Walking under hundreds of twinkling fairy lights, browsing stalls glittering with handmade decorations and trinkets. Clutching a warm mug of mulled wine in your chilly fingers, with snow swirling through the sky and a choir singing carols… there really is nothing like a good Christmas market to get you feeling festive. Europe boasts some of the best Christmas markets in the world, so if you’re fancying a Christmas-y getaway this winter, look no further.
Best Christmas markets in Europe
From Hungary to Austria, there are tons of charming traditional Christmas markets to be found in major cities – here’s our top picks to the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Location: Cologne Cathedral
Dates: November 25th to December 22nd
As the birthplace of Christmas trees and tons of fun festive traditions, Germany obviously has a bit of a monopoly on Christmas markets. Traditional German food can be found at all of the best Christmas markets across Europe, from bratwurst to pretzels and, of course, beer halls! So when you’re looking for Christmas weekend breaks, head to the source.
There are tons of great German Christmas market trips, but we’d recommend Cologne – this pretty German city boasts multiple markets, but the headline is the main Markt der Engel Christmas market nestled against the dramatic backdrop of Cologne Cathedral. With plenty of traditional warm twinkling lights and festive red booths, the Cologne Christmas market is also famous for its live entertainment, with more than a hundred performances on stages across the festival, from traditional dancers to gospel choirs.
Location: St. Stephen’s Square / Szent Istvan Square
Dates: 29th November – 2nd January
While lots of Christmas markets in Europe are over by Christmas, the Advent Feast festival in Budapest is a bit different, running through until January and boasting one of the best Christmas markets in Hungary.
St. Stephen’s Basilica is a stunning church – the largest in Hungary! Budapest’s annual Christmas market and festival can be found spread around this impressive landmark. At this charming Christmas market you can expect all of the usual traditional vendors and stalls selling homemade crafts, food and treats, but there’s also live music and a skating rink to enjoy.
Prague, Czech Republic
Location: Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square
Dates: 27th November – 6th January
Prague is always a stunning location to visit, with extraordinary views of charming rooftops and twisting spires – but at Christmas it really comes into its own. The Prague Christmas markets run daily, with the two main ones at two of Prague’s iconic squares, just a five minute walk apart from each other.
Expect the traditional wooden huts bedecked with twinkling lights and Christmas decorations, selling all sorts of trinkets and gifts. There’s also plenty of delicious Eastern European and Czech delicacies on offer, from klobása (grilled seasoned sausages) to langoš (flatbreads topped with garlic and cheese), or sweet treats like sladké knedlíky (sweet dumplings) and pancakes.
Location: Altstadt, Salzburg
Dates: November 18th – 26th December
One of the most famous and best Christmas markets in Europe is the Christkindlmart in Salzburg. This market dates back to the 15th century, when locals would shop for food and trinkets at the covered stalls. By the 17th century it had become a more festive fair, the ‘Saint Nicholas Market’, named for the Austrian version of Father Christmas.
Today, the market is located in the heart of the Old City (which is a UNESCO World Heritage site!). There are hundreds of stalls selling Austrian specialties and gifts, as well as plenty of delicacies to eat and drink. There are tons of events too, with sing-along choirs that anyone can join every Tuesday and a visit from the Salzburg ‘Christ Child’ and angels every Saturday. ‘Silent Night’ was written nearby, so expect to hear a few renditions of classic carols as you browse the stalls with snow dusting the cobbled streets.
While you’re in Salzburg, you can also check out one of the iconic Krampus parades, celebrating the spookier side of the festive season by paying homage to the mythic figure of the Krampus, a goat-like creature that’s said to snatch up misbehaving children at Christmastime.
Best Christmas weekend breaks in the UK
Want to celebrate all things festive, but don’t fancy going away during the busy month of December? If you’re looking for a festive staycation here in the UK, then you’re in luck – plenty of British cities now have charming Christmas markets of their very own.
For a Christmas weekend away, why not visit a couple and see the best that our little island has to offer? Get festive with your friends, family or your partner in a prime location, with a wonderful market to match.
Here are a couple of our favourites:
Manchester Christmas Market
This incredible market has been around since 1999, and it gets better and better each year. Sip on a mug of a famous winter warmer like mulled wine or Bailey’s before shopping to your heart’s content. It’s easy to make a full weekend of the markets, since it stretches as far as 10 locations across the city, or you could also plan in a visit to nearby Christmas markets in Liverpool or Leeds.
Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market
Birmingham is a bustling and charming city, but it’s at its best in December, when it hosts one of the best Christmas markets in Europe. Eye up everything from handmade candles to handcrafted jewellery – the world is your oyster when you visit this marvellous market.
Edinburgh Christmas Market
Edinburgh is always a picture-perfect city to visit, but it really sparkles at Christmastime. The sprawling Gothic and Victorian architecture makes you feel like you’re in a Charles Dickens novel, and Edinburgh’s annual six-week Christmas celebration make it a perfect pick if you’re looking for Christmas weekend breaks in the UK!
We hope your heart is feeling all-aglow with Christmas feeling! If you’re ready to head on a festive weekend away with a trip to a Christmas market, then before you go make sure you check out our guides to all things seasonal, from what to write in a Christmas card to how to make your own Christmas decorations. And as always, for more inspiration and ideas all year round, head to the thortful blog!