Everyone knows that Christmas is not just a one-day celebration. In fact, the festivities leading up to the 25th are just as long-anticipated as Christmas Day itself. The European Christmas Markets have long been established as a hallmark of these festivities. Twinkly lights and delightful huts start making an appearance in European towns from late November. So with the season to be jolly already upon us, the question that remains is where will you be among all this jolliness? Read through our comprehensive guide to the best European Christmas Markets and find the one that’s for you.
1. Strasbourg, France: The Largest
Voted as the “Best Christmas Market” in Europe for two years in a row, Strasbourg is now known as the “Capital of Christmas”. The market was first set up in 1570. Since then, it has grown to be the largest one in Europe, as well as the oldest. Thousands of visitors from all around the world start gathering in Strasbourg in late November, to enjoy the festivities.
Apart from traditional festive activities, the Strasbourg Christmas Market has distinguished itself with the special guest country village. Inviting a different country to set up every year, Strasbourg gives countries the opportunity to showcase their traditions and charms, in the spirit of mutuality. This year’s guest country is none other than Portugal!
So, if you do find yourself in Strasbourg this month, do not miss out on exploring the charming Portuguese Village. I also recommend trying the bredele, a traditional Alsatian Christmas biscuit. With over 300 stalls to explore, spread out over 12 locations, there will be no end to your festive discoveries!
2. Brussels, Belgium: The Tastiest
Brussels is a foodie’s paradise destination any time of the year. But, throw in one holiday season and one Christmas Market and you’ve got yourself a decadent collection of irresistible treats. With over 250 stalls, from Grande Place to Place St. Catherine, the centre of Brussels transforms itself into a spectre of festivity.
Walking among the stalls you will notice irresistible food smells greeting you from every corner. Take your pick from giant hot dogs, stuffed potatoes with mushrooms, and of course, the famous Belgian fries. If you are a cheese lover, do not miss out on trying the tartiflette. It is a traditional French dish that consists of potatoes, onions, and a bacon-like meat, topped with a luxurious reblochon cheese.
Or, if you are in for a more upscale experience, head to the oyster and champagne stall at the Grande Place, from where you can enjoy the beautiful light projection show. Sweet tooths will also not be left wanting, as they can take their pick among Belgian chocolates, waffles, and all kinds of sugar-covered fried dough. If you end up feeling too full too soon, you can always stock up on delicious artisan cheeses, bread, and spreads, to take back home.
3. Budapest, Hungary: The Folkiest
Being a relatively smaller Christmas Market, with just 150 stalls, Budapest’s Christmas Market more than makes up for what it lacks in size in authenticity!
Set up around the Vörösmarty Square, the market truly showcases Hungarian traditions. Get in touch with the local culture by trying traditional Hungarian cuisine. Famous dishes include the goulash made with prunes, grilled meats, and lepény flatbreads baked in clay ovens. My personal favourite is the beigli, a poppy seed roll pastry made up of sweet pastry and a rich, bittersweet, poppy seed filling. Accompany these delicious treats with fragrant winter beverages such as the krampampuli, a fiery Hungarian variation of mulled wine.
And do not forget the many traditional folk dances, puppet shows, and live music performances taking place! To culminate this delightful experience check out the handmade creations at the arts and crafts stalls. Your souvenirs are guaranteed to be one of a kind!
3. Copenhagen, Denmark: The Most Enchanting
Let me set the scene for you: beautiful gardens, fairy lights, Danish pixies, and a magical atmosphere. What could be more enchanting than that? Set up at the Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen’s most famous market feels like something straight out of a fairytale. With light shows taking place throughout the evening, and a lot of exciting roller coasters to choose from, you are guaranteed to have an unforgettable time!
Check out the cosy booths selling delicious treats, such as apple pancakes and hard candy. You will also find homemade crafts, porcelain, and traditional sweaters. But, that’s not all there is!
The Tivoli Christmas Market has a lot more to offer, with festive shows like the Nutcracker, taking place at the Tivoli Concert Hall. You can even attend a Gingerbread Workshop at the Hans Christian Andersen Castle. If you are looking for a truly magical Christmas experience, this is the place to be!
4. Prague, Czech Republic: The Most Historical
Immerse yourself in an authentically Czech experience by visiting Prague’s historic Christmas Market. Taking place at the heart of the old town, you can enjoy the impressive gothic-esque architecture, under the dazzling festive lights. Listen to beautiful Czech carols, and see traditional Czech dishes being made in front of you. The sight of large hams being roasted on spits and delicious cakes prepared on the spot is certain to make your belly grumble. If that’s the case, do not miss out on trying the trdelník. It is sweet pastry made up of dough rolled on a stick, and coated with a mix of warm sugar and walnuts.
Walk along the stalls and explore the wonderful selection of the traditional handicrafts being sold. Discover antique toys, such as wooden puppets and dolls in traditional dress. You can also purchase beautiful ceramics, embroidered lace, and skilfully crafted Christmas ornaments.
Follow the trail of stalls and eventually, you will find yourself at the old town square. There you will witness the dazzling sight of the majestic Christmas tree. This is not an average Christmas tree. It is specially chosen and shipped from Česká Lípa, in the North of Prague. Animal lovers will also be delighted to know that there is an animal staple at the square, where you can pet sheep, goats, and donkeys.
Visiting this uniquely historical Christmas Market is like stepping into an older time. One that’s embroidered with Czech tradition and sparkles under the festive lights.
5. Mount Pilatus, Switzerland: The Most Secluded
Situated at 2132m above sea level, this one-of-a-kind Christmas Market takes the title for being the highest one in Europe. Just a quick ride away from Luzern, this Christmas Market is perfect for a wintery excursion with friends and family. Take the cable car to the very top of Mount Pilatus and enjoy the scenic views and snowy landscape.
Once you reach the top, you will find yourself surrounded by richly decorated stalls, selling treats and goodies for people of all ages! Treat yourself to some homemade gingerbread and enjoy the mulled wine. You can also buy beeswax candles and other stocking fillers to take back home. If the smell of freshly baked goodies, the sound of the festive music, and the sight of the snowy mountains, doesn’t get you into the Christmas spirit then nothing will!
Conclude your Christmas shopping by riding on the world’s steepest cogwheel railway on your way back. Or, if you are looking for even more of a rush, you can dash downhill on a sledge or snow-bike. This delightful Christmas Market is ideal for experiencing the best that Switzerland has to offer, wrapped in a Christmas bow.