Europe’s Most Festive Christmas Markets

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

As Europe’s green landscapes don their wintery-white wardrobes, the cities, towns and villages wrap necklaces of sparkling lights around the pretty necks of cathedrals, chalets and trees, creating a winter wonderland spiced with the fragrances of mulled wine and baked pastries, as tantalisingly pretty, with their baubles and poinsettias as any fairytale. A winter tour of Europe via its beguiling Christmas Markets is enchanting, with snow-capped mountains giving way to bubbling cauldrons, melted cheese and fire-warmed chateaux. Here are just a few of our favourite markets, from the traditional "Weihnachtsmarkts" of Germany to small-town charm, laced with good food, merriment and a bounty of Christmas spirit in England, France and beyond.

Weihnachtszauber, Berlin

Berlin’s Christmas markets are deliciously eclectic. And while it’s Weihnachtszeit at the Rotes Rathaus and Wintertraum am Alexa that draw the big crowds, it's the sparkling Weihnachtszauber on Gendarmenmarkt that conjures the best of Berlin’s Christmas spirit. The square is always a delight, with snow-white canopies lit by flickering copper stars hiding handmade gifts and Germanic Christmas fare, all perched between two ornate cathedrals and the concert hall.

For the utmost in luxury and convenience stay in the contemporary Hotel Luc, agreeably perched on the Gendarmenmarkt with views of the cathedrals and their picturesque spires and domes.

Town Square, Tallinn

The rustic charm of Tallinn’s old town is a delight the year round, but at Christmas, with the arrival of a huge Christmas Tree connected to the market stalls by lengths of fairy lights, the old town becomes a true winter wonderland with the visual charm of a vintage merry go round trapped in a snow globe. The fare is rustic with gingerbreads and mulled wine, but the main culinary treat is Estonian blood sausage: a delicious mixture of barley, pork, spices and blood, often served with sauerkraut and cranberry sauce and ideal for warming up in the sub-zero temperatures.

Extend your winter adventure with a trip across the Gulf of Finland from Tallinn to Helsinki (the ferry takes approx. 2 hours) to sip a glögi at the Finnish capital’s Senate Square Market before spending the night cuddled into the classical luxury of Hotel Kamp perched alongside the Esplanade Park.

Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg

As one of the world’s oldest advent markets, the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt at the Dom and Residenzplatz is a must-see on a tour of Europe’s best Christmas Markets. Snugly wrapped up in the UNESCO-listed old town, the Christkindlmarkt offers a delightfully traditional atmosphere spiced by bubbling punch and salted pretzels, with Christmas trees and market stalls set in a tidy circle with the stately architecture of the square providing a stunning backdrop to the festivities. Drink a Glühwein paired with crispy kartoffelpuffer (potato pancake) topped with apple sauce for an ideal Christmas market dinner.

Take a day to stroll along Salzburg’s other markets like those at the fortress and St Leonhard’s church before retreating to the intimate country house-esque spaces at the Hotel Goldener Hirsch in the whimsical backstreets of the old town.

The Grande Île, Strasbourg

The self-proclaimed capital of Christmas is an icon of European festive celebrations, with markets and colourful decorations taking over much of the town centre. Start on Place de la Cathédrale in the shadow of Strasbourg’s monumental gothic cathedral, then move along the smaller markets through bauble, tree and bear-decorated alleyways, and to Place Klèber, where the Grand Sapin, the annual Christmas tree that must be 30m or taller, takes pride of place. Vin Chaud and drippy cheese dishes such as raclette smothered on piles of sliced potatoes and decadent Pommes Aligot are omnipresent, but local plates of charcuterie and Munster cheese are good for refuelling between markets.

Afterwards, take the fast train to Paris Gare de l’Est to see a Parisian take on an Alsatian Christmas market (Le Marché de Noël en Alsace à Paris) and spend the night enamoured by the understated luxury of the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme.

St. Stephen's Basilica, Budapest

Budapest’s world-renowned Christmas markets are some of Europe’s best, and while the square, backed by the ornate bell towers of St. Stephen's Basilica, makes for one of Europe’s most appealing markets, it’s the food that steals the show. Expect huge pans of paprikash and meaty goulash sending vast plumes of spiced smoke into the air before being stuffed into bread, along with freshly fried Hungarian sausages served with pickles in a baguette, and cabbage leaves bursting with minced meat and paprika (töltött káposzta). Wash it all down with mulled wine and Hungary’s iconic Chimney Cake (kürtőskalács) for a delectable Christmas market feast.

Walk the heavy dinner off with a stroll along the Danube to see the iconic chain bridge enigmatically lit for the evening before retreating to the attractive surrounds of the neoclassical Parisi Udvar Hotel for exquisite design and old-world luxuries. 

Become a member to join the conversation!

Become part of the world's leading travel & lifestyle community!