Kati and I love Christmas markets. Coming from Germany, the Christmas Market is something that Kati’s family grew up with and looked forward to every year. I on the other hand love heading to Europe and eating the local food, drinking the local brew, and enjoying the cold weather. Christmas Markets are so popular they have been imported to the US. But, in our opinion they are just not the same. Europe and its Christmas markets. They are something many people dream to visit one day. Maybe your day will come sooner than you think and you start planning the ultimate holiday. There are so many Christmas markets, how do you even start to choose one? First of all, we need to start by admitting that Europe definitely has a thing for Christmas markets, they play on a high level. The markets are all cute, amazingly decorated, you can find delicious local food, matching music, fun activities and the most amazing Christmas gadgets you can wish for. So how do you pick one? We thought, since Europe is made up of many countries, we will make a list depending on the type of Christmas market. Do you go for the charm? Do you just want the biggest? Is food the main thing why you’re going? Or you just need some good old inspiration, just scroll and read further down.
The most charming Christmas Markets
Bruges has always been called the Venice of the Nord, and while it is not completely Nord on the European map, it does have all the cute canals on which you can take a beautiful boat ride, even in winter. The Christmas market is located on the main square surrounded by the stair-step roof façade houses. They all receive some magic lights and in the middle of the square you’ll find the ice skating ring. Some stalls to drink a hot chocolate and some with delicious Belgian waffles. It sure will be a charming sight. Did you know that Bruges even has an all year round Christmas shop? So for those who might miss the Christmas market, Bruges always celebrates Christmas in this big shop. While we’re in Belgium we can’t skip the capital, offering a little bit of the same but in the most famous setting of Belgium: De Big Square of Brussels. The golden decoration on the houses shines beautiful due to all the charming lights.
Lille is another charmer, this cute Christmas market is also known for its Ferris wheel. Yet it are mainly the cute little stalls that attract the visitors. All together on a square, fake snow, mouthwatering smells and some really beautiful Christmas gadgets. This is also a combination place to where loads of people go for the delicious food, nougat is big here just as pommes d’amour. Two delicious sweet treats, to give, or just to buy for yourself.
Germany offers all types of Christmas markets as well, so definitely also a charming one. Aachen is the city to go, with the most beautiful cathedral to overlook the Christmas market, truly postcard worthy, or Instagram these days. They also have the cutest mascot of them all, the Gingerbread man, a 6m high one to be precise.
The biggest Christmas Market
It mustn’t be a surprise that the country of Christmas markets also holds the trophy for the biggest Christmas market in Europe. The German city is called Nuremberg. This Christmas market has it all, there is a festive opening ceremony, there are different tours held divided per interest like artisanal gadgets, food, and so on. On top of all that it is also one of the best Christmas markets for children, they can enjoy their own little ‘Christmas Children village’. Nuremberg also already decided to continue the Christmas market and joy even this year 2020. There will be some measurements taken, to break down the big crowds, yet we are a keen supporter of spreading the Christmas market over 4 different old town squares to enlarge the Christmas spirit. If you are a die-hard Christmas fan, this is the market you should go to at least once in your life.
We know we spoke about the biggest, and there can only be one the biggest, yet the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, is competing for that recognition every year. We talk about 300 wooden stalls, in comparison to the charming Lille that is more than 5 times the size. Strasbourg is considered one of the biggest because it is not just one square that participates in the Christmas celebrations, the entire city goes hand in hand with father Christmas. There are lights everywhere, trees and decorations, food stalls and joy. Everything will start on November the 28th with the illuminations of the city and the biggest Christmas tree of all. Where as in a lot of cities you just have to square and once you step out, you feel less Christmas like, in Strasbourg you keep that feeling in the entire city. It surely gives you a Holiday feeling even if it is just for the weekend.
An authentic Christmas Market
Vienna is the city we think about when we think about authentic. So is the City Hall on the Rathausplatz illuminated, are the trees dripping in lights and is the ice skating rank full of fun. With all 150 stalls beautifully made out of wood, the food goes back to days and the festivities as well. Vienna plays on the musical theme as well with every night talented choirs performing just like trumpeters. Their beautiful voices and music fill the night.
Another authentic one people might tend to forget is the one in Czech. This Christmas market is located on the Old Town Square and puts a big empathize on the folk dance and music performances. They also play the Nativity scene with live animals, which is always an amazing spectacle and definitely fun for the children. A bit away from the Old Town Square you can also find the Wenceslas Square Christmas Market, which is the place to find those handmade goods and crafts.
A white Christmas Market
We must admit that it is a rare chance and a lot of prayers to the gods to get a white Christmas market in Europe. Yet it is possible even on the mainland. But if you want your chances to be a bit higher, you should go and enjoy Christmas in Scandinavia. Those countries can give you the white Christmas you’ve always dreamed about. Stockholm has a really charming Christmas market that is often treated to a fresh layer of snow overnight, which transforms the wooden houses into a scene out of your dreams. Helsinki is another place where you can enjoy a snow covered Christmas market. Famous at the Helsinki Christmas market are the lanterns. Just like the Swedish, they also celebrate Lucia Day, which is the celebration for winter light. Complete with horse-drawn carriage, elves and of course Santa Claus.
To wrap it up on the white Christmas markets, did you know you can even take a winter Scandinavian cruise? On this cruise you can visit all the Christmas markets your little heart desires in Stockholm, Tallinn, St-Petersburg and Helsinki. How about that for visiting Christmas markets.
Unique Christmas Markets
The first one that comes to mind is the floating Christmas market of Vilshoven. This is a city in Germany and they host a floating Christmas market. Yes you read that right, on the Danube river people can enjoy all the nice things a Christmas market has to offer. The Christmas market is spread over the promenade and on the cruiser, hence why it is only happening during the weekend. You’ll find it all, heated mulled wine, toasted almonds and loads of concerts providing all different kinds of music.
We also have an underground Christmas market in The Netherlands. More precise in the city of Valkenburg aan de Geul. This Christmas market is held in the corridors of a real cave. We wouldn’t be surprised if you’d already heard from this one, because in 2018 they won the title as best Christmas market in Europe. The cave is cozy and well lid, all the wooden stalls are beautiful decorated, it is in a cave and it just adds more to the whole cozy Christmas vibe, it doesn’t take anything away.
Christmas Markets that are a foodie’s heaven
Ok, I have to admit for me if there is Bratwurst, I am happy. And there is always Bratwurst. But for others, Bratwurst is just not enough. The Budapest Christmas market is the place to satisfy any hungry stomach. Traditional food and entertainment play de leading roles on this Christmas marker. There are so many food stands that you won’t be able to count them, let along make a single decision on what to try first. There is an enormous selection of freshly cooked local delicacies: everything from grilled Hungarian sausages to goose stuffed cabbage, the all-time famous goulash and so much more. Plus no need to worry about seating, this Christmas market is made for your convenience. All seating is centralized, which gives it the atmosphere of a big food party. You can feast on cinnamon-pastry chimney cakes (kurtoskalacs) or for those who prefer more a salty taste: toki pompos, a Hungarian-style pizza topped with bacon, onion and cream. They also have a replacement drink to the famous Glühwein: the Hungarian sparkling wine. We recommend choosing a place to have your whine while overlooking the ice rink. So yes, after all those calories, you can work it off on the ice rink.
We can also go a bit more south on the continent and go and visit Italy for Christmas. Not only are the Italians worldwide known for their delicious food, they also hold really nice Christmas markets. Although we must say that the food is definitely a highlight. The most famous places are Bologna and Trento. Not sure what the food might be? Obviously we are talking about some local delicacies like high quality cheeses just like goat cheese, some amazing cured meats. Of course there are also the Christmas flavors like: grilled polenta, potato cake,… But also delicious sweet treats like marzipan fruits or citrus peel dipped in dark chocolate. You won’t go hungry in Italy, especially not during the Holiday season.
This one needs a special mention for itself, because this is the place where it all started. Here lays Santa’s hometown. This one is located at the Arctic Circle and this Christmas Market is called the “Santa Claus Village”, we just want to express how much this suits the place. It includes shops with Christmas décor and crafts, along with an interesting Christmas exhibition. All information to learn more about your favorite holiday. There even is Santa’s Post Office, where you can send real mail from! A recent addition to this Christmas Market in Lapland is Santa Park, which is an underground amusement park for the youngsters. Who knows your Christmas experience can be topped off with the sight of the Northern lights. We can’t promise anything, but it is true that the lights can be seen from November all the way through to April. So who knows this can be the Christmas miracle you’ve been dreaming about.
We hope this list can help you choose a bit more easier, although we have to admit that most Christmas markets provide an amazing combination of food, music and hand-made crafts. Europe is the place to be for an amazing Holiday experience. 2020 might be difficult due to the pandemic, but it is never too early to start planning your Christmas Market European excursion.