There’s something enchanting about seeing historic European cities burst into colour at Christmas, seeing medieval and baroque squares glittering with lights and usually with a dusting of snow. While Germany has been putting on festive shows since the 15th century, many other beautiful European cities have equally appealing Christmas markets where food often takes centre stage. Bring a big appetite as you wander past seasonal stalls selling not just bratwurst and glühwein, but also grog, pierogi and fiery plum brandy. Get inspired with our list of the best European Christmas markets.
Main photo: Christmas market on Marktplatz square in Esslingen, Germany (Alamy)
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1. Cologne, Germany
Dates November 23 to December 23, 2023
Best for a variety of markets
Long-favoured as a festive destination, Cologne has several Christmas markets, the largest of which is in the city centre, beneath the cathedral. Markt der Engel provides some of the most magical moments, with hundreds of twinkling lights suspended overhead like stars, and angels flitting between elaborately decorated gables. Nikolausdorf (Saint Nicholas’s village) is aimed at kids, and tells the story of the real St Nick, with the 13th-century Hahnen gate looming majestically in the background. There are even markets dedicated to mythical gnomes, and to maritime history, complete with sea shanties and pirates. If you fancy something a little more traditional, put your skates on and head to the outdoor ice-skating rink on Heumarkt.
2. Salzburg, Austria
Dates November 23, 2023 to January 1, 2024
Best for Christmas carols and ancient traditions
The pretty hometown of Mozart and The Sound of Music comes into its own at Christmas, with snow-sprinkled renditions of Silent Night (the carol was written and first performed nearby) and market stalls that look much as they did when they were first set up in the 15th century. The focus here is on quality over quantity, so expect hand-knitted socks rather than novelty candles for stocking fillers. For optimum Christmas cheer, join the free daily concerts at 5pm in front of the cathedral, or belt out carols at the Tuesday singalongs (6pm-8pm).
3. Berlin, Germany
Dates November 20, 2023, to January 1, 2024
Best for trendy Christmas gifts and tobogganing
For a more modern take on tradition, arty Berlin has it covered. The city centre is festooned with about 80 Christmas markets (there’s even one specifically for dogs), so don’t try to cover them all. If you’re after scale, Spandau is the biggest. For looks, Weihnachtszauber, in magnificent Gendarmenmarkt square, is the prettiest, with plenty of arts and crafts on offer. Get your pulse racing at Winter World, on Potsdamer Platz — it’s less about shopping and more about winter sports, with tobogganing, curling and an ice-skating rink with free lessons for kids. Go at 10am, when it’s quietest.
4. Budapest, Hungary
Dates November 18, 2023 to January 1, 2024
Best for ice rinks and Christmas illuminations
Igniting the Christmas atmosphere in mid-November, Budapest brings two Christmas market contenders to the table: Vorosmarty Square and Basilica. Vorosmarty Square is tucked right into the heart of the city and is Budapest’s oldest Christmas market. Here, you’ll find plenty of food stalls, handicraft shops and free concerts. Basilica has all of the above, but with the slight edge: Christmas laser projections on the Basilica itself and an ice-skating rink that circles around a grand Christmas tree.
5. Prague, Czech Republic
Dates December 3, 2023 to January 6, 2024
Best for open-air concerts and traditional nativity scenes
Postcard-pretty Prague is perfect for the festive season. Make like a local and swap your mug of mulled wine for a glass of grog — rum, water, lemon and sugar. The setting is magnificent: on one side, the 14th-century twin spires of Our Lady Before Tyn; on the other, the city’s famous 15th-century astronomical clock. Between them swirls a glittering pool of seasonal cheer. There are presents aplenty, including frosted, hand-blown glass baubles. But it’s the food that will keep you hanging around: warm, fatty sausages just off the grill; fresh pancakes; garlic-and-cheese flatbread; all topped off with a glug of svarak, the local, citrussy take on mulled wine. Its cinnamon scent is misted over the whole square. If you’ve got little ones, shepherd them over to Old Town Square where you’ll find sheep, goats and a donkey waiting patiently for attention from earnest tourists.
6. Strasbourg, France
Dates November 24 to December 24, 2023
Best for storybook scenery and sweets
France’s “Capital of Christmas” looks like a real-life nativity scene at this time of year. You’ll find 300 traditional market stalls crowding the city’s central squares, doing a strong line in hand-painted wooden Christmas decorations. Seek out the Market of the Invincible Small Producers of Alsace for sausages and almondy, fruity, brioche-like kugelhopf.
7. Gothenburg, Sweden
Dates Various dates from November 19 to December 30, 2023
Best for chic vibes and mugs full of glogg
Liseberg, Sweden’s most popular amusement park, morphs into one of the world’s classiest Christmas open-air markets — no creaky ferris wheels, plastic Christmas trees or drunk elves here. You pay to enter, but you can stay until late (it’s open from 3pm-10pm on most days), snacking on smoked reindeer and drinking glogg (Scandinavian mulled wine). Make the most of the free children’s entertainment — it’s more impressive than corny. Visit Santa in his wooden workshop, ride bumper cars, and don’t miss the glittering, half-hour ice show.
8. Bratislava, Slovakia
Dates November 23 to December 23, 2023
Best for wooden toys and foodie treats
Christmas in the Slovakian capital is a time of childlike wonder. Fairy lights are draped around Christmas trees, while market stalls sell traditional wooden toys and handsome Christmas decorations. Foodie treats include pancakes, sausages and cakes.
9. Bohemia, Czech Republic
Dates November 24, 2023 to January 1, 2024
Best for Christmas atmosphere and beautiful architecture
In search of Christmas decorations and Christmas lights beyond Prague? Head for the southern Bohemian cities of Ceske Budejovice and Cesky Krumlov and you’ll find two of the most atmospheric markets in Europe. The city-centre square of Ceske Budejovice, with its mixture of gothic and classical architecture, is home to a cavalcade of bustling market stalls selling wooden toys, Christmas decorations and glasses of spicy mulled wine. Cesky Krumlov is pure Disney, unspoiled and beautifully baroque, sitting beneath a romantic-looking castle. You’ll find the market stalls in the town hall square, where fairy lights and Christmas decorations twinkle, and the aroma of freshly baked cookies and grilled sausages floats through the open air.
10. Vienna, Austria
Dates November 11, 2023 to January 4, 2024; majority close by December 26
Best for skating rinks and traditional toys
Come Christmas and Vienna sparkles with fairy lights. Snowy streets glow as light spills out from vast palaces; icicles dangle off grandiose Habsburg buildings. Add in steaming drinks in made-to-linger coffee houses and you’ve got a city full of festive atmosphere that doesn’t feel twee. Myriad Christmas markets spread out along the narrow streets of the old town, offering stalls overflowing with traditional wooden toys and artisanal goods such as handmade soaps. Invigorate yourself with steaming mugs of mulled wine while the chill of the open air is warmed by the bracing aroma of roasted chestnuts and freshly baked pretzels.
11. Copenhagen, Denmark
Dates November 17 to December 31, 2023
Best for ferris wheel rides and Christmas hygge
The markets of Copenhagen pulsate with festive joy as Christmas trees, decorations and lights add their patchwork of seasonal colour, alongside market stalls selling wooden toys, ceramics, decorations and chunky knitwear. The city centre is home to several markets, but it’s the Christmas market at Tivoli Gardens that is Copenhagen’s beating heart (others claim Nyhavn as the Christmas star). A ferris wheel spins in the evening darkness and fairy lights are draped on leafless trees, while a skating rink attracts the adventurous. Add to this the toasty aroma of caramelised almonds and the fragrant scent of cinnamon-infused mulled wine (locally known as glogg) and you’ll find yourself in the midst of Christmas market joy.
12. Tallinn, Estonia
Dates December 1, 2023 to January 7, 2024
Best for musical groups and dance troupes
Considered one of the best Christmas markets in Europe, Tallinn’s festive offering is a striking affair, set in the heart of its beautiful, medieval town, where rooftops and cobblestones are dusted with snow. Come winter, Town Hall Square is packed — not just with over 60 wooden stalls, selling handmade wreaths, local arts and crafts, sweets, honey and sheepskin rugs — but also with brass bands, bell ringers, and endless dance troupes. Arriving at his winter grotto on an authentic reindeer sleigh, Santa is on hand to welcome children to the festivities, before they rush off for a whirl on the merry-go-round. Estonia’s biggest Christmas tree has been set up in front of the town hall each year since 1441, making it one of the very first to be displayed anywhere in Europe.
13. Brussels, Belgium
Dates November 24 to December 31, 2023
Best for a gourmet Christmas
Winter Wonders in Brussels is spread out across Grand-Place, Bourse, Place Sainte-Catherine and Marché aux Poissons, with ice skating rinks, ethereal music and light shows, a massive Christmas tree, and a mile-long stretch of more than 200 snow-blanketed wooden chalets, serving toasty waffles, warming mulled wine and, of course, Belgian beers and chocolates.
14. Basel, Switzerland
Dates November 23 to December 23, 2023
Best for foodie delights and fairy lights
Basel’s Christmas market is the biggest and most beautiful in Switzerland, with 160 meticulously decorated stalls selling a wide array of culinary wonders from gob-stopping sausages, and authentic Basel Lackerli (a local twist on gingerbread), to hot punch, festive fondue, and rib-sticking raclette to beat the winter chill. It’s split into two different sections at Barfuserplatz and Munsterplatz. The former offers handmade wooden toys, nativity scenes, and jewellery, while Munsterplatz’s fairytale forest is filled with fun festive activities for kids, from bauble-making workshops to gingerbread decorating.
15. Edinburgh, Scotland
Dates November 17, 2023 to January 6, 2024
Best for a cultural Christmas
Undeniably one of the prettiest cities on the planet, Edinburgh really shines in the winter months as Christmas markets and Hogmanay celebrations come together. You’ll find Santa’s Grotto; an oval ice rink; fairground rides, such as the 60m-high Star Flyer; an elves’ workshop hidden within the Christmas Tree Maze; stalls selling wooden toys, Harry Potter-themed gifts, and mulled Irn Bru; special projections, performances, and artworks showcasing local talent. Bar crawl under the fairy lights of George Street and pop into the Scottish National Gallery to contemplate winter scenes. After dark, head to the Royal Botanic Garden to sip spiced cider and marvel at its Christmas illuminations. If you can only visit once, be sure to come at the end of December for the Hogmanay street party and stunning fireworks display on December 31. Don’t miss the ceilidh and concert in Princes Street Gardens on New Year’s Eve either.
16. Gdansk, Poland
Dates December 2 to 23, 2023
Best for festive romance and global delicacies
In the historical city centre, Gdansk Christmas market is a magical winter wonderland with romance oozing from every corner — there’s even a spot that’s been set up so lovers can kiss under the mistletoe in the hope of having a long life together. Expect to see elf parades, a talking moose, the Snow Queen and her singing carollers; and enjoy a spin on the fairytale carousel. Shop for original jewellery, ceramics and up-cycled clothes such as hats and knitwear, or fill up on the wide variety of delicacies from around the world including traditional Polish cuisine (try pierogi). Foodies will be tempted by Alsatian pancakes, Greek bougatsa and Spanish churros. Warm up with a mug of hot chocolate, mulled beer or aromatic mulled wine.
17. Metz, France
Dates: November 24 to December 30, 2023
Best for: otherworldly illuminations
Nothing will get you in the spirit of the festive season more than the incredible illuminations of the Metz Christmas market. Keep warm with traditional features such as the open-air ice rink and the merry-go-round. Wander through the enchanting Sentiers des Lanternes and follow the path of elves and dolls illuminated during the stunning fair. Keep an eye out for the big wheel next to the cathedral before tucking into some of the tastiest gingerbread around.
18. Krakow, Poland
Dates November 24 to December 26, 2023
Best for quirky touches
You have to trust a city so dedicated to yuletide that it rolls out real live camels. But Poland’s picture-perfect old capital Krakow has plenty more in store. You can get your skates on in a snowy square, fill up on mulled wine and gingerbread, and experience sublime moments in serene galleries and candlelit churches. Start in misty Rynek Glowny, the largest medieval town square in Europe, inhaling aromas of sizzling kielbasa (sausage) from the Christmas stalls. Dominating it all is the cavernous Renaissance Sukiennice. Inside, ornate light fittings drop down like art nouveau anchors from the barrel-vaulted ceilings. At brightly lit stands, you’ll find wooden Christmas decorations and elaborate little cribs for perfect gifts.
19. Esslingen, Germany
Dates November 23 to December 21, 2023
Best for timbered streets and the perfect festive market backdrop
Just 20 minutes’ drive from Stuttgart airport, Esslingen is a beautiful old medieval town with lovely markets. You’ll see locals in costume as well as the odd stilt-walker or fire-eater. It’s small and walkable, with great restaurants and nightlife.
20. Nuremberg, Germany
Dates November 29 to December 24, 2023
Best for eco-warriors
When it comes to sustainability, this popular German market is second to none. All mulled wine dealers work with a reusable cup system that saves energy and avoids a large number of disposable containers. The market is also supplied with regenerative energy from regional hydroelectric plants and photovoltaic power plants. On arrival, you’ll be greeted by the curly-haired “Christkind” who proclaims: “You men and women who once were children, be young again.” And she’s not wrong — it’s impossible not to feel a childlike excitement at the bright Christmas tree decorations, tinsel angels, wooden nutcrackers, and coloured stars. Foodies won’t be disappointed either with the aromas of grilled sausages, crackling pork and mulled wine pervading the market.
21. Seville, Spain
Dates December 1, 2023, to January 5, 2024
Best for an immersive festive treat
The Christmas market in Seville provides an artistic, cultural and entertaining experience to get visitors in the festive spirit. Expect decorated wooden stalls, street exhibitions and performances in the back of cabins. You’ll also find nativity scenes, musical choirs and plenty of sweet treats. Stock up on stocking fillers and artsy Andalusian gifts — and warm cold hands with a clutch of churros.
22. Zagreb, Croatia
Dates December 2, 2023, to January 7, 2024
Best for fabulous food
Croatia’s capital hosts one of the most joyous Christmas markets, with several dozen all around the city. This being Croatia, the emphasis at Zagreb Advent is firmly on food and drink — although you’ll also find craft stalls as well as a giant outdoor skating rink. Start in the markets that fill the trio of parks in the lower town before joining the fun around Zagreb’s main Ban Jelacic Square. You’ll pass more stalls as you head towards the medieval upper town, all the while snacking on spicy sausages, sarma (stuffed cabbage rolls), chocolate-covered festive fritters called fritule and drinking plum brandy and local wines.
23. Bruges, Belgium
Dates November 24, 2023 to January 7, 2024
Best for romance
Bruges is beautiful all year round, but during the annual Winter Glow, the Flemish city takes it up up a few gears. The two Christmas markets in the centre — one in the main Markt square, the other in Simon Stevinplein — sparkle with Christmas gifts and food and drink stalls, and the romantic outdoor skating rink is draped in glittering lights. Watch the ice action from the warmth of the Vorst winter bar before following the mesmerising Light Experience Trail that fills the city’s squares and monuments with vivid colour.
24. Merano, Italy
Dates November 24, 2023 to January 6, 2024
Best for mountain magic
In northern Italy’s Alps, looking more Austrian than Italian, is the pretty spa town of Merano, whose Christmas market’s twinkling chalets run along the Passirio river. With snow-capped mountains as a backdrop, you can pick up homemade crafts, gifts, toys and accessories to a festive soundtrack of choirs and bands. Join the daily passeggiata as you stroll along the river, warming up with mulled wine and Sudtirol cakes and apple strudel.
Take me there
Inspired to visit a Christmas Market but yet to book your trip? Here are the best Christmas city breaks from Jet2 Holidays and BA Holidays, as well as the best Christmas market tours from our trusted partners.