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Winter in Europe is a wonderful time of year. The scent of mulled wine fills the air, the faint sound of carolers singing can be heard and there are tiny festively decorated huts scattered all throughout the town squares and tiny cobblestone streets. This could only mean one thing…
Yes, the beautiful Christmas markets are back in town!
The markets aren’t only about drinking your fair share of Glüwein and eating your weight in chocolate and tasty pastries (even though it’s something I wouldn’t judge you for doing), Christmas markets in Europe mark the beginning of Advent and goes as far back as the Holy Roman Empire. The local shopkeepers could hold a market for a day or two in early winter to help provide the town’s people with supplies to last through the winter. The earliest market may have been held in Dresden, Germany and was called the Strietzelmarkt.
The markets were also held to bring cheer to people during the long, cold and dark winter days by filling the main squares with glistening lights and delicious local food. Nowadays, you can find anything and everything at European Christmas markets. Candied nuts, homemade trinkets and even Christmas decorations for the home, if you’re looking for a great unique gift, shopping the Christmas markets will surely help you find what you’re looking for.
Here are some of the prettiest Christmas markets in Europe to get you in the holiday spirit.
Visiting the Munich Christmas market at night is a must. They have a huge fir tree, which is decorated with 3,000 tiny lights that illuminates the centre of Marienplatz. Each passerby stops and marvels at the beautiful scene while eating some tasty pastries and sipping on some hot chocolate, or famous mulled, spicy wine. Within the large square, you can find cute decorated huts and stalls selling anything from true Bavarian styled Christmas ornaments to hot, roasted chestnuts and gingerbread hearts. If you get a little too cold, feel free to pop into any of the surrounding restaurants, or shops, as there are plenty of places to warm up and do a bit of extra shopping.
The Nuremberg Christmas market, or Christkindlesmarkt, looks like something out of a fairy tale with the town square surrounded by historic, old buildings. The familiar scent of a traditional Christmas market is usually filled with grilled bratwurst, gingerbread and that famous mulled wine. Even if it’s chilly outside, you can’t help but think and ooze cozy feelings while walking through the crowds and sipping on a hot drink and browsing the stalls’ goodies.
Where do I begin describing Colmar during the Christmas season? The houses and buildings already look like tiny gingerbread houses, which makes Colmar inviting on any regular day. Now add some glistening lights and decorations strewn all the way down tiny cobblestone streets and the fairy tale scene is complete. It looks like a tiny miniature village. It’s honestly the cutest little town, and I’d love to experience the holiday season here some time.
Tallinn is the oldest capital city in Northern Europe and has one of the best preserved medieval town centres in the world. While strolling through the Christmas market in this square, you’ll instantly feel as though you’ve been transported back in time. The blend of old architecture accompanied by twinkling lights strung up around the tree and above the stalls is enchanting.
Berlin is like the Boss of Christmas markets. They’ve had Christmas markets since the 16th century, which is one reason there are so many there. I think I read somewhere that they had 60 one year! Crazy! Although there is no large central market like you’d find in many other German cities, different areas of the city will have multiple smaller ones. The reasoning behind this you ask? Most of Berlin’s districts were separate towns and not made part of “greater Berlin” until 1920, so each town had its own Christmas market, or even a few. The WeihnachtsZauber am Gendarmenmarkt (pictured below), is
one of the best and largest markets in Berlin and has only been around since 2002. Don’t let the newer year fool you, this market is still very traditional. The Gendarmenmarkt charges a small entry fee of one euro, whereas other markets usually don’t, but a part of the the entry fee goes to charity, so it seems worth it to me if it goes towards a good cause.
Another cute French town to visit during the holidays is Strasbourg. The Christmas market, or the Christkindelsmärik is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe. It’s also one of the most famous European Christmas markets with tourists and locals alike, drawing more than 2 million visitors annually. As you stroll through the market over the cobblestone streets and tiny alleys decorated with stings of lights, you’ll find plenty of handmade ornaments for sale along with tasty treats to satisfy your sweet tooth. This market is open daily from the last weekend in November and comes to an end on Christmas. If you aren’t a big fan of tiny streets filled with a lot of people, go during the week to avoid the weekend crowds.
Ohh, Austria. Other than the Germans, the Austrians sure know how to put on a Christmas market worth visiting and writing home about. If you aren’t a big fan (me being one of them) of Glühwein – the hot, spicy red wine, the favourite Christmas drink in Austria is something called Weihnachtspunsch (try saying that five times fast), which is a hot wine-and-rum punch made with lemon and orange peels, brown sugar, cinnamon and other spices. It’s a bit sweeter than the Glühwein, which might make it more tolerable for those non-red wine drinkers. The city square twinkles with lights and lightly falling snow as cheerful people (chalk that cheer up to a few cups of Weihnachtspunsch) stroll around the grounds looking for that special ornament to keep in the family for years to come.
Any trip to Brussels isn’t complete without drinking some amazing brewed craft beers and indulging on waffles with more topping options than I can count on both hands and some crisp, golden frites (fries). Yum! The Brussels Christmas market is known for stalls carrying sweet treats and elaborate handmade chocolates that look like ornaments themselves. During the Christmas season is when Brussels and its stunning town square comes to life with enchanting holiday scenes. If you love being outdoors during the cooler months, then Brussels is for you! They have everything from a Christmas parade, Ferris wheel, merry-go-rounds, outdoor ice skating rink and a mesmerizing light show. If handmade crafts aren’t your thing, you can even buy beer steins at some of the stalls! As you stroll across cobblestone streets and take in the holiday sights and smells, make sure to “treat yo-self” to some of the finest chocolates you’ll ever eat in your life.
The Frankfurt Christmas Market is one of the largest Christmas markets in all of Germany. The elaborate and creative stalls are decorated like something out of a Christmas story book. The historical Römerberg and St Paul’s Square accompanied by the massive Christmas tree all combine to make it one of Germany’s most beautiful backdrops for a Christmas market. You would never tell that you are in a major city with skyscrapers towering around you while strolling through the market. Like other German and Austrian cities that have a favourite hot, alcoholic beverage for the cold winter months, Frankfurt is no exception. Apfelwein is essentially German hard apple cider. The Apfelwein is heated and served with a cinnamon stick, possibly with cloves and/or a slice of lemon. Grab a mug of Apfelwein and make your way through the market while browsing the stalls.
The Dresden Christmas market, or the Striezelmarkt, is one of Germany’s oldest documented Christmas markets, which was founded in 1434. There are many woodcarvings that originated in the Dresden area for sale. These woodcarvings date back to when miners lost their jobs and had to learn a new trade, or skill in order to make money and a living. This tradition and skill has been passed on from generation to generation and now can be found in many of the stalls at the market. You can also find beautiful nutcrackers and other kinds of Christmas ornaments to decorate your home with during the holiday season. Since Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is one of the first and oldest in the country, many visitors and locals still consider it Germany’s most authentic Christmas market. The Striezelmarkt boasts about 250 stands spread out across Dresden’s large Altmarkt square, which definitely gives the market a more old-timey look and feel than many of the other markets in Germany and in Europe as a whole.
Prague, Czech Republic
Germany isn’t the only country that has beautiful and elaborate markets during the holiday season. The Christmas market in Prague is stunning! It transforms the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square (about a 5-10 minute walk away) into a winter wonderland. Visitors from all over the region and world even, make their way to Prague to be in the presence of this magical town square during the holidays. As with most Christmas markets in Europe, you must browse the stalls, eat hearty food such as tasty barbequed sausages (klobása), cakes and pastries, which are prepared right in front of you, such as ‘Trdelník’, a hot sugar coated pastry, which is to die for. They are amazing! Hard to pronounce, but amazing! You must also definitely enjoy a cold Pilsner Urquell beer. Even though it’s cold, it’s a great beer. You’ll thank me once you try it, trust me!
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Rothenburg is a charming walled city that has been left mostly untouched for hundreds of years. As you set foot inside the outer walls, walking through Rothenburg ob der Tauber is like stepping into a medieval time warp. The town is home to some of the most beautiful medieval architecture in Europe.
The annual “Reiterlesmarkt,” the Rothenburg Christmas Market, makes this cute town even more magical looking when the decorations come out and scent of mulled wine hits your nose.
Christmas decorations can be bought all year long in Rothenburg, but the Christmas holidays are a special time to view the city and the market at nightfall when the town is lit up like a fairy tale scene. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is also home to the German Christmas Museum. To say they take Christmas seriously in Rothenburg would be an understatement.
As you make your way around the market, make sure to grab one of the local specialties, which is the “Schneeball,” or snow ball, made from strips of sweet dough fried and covered with powdered sugar or chocolate. Yum!
There are SO many more amazing Christmas and holiday markets all across Europe and they are getting to be more popular in other parts of the world now too. We even have one in Toronto, which is actually quite nicely done. Have you guys ever been to a Christmas market in any other parts of the world? Let me know in the comments below! Happy and safe holidays to everyone! xoxox
Read more: Europe’s prettiest winter towns & cities