CruiseMapper's review of the best Christmas Markets in Europe is about the December Holidays' best European "stall shopping" destinations. Our alphabetical list of the best Xmas markets includes Barcelona, Brussels, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Edinburgh, Krakow, Lille, London, Prague, Stockholm, Tallinn, Valkenburg, Verona, and Vienna. These are internal links that jump directly to the respective market review.
The following link redirects to the best German Christmas markets - Nuremberg, Dresden, Berlin and Munich. Briefly speaking, the "Christmas Market" travel deals combine an unique Holiday travel vacation with romantic city tour experience that includes themed decorations, a ton of happy people, winter walks, hot chocolate, traditional treats, cold beer, hot sausages, spiced mulled wine. And you can always combine the "gifts and food" shopping experience with the so popular European riverboat cruising into a perfectl Christmas Market river cruise vacation - if the budget allows it.
Best Christmas Markets in Europe
The traditional Christmas Markets originate in Europe but now pop up all over the world and provide celebratory atmosphere to enjoy while shopping. Whether in the historic Prague squares or the beautiful Copenhagen gardens, you can pick up exceptional presents and experience old European traditions.
Many holiday shoppers prefer to order gifts online and avoid crowds, but the unique shopping opportunities during the holiday season around Europe can be enjoyable for all. Xmas is a best holiday destination of itself! So how to determine your shopping destination? Read through our list of the "Best Christmas Markets in Europe". This link is to the Wikipedia's Christmas market definition.
Dating from 1786, Barcelona's traditional Christmas fair now has expanded to 300 and more stalls in front of the Cathedral, selling all variety of handcrafted Christmas gifts and decorations, along with poinsettias, mistletoe and Christmas trees. Always on sale is the most popular figure for Nativity scenes - curious Catalan figure of caganer (crapper) - small figure bending over steaming turd with trousers around ankles. Children line up on the giant caga tió, huge ‘shitting log’ smiley-faced, pooping out pressies when beaten viciously by stick. There is also Nativity scene contest, exhibitions and musical parades, including the Plaça Sant Jaume life-size Nativity scene. Fira de Santa Llucia is an authentic Spanish Christmas market, so you'll have difficulties to find bratwurst and glühwein here but the many restaurants around and festive atmosphere will make up for that.
- Best for: Originally. You won't find mulled wine and bratwurst here - over 300 stalls sell nativity scenes, craft and instruments.
- Eat this: No food here! You'll have to head over to La Boqueria for a simple of Barcelona's traditional festive cuisine. Try Sopa de galets-a soup cantaining pasta shells stuffed with meat.
- Buy this: A Caganer. These small nativity scene figurines, squatting with trousers dropped, are cheeky in more ways than one.
- Skip this: Ice skating at Plaza Cataluna. Check out the spectaculap Christmas light show at Torre Agbar instead.
- When is open: 30th Nov-23 Dec.
Brussels Christmas market Winter Wonders with its spectacular ice rink and light show is well known and quite popular. Through the 2-kilometers course around the historic town centre, Brussels' Winter Wonders offers unique ambiance, fairy-tale lighting, delicious dishes, quality activities, and discovery of other cultures during the event. Each year, a different guest is invited to set up market-within-the-market and share some its own traditions. Some of the past invitees are Lapland, Quebec, Provence and Tallinn. Brussels' Christmas market was founded in 2002. The theatrics include sound-and-light nightly show on Grand Place as well as a market surrounding Bourse (Stock Exchange) along Place Sainte Catherine. The big-wheel illuminates with 18,000 lights, and 200-feet-long skating rink is great. Try the traditional caricoles (peppery winkles or whelks), Belgian fluffy waffles and fries, seasonal croustillons (doughnuts), and two most welcome Belgium's additions to world cuisine: powerful beer and fine chocolates.
- Best for: Food. A wide range of European foods are found at Winter Wonderland's 240 stalls, providing nourishment for those determined to waik the full 2 kms the market stretches along.
- Eat this: Moules and Frites. Mussels and chips is great with a glass of one of Belgium's famous Trappist beers.
- Buy this: Beer. Head to Delirium Cafe-it holds the Guinnes World Record for most beers in a bar-sample their offerings and take home one or two bottles of your favourites.
- Skip this: Manneken Pis (the city's famous small statue of a boy peeing). Check out the 360 degree sound and light show around the Christmas tree in Grand Place instead.
- When is open: 29 Nov-5th Jan.
Other great Christmas markets in Belgium are Grote Markt in Antwerp and Bruges Christmas Market. The city of Bruges features spectacular medieval architecture, and its Christmas Market is famous for the erected in the Markt ice rink. Kids love the Snow & Ice Sculpture Festival, a five minute walk from Christmas Market.
Located on Vorosmarty Square in Pest district of Budapest, city's Christmas fair is great to experience traditional food of Hungary, live music and folk dances. The variety of hot drinks include hot chocolate punch and spicy hot apple juice, as well as the chance to try baked goods, like strudels, toki pompos (dough, oven-baked) and langos (fried bread with different toppings). This market has around 150 stalls, plenty of local culture and art, including puppet theatres. All products sold on Vorosmarty Square are traditionally handmade, with a guarantee by professional jury.
- Best for: Culture. Puppet shows,traditional music and folk dancing,all within the surrounds of Budapest's gorgeous baroque and neoclassical architecture.
- Eat this: Chimney cake, or Kurtoskalacs. Pastry Wrapped around a spit, baked over an open charcoal fire, and then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
- Buy this: Matyo-patterned accessories. The ornate and colourful embroidery makes a great festive gift.
- Skip this: Gerbeaud House.Touristy, overcrowded and overpriced during the Christmas period.
- When is open: 15th Nov-31 Dec.
Tivoli Gardens Christmas market in Copenhagen features over 120,000 sparkling lights which illuminate the lake and flower gardens. Kids love this special Christmas market, set up in the amusement park. Enjoy the traditional wooden stalls full of gifts, Danish foods and crafts, theme park rides, firework festival, a roller-coaster, an ice rink, Santa Claus, Danish Christmas pixies... they really know the best way to celebrate Christmas in Denmark. Unlike most European cities, the atmosphere here is more authentically ‘Christmassy’ and less commercial (maybe sub-zero temperatures are one of the reasons). The Russian theme is still going strong, although Nordic touches also have returned. The St. Basil's Cathedral replica remains, and the traditional Father Christmas is residing in 19th-century pantomime theatre. The gardens offer rollercoaster, ice rink, and theme park rides. Expect crowds as the market is based in the centre of capital and attracts a million visitors.
- Best for: Festive spirit. This centuries-old amusement park puts up a 1,000 Christmas trees, and rings its central lake-turned-ice-skating-rink with nine miles of bright lights to create a fantastic Christmas atmosphere.
- Eat this: Klejner. This fried pastry is ubiquitous in Denmark at Christmas. Wash it down with juleol, a dark, malted beer that's only available during the holiday season.
- Buy this: Knitwear. Get the classic Nordic look right from the source-not only will it make you super stylish, but it'll also keep you warm throughout the remainder of winter.
- Skip this: Tours. Instead, hop on a free bike and see Copenhagen's sights on two wheels.
- When is open: 15th Nov-31 Dec.
Despite the fact it's one of the younger European Christmas markets, in 2010 the '12 Days of Christmas' in Dublin attracted the record number of 145,000 visitors. Stained glass, wooden toys, craft jewellery and artwork can be found at the regenerated Dublin Docklands. German themed and carol-singing bar, as well as the carousel, mean the relative newcomer is family crowd pleaser.
- Best for: Variety. from French crepes to African artisans and Brazilian rock bands, visitors to Dublin are really spoiled for choice.
- Eat this: Check out the Fire and Food stall for juicy flame-grilled irish steak burgers and spiced apple punch.
- Buy this: Stained glass. Ireland has some of the world's most spectacular stained glass pieces.
- Skip this: Shopping in the CHQ building. Instead, walk along the River Liffey and check out the shops on Henry Street - it's more interesting and less crowded than Grafton Street.
- When is open: 12th-23rd Dec.
If you fancy an original and Scottish Christmas this year, don't miss the opportunity to visit Edinburgh Christmas market. It features the largest ice rink in Europe, stunning views from Ferris Wheel over Edinburgh Castle, Santa's train and Grotto, several choirs and shows. Every year, in Princes Street Gardens, Christmas comes to live with interesting rides and German Christmas Markets. You can find all customary Christmas goodies in the wooden chalets, along with handmade decorations and gifts. There's a good selection of craft items and food.
- Best for: The best thing about Edinburgh Christmas market is that it's open until the 5th of January and while markets in Germany tend to close by the 23rd of December, you can keep on Christmas fun in Edinburgh. Stay for Hogmanay, which is the absolute best New Year celebration in the world.
- Eat this: hot mulled wine and Christmas cookies.
- Buy this: a ride!
- When is open: 22nd Nov-5th Jan.
The Christmas market in Krakow takes place every year amid Old Town historic district, on city’s Rynek Glowny central square. It starts in the last November days and lasts through the 26th of December or even longer, to the 6th of January sometimes. The wooden stands sell Christmas decorations and goodies, as well as delicious sweets. The open-air eateries feature mulled wine and hearty meals. There are additional attractions as folk dances, shows and concerts of carols.
- Best for: Tradition. Polish Christmas carols are centuries-old and the city's main square has hosted markets since the 13th century
- Eat this: Fried oscypek cheese. This salty sheep's milk cheese is breaded, friend and served with lingonberry compote.
- Buy this: Amber. Amber's a local speciality; you'll find a number of stalls run by locals selling beautiful jewellery crafted from the golden, fossilised resin.
- Skip this: Wawel Castle. Instead check out the entrans to the city's annual szopki competition.These elaborately decorated nativity scenes were introdused to Poland in the 13th century, representing one of Krakow's oldest and most distinct customs.
- When is open: 25th Nov-5th Jan.
Lille has great activities during holiday season - it's situated along the northern border of France and is capital of French Flanders. The whole town around Christmas market is covered with huge garlands' crown. Lille's primary market is on Place Rihour, in 80 wooden chalets with extraordinary gift ideas, Christmas decorations, nativity figurines and festive food. The nearby Grand Place features 50-m high Big Wheel which lights up square and provides amazing view of the whole city.
- Best for: Lights. Lille is illuminated with thousand of fairy lights and le Grand Roue, the market's Ferris wheel, is the dramatic centrepiece of the elaborate light display.
- Eat this: Gaufre fouree/Originating in Lille. This is a delectable oval-shaped waffle stuffed with chocolate or brown sugar.
- Buy this: Chuque du nord. A coffee-flavoured candy filled with soft caramel typical of the region, presented in a red and white striped wrapper.
- Skip this: Ferris wheel ride.Instead, navigate 17th century cobblestone streets on foot and explore the beautiful architecture, statues and the palace in Vieux-Lille.
- When is open: 20th Nov-30 Dec.
London features several yearly Christmas markets and ice rinks. There are great activities and markets on either side of Thames during holiday season in addition to London's Christmas decorations. Southbank Centre Christmas Market offers 80 wooden cabins that sell gifts, bratwurst and gluhwein to enjoy while strolling along the waterfront. Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland is probably the best known Christmas market in London with more than 200 chalets featuring handmade decorations and gifts. Food and drink selections at Winter Wonderland are the most extensive, with options that include Bavarian village, outdoor fire pit, even a bar modeled after alpine ski lodge. The carnival rides are in addition to food and shopping. Another option is the Skate rink at Somerset House Ice Rink, with DJs spinning tunes after dark.
- Best for: 60-m (197-feet) high Observation Wheel and the largest ice rink in Britain
- Eat this: mince pies, roasted chestnuts (with mulled wine, of course)
- When is open: 20th Nov-24th Dec
- Other Christmas markets in England we could recommend are: in Birmingham - the "Second City" of UK - Frankfurt Christmas market, running for twelve years already. You can sip on hot mulled wine and German lager amongst the crowds, buy fresh pretzels, delicious hot chocolate and hand made gifts. No matter what time, you can join the crowds of festive people - folk music and laughter fill the air.
Prague's Christmas markets take place in Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square. The markets feature the expected holiday decor and wooden toys, but they also offer Czech specialties, like blacksmith's wares, ceramics and glasswork. Food is slightly different from German standards, although blood sausages, grog and gingerbread are offered, but there are vendors with corn on cob and trdelnik (dough cooked with sugar and cinnamon). If you're in town around 20th December, you'll see carp frequently offered - dining on it is Prague's Christmas Eve tradition. Visitors seek for unusual drink and food rather than decoration and gifts - in the week leading to Vánoce (Christmas) holiday, streets sport enormous water tubs filled with carp (traditional Czech Christmas dish). Don't forget to try the traditional Czech beverage grog and honey liquor. Around 5 p.m. every night the Christmas tree lights are switched on and provide a stunning sight. Dressed in traditional costumes carol singers all around from Czech Republic complete the enchanting market.
- Best for: After-parties. Prague is already popular for its beer and ambiance. Throw in mulled wine and the Christmas spirit, and a merry time is had by all.
- Eat this: Fish soup, or rybi polevka. This typical Christmas dish will definitely keep you warm while you explore.
- Buy this: Handmade puppets dressed in traditional Czech garb. The craft of puppet making has been passed down countless generations.
- Skip this: Nativity scene exhibitions. Instead, climb up Prasna brana, the Powder Tower, for a beautiful view of Prague all dressed up for Christmas.
- When is open: 30th Nov-12th Jan.
Skansen’s Christmas market is ultra-traditional - it has been held since 1903 annually. Skansen is like outdoor cultural museum, it's historic, so you'll see how a Christmas market during the 1800's looked in Sweden. Homemade jams, mustards, sausages, breads, cakes and marzipan, as well as the traditional handicrafts (embroidery, leather, holiday decorations). Join with kids the variety of activities for children and family-friendly song & dance. Skansen is situated on the island of Djurgården. Regular ferries are provided from Slussen.
- Eat this: Christmas fare such as eel, salmon, smoked sausage, pepparkakor (gingersnaps), saffron buns and glögg (mulled wine).
- Buy this: Look out for craft products, hand-dipped candles and traditional Christmas ornaments that are made of straw
- When is open: 24th Nov-16th Dec (only during weekends).
Tallinn Christmas market originated in 2001 and is not the biggest market, but has lots of charm featuring the most important Estonian Christmas tree surrounded by the traditional Christmas stalls. Tallinn Christmas market is set among cobbled streets and medieval squares. With a handful of stalls around Old Town Hall Square - Raekoja plats, selling hats, sweaters, gloves, Estonian arts and crafts, the market is very charming. Tallinn's Raekoja plats is the spot where the first public Christmas tree was put on display in Europe. Fun holiday activities include outdoor skating rink, jazz and classical concerts, illuminated snow sculptures, and Santa's house where kids post Christmas list and feed baby reindeer.
- Best for: Setting. With blankets of snow on market stall roots, medieval architecture, and a tall, lavishly decorated Christmas tree at the centre of it all, Tallinn looks like something straight out of a fairy tale.
- Eat this: Blood sausage. A lot more appetising than they look, these traditional Estonian Christmas treats makes for a tasty snack. Try the Glogi - Estonian mulled wine.
- Buy this: Candles. Estonia is known for its spas. Hand-poured, all-natural scented candles are a cheap and easy way of recreating the relaxing atmosphere of an Estonoan spa at home.
- When: 22nd Nov-8th Jan
The Netherlands also have long traditions of Christmas markets, but Valkenburg Christmas market is the most unique. Each year during Christmas holidays, Valkenburg transforms in real Christmas town and features Christmas markets in caves. Enjoy the usual Christmas activities, but also see the Christmas parade which is twice a week with Santa Clause himself. As visitors wander around the cave, they meet tables full of displays from local artisans. Every year they show a unique theme - the scenes are set up throughout market and tell stories related to the theme. The cave is worth a visit with mural paintings throughout. It looks more spectacular with holiday lights and festive decorations. Velvet, Wilhelmina and Municipal caves sound intriguing even on their own.
- Best for: Unique themes.
- Buy this: The typical stalls offer all you would find at other Christmas markets: beautiful crafts, delicious food, and plenty of holiday decorations.
- When is open: 24 Nov-23 Dec.
The german style Piazza dei Signori christmas market in Verona sells german specialty foodstuffs and handmade items. Sip vin brulé on a cold night, or eat specialty breads and wurst while the kids visit babbo natale and whisper christmas wishes. Around 60 exhibitors usually offer their crafts and products, glass Christmas decorations, ceramic and wood creations, as well as original gift ideas. Piazza dei Signori (known also as Piazza Dante), is accompanied by typical flavours and smells of Christmas specialties as mulled wine, delicious sandwiches and sweets with typical Nuremberg sauerkraut and sausages.
- Best for: Charm. The Veronese market is small and intimate, but still has plenty of choice.Look out for the giant Christmas star falling from the adjacent Roman Arena.
- Eat this: Pandoro. Originating from Verona, the loaf is a delicious sweet bread shaped like an 8-point star, dusted with icing sugar so it looks like the Italian Alps during Christmas.
- Buy this: Antique style, handmade ornaments for your Christmas tree.
- Skip this: Juliet's balcony. Explore the Roman Arena instead - every Christmas the spectacular historic venue plays host to an international axhibition of nativity scenes.
- When is open: 23rd Nov-21st Dec.
Germany has long Christmas markets tradition for centuries like the ones in Frankfurt, Dresden, Munich and Bautzen. However, Vienna is forerunner with the traditional yearly "December market", dating back to 1294. Today Vienna features about 20 Christmas markets yearly and Christkindlmarkt in front of City Hall is the most famous. Besides the wooden cabins, traditional for Christmas, it features Christmas stories, special post office, and International Advent Caroling. More than 150 stalls sell Christmas decorations, gifts, hot chestnuts and gluhwein (mulled wine). Two other Christmas venues that are uite popular are the Freyung Viennese Christmas Market, which is traditional, selling handicrafts, and in front of Schonbrunn Palace - the Christmas Market , which offers imperial backdrop and also hosts New Year's market - open until January 1.
- Best for: Short attention spans. In Vienna, there are at least four major markets with different themes.
- Eat this: Maroni (roasted chestnuts) and Weinachtspunsch. Enjoy a packet of the open drum-roasted snacks with a warm punch made with tea, red wine, rum, spices and fruit juices.
- Buy this: Mozartkugel. Originating in Vienna, these traditional chocolates are unique for their pistachio marzipan and nougat centres, individually wrapped in a portrait of Mozart.
- Skip this: The market in Rathausplatz. Instead, explore the Museum Quartier where the Winter Village is. It's six ice pavilions, light projections, stalls and museums, are hugely popular with Vienna's hip crowd. Don't miss Mumok-Vienna's modern art museum.
- When is open: 15th Nov-24 Dec (dates differ at every market).
Christmas is a social affair for the Viennese. People meet up for spicy Christmas cookies, chestnuts and Punsch or Glühwein (local mulled wine). The principal hotspots are:
- Altwiener Christkindlmarkt (23 Nov-23 Dec) - in front of Salzburg cathedral; bringing cosier arty feel with stalls that sell handmade wares. The looming Hohensalzburg Fortress and baroque architecture give a fairy tale feeling. As Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart, it has outstanding musical tradition - there are choral performances and you may to hear some of the best students in Europe perform. Another musical claim to fame was also born in Salzburg: Joseph Mohr, the lyricist behind the most famous Christmas carol "Silent Night".
- Rathausplatz market (17 Nov-24 Dec) - with tacky stalls, but Rathausplatz is worth a visit for the glimpse of Advent windows on the decorated by local artists Town Hall, and the tree illuminations in park.
- Schönbrunn Palace market (24 Nov-26 Dec) - spectacular backdrop with more upmarket stalls.
- Spittelberg market (15 Nov-23 Dec) - set in cobbled streets between Siebensterngasse and Burggasse in the 7th district, one of the loveliest. You can find goods not offered elsewhere.
Germany is well known for the variety of beautiful Christmas markets - from the popular Cologne market to the small one in Monschau. However, the most famous one, without any doubt is Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt.
Nuremberg Christmas Market "Christkindlesmarkt"
Dating from 1600s, Nuremberg Christmas market occupies Main Square under towering Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). Christkind opens Christmas market the Friday before Advent every year with impressive ceremony. This market has long tradition and you'll find all original things here - glühwein, bavarian bratwurst and hand-made gifts. The stalls, with candy-striped awnings, sell all traditional handcrafts, including carved wooden toys and "smoker" man (carved figure holding smoking incense inside). The horse-drawn stagecoach will take you on a ride over the medieval old city's cobblestone streets. On weekends, Nuremberg Christmas market is a mass of people who huddle together to stay warm. But during the week, explore the Christkindlesmarkt in tranquility, eat the local Nuremberger sausages (three in a roll) and drink glühwein (hot mulled wine).
- Best for: Atmosphere. Nurembergers know how to put on a Christmas market - they've been doing it for nearly 400 years!
- Eat this: Nuremberg bratwurst. Try it with mustard and kraut and wash down with a boot-shaped mug of Gluhwein.
- Buy this: Prune men. These dried plum figures were first created as children's toys during the Thirty Years'War. Found in a multitude of sizes and characters, they're now one of the most popular gifts to bring home from the Nuremberg Christmas market.
- Skip this: Gingerbread from the market stalls. Instead, head to one of the local bakeries where you'll find a delicious selection of fresh lebkuchen (cookies made from gingerbread).
- When is open: 29th Nov-24th Dec
Dresden Christmas Market "Striezelmarkt"
The popular Christmas market in Dresden transforms the city into winter wonderland on River Elbe. The city of Dresden is filled with festivities and sparkling lights. Traditionally known as 'Striezelmarkt', Dresden Christmas market is the oldest in Germany, as it dates back to 1434. It's named after city's famous culinary creation - Christmas Stollen, sweet fruitcake in the shape of loaf, dusted with icing sugar. The highlight of Dresden Christmas annual market is the Stollen Festival, which is held in December, on the second Sunday - a giant Stollen weighing 3,000 kg is carried to the market where it's ceremonially sliced and then distributed to the visitors. The parade is presided by a ‘Miss Cake’ - ‘Stollenmädchen’. Dresden Christmas market is old fashioned and pretty, with more than 250 stalls that sell traditional wares and festive arts and crafts. Regional vendors display pottery and indigo-printed textiles from Lusatia; wooden ornaments from Erzgebirge mountain villages; paper advent stars, wickerwork and Plauen lace from Herrnhut.
Many other markets can be found around Dresden, and each of them has its own attractions and intimate flair. The popular Frauenkirche, Loschwitz, and especially the charming Residenzschloss Christmas markets are worth mentioning.
- Best for: Tradition and original displays - the Christmas market in Dresden is the place to see the tallest Christmas pyramid in the world - the stunning 14 meters high.
- Eat this: Christmas Stollen, of course!
- Buy this: hand-blown delicate glass baubles from Lauscha; hand-made Saxony ceramics in bright blue and white.
- When is open: 27th Nov-24 Dec.
Berlin Christmas Market "Kaiser Wilhelm"
Berlin is the state's capital city and the capital of Traditional Christmas Market. That is what Berlin could be described as, if judged on quantity, as every year it has more than fifty Christmas markets across the city.
The most popular is Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, receiving two million visitors per year, who come for the jewellery, artwork and decorations on sale as well as to indulge in clichéd seasonal pleasures - mulled wine and chestnuts. When is open: 24 Nov-1 Jan.
Munich Christmas Market "Marienplatz"
Many people associate the Bavarian capital with Oktoberfest, but Munich also holds fantastic Christmas market in center of the city on Marienplatz. The Munich market surrounds enormous Christmas tree with 2,500 lights. Visitors can find traditional Bavarian gifts - wood carvings or gingerbread called lebkuchen, while sipping on beer or gluhwein (mulled warmed wine).
Throughout the city there are smaller markets - one unique is Manger Market, selling the components for those who try to build authentic manger.
To search for Christmas and New Year river cruises by departure port, country and company, you can use the CruiseMapper's Xmas cruise finder. Be sure to select "River" in the "Ship Type" box.