Tis the season of joy, warmth, and festive enchantment. As the Halloween paraphernalia comes off the shelves, it is replaced with cheap, tacky plastic Christmas tree decorations. Escape the mad commercial silly season and join us in celebrating the heart-warming traditions of European Christmas markets. It’s nothing short of a winter wonderland with it’s twinkling lights, hand crafted ornaments, the aroma of mulled wine and seasonal treats in an unmistakable spirit of Yuletide merriment.
Our journey begins in Vienna, Austria, where the air is filled with the scents of roasted chestnuts and gingerbread cookies. From there, we’ll traverse the charming stalls of Cologne, the historic setting of Tallinn, the time-honored traditions of Strasbourg, the dazzling displays of Brussels, and the grandeur of Salzburg. Berlin beckons with its festive cheer, Budapest offers a touch of Eastern European magic, and Prague transports us to a storybook world. We’ll then explore Nuremberg’s iconic market before concluding our journey in Krakow, Poland.
Although there are many Christmas markets that one could mention, those listed below have come up time and time again in my research. We have been fortunate enough to have visited four (Budapest coming up) in our cross country motor home tour.
Vienna Christmas Market
At the Rathausplatz Christmas Market in Vienna, the aroma of roasted chestnuts, mulled wine, and freshly baked gingerbread cookies filled the air. Over 150 stalls offered a wide variety of handcrafted gifts and seasonal decorations. As I strolled through the market, the magnificent Christmas tree in front of the Vienna City Hall sparkled with thousands of lights, casting a magical glow over the festive scene. I couldn’t resist indulging in Austrian specialties like Kaiserschmarrn and Kartoffelpuffer. The Vienna Christmas market is renowned for their old-world charm and delightful traditions. Open Mid-November to December 26th.
Cologne Christmas Market
The Cologne Christmas markets are celebrated for their traditional atmosphere and world-famous gingerbread cookies. The Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market, located in the shadow of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral, is a true highlight. This market features over 160 festively decorated stalls, and the towering Christmas tree is a sight to behold. I enjoyed sipping on Glühwein (mulled wine) and savoring the aroma of bratwurst and Reibekuchen (potato fritters). Opens late November to December 23rd.
Talinn Christmas Market
The Tallinn Christmas Market in the Town Hall Square offers a charming medieval setting with its historic architecture and cobblestone streets. Highlights here included the Christmas tree, a symbol of Estonian tradition, and a stage featuring various performances, carollers, and a visit from Santa Claus. One can also take the no:19 ferry from the port to see the Helsinki’s Christmas market in Senate Square. Open from late November to January 7th.
Strasbourg Christmas Market
Strasbourg, France, often called the “Capital of Christmas,” is an absolute delight.
The city’s Christkindelsmärik is one of the oldest and most famous in Europe. The markets are spread across different squares and streets, with Place Kléber hosting the city’s towering Christmas tree and a beautiful ice rink. The picturesque half-timbered houses provided the perfect backdrop for shopping for Alsace wines, hand-blown glass ornaments, and local crafts. Open from late November to December 31.
Brussels Christmas Market
The market features a large Christmas market, an ice rink, and beautiful light displays along the Grand-Place. The Christmas tree here is adorned with thousands of lights, creating a breath-taking spectacle. The aromatic scents of Belgian waffles and hot chocolate wafted through the air, making it a true winter paradise. Open from late November to January 1st.
With its Baroque architecture and musical heritage, the Salzburg Christmas market in Cathedral Square and Residence Square was a winter wonderland. The market stalls offered traditional Austrian handicrafts, and I was serenaded by choirs and live music performances while enjoying local delicacies. Open from late November to December 26th.
The Berlin, Germany Market
Berlin boasts numerous markets, and the WeihnachtsZauber at Gendarmenmarkt was a standout. This market’s stunning setting between the Konzerthaus and the French and German Cathedrals made it particularly enchanting. It offered a variety of international crafts, seasonal treats, and a cultural program with live performances. Open from late November to January 2nd.
Budapest, Hungary Markets
Budapest Christmas Fair is located at Vörösmarty Square. This market featured stalls adorned with handmade gifts, traditional Hungarian foods like chimney cake and goulash, and a captivating light show on the façade of the Café Gerbeaud.
The Vörösmarty is the largest market, but if you are there also go see the smaller market at St. Stephen’s Basilica. The markets are open from late November to January 1st.
Prague, Czech Republic
The Christmas markets in Prague’s Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square are a winter wonderland. The backdrop of historic architecture and the stunning Christmas tree was a sight to behold. Shoppers could find beautifully crafted wooden toys, glass ornaments, and the delightful Trdelník pastries. The market is open from early December till the 6th January.
The Krakow, Poland Market
The Krakow Christmas Market in the Main Market Square is a delight, with a grand nativity scene, beautiful decorations, and stalls offering local crafts and Polish delicacies.
The market’s location in the shadow of St. Mary’s Basilica and the Cloth Hall made it a picturesque setting for holiday celebrations. Open from late November to the 26th December.
The Nuremberg, Germany Market
The famous Christkindlesmarkt. This market is known for its traditional atmosphere and world-renowned gingerbread cookies.
The Nuremberg Christmas Market featured a stage where children could meet the Christkind, and visitors could savor Nuremberg sausages and the famous Lebkuchen cookies. Open from late November to the 24th December.
Nothing emulates the spirit of Christmas better than a European white Christmas. The glistening glass blown tree ornaments, the way the muld wine warms your chest as it goes down, and the sweet smell of cinnamon from all the freshly baked treats. We spent most of our lives living in the southern hemisphere and celebrated Christmas by the swimming pool and eating BBQ for lunch, so to spend a Christmas in Europe was a magical experience.
Next time you are planning a festive season vacation, one that the kids would love, consider a Christmas Market pilgrimage. It’s where memories are made.