When I think of the European Winters, I feel a mix of emotions. I dread the freezing cold temperatures and short, dark days; yet love the gezelligheid (coziness), particularly in December!
With Christmas, comes markets and the Christmas markets here in Europe are absolutely amazing. So if you love Christmas and all things Christmassy like I do, then this post is for you because I am going to list some of the best Christmas markets in Europe!
Nothing will get you in the festive spirit quite like a traditional German Christmas market – even if it’s not actually in Germany. The smell of hot chestnuts, grilled sausages, gingerbread and hot spiced wine fills the air. The market stalls all sell beautiful wooden toys, tree decorations and other hand-crafted gifts. Let’s face it, Christmas is nowhere near as beautifully celebrated than in Germany, where time-honored traditions such as the Advent calendar, gingerbread houses, and the Christmas markets – are still as enchanting as they were centuries ago.
So read on to discover the most beautiful German Christmas markets such as Aachen, Cologne, Dresden, Leipzig and Nuremberg, but also the magic of Christmas in the United Kingdom with the Christmas markets in London and Manchester. We are spoiled for choice with a selection of the most beautiful Christmas markets in France, with Strasbourg and Lille; as well as Belgium, with Bruges and Brussels. However, as most of my readers are from the Netherlands, let me begin with my two favourite Christmas markets, located right here Clogland.
Maastricht, The Netherlands
All year round, Maastricht is a wonderful city with a fabulous atmosphere, but around Christmas time, the city takes on that extra spellbinding edge. Under the name of “Magical Maastricht”, the city goes into full Christmas mode. The streets are beautifully decorated and shops stay open until late, allowing you to get all your Christmas shopping done. Visit the German inspired Christmas market stalls on the vrijthof square, go skating on the ice rink, and see the magical city lights from the top of the ferris wheel!
Valkenburg, The Netherlands
The Valkenburg Christmas markets really are one of a kind and I have not been to any other Christmas markets like it! These markets take place underground inside the Valkenburg limestone caves!! Really special, super cosy and full of atmosphere. With multiple caves to choose from, each festively lit and with a magical atmosphere, the Valkenburg Christmas Markets are sure to have even the grumpiest of Scrooges cracking a holiday smile! Valkenburg truly becomes a Christmas village for the month of December. Drawing tourists from Germany and Belgium as well as from the Netherlands, the city hosts an impressive program of holiday activities, such as their annual Christmas parade, which is held twice a week throughout December.
My Tip: As Valkenburg is so close to Maastricht, we found that is was totally doable to visit the Maastricht markets one day, then the Valkenburg markets the next (staying overnight in a hotel in Maastricht). Alternatively, if you’d prefer to visit them both in one day, I’d suggest visiting the caves during the day and then Magical Maastricht afterwards by night.
It may be the furtherest xmas markets from the Netherlands on this list, but it has actually been voted the best Christmas markets in all of Europe. Zagreb offers a special atmosphere and an ever growing number of tourists choose the capital of Croatia as their destination this time of year. The city streets and squares invite you to partake in singing, dancing, and other kinds of entertainment with family and friends. But is it really the most beautiful? You might need to visit to decide for yourself.
Strasbourg Christmas markets are renown world-wide and its no surprise as to why this is. These markets were first held in 1570! With it’s 300 stalls, spread out over 12 locations throughout the captivating city centre, the authenticity and warmth form an atmosphere which has been successfully maintained. With the addition of endless amounts of live music, it’s the perfect opportunity to go on a cultural trip through time!
Aachen is a city situated where the three countries of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet. Every year before Christmas the squares and streets around the Cathedral and the Aachen Town Hall are transformed into a paradise of lights and colours, festive sounds and smells. The fair and enormous choice of goods on sale will fascinate both the young and the old. The Aachen Market has now become famous far beyond the boundaries of the Aachen region thanks to it’s atmosphere.
Colmar is a city where the magic of Christmas can be experienced in its purest form for six entire weeks. These markets have been running for 17 years and you have a choice of five Christmas markets throughout a labyrinth of small streets lined with century old half-timbered houses. Nestling in town squares with their own special architectural features, each market is a mini-village, highlighting products made by passionate and enthusiastic craftsmen. In addition, visitors are invited to participate to a wide range of activities, such as guided tours, wine-tastings, children animations, exhibition of traditional toys, as well as many shows and concerts.
The Brussels Christmas markets are known as the ‘Winter Wonders’. Five weeks filled with Christmas markets throughout the city centre. Visitors will be enchanted by many aspect of the Winter Wonders, including the gorgeous Christmas tree, magical light and sound show, merry-go-rounds, ferris wheel, ice rink and festive Christmas parade!
Frankfurt Christmas Market is one of the largest Christmas markets in all of Germany. Proof of a Weihnachtsmarkt in Frankfurt goes back as far as 1393. The elaborate and creative stand decorations, the scenic surroundings on the Römerberg and St Paul’s Square and the huge Christmas tree combine to also make it one of Germany’s most beautiful.
These markets date all the way back to 1458. It’s six areas are set within the fascinating historical scenery of the Leipzig city centre. With more than 250 twinkling stalls embedded in the historic centre, Leipzig Christmas market is not only one of the oldest but also one of the largest Christmas markets in Germany. Visitors are offered a multitude of festive delights; Indulge in numerous culinary delights or explore the city’s traditional medieval market.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Rothenburg o.d.T is a picturesque German town situated along the Romantic Route, known for its medieval architecture. The smell of “white” mulled wine and roasted almonds, the illumination by thousands of fairy lights and the festive music provided by local brass bands transforms the medieval town into a fairytale winter wonderland.
The enticing smells of mulled wine and rum punch, roasted almonds, bratwurst and gingerbread will fill the air. And it’s not only the little ones who will have their eyes all a-glow when the Nuremberg Christkind appears on the balcony of the Church of Our Lady to open the holiday season and the world-famous Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt.
In the heart of Winter, Lille sparkles and glows. The city takes on a festive atmosphere and welcomes you to a winter wonderland! On Place Rihour, more than 80 chalets are overflowing with gift ideas, figurines, Christmas decorations and festive food. You can find regional specialities here, and you can also find arts and crafts from Russia, Poland, and Québec, as well as products from Native America.
A grand total of eleven completely different Christmas markets make for wonderfully conflicting decisions. Holiday sounds fill the air throughout this city located close to Germany’s Eastern border. From the many organ and gospel concerts, Dresden’s churches are also filled with festive vibes. Christmas tales come to life in the city’s theaters whilst museums host special exhibitions and boats bejeweled with lights glide along the Elbe.
From mid-November to Christmas, Vienna’s prettiest squares transform into magical Christmas markets. One of the most well-known Christmas Markets is the traditional “Vienna Magic of Advent”, which turns the City Hall Square into a shining fairytale land. Christmas gifts, tree decorations, sweets, warming drinks, a carousel and craft fun Christmas Workshops for kids will all be there. The trees surrounding the City Hall park will be festively decorated – a Viennese experience, you definitely don’t want to miss!
Also known as Köln, Cologne is famous for its spectacular cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece that dominates the city in more than one way. The magic of Christmas will be felt throughout the festively decorated city located on the Rhine river. The aroma of baked apples, cinnamon biscuits and mulled wine will waft through the alleys, and many differently themed Christmas markets will invite people to stroll, shop and explore. The larger Christmas markets are held in downtown Cologne, but Cologne’s smaller Christmas markets also have plenty to offer.
This unique markets near Bonn in Germany are medieval style! In a world of its own, the Christmas market in Siegburg unfolds at the foot of the Michaelsberg hill. More than 120 craftspeople, musicians, jesters and traders from far and wide, all dressed in late medieval style, go to and fro between the authentically recreated market stalls. Fans of the Middle Ages can dine and drink in an old world style, drums and bagpipes provide the soundtrack, minstrels and jugglers show off their skills, and jesters make fun of everything and everyone, including visitors. Spoon carvers, harness makers, rope makers, felt makers, pewterers and many others get a chance to demonstrate long-forgotten or rarely practiced craft skills. Original gifts like certificates artfully decorated with a goose quill are on display and a fortune-teller is on hand to predict the future. There is also plenty going on to keep the kids entertained: a puppet theatre, story-tellers and a children’s jousting tournament make the trip to the Christmas market great fun for the youngest family members. One particular attraction that is sure to make their eyes light up is the traditional carousel, which is still operated by hand. Through games and entertainment, kids can get a fascinating insight into life in the Middle Ages.
Birmingham has the largest authentic German market in Europe outside of Germany and Austria. Consisting of the Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market and the Craft Market, the market has grown from just 24 stalls in 2001 to 180. The Frankfurt Market offers a wide range of products, including Christmas decorations, handcrafted jewelry, carved wooden toys, sausages, beer and pretzels, while the Christmas Craft Market will offer handmade crafts, soaps and candles by local artisans, as well as a wide range of unique and quirky items imported from around the world. Additionally, visitors can enjoy the popular ice rink and big ferris wheel.
London’s magical Christmas markets and festive fairs are worth wrapping up warm and stepping outside for; With tempting food, warming cocktails and the chance to turn Christmas present shopping into a fun day out rather than a dreaded chore. London’s spectacular Hyde Park Winter Wonderland offers free admission and there will be more than 100 rides and attractions on site, something for everyone. For the Christmas shoppers, there’s the traditional German Christmas Market with over 200 chalets. The Angels Christmas Market offers unusual and handmade gifts and crafts, including ceramics, candles, jewellery, wooden toys, and Christmas decorations.
The baroque Charlottenburg Palace is the perfect backdrop for this Christmas market. An elaborate light installation bathes the market, palace, trees and the decorative fencing of the palace in a romantic glow. Wood huts and marquees, decorated entirely with natural materials, provide a festive atmosphere and offer not only a wide range of crafts but also an impressive selection of culinary choices. In addition to the traditional Christmas market stalls selling hot chestnuts, crepes or Hungarian langos, many hotels and restaurants from Berlin and Brandenburg offer fine dining in heated tents.
My favourite Belgium city. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more enchanting city in Europe than Bruges, with its fairytale-like canals, buildings that look like they’ve been made of gingerbread, and elegant horse-drawn carriages that come straight out of a story book to clip-clop down the medieval cobblestone streets. Around Christmas, Grote Markt, the city’s main square, converts into a magical realm trimmed with twinkling lights, a fabulous ice rink, and charming wooden chalets filled with souvenirs, festive ornaments, and Belgian chocolate. For the best hot chocolate in Bruges, visit De Proeverie Tea-Room. Also, when in Belgium, one must drink beer. Just off the main town square, set inside the narrowest street of Bruges, one must visit the extremely cosy De Garre beer tasting cafe. They have hundreds of different beers to taste, including the Brugse Sot of course.
So where will you choose to visit this Christmas? We are spoiled for choice aren’t we! Do you have a particular favourite Christmas market (that may or may not be on this list)? I’d love to hear from you!
Happy Shopping and a very Merry Christmas to you all!