Imagine angelic Christmas carolers singing. Picture wooden toy shops and sugar-laced stalls. Think of fluffy Belgian waffles doused in gooey chocolate and the sweet aroma of Glühwein hanging in the air. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
On an Xmas market break in Europe, you’ll experience a banquet of first-class festivities. With everything from traditional light festivals in Amsterdam to trendy eco-friendly get-togethers in Berlin to choose from, one thing’s for sure: you won’t regret spending Advent in Europe.
Just imagine stomping through the snow to get to the twinkly lights of Cologne Cathedral. During Xmas, this gorgeous basilica is circled by friendly locals fronting neat pine stalls adorned in colourful wares. And then there’s Vienna, home to some of the most romantic Christmas market trips in Europe. Here you will find the sparkling Schönbrunn Palace, a lavish neo-classical structure which sits behind 60 stalls clad with hand-blown glass and lebkuchen (gingerbread).
Christmas markets in Amsterdam, Netherlands
When to visit: From 29 November 2018 to 20 January 2019
While many cities host just one annual Christmas market, Amsterdam has a whopping 26!
One of the best Christmas markets in Amsterdam can be found at Leidseplein, where visitors can sample the region’s must-try snack, Oliebollen (Dutch doughnuts).
Playful stalls offer easy-to-grab snacks like waffles and sausages, while cosy restaurants serve up some of the region’s finest local delicacies – like Bitterballen, a deep fried meatball served with mustard.
Those who want to burn off excess calories can head to Museumplein, where a gigantic ice rink sits in front of the Rijksmuseum. Here visitors will also find the ‘Ice Village’, a winter wonderland offering festive music, gifts, treats and delicious mulled wine.
Be sure to visit the Amsterdam Light Festival during the Advent period, an annual light art festival with unique installations. Here you can expect to see Amsterdam’s famous canals lit up like the Las Vegas Strip.
Christmas markets in Berlin, Germany
When to visit: From 23 November to 31 December 2018
Christmas in Berlin seems to get more extravagant every year – the city boasts more than sixty markets across its grand boulevards, squares and side streets.
However, the most intriguing Christmas market breaks in Berlin often begin at the Bröhan Museum. Organised by residents of Charlottenburg, visitors can expect to find handicrafts, sizzling sausages and one of Germany’s greatest exports, Glühwein, by the bucket (or stein) load.
If this still isn’t enough to keep you toasty, take a visit to the Weihnachtsrodeo. This indoor market offers a medley of handmade Xmas decorations, home décor and unconventional apparel. Beyond this, vegans will adore the Eco Christmas Market at Sophienstraße, while romantics will fall head over heels for the twinkling lights at the Kulturbrauerei.
Christmas markets in Bruges, Belgium
When to visit: From 23 November 2018 to 1 January 2019
One could argue that other Christmas market trips pale in comparison to picturesque Bruges. Medieval architecture, rustic cobbled streets and horse-drawn carts combine to create a city fit for a fairy tale.
For the biggest of all of Bruges’ festivities, head to Bruges Christmas Market. Whether it’s twinkling fairy lights reflecting off the nearby canal, or snow-dusted wooden chalets sprawling the Grote Markt, this Christmas market in Bruges gives Lapland a run for its money in winter.
If you want to feel über Christmassy (and you’ve got the energy!) try taking the 366 steps up to the Belfry of Bruges – a medieval bell tower which commands panoramic views over the market. And after all that hard work, why not treat yourself to a block of Belgian chocolate at the smaller, but equally sublime, Simon Stevinplein Square?
Christmas markets in Brussels, Belgium
When to visit: From 30 November 2018 to 6 January 2019
Just a short drive from Bruges, Brussels boasts Belgium’s biggest Christmas market. Covering a 2km stretch from Grand Place to Place Sainte Catherine, Brussels Christmas Market consists of more than 250 gingerbread-style chalets.
Crane your neck towards the sky to take in the Market’s famous Ferris wheel and over-the-top Christmas tree – bestowed from the city of Riga. From brass bands to brasseries, performance art to ice sculptures, Brussels Christmas Market holidays come fully stocked with festive fun.
Those looking for more magic should head to the nightly Sound and Light show at the Grand Place UNESCO World Heritage site. Synchronising the booming beat of classical Christmas tunes with the Grand Palace’s twinkly festive lighting, this is one spectacle you simply must capture on video.
Christmas markets in Cologne, Germany
When to visit: From 26 November to 23 December 2018
Follow the Rhine River to the city of Cologne and you will find seven quintessentially German Christmas markets.
The four largest reside on the Alter Markt, Neumarkt, Rudolfplatz and at the Cologne Cathedral. The latter, known locally as Kölner Dom, is famous for its twin spires, sweeping river views and gigantic Christmas tree – the largest in the Rhineland! This brightly-lit tree casts a festive shadow over more than 160 wooden pavilions (or “Buden”), each serving up everything from sweet delicacies to “the original Christmas mulled wine.”
One of the best Cologne Christmas market’s, the Angel’s Christmas Market, is also arguably the longest-running in the city. Placed prettily on the Neumarkt, visitors can find handmade artisan goods sat alongside delicious homemade egg punch. The highlight, however, is when Santa Claus makes his grand entrance on horseback; an experience starry-eyed children are sure to remember.
Christmas markets in Prague, Czech Republic
When to visit: From 1 December 2018 to 6 January 2019
Nicknamed “the City of a Hundred Spires”, Prague transforms into a gothic winter wonderland come Christmas time. The city’s ubiquitous spires are cushioned in snow, while pastel-coloured townhouses abound with fairy lights. To top it off, a colossal Christmas tree – imported each year from the Krkonoše Mountains in the north–sits as a centerpiece in Staroměstskénáměstí (the Old Town Square).
While visitors will find plenty of souvenirs on offer– think wooden toys and Czech glass –Prague Christmas market breaks are perhaps better known for their hearty food. In the week leading up to the Vánoce (Christmas) holiday, Wenceslas Square teems with barrels of carp – the traditional Czech Christmas dish. Less adventurous travellers will find traditional fried-dough and svařenévíno (mulled wine) also on offer.
Christmas markets in Stockholm, Sweden
When to visit: From 24 November until 23 December 2018
The festive period just isn’t the same without snow – and Scandinavia, with its sprawling forests and cosy chalets, is the perfect place to get into the festive spirit.
Immerse yourself in Swedish Yuletide traditions with a visit to Skansen, Stockholm’s Christmas market holiday hot spot. Skansen Market has been running since 1903 and is famed for selling sumptuous Scandinavian treats like spiced quince ham, cinnamon cookies and gravlax. Visitors will also find leather goods and fragrant spices.
Plenty more Stockholm Christmas market trips can be found scattered across the city. Art enthusiasts will enjoy Design Julmarknad, a market featuring handmade products; while those who are in search of serenity may prefer the Sigtuna Christmas Market, set in the quaint north town of the same name.
Christmas markets in Vienna, Austria
When to visit: From 17th November to 26th December 2018
Like neighbouring Germany, Austria has more Christmas market trips than you can shake a bauble at. One of the best is in Vienna, where the city transforms into one big winter wonderland over the festive period.
Rathausplatz is one of the more overstated of Vienna’s Christmas markets, with its spectacular neo-gothic town hall illuminating the bustling square beneath. Head to the Old Viennese Christmas Market for a quieter affair, where visitors can sample apfel strudel or maroni (chestnuts)without the crowds.
The city’s magnum opus, however, is the Advent Market by the Karlskirche. An imposing baroque church towers over an array of tasteful Christmas stalls, which mainly offer regional artistic crafts. Here you will also find art installations, fire-dancing, and pony trekking for kids. A trip to Christmas Market Schönbrunn is also recommended for those who want to sample Austrian delicacies like “Sachertorte”, a delicious chocolate cake, or “Salzburger Nockerl”, a light and fluffy dessert which resembles Salzburg’s snow-capped mountains.
Christmas markets in Kraków, Poland
When to visit: From 30 November to 26 December 2018
There is no better place to soak up the Polish festive atmosphere than at the Kraków Christmas Market.
Here you can expect to see scores of wooden stalls selling jewellery, handicrafts and adorable Christmas trinkets in the grandiose square of RynekGłówny.
Those in search of food won’t be disappointed either: a smorgasbord of sausages, dumplings and local cheeses are ready to take away, while adults can sample the city’s infamous flavoured vodka!
As you amble around the main square you might notice an array of handmade nativity cribs. These recreations of the city’s baroque churches and cathedrals are known as ‘Szopki’, and are crafted by locals in the months leading up to Christmas. The winning cribs are then displayed in the city’s Historical Museum.
Christmas markets in Zagreb, Croatia
When to visit: From 2 December 2018 to 6 January 2019
In a country better known for its flawless beaches and Game of Thrones sightseeing tours, Zagreb is quickly establishing itself as a premier winter destination for travellers.
In fact, Croatia’s capital city puts on such a good show when Advent comes around that it has been voted the ‘Best Christmas Market in Europe’ for two years running!Brass band fanfares, ice sculptures, an enormous skating rink; you name it, Zagreb’s Christmas Market has it.
The city’s Advent programme takes place in the streets surrounding Jelačić Square, close to Zrinjevac Park, and plays home to musical performances, swathes of roasted hazelnut stalls and must-see Christmas decorations. Young travellers will love taking a ride on the Jolly Christmas Tram along with Santa Claus, elves and fairies.