gothic architecture and mulled wine stalls.) Don’t miss the barbecued pork or trdelník, a hot, rolled pastry rolled in cinnamon and sugar and cooked over a grill. Also, pack your hat and gloves: It can get cold here in December.

Tallinn Christmas Market, Estonia

Location: Town Hall Square

Why we love it: In addition to Estonian Christmas dishes like black pudding and sour cabbage (it’s better than it sounds, we swear), Tallinn’s market – which travelers dubbed the Best Christmas Market of 2019, according to European Best Destinations – also has a Santa who arrives by reindeer-pulled sleigh. The highlight, though, is its Christmas tree, which the city has been displaying in front of its town hall since 1441 – making it the first Christmas tree to ever be displayed in Europe.

Cologne Christmas Market, Germany

Location: Cologne Cathedral

Why we love it: This market has everything you’d expect of a classic German spread: the glühwein, the crafts, the twinkling lights. One thing that stands out, though, is its entertainment – more than 100 stage performances throughout the festival, including Christmas swing music and gospel. After you’ve had your fill of tunes (and food), head toward nearby Hohe Strasse and Schildergasse, two of Cologne’s well-known shopping areas, to walk off all those bratwursts.

Tuomaan Markkinat, Helsinki

Location: Senate Square

Why we love it: This market scores major points for its mix of contemporary and traditional. Though visitors can do everything from play bingo for a vegan ham to watch a holiday outfit contest for dogs, it’s not all quirky: Choirs sing Christmas carols on the weekends, and visitors can stroll illuminated market stalls while drinking hot mulled wine. Not feeling Finnish enough for you? Relax in the wood-heated unisex sauna, smack in the middle of the market in Senate Square.

Edinburgh’s Christmas, Scotland

Location: East Princes Street Gardens

Why we love it: Adjacent to the Scottish National Gallery, this annual market turns Edinburgh’s sprawling East Princes St. Gardens into a “Santa Land” with a Christmas tree maze and a mini-train ride for the little ones. Take it all in from atop the 108-foot-tall Ferris wheel, aka the Edinburgh Eye.

Magic Christmas in Colmar, France

Location(s): Place des Dominicains, Place Jeanne d’Arc, Place de l’Ancienne Douane, Koïfhus, Petite Venise, and Gourmet Market Place de la Cathédrale (all six markets are in and around Old Town)

Why we love it: With its timbered houses and canal-lined streets, Colmar is basically a fairytale come to life year-round. But tack on some twinkle lights, an ice-skating rink, and an early-1900’s carousel, and you have yourself one of the most charming Christmas destinations in all of Europe. Each market offers its own version of holiday cheer, from nativity scenes to children’s choirs, so be prepared for some serious stall-hopping.

Trento Christmas Market, Italy

Location: Piazza Fiera and Piazza Cesare Battisti

Why we love it: Each year, the cobblestoned streets of Trento, in the northern Italian region of Trentino–Alto Adige, are filled with Christmas-light-covered trees and 90 wooden huts, combining for what Italians call Città del Natale, or “Christmas Town.” Vendors sell sheeps’ cheeses and dried orange slices below the 13th-century Buonconsiglio Castle, and the Alps in the distance provide an incredible backdrop to the whole scene.

Brussels Winter Wonders, Belgium

Location: Grand-Place

Why we love it: Every December, the open areas around the Bourse stock exchange, the Place de la Monnaie, the Place Sainte-Catherine, and the Marché aux Poissons are transformed into a winter wonderland, with more than 200 wood chalets, a covered ice rink, a Ferris wheel, and a light and sound show projected onto the Grand-Place.

Advent Feast at the Basilica, Budapest, Hungary

Location: St. Stephen’s Square

Why we love it: St. Stephen’s Basilica is Hungary’s largest church, dedicated to the country’s first king (Stephen, of course). It’s fitting, then, that this festival takes place around the landmark in Szent István Square with 160 vendors, a skating rink, and weekend folk dance shows. Most of the action is in full swing before Christmas, but if you’re there on January 1, stop by the fair for some lencseleves, or lentil soup – it’s traditionally made in Hungary on New Year’s Day as a symbol of prosperity for the coming year.

Wrocław Christmas Market, Poland

Location(s): Market Square and Plac Solny

Why we love it: Located in the main city square of Wrocław, this classic Christmas market officially comes to life around December 6, when Santa Claus greets visitors and the tree lights get switched on. But you don’t have to wait until December to start sampling treats from the wooden stalls: we’re talking potato pancakes, chocolate gingerbread, waffles (in various flavors), and all the mulled wine you can handle.

Viennese Dream Christmas Market, Austria

Location: City Hall (on Rathausplatz)

Why we love it: Some cities just look better covered in snow, and Vienna – which already ranks high on our list of best cities in the world – is one of them. And it’s not just about the snowy views: the city’s Viennese Christmas Market has everything from reindeer rides to an ice rink for skating and curling, plus a ferris wheel and old-fashioned merry-go-round. This is about as classic as it gets, folks.

Salzburg Christkindlmarkt, Austria

Location: Residenzplatz and Salzburg Cathedral

Why we love it: Salzburg’s famed Christkindlmarkt in the center of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old City isn’t just mulled wine and market stands: There are daily sing-alongs (Tuesdays from 6-8 p.m.) and traditional wind music performed above the square on Thursday and Saturday nights. We’re not mad about the bauernkrapfen (fried pastries), either.

Christmas in Tivoli, Copenhagen, Denmark

Location: Tivoli Gardens

Why we love it: The real-life inspiration for Disneyland, this twinkling theme park is beloved by tourists and locals alike; come winter, it’s decked out in more than 500,000 fairy lights. Don’t miss Danish treats like aebleskiver, small pancake puffs topped with powdered sugar, or honninghjerter. Similar to German gingerbread, this dense honey cake is sometimes filled with jam and buttercream and topped with a chocolate glaze. Hygge, indeed.

Dresden Striezelmarkt, Germany

Location: Altmarkt Square

Why we love it: Founded as a one-day market in 1434, the Dresden Striezelmarkt is Germany’s oldest. The annual focal points here are typically the 45-foot-tall Christmas pyramid and the stollen, buttery fruitcake dusted with powdered sugar and packaged with a special seal depicting the city’s famous former king, August the Strong.

Christkindesmäkir, Strasbourg, France

Location(s): Place de la Cathédrale, Place Kléber, Place Gutenberg, Place Broglie, Place du Château (all near the city center)

Why we love it: Strasbourg, a fairytale-like town in the Alsace region of France, becomes even more magical during the holiday season. Its Christkindesmäkir (the oldest Christmas market in France) attracts several million visitors each year, thanks to its charming wooden chalets, nightly concerts, and ice-skating rink – not to mention all that foie gras and hot white wine. And don’t forget about the city’s other seasonal claim to fame: the Great Christmas Tree illuminated in the central square of Place Kléber.

Christmas Market at Skansen, Stockholm, Sweden

Location: Skansen Open-Air Museum

Why we love it: If you’re looking to get really traditional, visit this open-air museum on the island of Djurgarden in the center of Stockholm, where all of the historic homes and farmsteads are decorated accordingly. Tuck into smoked turkey and sugared almonds at the market, or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, participate in traditional dances around the festive tree at Bollnäs Square and make your own Christmas decorations in the workshop.

Basler Weihnachtsmarkt, Basel, Switzerland

Location: Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz

Why we love it: We all know Switzerland is a winter wonderland, but it also happens to host some of the best Christmas markets in Europe – including Basler Weihnachtsmarkt in the Rhine-side town of Basel. The market features more than 190 vendors selling handmade toys and local treats (hello, Swiss raclette) from their wooden stands, plus enough twinkle lights and trees to fill a million Instagram feeds.

Advent in Zagreb, Croatia

Location: Pretty much the entire city

Why we love it: Voted the best Christmas market in Europe in 2016, 2017, and 2018, Advent in Zagreb is pure holiday magic, mixed with a healthy dose of spectacle. Instead of being confined to one city block, Zagrebs festival spreads across the entire city: find traditional stalls in Trg Bana Jelačića (the main city square), ice skating in Tomislavac, concerts in European Square, and a live nativity scene in front of Zagreb Cathedral.

Sibiu Christmas Market, Romania

Location: Piața Mare

Why we love it: Romania might get a lot of hype around Halloween, but the country embraces Santa Claus just as much as Dracula. See: Sibiu Christmas Market, a glittery sprawl of stalls and fairy lights located in the Sibiu city center. Here you’ll find more than 100 merchants, Santa’s workshop, and and ice rink, plus a new 72-feet-tall Ferris wheel, a new addition to last year’s market.

Jul i Vinterland, Oslo, Norway

Location: Spikersuppa

Why we love it: Jul i Vinterland, located in Oslo’s city center, has all the elements you’d expect from a classic European Christmas market, from decorated stalls to a tree-lined ice-skating rink. But what makes this particular festival stand apart is the food. Be prepared for coconut cupcakes and caramel apples, gløgg and warm porridge, currywurst and smoked salmon from the Lofoten Islands – and that barely scrapes the surface.

By CNTraveler