The Best Christmas Markets in Europe
The Best Christmas Markets in Europe

Across Europe, the start of Advent heralds the opening of seasonal markets. It’s a custom that dates back hundreds of years and one whose popularity shows no signs of waning. Some markets open daily for a month, typically starting in late November, though a handful remain open until early January. Others are weekend events, drawing crowds each weekend in December. Parades, concerts and historic re-enactments also round out the festive calendar, so it's wise to check local listings before making plans. If you're in the area, or planning a visit, make sure to check out these fabulous European Christmas markets.

Regensburg, Germany

High angle view of a church and Christmas market surrounding it at night.
Credit: Mikhail Markovskiy/ Shutterstock

In Bavaria, the UNESCO-listed old town of Regensburg boasts several delightful Christmas markets. Be sure to visit St Emmeram Castle, where the aristocratic Thurn und Taxis family extend a warm welcome to market-goers throughout Advent. In fact, the castle's beautiful garden is only open to the public at this time of year. Browse the stalls of the charming handicrafts market, where you might shop for wood carvings and sheepskin rugs. Chat with potters, jewelers, soap makers, basket weavers, and milliners as they create one-off pieces. Warm up in front of a fire pit as you refuel on Regensburger Knackersemmel (local sausage), wildschwein am Spieß (spit-roasted pork), and Altoberpfälzer Suppe im Brotleib (soup served in a hollowed-out hunk of bread).

Copenhagen, Denmark

Swing ride at Tivoli Gardens and surrounds decorated in Christmas lights.
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Scandinavia also goes big on Advent markets, and the arguably the best of the bunch are in the Danish capital. Tivoli, a historic amusement park in the heart of the city, hosts Copenhagen’s most eye-catching market. Festooned with fairylights and colorful decorations, this magical place opens specially for the Christmas season. When you can bear to drag yourself away, there are plenty of other markets across the city center. One of the most unusual is the Raw Julemarked, which places its emphasis on the unconventional and alternative work of talented artisans. Others worth investigating include the ØsterGRO Christmas Market, spread over the rooftop farm and the surrounding yard, and the Grønt Marked, where the emphasis is on seasonal, local produce.

Salzburg, Austria

Aerial of a Christmas market at night.
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The stalls of Salzburg Christkindlmarkt spill across Dom and Residenzplatz in the charming Altstadt (old town). Around a hundred wooden cabins selling handicrafts, décor pieces, and traditional foods trade under a canopy of fairylights. Salzburg was the birthplace of Mozart, so it’s fitting that there are choir and classical concert performances throughout Advent. A short bus ride gets you to the Hellbrunner Adventzauber. Located in the grounds of Schloss Hellbrunn, this cozy market boasts myriad local arts and crafts. A 26-foot-tall Christmas angel dominates the palace garden, known for its famous trick fountains. But a word of warning: no matter where in Salzburg you are, listen out for the telltale bells of the Krampus, a frightening creature who prowls the streets to chase away the dark spirits of winter.

Krakow, Poland

Food vendor stall and person cooking.
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You’ll find Krakow’s lively Christmas market in Rynek Glowny, which just so happens to be Europe's largest market square. It envelopes the splendid Cloth Hall, a Renaissance gem which itself contains little wooden huts selling local amber. Polish textiles, wood carvings, and hand-painted glass baubles are among the many local souvenirs you can buy here. But winters can be harsh this far south in Poland, and it’s not uncommon to see snow on the ground. But there’s plenty of hot food to feast on. Pile a plate high with delicious ham hocks and fried potatoes or oscypek, which are cubes of meat and sheep’s cheese threaded onto skewers and grilled. If you’re after a snack on the go, grab a few pierogi (Polish dumplings) to munch on as you amble about.

Stockholm, Sweden

People walking around Christmas market, with dusting of snow on the ground.
Credit: Oleksiy Mark/ Shutterstock

Gamla Stan is Stockholm’s historic old town and one of its cutest squares, Stortorget, is the setting for a small but atmospheric Christmas market that’s been held since medieval times. Around 40 stalls set up here, surrounded by brightly colored buildings. Over on Djurgården Island, Skansen, the world’s oldest open air museum, hosts a weekend market throughout December in a tradition that dates back to 1903. There, you’ll also find a slew of wooden structures rescued from across Sweden and its Nordic neighbors as well as enclosures housing wildlife such as reindeer, wolves, and Arctic foxes. Time your visit to coincide with the festival of Santa Lucia. Swedes celebrate it around December 13th, and in the capital, the date is commemorated with a candlelit concert in the city’s cathedral.  

Strasbourg, France

Christmas decorations for sale at booth in Christmas market.
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Strasbourg hosts France’s oldest Christmas market on Place Broglie. They call it the Christkindelsmärik or Market of the Infant Jesus, and it dates back to 1570. This Alsace city styles itself as the Capital of Christmas and goes all out for Advent with several hundred enchanting little chalets. Get your bearings in front of the magnificent Christmas tree that dominates Place Kléber before heading over to the market by the cathedral. Show solidarity for good causes at Marché OFF — it specializes in recycled goods and fair trade items. Foodies are well catered for, too. Pick up gourmet delicatessen products on Palais Rohan’s terrace and the Place du Marché-aux-poissons. Munch on Mannele bread and Bredele cookies with a mug of vin chaud in hand – though here in Alsace it’s traditionally white, not red.

Tallinn, Estonia

Aerial of a Christmas market in Tallinn, Estonia.
Credit: snowflakediana/ Shutterstock

Tallinn’s Christmas market fills pretty Raekoja Plats and is overlooked by a very special tree under which it is customary to make a wish. The tree is erected in the run up to Christmas in a tradition that dates back to 1441. The market was revived in the 1990s, and today, stallholders in timber chalets sell handicrafts including woollen knits, sheepskins, hand-carved wood items, and glittering decorations as folk musicians play to an enthusiastic audience. Tallinn’s Christmas market is also a fine place to try Estonian festive cuisine, such as local sausage, pork or black pudding served with sauerkraut or pickled pumpkin. Indulge a sweet tooth with gingerbread, which you can further appreciate at the Gingerbread Mania exhibition. A warming glass of hot chocolate or glögi (mulled wine) is also a must to help you cope with the Baltic winter weather.

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