With Christmas now just around the corner, if you find yourself fantasising about mulled wine, festive coffees, mouth-watering cheeses and steaming chestnuts – you’re not alone.
Christmas market season is upon us, the perfect time to wrap up warm, fill your belly and hunt for gifts you wouldn’t find anywhere else. While we have plenty of world-renowned markets to visit on our doorstep – Winchester, Edinburgh, Bath and Cambridge to name a few – nothing quite compares to Europe’s fairy-tale, festive spirit.
Wooden chalets in thirteenth-century towns, snow-capped cathedrals, powdery spiced stollen, and of course, all the mulled wine you can drink. The likes of Germany, Estonia, Hungary and Austria, to name a few, take Christmas markets to another level. From Hamburg’s regional specialities and the dazzling lights of Vienna, all the way to Tallinn’s picturesque cobblestone streets dusted with snow, you’re spoilt for choice on where to go. To make your decision easier, we’ve pulled out five of the best Christmas markets in Europe, and what makes each one so magical.
From the middle of November until Christmas Day, Vienna’s prettiest squares transform into a mesmerising maze of Christmas markets, adorned with fairy lights. There are over twenty to choose from, but wherever your feet take you, you can expect to see everything from artisanal handicrafts and traditional wooden toys to ice rinks, Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds. This is Christmas at its most traditional.
Oh, and did we mention the food? Warm the cockles of your heart with a mug of mulled wine while inhaling the smell of roasted chestnuts and freshly baked pretzels. Divine!
Officially hailed as Europe’s best Christmas market in 2022, Budapest’s Advent Feast at the Basilica is a delight for the senses. Centred around the impressive backdrop of St Stephen’s Basilica, the market is home to more than 160 artisan vendors. Shop for unique gifts and sample local Hungarian specialities from friendly food sellers. Goulash and flódni are must-tries!
There’s even an ice rink in the heart of all the action, circling a nine-metre-tall Christmas tree. Be sure to hang around for the real star of the show though – a spectacular laser light show projected on the facade of the magnificent St. Stephen’s Basilica.
Part of what makes Tallinn’s Christmas markets so magical is their setting. Nestled in the heart of this beautiful, medieval city, where everything in sight is dusted with snow, each December the markets fill with sellers of local arts and crafts and delectable festive treats. And if that wasn’t enough, they’re also joined by brass bands, bell ringers and endless dance troupes – not to mention Tallinn’s very own Santa, who arrives at his winter grotto on an authentic reindeer 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.
Prague, Czech Republic
Postcard-worthy Prague was made for the festive season, so it’s no surprise its capital’s market is one of the favourites in Europe. This is part and parcel down to its magnificent setting. On one side, there’s the fourteenth-century spires of Our Lady Before Tyn, on the other, the city’s famous fifteenth-century astronomical clock.
Czechs are famously heavy drinkers, so you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to booze too. Along with hot mulled wine, you’ll also find mead, punch and grog, a concoction of rum, lemon, sugar and hot water.
The market is family-friendly too. If you’ve got little ones, shepherd them over to the Old Town Square where you’ll find a petting zoo complete with sheep, goats and donkeys.
Home to more than 150 towns and cities with established Christmas market traditions, Germany is synonymous with the festive season. Berlin and Cologne are world-renowned, and for good reason, but most visitors will agree that Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt just about comes up trumps.
One of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets, dating back to around 1530, Christkindlesmarkt is a foodie’s paradise. Grilled sausages, crackling pork, mulled wine, sweet gingerbread – every festive food fantasy can be fulfilled here. It’s also known for being one of Europe’s most environmentally friendly Christmas markets, thanks to its reusable cup system and regenerative energy power source.