Europe’s Most Unusual Christmas Markets

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

Celebrate the festive season at a Wild West themed Christmas market in Bavaria. Head to the top of a mountain in Switzerland, see driftwood sculptures in France or sail to a remote island for glühwein and seasonal handicrafts! Here are a few of the most unusual festive markets to check out in Europe this winter.

A Driftwood Christmas Village in Evian, France

In the pretty town of Evian les Bains in France, you’ll be welcomed into a wonderland of driftwood this Christmas. This charming spa town shuns consumerism for a somewhat authentic, nature-led Christmas festival.

If you’re expecting to see wooden chalets selling festive trinkets, mulled wine, and tinkling organs playing versions of ‘Let it Snow’, you won’t find any of it here. Instead, locals collect driftwood from the shores of Lake Geneva to curate a magical festive village, complete with mythical creatures known as ‘Flottins’. Between mid-December and early January, wander the streets to see giant sculptures of dragons, elves, owls, and reindeer.

With mediaeval torches lighting up the town centre, illuminating the 700+ driftwood sculptures, this place may be perceived more as a Tim Burton movie scene than a Christmas market. There’s kind of an old-world vibe – one of local people coming together to share folk tales of how the ‘flottins’ – driftwood creatures, once saved Christmas. You can dance to live music, listen to a poetry reading, experience dazzling fireworks and torchlight parades – all without a single scented candle or gingerbread heart in sight.

An Island Christmas at Fraueninsel, Germany

Rising from the crystalline waters, amid lingering mist like a mysterious mirage, is the alluring Fraueninsel Island on Bavaria’s Lake Chiemsee. This tiny island is a haven for artisans and home to a centuries-old Benedictine abbey where nuns teach and make their own herb liqueur and marzipan.

You reach the island via boat from Prien or Gstadt – it’s open to tourists for most of the year, and between late November until mid-December, on certain dates, it hosts its very own Christmas market.

It’s a romantic venue and all the vendors are local artisans meaning any purchases help to support the community. While here, wander along the village green, adorned in festive lights. Browse one-of-a-kind gifts including wooden sculptures, painted pottery, textiles, art and handmade jewellery and sample fresh, homemade Bavarian gastronomical treats.

You can also combine your visit to Fraueninsel Island (Women Island) with a trip to neighbouring Herreninsel. It’s home to a majestic royal castle which is said to have been modelled on Versailles. If your festive fix still hasn’t been satisfied after all this, Prien also hosts a Christkindlmarkt on each weekend in December.

A Wild West Winter in Bavaria

Ever wondered what it would be like to spend Christmas in the Wild West? You can now! Step into an alternate reality this festive season at Pullman City Western Town. The themed village sits on the edge of the Bavarian Forest, and if you hadn’t guessed, it doesn’t host your average Christmas market.

The sparkling lights, fir trees laced in snow and festive music are all present, but these elements are accompanied by glass blowing, blacksmiths demonstrations and magic shows in the atmospheric Black Bison Saloon.

Main Street – home to the General Store, a Music and Dance Hall and quaint lodgings is lined with wooden stalls selling colourful handicrafts, textiles, sizzling sausages, and mulled wine. Walk along the enchanted forest trail, accompanied by well-known fairy tale characters, watch the horseback parade, learn about Christmas traditions from around the world or see luminescent light shows in the evenings.

There are plenty of places to dine in the Wild West village too. Gather with friends in Cantina Mexicana or Rodeo Steakhouse or sample ‘buffalo blood’ – a homemade brew in rustic Hudson Bay Tavern. 

Europe’s Highest Festive Market in Switzerland Mount Pilatus

Every year for just one weekend in mid-November, the summit of Mount Pilatus near Lake Lucerne hosts Europe’s highest Christmas market. Your adventure begins at the foot of the mountain in Kriens, as you hop aboard a cable car. Don’t forget your camera as the views of Lake Lucerne and the Swiss Alps are outstanding.

Upon arrival, 2,128 metres above sea level, sip glühwein on the terrace cocooned in a cosy blanket or explore the various stalls inside and out. From unusual festive memorabilia to flavourful Swiss sausages and yummy cheesy raclette, there’s plenty to tempt visitors. If weather permits, climb the steps to the observation deck – an activity that’s advisable before consuming mulled wine!

From the deck, you can capture incredible photographs of the town and lake below. In addition to the market, winter sporting activities also take place on Mount Pilatus, including bobsledding and snowshoeing. If you wish to extend your visit, or travel down the mountain via another method, you can rent equipment from the cable car station at the foot of the mountain.

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