Europe’s Old Towns are pretty magical all year round. But there’s something about chestnuts roasting over the fire, sparkling fairy lights and falling snow that makes us wanna grab our winter gloves for a stroll through the Christmas market of our dreams.
Whether you go all out with your festive decorations (beard baubles, anyone?), or your only Christmas tradition is an annual viewing of Love Actually with your friends, experiencing the festive season in Europe is truly an IRL winter wonderland.
If you’re a little overwhelmed by all of the Christmas markets on offer, make yourself a hot choc with extra marshmallows and take a wintry journey with us.
We’ve rounded up all the top sights, foodie highlights and must-do activities from Europe’s best Christmas markets. Let’s go!
1. Budapest, Hungary
Ever wanted to go ice skating on a frozen lake in front of a Disney-esque castle? The good news: you can! Right here in Budapest, rent a pair of skates and glide in front of Vajdahunyad Castle (near Heroes’ Square).
The even better news: with its old world architecture and wide tree-lined avenues, Budapest is the perfect city to explore over the festive season. See the Nutcracker Ballet, cruise the Danube and check out the traditional market at Vorosmarty Square.
Sigh. These b-e-a-utiful sights will just about ruin you for real life.
2. Munich, Germany
In the heart of the German city that’s most famous for Oktoberfest, the Christkindlmarkt held at Marienplatz (in front of Munich Town Hall) is sure to impress beer lovers and festive fans alike.
A giant Bavarian tree is the market’s Christmas centrepiece. Don’t miss the mulled wine, German foodie treats and traditional stalls that look like mini-gingerbread houses.
Did we mention Glühwein? This sweet mulled wine is infused with fruit and spices. Sign us up! Munich, here we come!
3. Dresden, Germany
Enter: the state of Saxony and its glittering jewel on the River Elbe. Yep, we’re talking about Dresden.
The Christmas market dates back to 1434 and is famous for its 14-metre high Christmas tree.
The Dresden Striezelmarkt is named after a sweet, bready treat called Hefestriezel, which has since become the local Christollen or Christmas cake. Cute, huh?
4. Brussels, Belgium
Get the best of Belgium by festive food stall-hopping in Brussels.
First on your list is pommes frites, the delicious fries served in a cardboard cone with a side of mayonnaise.
And there’s more where those fries came from… The Winter Wonders festival features 200 chalet-style market stalls, fairground attractions and light installations in the Grand-Place, or central square of the city. See you there!
5. Bruges, Belgium
This might just be the perfect place to get into the Christmas spirit. Welcome to Bruges, home of medieval architecture, cobblestone streets, historic canals and more chocolatey goodness than you can poke a fondue stick at.
Don’t forget waffles, Belgian beer, people watching in Market Square and cute market stalls worthy of putting Santa’s workshop out of business.
6. Prague, Czech Republic
Walking the ‘City of a Hundred Spires’ is a stroll into a Golden Age past, with Gothic architecture (hello, Charles Bridge) and historic town squares dating back centuries. If you’re here over the festive period, you’ll find markets at Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square.
With only a 10-minute walk between the two markets, you’ll have plenty of time to sample all of the Czech treats. From sausages and smoky ham to trdelník (the sugar-coated rolled doughnut dipped in chocolate and cinnamon), there’s more potential for food ‘grams than your Insta can handle.
7. Interlaken, Switzerland
Prefer to escape the city? Welcome to Interlaken in the Swiss Alps, a town tucked between mountains in the Swiss canton of Bern, a place that could be mistaken for a snowglobe. No, really!
For nature lovers, this is the ideal base for Christmas adventures in the Alps. During the day, you can hit the ski slopes or take in the epic views on the train to the top of Jungfrau.
When night falls, the centre of town lights up with Ice Magic festival, an ice experience for skaters of all levels and abilities (you can even try Bavarian curling).
If you’re not a pro skater, there’s lots of fondue and Swiss hot chocolate to cheer you up.
8. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Ever wanted to visit the famous Rijksmuseum? Do it in winter, and you can take to your skates at the museum’s square with your fellow travellers to warm up from the North Sea chill.
There’s actually a Dutch word ‘gezillig’ to describe the warm and cosy feeling of having fun with your friends.
Keep the heart-warming feels going with a visit to the Christmas market, catch the annual Amsterdam Light Festival to see the canals sparkle and make your Amsterdam fling official with your first taste of Dutch pancakes (poffertjes) and waffles (stroopwafels).
9. Vienna, Austria
Make the most of the Austrian capital’s photo ops when Vienna becomes a real-life fairytale over Christmas.
Climb St Stephens Cathedral Tower for views over the snow-covered skyline, visit Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz or grab Austrian snacks at the market next to City Hall.
This city doesn’t do its Christmas decorations by halves.
10. Salzburg, Austria
Stroll through the winding streets of Salzburg‘s Old Town, made famous by its former resident genius (Mozart), before you end up in Cathedral Square.
With it’s ice skating rink, giant pretzels, Mozartkugel chocolate balls and huge, swirling pots of hot choc steeped in liquor, you could easily spend the whole day here.
As if you needed another reason to visit, there’s lots of traditional handmade crafts to be found at this mini Christmas village.
11. London, England
With a city the size of London, it comes as no surprise that there are loads of different Christmas markets to explore.
For the big one, don’t miss Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. Running for over 10 years, the guys behind Winter Wonderland sure now how to put on a show.
From zooming around the UK’s largest outdoor ice rink to admiring the circus performers, you definitely won’t be getting bored here.
Want more? Pop down to Southbank Centre’s Winter Market for mulled wine with a side of stunning views of the Thames, check out Winterville at Clapham Common for some south London festivities and stroll through Leicester Square’s Christmas Market if you’re in theatreland. Bring it on!
12. Edinburgh, Scotland
Head to Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh for some Christmas market fun in the heart of the city.
Be sure to leave enough space in your suitcase for handmade festive gifts, warm up with a sweet crêpe and bring some spare change for the fairground rides and games. Your inner kid will thank you for it 😉
Want a break from the cold? The city’s also hosting a whole bunch festive entertainment in the theatres around the city. So, is it gonna be Peter Pan or Kinky Boots?
If you’re in Edinburgh for New Year’s, don’t miss the city’s Hogmanay celebrations. Imagine festively-lit streets, incredible live bands and one of the world’s most spectacular firework displays. Get ready for one of the biggest New Year’s Eve parties in Europe.
So, which of these best Christmas markets in Europe are at the top of your list?
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Be sure to have a read of our blog on festive foods from around the world that you 100% have to try.