The holiday season is one of the best times to go to Europe with the festive spirit in full swing and the cold weather just mild enough to walk around. Christmas markets, found in towns large and small, are one of the best ways to soak it all in.
These are 10 of the best Christmas markets in Europe, by country. Some markets might be a little different this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but many are coming back (in some form) for the season.
Prague, Czech Republic
Dates: From November 27, 2021 to January 2, 2022
Best for: Open-air concerts and traditional nativity scenes
Postcard pretty Prague is perfect for the festive season. Make like a local and swap your mug of mulled wine for a glass of grog – rum, water, lemon and sugar. The setting is magnificent: on one side, the 14th-century twin spires of Our Lady Before Týn; on the other, the city’s famous 15th-century astronomical clock. Between them swirls a glittering pool of seasonal cheer.There are presents aplenty on offer including frosted, hand-blown glass baubles. But it’s the food that will keep you hanging around: warm, fatty sausages just off the grill; fresh pancakes; garlic and-cheese flatbread; all topped off by a glug of svarák, the local, citrussy take on mulled wine. Its cinnamon scent is misted over the whole square.
If you’ve got little ones, shepherd them over to the Old Town Square where you’ll find sheep, goats and a donkey waiting patiently for attention from earnest tourists.
Expert tip: Head to Wenceslas Square to marvel over its brightly lit Christmas tree too and time it for 5pm when the lights are switched on each day.
Dates: From November 22 to December 31, 2021
Best for: Trendy Christmas gifts and tobogganing
For a more modern take on tradition, arty Berlin has it covered. The city centre is festooned with around 80 Christmas markets (there’s even one specifically for dogs), so don’t try to cover them all. If you’re after scale, Spandau is the biggest. For looks, Weihnachtszauber, in magnificent Gendarmenmarkt Square, is the prettiest with plenty of arts and crafts on offer.
Get your pulse racing at Winter World, on Potsdamer Platz —it’s less about shopping and more about winter sports, with tobogganing, curling and an ice-skating rink with free lessons for kids. Go at 10am, when it’s quietest
Expert tip: Some of Berlin’s smaller markets are only open for a few days, so check before you book.
Dates: From November 26 to December 26, 2021
Best for: Storybook scenery and sweets
France’s ‘Capital of Christmas’ looks like a real-life nativity scene at this time of year. You’ll find 300 traditional market stalls crowding the city’s central squares, doing a strong line in hand-painted wooden Christmas decorations.
Seek out the Market of the Invincible Small Producers of Alsace for sausages and almondy, fruity, brioche-like kugelhopf.
Expert tip: The main areas of the market — Place Broglie and the square in front of the cathedral — are busiest in the evenings and weekends, so try to visit these first if you want to focus on your Christmas shopping without any toe-stepping (stalls open at 10am).
Dates: From November 25 to December 29, 2021
Best for: Santons de Provence, Advent wreaths, garlands, baubles, candles and more
This market is the biggest in the Paris area, with more than 300 chalets showcasing crafts and thousands of square feet of merry decorations, all underneath the Grande Arche de la Defense. After a long day of shopping, go ahead and indulge in some cheese — you are in France, after all.
Expert tip: Visiting the market at night will be extra special as the towering skyscrapers of the La Defense business district will be lit up!
London, United Kingdom
Dates: From November 19, 2021 to January 3, 2022
Best for: The biggest open-air ice rink in the UK and shows
Sip hot chocolate topped with marshmallows or mulled wine in London’s Hyde Park as you shop for candle votives, ornaments, crafts, and gourmet food. After shopping, go ice skating or choose from different roller coasters before going to meet Santa.
Expert tip: Plan to go during the week. Saturdays are the busiest for the attraction, so avoid them at all costs!
Dates: November 20, 2021 and January 4, 2022
Best for: A cultural Christmas
Undeniably one of the prettiest cities on the planet, Edinburgh really shines in the winter months as Christmas markets and Hogmanay celebrations come together to create a winter wonderland offering one of the world’s best festive calendars.
Along with Santa’s Grotto; an oval ice rink; fairground rides, such as the 60-metre-high Star Flyer; an elves’ workshop hidden within the Christmas Tree Maze; and stalls selling wooden toys, Harry Potter themed gifts, and mulled Irn Bru; you’ll find special projections, performances, and art works showcasing local talent. Barcrawl under the fairy lights of George Street and pop into the Scottish National Gallery to contemplate winter scenes (nationalgalleries. org; free). After dark, head to the Royal Botanic Garden to sip spiced cider and marvel at its Christmas illuminations (rbge.org.uk; £19).
Expert tip: If you can only visit once, be sure to come at the end of December to join the city’s enchanting, Hogmanay Torchlight Procession through Edinburgh’s Old Town on 30 December. Bag a ticket and you can return for the Hogmanay street party and stunning fireworks display on 31 December. Don’t miss the famous ceilidh and concert in Princes Street Gardens on New Year’s Eve either.
Dates: From November 19, 2021 to January 1, 2022
Best for: Ice rinks and Christmas illuminations
Igniting the Christmas atmosphere in mid-November, Budapest brings two Christmas market contenders to the table: Vorosmarty Square and Basilica. Vorosmarty Square is tucked right into the heart of the city and is Budapest’s oldest Christmas market. Here, you’ll find plenty of food stalls, handicraft shops and free concerts.
Basilica offers all of the above, but with the slight edge: Christmas laser projections on the Basilica itself and an ice-skating rink that circles around a grand Christmas tree.
Expert tip: You’ll also come across plenty of Hungarian delicacies to tuck into here, including Chimney cake. It’s one of Europe’s more sustainable markets with eco-friendly cups, plates and cutlery.
Dates: 25 November to December 23, 2021
Best for: Foodie delights and fairy lights
Basel’s Christmas market is the biggest and most beautiful in Switzerland, assembling 160 meticulously decorated stalls selling a wide array of culinary wonders from gob-stopping sausages, and authentic Basel Läckerli (a local twist on gingerbread), to hot punch, festive fondue, and rib-sticking raclette to beat the winter chill.
Split into two different sections at Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz, the former offers handmade, wooden toys, nativity scenes, and jewellery, while Münsterplatz’s fairytale forest is filled with fun festive activities for kids, from bauble-making workshops to gingerbread decorating.
Expert tip: Turn up at 6.30pm on 26 November to kick off the festive season, when the city’s Governing President, Elisabeth Ackermann, will switch on the Münsterplatz Christmas lights.
Dates: From November 19 to December 24, 2021
Best for: Festive romance and global delicacies
Situated in the historical city centre, Gdańsk Christmas market is a magical winter wonderland with romance oozing from every corner – there’s even a spot that’s been set up so lovers can kiss under the mistletoe in the hopes of having a long-lasting life together. Expect to see elf parades, a talking moose, the Snow Queen and her singing carollers; and the chance take a spin on the fairy-tale carousel. Shop for original jewellery, ceramics and upcycled clothes such as hats and knitwear orfill-up on the wide variety of delicacies from around the world including traditional Polish cuisine (try pierogi). Foodies will be tempted by Alsatian pancakes, Greek bougatsa and Spanish churros. Warm up with a mug of hot chocolate, mulled beer or honey and ginger and aromatic mulled wine.
Expert tip: Keep an eye out for the five-metre-tall gate in the shape of an Advent candle holder, with a viewing point at its peak. The gate also features a Christmas surprise – it will be decorated with the largest Advent Calendar in the city. A new window will be opened every day as part of a fun tradition.
Dates: 26 November, 2021 to January 2, 2022
Best for: A gourmet Christmas
Winter Wonders in Brussels is spread out across Grand-Place, Bourse, Place Sainte-Catherine and Marché aux Poissons, boasting ice skating rinks, ethereal music and light shows, a massive Christmas tree, and a mile-long stretch of more than 200 snow-blanketed wooden chalets, serving toasty waffles, warming mulled wine and, of course, Belgian beers and chocolates.
Expert tip: At this time of year, the city is filled with pop-up restaurants and lively bars, so come with an empty stomach: advice you should probably take before taking a spin on the market’s signature ferris wheel, which offers a bird’s eye view of the fun.
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