Ten fairytale European Christmas Markets worth travelling for

Saturday, November 11, 2023


Winkling Christmas trees, snow-dusted wooden chalets, cobblestones paved with hawkers selling everything from savoury snacks to chimney cakes – these are just a few of the highlights of Europe’s best Christmas markets.

Here are some of the oldest, best and most magical fairs worth travelling for this season.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg has that magical quality at any time of year. But, during winter Mozart’s hometown (where the carol Silent Night was first written and performed) looks like a fairytale.

The market at Cathedral Square is the Austrian city’s oldest, dating back to the 15th century. The Salzburg Christkindlmarkt, as it is now known, has existed since 1974.

It’s officially opened with a ceremony on the Thursday before the first Sunday of advent, closing for the final time on January 1.

Traditional huts line the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old City, with about 100 market stands and a varied cultural programme that includes readings for children, guided tours, choral concerts, folk performances and weekly singalongs.

Budapest, Hungary

The 12-year-old market, which runs from November 24 to December 31, takes place in front of St Stephen’s Basilica. Laser projections lights up the whole area in the evening.

About 120 craft exhibitors gather in the square. There is also a 200-square-metre ice skating rink (that’s free for children), a festive-themed programme and plenty of food.

The Vorosmarty Square market at the heart of the city is Budapest’s oldest Christmas fair with food stalls, handicraft shops and free festive concerts galore.

Brussels, Belgium
A 2km-stretch of 240 wooden chalets lines the streets and squares of Brussels’s historic city centre.

Winter Wonders campaign spreads out across Grand-Place, Bourse, Place Sainte-Catherine and Marche aux Poissons. This year it’s taking place from November 24 to December 31.

About two million visit each year. Ice-skating rinks, light shows and a Ferris wheel are some of the main attractions, alongside a huge Christmas tree.

There’s also a dedicated winter festival for children with bouncy castles and craft rooms. Christmas elves and fairies mill about between December 24 and 31 at Maison de la Poste.

Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh comes alive with festive cheer in the lead-up to its world-famous Hogmanay event for New Year, which spreads out across the city’s historical streets.

It runs for seven weeks from November 17 to January 6 with traditional markets, funfair rides, illuminations and projections, live outdoor events and performances, ice skating and more.

On December 31, fireworks light up the skies for Hogmanay, while a ceilidh (traditional event of singing, dancing and storytelling) and concert also take place at East Princes Street Gardens.

Gdansk, Poland
Krakow’s Christmas market might be bigger, but in terms of romantic settings, you can’t beat the fair in Gdansk.

This year it takes second place on the Best Christmas Market in Europe list by European Best Destinations, and consistently comes top for Poland.

Set in the historical city centre, the Gdansk Christmas market is a veritable winter wonderland that will run from November 24 to December 23.

Elf parades, a Venetian-style carousel and carollers set the mood, while shoppers root through stalls selling handmade jewellery, upcycled clothes and all sorts of Polish snacks, including the ubiquitous pierogi (dumplings).

Nuremberg, Germany

Germany is about some excellent Christmas markets, from Berlin to Cologne and Essen.

But the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is particularly notable for its focus on sustainability. It’s also one of the oldest and most famous Christmas markets in the world, dating back to the mid-17th century.

Every year, the opening ceremony begins with a speech by the curly-haired “Christkind”, in her white and golden dress.

Shoppers can find handmade Christmas decorations, local crafts, Franconian products, charitable booths and more.

Foodies are also in for a yuletide treat, with stalls peddling everything from bratwurst to gingerbread.

Madrid, Spain

The century-old Madrid Christmas Market that runs on the city’s main square, Plaza Mayor, is a haven for collectors, with antiques and artworks on sale.

This year it will run from November 24 to December 31.

More than 100 stalls, which were renovated in the 1980s to take the shape of small huts, are also filled with nativity scene figures, musical instruments, toys and gifts.

Numerous other markets run in Madrid that are also worth visiting.

For handcrafted items, head to Plaza de Espana, while more than 60 embassies and cultural institutes gather at Plaza de Legazpi. Independent designers, meanwhile, head to Mercado de la Cebada to sell their wares.

Christmas Market

Strasbourg, France
The Christkindelsmarik draws in millions of visitors annually to Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace on France’s German border. It is also known as the Capital of Christmas.

For more than four centuries, the market has transformed the city into an enchanting winter destination. Shop windows sparkle, Christmas trees twinkle and the aromas of cinnamon and other seasonal spices waft through the air.

The sounds of carols also emanate from churches.

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