Christmas markets in Europe form the perfect setting to get into the holiday spirit, with the sweet aroma of mulled wine and cinnamon spice and the echo of Christmas jingles in the air, and market stalls full of festive fare.
Home to the some of the world’s most beautiful cities, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the preamble to the festive season in Europe. As the nights draw in, we highlight the best European Christmas markets to explore this year.
Our comprehensive guide to the best Christmas markets in Europe includes information on opening dates and what to buy at each market. It features traditional favourites such as the Bath Christmas market, and those in Germany and France, as well as unsung spots in Spain, Portugal and beyond.
Here are the best Christmas markets in Europe for 2018.
1. Prague – for Wenceslas
We like a good king like Prague-born Bohemian Wenceslas. Particularly one renowned for braving a harsh winter journey to help the poor on the Feast of Stephen (which celebrates Saint Stephen – the first Christian martyr). He deserves credit and Wenceslas Square, where one of Europe’s top festive markets takes place, was named after him in Prague. A true royal legend.
2. Hungary – for chimney cake
We like Christmas cake. But the Hungarians like it even more. They sell chimney cake (kürtőskalács) – dough wrapped around a pole, baked, coated in sugar and cinnamon – at their festive markets. Explore one of its oldest and most traditional – the Budapest Christmas fair on Vorosmarty Square in the heart of the city – as well as the Budapest Basilica Christmas Fair for lots of handmade crafts and chimney cake.
3. Lisbon – for bolo rei
Who else likes Christmas cake? The Portuguese. Crazy for it. Probably – if you mean bolo rei king cake, a seasonal pastry stuffed with fruit. You can try it at the Natal E Na Fil festive market in Lisbon.
4. Dresden – for the Striezelmarkt
Things the Germans love, in order: 1) Winning at all the sports you like. 2) Winning at the sports you don’t like. 3) Festive markets. The Striezelmarkt has been a fixture in Dresden since 1434 – and will be back again in December. Taking place on Altmarkt Square, the handmade goods on offer are said to be excellent, but we all know most people go to enjoy a warming cup of glühwein.
5. Frankfurt – in Birmingham
So it’s 2001. You’re a mover and shaker in Birmingham. You’re setting up a festive shopping event in the city. What do you call it? Frankfurt Christmas Market. No way that’s confusing. Still, it’s really popular.
Frankfurt Christmas Market is the largest German market held outside Germany and Austria. Visitors can soak up the village atmosphere in Victoria Square while enjoying a range of German fare – from mulled wine and beers to meats and pastries. The Christmas Craft Fair next door extends onto Chamberlain Square, featuring various handmade gifts from local artists.
6. Leeds – for more German inspiration
Christkindelmarkt, a German Christmas market set in the heart of Leeds at Millennium Square, offers over 40 stalls and delicacies including bratwurst sausages, goulash and schnitzels and carousel rides. There are free children’s activities every Sunday between 11am and 1pm, including face painting and games. Look out for winter wonderland princesses and other costumed characters. The Ski Hutte bar in an alpine chalet-style setting aims to create an apres ski-inspired atmosphere with music.
7. Manchester – for French themes
Manchester hosts several markets throughout the city, from French-themed stalls at King Street to a European market in Albert Square – a German-style market at St Ann’s Square. You’ll find boutiques and some great food outlets at Exchange Square, and arts and crafts at Brazennose Street with a globally-sourced selection of jewellery, leather goods and speciality foods. There are fairground rides in Cathedral Gardens and more stalls in New Cathedral Street and Market Street.
8. Bath – for shopping and ice skating
This is a bumper market with over 200 stalls lining the streets of Bath around the wonderful Roman Baths and the Abbey. Nearly all the items and produce on sale are from the local area, or made by local suppliers. Ceramics and glasswear, clothes, toys and homeware are among the items on sale – as well as food and drink. When you’ve done enough shopping, head for the ice rink and nearby Royal Victoria Park, take a tour of the Roman Baths, or watch a performance at the Theatre Royal.
9. Venice – for Campo San Polo
More surprising than the prices its cafes charge for a cappuccino (seriously, nearly €15, and you want a tip?) is the fact that Venice deals in Christmas markets. In its second biggest square (after Piazza San Marco) – Campo San Polo – no less. Bargains? We wouldn’t bet on it. But you will find
10. Lille – in 92 minutes
Things you can do in an hour and a half: Plonk your kids in front of the Frozen film (again) or take a Eurostar to Lille, where the festive market is ace. The latter will prove to be entertaining for the whole family, offering 90 wooden chalets from which to peruse plenty of arts and crafts from Russia, Canada and Poland, while grazing on festive delicacies.
11. Paris – for Christmas in La Defense
France likes a revolution. And if staging a festive market in the business district of La Defense, under the big La Grande Arche monument, isn’t revolutionary, we don’t know what is.
The Champs-Elysées also comes into its own with Christmas illuminations in the trees, fir trees at the Rond-Point and a Christmas market in wooden chalets along its lower reaches.
12. Glasgow – for a Burns Christmas
You want incongruous? Go to Glasgow, where Scotland’s most Scottish poet is one of the statues in George Square, scene of a key festive market. What’s Burns-talk for “and an artisan bauble, please?”.
The Glasgow Christmas Market continues at St Enoch Square and George Square, with an international array of goods and entertainment on offer, from festive craft gifts to street food and hot drinks.
13. Vienna – for the Rathaus market
Christmas is about stereotypes. And the Christmas market which sets up station on Rathausplatz outside Vienna’s town hall has the lot. Glühwein? Yep. Ice rink? But of course. The chatter of cherubic children? Peace and joy? Hell yes.
More than 25 Christmas markets pop up on picturesque squares across the city. Visitors enjoy hot punch, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and stalls selling Christmas decorations and gifts for all ages. The gaudiest of markets, with the biggest Christmas tree, is Christkindlmarkt in front of the Rathaus (City Hall), and opens from mid-November. The best markets with quality fare are Altwiener Christkindlmarkt on Freyung and Weihnachtsmarkt Schloß Schönbrunn. Both offer local handicrafts, homemade goodies and live carol singing.
14. Seville – for winter warmth
We adore Seville. It has oranges and beautiful Moorish buildings, and the sun never really bothers to leave for winter. Oh, and it has the Navideño Mercado de Artesanía de Sevilla, held under its “giant mushrooms”, the Metropol Parasol monument. Specialising in artisan crafts, the market is located in the trendy Alameda de Hercules neighbourhood, with a thriving late-night crowd at its bars.
15. Guernsey – for winter wind
We’re not saying Christmas shopping in the Channel is a bad idea, as you’ll have a handful of quirky places (like the Christmas Shop at the Folk & Costume Museum and The Victorian Shop on Cornet Street) to browse. But we are saying you may need an extra jumper if you opt for the festive bonanza on Market Square in Guernsey capital St Peter Port. May be windy.
16. Copenhagen – for Christmas in hell
The devil has no part in Christmas. Or does he? Copenhagen reckons so. Its biggest festive market is held at Tivoli Gardens, the theme park where the Demon rollercoaster is all the rage. Hell’s bells.
For those hoping for a more cheery affair, follow your nose to Tivoli’s Christmas village, with booths offering an array of cosy Christmas delicacies from hot chocolate to homemade donuts and roasted almonds, or one of its 43 restaurants. The gardens are also lit up with more than half a million lights by night to ensure a magical Christmas setting.
17. Tallinn – for late Christmas
Far be it from us to criticise Estonia’s timekeeping. We are just pointing out that the festive market on Raekoja Plats in Tallinn continues into the New Year, as the Russian Orthodox Church rules January 7 to be Christmas Day. Tardy.
But the offering here are nonetheless festive, with its most celebrated feature being the Christmas tree, which has been set up in Tallinn’s Town Hall Square since 1441, making it the first ever Christmas tree to be displayed in Europe. Visitors can explore traditional Estonian Christmas cuisine, including black pudding and sour cabbage as well as gingerbread and other Christmas classics.
18. Berlin – for Christmas solidarity
One of Berlin’s best Christmas markets is held on the exact square where a terror attack happened back in 2016. What’s the German for “carry on regardless”? Visitors can choose from some 50 or so Christmas markets in the city, offering traditional festive wares, seasonal delicacies, fairground rides and ice-rinks.
See our collection of the best Christmas tours and winter sun getaways to get you there, and our expert’s guide to saving money on short-haul flights.