There’s nothing quite like spending the festive season in Europe. With the old-fashioned charm that you will find in so many European destinations, Christmas on the continent really does take on a life of its own.
Of course, this is greatly helped by the traditional Christmas markets hosted all over Europe. With 13th century-inspired wooden chalets, twinkling lights, hot mulled wine and seasonal delicacies, Europe’s Christmas markets impart festive joy into even the biggest Grinch.
There are numerous Christmas markets to be found in each European country, each one offering up something unique. There’s no doubt that they are all worth visiting, but, if you only have time for one, here are five European Christmas markets that are definitely worth traveling for.
Strasbourg Christmas Market, France
The city of Strasbourg sits on France’s side of the France-Germany border, and is home to the oldest Christmas market in the country. Established way back in 1570, the Strasbourg Christmas Market sprawls out across the center of town, transforming the city into a magical winter wonderland.
There are usually more than 300 stalls in total set up for the Strasbourg Christmas Market, with the biggest buzz being known as The Christkindelsmarik, which takes place at Place Broglie. With the city’s gothic cathedral providing an imposing backdrop, the market is always wonderfully picturesque.
In addition to Christkindelsmarik, several other nearby squares will also be hosting parts of the market, each one with its own theme:
- Alsace Market – located in Place des Meuniers, this mini market showcases local producers and growers
- Christmas Treats – this takes place around the Palais Rohan, and features local wine producers, brewers, local bakers and more
- Children’s World – if you’re visiting the market with kids, then head to Place Saint Thomas for plenty of fun-filled activities aimed at the little ones
- Sharing Village – held at Place Kleber, this is where you will find the market’s 30 meter tall Christmas tree (which also happens to be the highest Christmas tree in Europe), along with several charity stalls
If you’ve never been to France during the festive period before, make sure that you sample a few of these local specialties:
- Vin chaud – the local mulled wine infused with fruit and spices
- Pain d’epices – the French version of a ginger cake
- Bredeles – small spiced biscuits shaped like stars
In addition to all of the above, you will also be able to enjoy a carousel, an ice rink, carol singing and many other forms of festive fun.
Dates to Remember
The Strasbourg Christmas Market usually runs throughout December, and this year is no exception. 2019 sees the market beginning on the 22nd of November and running right up to the 30th of December.
Fiera di Santa Lucia, Italy
Most of the Christmas markets in Europe tend to be Germanic, but if you want to check out some of Italy’s festive traditions, head to the city of Bologna. One of Italy’s most historic cities, Bologna is famous for its castles, fortresses and medieval architecture, with the city having been founded at the end of the 6th century.
There are actually two Christmas markets that take place in Bologna each year, with the Fiera di Santa Lucia being the most traditional, dating back to the 16th century. It is held at the Church of Santa Maria Dei Servi, and, being one of Italy’s oldest Christmas markets, is nationally recognized for its cultural and historical value.
There are hundreds of stalls to browse here, selling everything from Christmas gifts and decorations to traditional festive food and drink. If you usually have a small Nativity scene set up at home, then be sure to purchase one of the traditional Nativity figures you will see on sale at the market – crafting these is a local custom here and the quality is simply outstanding.
You will likely be sampling your way through the food stalls at this market, so make sure that you don’t miss out on the following:
- Torrone – a local Christmas nougat
- Croccante alle mandorle – a hot and crunchy candy made from almonds
Of course, if you’re heading to Bologna for the Christmas season, it would only make sense to check out some of the city’s other Christmas markets too:
- The Porta Galliera always hosts a Christmas market, complete with funfair rides for kids
- Head to Via Altabella for a Christmas fair with gifts, food and decorations
- Piazza Minghetti hosts a French Christmas Village each year, giving you the chance to enjoy traditions from another European country
- Palazzo del Podesta is where you will find the Christmas antiques fair – perfect for finding a one-of-a-kind Christmas gift
- The Artistic Artisan market is held in Via San Giuseppe each year, and is where the local craftsmen head to sell their wares
While you’re wandering through the streets of Bologna, make it a point to pay a visit to Piazza Galvani, where you will find our OROGOLD Bologna store. This is the perfect spot to stop for a little breather, treating your skin to product demonstrations and VIP facials so that it looks its very best over Christmas.
Dates to Remember
The Fiera di Santa Lucia begins this year on the 21st of November and runs right up until the 6th of January 2020, giving you plenty of time to explore the festivities.
Winter Wonders Festival, Belgium
The Winter Wonders Festival, which is held each year in Brussels, is the largest Christmas market in Belgium, with more than 250 wooden chalets selling festive goods. The market is held around a square known as Grand Place, with this square being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The stalls here sell just about everything that you can imagine, from decorations and ornaments to delicious food and drink. Speaking of drink, beer lovers will not want to miss the Leffe Pavillion, where you will be able to sample different varieties of Leffe beer while also learning more about its history and how it is brewed.
The ice rink here is always a popular attraction, with there being a separate, smaller, rink for children. For the full experience, make sure that you purchase a cup of mulled wine to take on the ice with you! Other delicious delicacies not to be missed include:
- Waffles – one of the country’s national foods, the waffles in Belgium come with a variety of different toppings, from chocolate to fruit to cream
- Nougat – a traditional Christmas treat made from almonds, honey and whipped egg whites
- Jenever – the Belgian version of mulled wine, except that it is made from a Dutch gin and served cold
Of course, some authentic Belgian chocolate is a must too!
While there is plenty to see at the Winter Wonders Festival, Brussels is home to a few other Christmas markets that are worth checking out too:
- Magical Christmas Market – held in Anderlecht, this market features a different special event each day, from concerts to firework displays to seasonal tastings
- Christmas Market Ixelles – this is the largest covered Christmas market in the city, making this the place to go when the weather isn’t on your side
- Finnish Christmas Market – held in Etterbeek, this market showcases traditional Finnish traditions
- Swedish Market – also held in Etterbeek, this market is all about celebrating Christmas just like the Swedes do
- Ateliers des Tanneurs Christmas Market – if you care about sustainability and ecology, this market, with its emphasis on recyclability, is the one for you
Dates to Remember
This year, the Brussels’ Christmas Market opens its doors on the 29th of November, and will be running until the 5th of January 2020.
The Salzburg Christkindlmarkt, Austria
Home to “The Sound of Music” and Mozart’s birthplace, the Austrian city of Salzburg boasts one of the oldest Advent markets in the world. The market is held each year in Salzburg’s Old City, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, guaranteeing an awe-inspiring backdrop.
Many who visit the market for the first time agree that it initially feels as though you are stepping into a real-life fairytale, with the city’s fortress and cathedral surrounding the twinkling, fragrant stalls.
Wondering what you will find at the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt?
Everything from food and decorations to gifts, crafts and more, with around 100 stalls set up for this. The emphasis at this market is on quality rather than quantity, so don’t expect any cheap and cheerful stocking fillers here – instead, you will find hand-made goods that offer up a beautiful personal touch.
There are always daily events held at this market, from readings to music performances, ensuring that you will have something different to see each time you visit.
Of course, Christmas carols play a significant role in this market, as well as through the rest of Salzburg, with the city being where the most famous Christmas carol (Silent Night) was created. Carol singing takes place most nights here, with the public always more than welcome to join in.
While the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt may be Salzburg’s most popular Christmas market, there are several other smaller ones that you will also find sprinkled throughout the city:
- Advent Magic in Hellbrunn – this romantic market features a path lined with traditional torches, as well as several booths, a giant Advent calendar and real reindeer offering sleigh rides to children
- Christmas Market on Mirabell Square – this is a market with a focus on all things culinary, with festive delicacies, mulled wine and plenty of other delicious bites
- Advent Market in the Courtyard of the Hohensalzburg Fortress – this Christmas market boasts some of the best views of the city
- Advent Market St. Leonhard – with a jam-packed entertainment program and traditional punch, baked goods and roasted chestnuts, along with an array of classy gifts, this is always a great market for some holiday shopping
There is another Christmas market about 90 minutes from Salzburg, in St Wolfgang, that is also worth visiting. This market is held right next to a lake, and is lit up completely by candles, resulting in a truly romantic ambience.
Dates to Remember
Every year, the Salzburg Christmas Market opens its doors just before the first Sunday of the Advent, which, this year, is the 22nd of November. The market will then be running all the way until Boxing Day, the 26th of December.
Old Town Square Prague Christmas Market, Czech Republic
The city of Prague is known for its fairytale ambience throughout the year, but this is kicked up a notch or ten during the holiday period. Just like some of the other cities on this list, Prague is home to more than one Christmas Market, but the market that takes place in its Old Town Square is known for being the biggest and the most popular.
This market is where you will find the city’s giant Christmas tree, which looks especially impressive in the evenings, when you can see it majestically lit up. Nearby is the local Nativity scene, complete with an animal stable featuring a donkey, goats and sheep – an attraction that is always popular with the younger ones.
When it comes to the market stalls, these wooden huts sell everything from traditional toys and ceramics to holiday ornaments, puppets and clothing. As with most other Christmas markets, the food and drink served up is usually a highlight, and Prague is no exception. Be sure to try some of the following:
- Klobasa – barbecued sausages
- Langos – a Hungarian flatbread with various toppings
- Trdelnik – a pastry coated with hot sugar
- Medovina – the local honey wine
- Grog – a beverage made with rum, lemon, sugar and water
Dates to Remember
The Prague Christmas Markets usually run throughout December, beginning this year on the 1st of December. It will then run until the 6th of January 2020.
Whether you still need to purchase some gifts for your loved ones, or are simply looking for a way to really get into the festive spirit, these five European Christmas markets will not let you down. Each one is located in a major city, making them easy to access and well worth traveling for.