The Twelve Days of Christmas Markets: 12 enchanting European Christmas markets and when to visit them

Christmas markets provide the perfect opportunity to see many well-loved European towns and cities in a different light, not to mention the chance to find the perfect stocking-fillers.
Prague Christmas market on Old Town Square
Prague Christmas market on Old Town Square. Photo: Shutterstock

Christmas markets provide the perfect opportunity to see many well-loved European towns and cities in a different light, not to mention the chance to find the perfect stocking-fillers that you won’t see on the high street. But it’s not just about the handicrafts and the unique decorations. It's the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that make the experience such an enchanting one. Here are our recommendations for the 12 most magical and enticing Christmas markets in Europe, and when to visit them this Christmas.


1. Nuremberg, Germany

When to go: 1st December (opening ceremony) – 24th December

Chances are, you've heard of this one before. Dating back to the 17th century and still going strong, Nuremburg’s Christmas market is perhaps the most famous one in all of Europe. Located in the old walled section of the city, rows of hundreds of specially constructed stalls provide an old-world charm in this magical market. As Nuremberg is the home of Lebkuchen (a baked treat rather like gingerbread), be sure to sample some as you sip on some Glühwein to warm you up!


Baubles on sale at Nuremberg's Christmas market

Baubles on sale at Nuremberg's Christmas market - Charley1965 courtesy of Flickr (Creative Commons). 

2. Berlin, Germany

When to go: Anytime during the Christmas season

If it’s variety you want, Berlin’s the place for you. In fact, there are nearly 50 Christmas markets filling the streets and squares of the capital throughout Advent. In addition to the hundreds upon hundreds of market stalls, you’ll also find exhibitions of artwork, music and dance performances and myriad culinary delights.

The Berlin Christmas marketThe Berlin Christmas market. Photo: Shutterstock

3. Tübingen, Germany 

When to go: Every year during the third weekend of Advent

If you’ve any room left after filling up on Glühwein and gingerbread, pay a visit to Tübingen, just south of Stuttgart. This beautifully quaint old town looks as if it could almost be made of gingerbread itself. The town also plays host to Germany’s annual chocolate festival. Taking place every December, ChocolArt is a chocoholic’s dream come true. With chocolate tastings, a chocolate market, chocolate theatre and even chocolate massages, you’ll leave vowing to come back next year!


Tuebingen Christmas market

Tuebingen Christmas market - Kai courtesy of Flickr (Creative Commons).

 4. Strasbourg, France

When to go: 24th November – 30h December

Any town calling itself the “capital of Christmas” is worth paying a visit to. For centuries, Strasbourg has been hosting a Christmas market in the beautiful setting of its old town, with the prestigious Cathedral at the heart of it. Its stunning annual centrepiece is known as the “Great Christmas Tree.” 

Christmas lights in Strasbourg Christmas lights in Strasbourg - Otto Schlappack courtesy of Flickr (Creative Commons).

5. Vienna, Austria

When to go: Anytime during the Christmas season

Vienna has a number of Christmas markets, but the decorated store windows along the wide Kärntner Straße is among the very best in the world. And Vienna by night during the festive season is something not to be missed. If you’re visiting with children, check out the rides and shows on Riesenradplatz or head to Karlsplatz, which has an exciting children’s programme. If it’s a more traditional atmosphere you’re after, you might like the glass decorations and traditional cribs on Freyung in the old town.

 Illuminated building at Vienna at ChristmasVienna at Christmas. Photo: 

6. Budapest, Hungary

When to go: 13th November – 31st December  

 In addition to its over 100 wooden stalls and festivities, Budapest's annual Christmas Fair is a lively, bustling affair pulsating from the very heart of the city. Each year, it attracts visitors from all over Europe (and beyond) with its charming vendors and positively intoxicating holiday spirit. It's a true can't-miss stop on any Christmas tour.


Christmas market on Budapest's Vorosmarty Square

Christmas market on Budapest's Vorosmarty Square - TopBudapestOrg courtesy of Flickr (Creative Commons).


7. Prague, Czech Republic

When to go: 2nd December (lighting of the Christmas tree) – 6th January

If you’re visiting the Czech Republic this Christmas, you’ll find the most impressive markets in Prague. Watch native food being made on the spot and sample it with local beers. While choirs fill the air with Christmas carols, take the children to see the puppet theatre and the Bethlehem scene (with live animals!), or escape the bustle to enjoy a classical music performance in one of the city’s churches.

Stalls at Prague Christmas market. Prague Christmas market. Photo: Shutterstock

8. Brussels, Belgium

When to go: 24th November – 31st December

Exhibitors come from all over Europe to sell their goods in the wooden chalets of the Brussels Christmas market. The Town Hall on The Grand Place is extravagantly illuminated and decked with garlands. There are several traditional Belgian taverns on the square (such as Le Roy d’Espagne and La Chaloupe d’Or) serving warm, spicy red wine and a huge range of beers. Over on Place du Marché aux Poissons, you’ll find an outdoor ice rink and a enormous Ferris wheel, whilst on Place du Grand Sablon there are loads of decorations, a huge Christmas tree, and the city’s best chocolate shops – perfect for picking up some gifts.


Ice-skating at night in Brussels

Ice-skating in Brussels - Stephane Mignon courtesy of Flickr (Creative Commons). 

9. Stockholm, Sweden

When to go: late November - Christmas

On top of visiting the enchanting market stalls in the Old Town and at Skansen, a yuletide visit to Stockholm should involve a Christmas concert in one of the city’s churches. Another way to get into the holiday spirit is to spend an afternoon or evening cruising on a Strömma boat, where you will be treated to delicious Swedish fare and Christmas treats. On Lucia Day (13th December) processions take place to crown Lucia, the queen of light, and candlelit choral concerts are held. Don’t forget to have a warming drink of glögg!


Gingerbread on sale in Skansen, Stockholm

Gingerbread on sale in Skansen, Stockholm - Krzysztof Duda courtesy of Flickr (Creative Commons).


10. Copenhagen, Denmark

When to go: Anytime during the Christmas season

Copenhagen’s Christmas markets are a major reason why the city comes so alive with the season. The Tivoli Gardens market is perhaps the best-known one, offering loads of child-friendly attractions and rides, as well as authentic food, hot drinks and trinkets. Another highlight of Christmas in Copenhagen is tucking into apple dumplings and glögg against a backdrop of sailing boats moored in the canal, or visiting the traditional market in the Grey Hall. 

 Copenhagen's Christmas marketCopenhagen's Christmas market. Photo: Shutterstock

11. Trento, Italy

When to go: mid-November – 6th January

The Trento Christmas market may not be huge, but there's a ultra-cozy, even romantic feel about it. With a heavy focus on cuisine, the market takes place in the middle of the main square, with gourmet, Trentino specialties being served up all around. Other food stalls are bursting with local flavours from Trento. There are also plenty of spots to warm up with a delicious hot drink.

Cheese on sale at Trento Christmas market

Cheese on sale at Trento Christmas market - Michela Simoncini courtesy of Flickr (Creative Commons).

12. Barcelona, Spain

When to go: late November - Christmas

Barcelona's Christmas markets are undeniably impressive. The Fira de Nadal a la Sagrada Familia is located in the gardens surrounding the world-famous Sagrada Familia, but the Fira de Santa Llúcia market, dating back to 1786, is perhaps the most festive one in the city and features parades, Catalan food and a Nativity contest.

oys for sale at Barcelona Christmas market.Toys for sale at Barcelona Christmas market. Photo: Shutterstock

This article was originally published December 15, 2015

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