Christmas markets are a tradition in Europe. Europe’s best Christmas markets are well worth investigating should you be in Europe during the Christmas season. Also, the Christmas markets are the perfect excuse to take a wonderfully rewarding excursion with your family, significant other, or even alone. I am listing my favorite Christmas markets among the many Christmas markets located all across Europe. These festive seasonal pop-ups offer unique and often artisanal gifts, as well as food, entertainment, and the Christmas markets have a cozy atmosphere that’s guaranteed to get you in the holiday spirit. This year, the comparatively weak Euro means these Christmas markets can also be a great deal. Plus it’s way more fun than online shopping. Here are some of my favorite Christmas markets.
The magic of traditional German Christmas Markets is casting more visitors under its spell every year. The Christmas Markets of 2012 will be sure to keep the tradition alive!
Historic Christmas Markets, held in cities, towns and villages throughout the country, are becoming increasingly more popular, due, no doubt, to the enchanting Festive Season atmosphere they evoke.
The Christmas Fairs and Christmas Markets of Germany are unique. If you’re tired of commercialism taking over this holiday period and would like to get right away for a real traditional and romantic Christmas Market you might want to consider heading to Germany where Christmas gifts are not mass-produced but craft-work of real quality.
Here you can buy all kinds of Christmas merchandise and gifts at Christmas markets, especially traditional things such as crib figurines, toys, wood carvings, marionettes, candles and lambskin shoes to place underneath your traditional or artificial Christmas tree. Many are difficult to resist – as will be the glass of delicious mulled wine you are offered and the baked apples that are very welcome on crisp winter days. Try to find either of those at your local Wal-Mart.
The ambiance of typical German Christmas Markets is further enhanced by the aromas of hot chestnuts, grilled sausages and other tasty snacks. Youngsters especially will be attracted to the gingerbread biscuits known as Lebkuchen, marzipan figures and other sweets.
With so many Christmas Markets through out Germany the most difficult choice is which of the Christmas Markets to select. The best solution is to sample at least two Christmas Markets, preferably in a city for some serious shopping and a small town or village if you are looking for something a little bit more romantic.
Most Christmas Markets start in the last week of November and run through to Christmas Eve or a day or two before. Christmas markets are usually open every day from 10am to about 8 or 9 pm.
In 2012 most Christmas Markets are expected to start 5 days later, in comparison to 2011, this is due to the season of Advent beginning on a different date each year. In 2012 the first Sunday of Advent will be on the 2nd of December 2012.
Please note that the fifth Sunday before Christmas is “Totensonntag” a Remembrance Day in Germany (25.11.2012). For many German cities (mainly Catholic areas) this day is a public holiday with many attractions closing. Christmas Markets may also be affected. As this decision is usually made at short notice, we advise you to contact the local tourist office to check if any Christmas Markets will be closed.
Here is a list of my personal favorite European Christmas markets.
Vienna’s ‘Christkindlmärkt’ – Vienna, Austria
This is my personal favorite of the European Christmas markets. Why? Mainly because of the beautiful setting in front of Vienna’s Rathaus (Town Hall) on the famous Ringstraße. The quality of all the good offered, the music, and Glühwein. It is one of the best-known and most visited Christmas markets in Europe, attracting millions of visitors to its rows of wooden huts leading up to the Rathaus. It is certainly one of the oldest Christmas markets, dating back over seven hundred years, and starts early – from mid-November – which is handy for those wanting to avoid the pre-Christmas crowds.
The park surrounding the Christmas market is one of the highlights, its trees decorated with themed lights, shaped like hearts or gingerbread men. The market itself has a central row of stalls selling hand-crafted decorations and arty bits and pieces, as well as deliciously scented natural beeswax candles.
The Vokshalle, within the Town Hall, is home to a daily workshop for kids in Vienna where parents can drop them off to make presents and bake Christmas cookies. An added attraction is that throughout December choirs from around the world perform in the Festival Hall at weekends.
Here is a video showing Rathaus Christkindlmarkt and scenes of other Christmas markets in Vienna.
There are other wonderfully enchanting Christmas markets in Europe. A person can have a glorious experience visiting Christmas markets in Europe. Christmas markets are family friendly and for a family (especially a family with young children) a trip planned around visiting Christmas markets will be remembered for a lifetime.
Cologne Christmas Markets – Cologne, Germany
The city of Cologne offers six Christmas Markets in total. Among them are four big Christmas Markets located at the Cologne Cathedral, on the Alter Markt, on the Neumarkt and on the Rudolfplatz. Every year these wonderful four Christmas Markets attract almost 2 million visitors.
The Christmas Market at the Cologne Cathedral is the most impressive of the Christmas markets in Cologne, due to the huge backdrop of the imposing Cathedral.
Beneath the Cathedral and the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland you can find well over 160 festively designed wooden pavilions. Here you can watch artisans at work, enjoy original “Christmas Mulled Wine”, out of festively decorated Christmas mugs or you can choose from an unlimited choice of sweets and local delicacies at all the Christmas markets.
The Christmas Market on the Alter Markt takes place in the heart of the Altstadt (Old Town) and in front of the Old Cologne Town Hall, which is only 200 meters away from the Cathedral. For many years this Christmas Market has been attracting young and like-minded people to Cologne from all over the World. Shadowed by beautiful narrow-gabled houses and half-timbered stalls, the Christmas Market on the Alter Markt conveys a very romantic and idyllic feel. Children especially will find lots to do here; a nostalgic children’s roundabout, a puppet theater, a Santa Claus’ grotto and many toy stands, all providing endless fun and entertainment. According to an old Cologne legend, this is were the famous “Heinzelmännchen” gnomes are said to be responsible for all this Christmas splendor, carefully observing the Christmas proceedings and preventing any mass made or modern goods from being sold.
Neumarkt Christmarket – Cologne, Germany
The Neumarkt Christmas Market is the oldest of Cologne’s Christmas Markets. It is curiously located on the “New Market” amidst the backdrop of St.Aposteln’s Church and Cologne’s main shopping area. As in previous years, the Angels Market glows in pre-Christmas splendor with charmingly designed chalets and a unique “stars at night” theme. Visitors will be enchanted by glamor and high-quality products.
Christmas Market on the Rudolfplatz (Artikel Maerchenweihnact) – Cologne, Germany
Set against the historic backdrop of Hahnentorburg, one of Cologne’s three mediaeval gate houses, the Christmas Market on the Rudolfplatz takes you to a world of brother’s Grimm fairy tales. Large fairy tale figures and festive illuminations provide a special eye-catcher, especially for children.
Cologne Harbour Christmas market at the Chocolate Museum (Hafen Weihnachtsmarkt) – Cologne, Germany
Besides the four big Christmas markets there is also a Cologne Harbour Christmas Market, located at the Chocolate Museum.
The new Cologne Harbour Christmas Market is showcased by picturesque surroundings. Located near to a medieval Malakoff-Tower, Swing Bridge and Cologne’s popular Chocolate Museum, the historical harbour is a splendid location for a perfect Christmas Market. Modern and elegant, with about 80 white marquee pagoda tents and roof peaks, like ship sails, this Christmas Market aims to inspire a nautical theme. Offering high quality art products, and culinary delights from all over the world, as well as a colorful program; with pirates, shanty and Christmas stage performances. The Harbour Christmas Market will entice anyone to stay for a tasty mug of mulled wine.
Stadtgarten Christmas Market – Cologne, Germany
Finally and as well worth seeing as the other Christmas markets is the Stadtgarten Christmas Market, a fairly large Christmas Market, located on the edge of Cologne’s oldest park. The Stadtgarten Christmas Market has a far more relaxed and village like atmosphere and is, apart from the traditional local food, arts & crafts, a great choice for children’s entertainment or any one young at heart. As Christmas approaches there are plenty of things to do and attractions through out Cologne, including a variety of Christmas Concerts, Nativity Scenes and a huge temporary ice rink on the Heumarkt. Enjoy the Christmas markets, but check out other attractions as well.
Nuremberg Christkindlmärkt – Nuremberg, Germany
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! The enticing smells of mulled wine and rum punch, roasted almonds, Nuremberg bratwurst and gingerbread fill the air. And it’s not only tiny tots who will have their eyes all a-glow as the Nuremberg Christkind appears on the balcony of the Church of Our Lady to open the holiday season. Friday before the first Sunday in Advent is the day it all begins as she opens the world-famous Nuremberg Christkindlmärkt.
From then until Christmas Eve, the “little town of wood and cloth” will shine in the heart of Nuremberg’s Old Town and turn it into “Christmas City”. More than 180 market stands – all decorated for Christmas with fresh greens and lights – invite you to enjoy traditional Christmas ornaments of all shapes and sizes, the local gold-foil angel, “Zwetschgenmännle” made of prunes, toys and games and delicious holiday treats to eat and drink. Come and experience this one-of-a-kind atmosphere and enjoy the magic of the Nuremberg Christmas Market! It is easy to understand why Christmas markets are a tradition in Germany.
Of all the Christmas markets in Europe, Nuremberg is probably the most famous. Here is a video showing Nuremberg and the Nuremberg Christmas markets. Enjoy!
Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt – Frankfurt, Germany
There has been a Christmas market in Frankfurt for over 600 years. Full of history and traditions the Frankfurt Christmas Market (Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt) is one of Germany’s oldest and most popular Christmas markets in Europe.
In fact the Frankfurt Christmas Market is so good and beautiful that every year a smaller sibling version takes place in the UK cities of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Edinburgh, which is probably one contributing factor why the German Christmas Markets have grown so much in international popularity, over the last few years.
Dresden Striezelmarkt – Dresden, Germany
Dresden’s Christmas Market is traditionally called Striezelmarkt, it is Germany’s oldest Christmas Market with a very long history dating back to 1434. Its name derives from Hefestriezel, a sweet delicacy which centuries later has become know as “Dresden Christstollen” (German Christmas Cake).
The Dresden Christmas Market is located in the historical part of the city center between the recently rebuilt Frauenkirche and the culinary famous restaurant street of Münzgasse.
Most traditional Christmas gifts, toys and decorations have been invented hundreds of years ago in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains), when the supply of ore run out. The Erzgebirge is located only a few kilometers outside Dresden, near the Czech border. Today most of the Christmas Markets in Germany are still being supplied from this region.
The traditional Dresden Christmas Market with its romantic and festive charm is an inspiration in itself, a real treasure trove for real traditional hand made crafts. Every visitor here will find a “little something”: Christmas pyramids, smoking figures and candleholders from Erzgebirge Mountains, indigo-dyed printed textile products and pottery from Lusatia, gingerbread from Pulsnitz, filigree lace products from Plauen, Herrenhut Advent stars, blown glass tree decorations from Lauscha, and of course specialties from Dresden itself, such as the traditional ‘Pflaumentoffel’, a chimney-sweep figure made of dried prunes. Visitors can also watch the carvers, glass-blowers and bakers in action at the crafts market.
The focal point of the Dresden Christmas Market is the world’s tallest Christmas pyramid, with a height of 14 meters and the world’s biggest nut cracker. The culinary attraction of the market, however, is the Dresden Christstollen, originally known as ‘Striezel’, which accounts for the market’s name.
Munich Christmas Market – Munich, Germany
Munich’s Christmas Market – whose roots go back to the 14th century – is held on the Marienplatz in the heart of the city center.
Town records first mention a ”Nicholas Market” in the Kaufinger Strasse near the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) in 1642. Back then, just like today, the Munich Christmas Market offers traditional Bavarian and unique Christmas gifts, including wood carvings from Oberammergau, gingerbread (Lebkuchen) from Nuremberg and notably some exquisite glassware from the Bavarian Forest.
Crib figurines, bee wax candles, chimney sweeps made of plums and almonds are just some of the many thousands of other traditional Christmas gift ideas on display.
Each day, from the balcony of Munich’s town hall, music lovers will be able to enjoy the festive season celebration with a special alpine Christmas Market concert.
In the Town Hall‘s ”Heavenly Workshop”, children between the ages of 6 and 12 can have fun with arts and crafts or baking Christmas cookies. Gossamer wings and shimmering gowns lie ready in magnificent surroundings, waiting to transform young visitors into angels – at least for a short while. Under the supervision of professional artists and instructors from the city‘s Children‘s Museum, girls and boys can have a good time. And it‘s free!
Berlin Christmas Markets – Berlin, Germany
Anyone who wants to experience the incomparable charm of “WinterMagic” has to come to Berlin! Berlin is the capital city of the German Christmas Markets. Whether you prefer a contemplative and magical Christmas Market or a lively and urban one, this year Berlin offers you a choice of sixty Christmas Markets.
Allow yourself to discover the vendor booths’ magic charm and unique Christmas gift items along the large boulevards and squares as well as on the small side streets and even in several museums.
Weihnachtsmarkt an der Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche – Berlin, Germany
Since 2007 the Charlottenburg Castle Christmas Market in Berlin is host to one of the most famous Christmas Markets in the German capital. For 35 days the castle and its park are immersed in a special romantic light and a unique ensemble is created with approximately 150 vendors from all over Germany as well as abroad. Alongside attractive temporary and permanent exhibitions inside the castle, the Christmas market presents carefully selected arts and crafts, ancient handicrafts, and well-chosen gastronomy inside of festively decorated cabins and exclusive glass pagodas.
An atmospheric backdrop guarantees a wonderful experience at the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market in one of the most beautiful squares in the city. Insights into old handicrafts such as flax embroidery are offered at the Gendarmenmarkt. Wood carvers and stonemasons present their work. Jugglers, acrobats, fire artists, dance groups, choirs, Berlin classical, jazz and Gospel ensembles, as well as internationally famous artists, also ensure a varied show program. Alongside the exhibitors’ wares, culinary temptations from top cooks also promise “Christmas spirit”.
Winterwelt am Potsdamer Platz – Berlin, Germany
The heart of “WinterMagic” beats particularly strongly on the Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market and in the Sony Center, where there is a Christmas Market on the Sony Center’s 4,000 square meter event area. Lots of lights, handicrafts, music and delicacies ensure a reflective atmosphere at the Christmas Market at Potsdamer Platz. Alongside the handicrafts market along Alte Potsdamer Straße and an ice rink, the Winter World also offers fast fun on the largest mobile toboggan run in Europe, which is 12 meters high and 70 meters long. And anyone still looking for more sporting activity after the toboggans can skate on the 500 square meter open air rink. Finally, the nearly ten meter high Clock Tower from the Ore Mountains is always there too.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church Christmas Market – Berlin, Germany
Every year during Advent it smells of roasted almonds, hot cocoa and mulled wine at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church Christmas Market, near the Kurfürstendamm. Because that’s when more than 170 craft and Christmas market stands are set up around the historical church in the center of City West. Christmas fairy lights surround the elaborately decorated Breitscheidplatz. The right present for everyone – no empty promise here. You’ll find everything here, from Christmas decorations and ornaments to toys and delicate accessories. And refreshments are also taken care of: the range extends from cocoa, mulled wine and punch, plus glazed fruit up to grilled sausages. More than two million visitors enjoy the Christmas atmosphere around the 20 meter high Christmas tree every year.
Spandau Christmas Market – Berlin, Germany
The largest of Berlin’s Christmas markets takes place in the Spandau Old Town, casting a spell on the historic backdrop with pre-Christmas luster. At the Spandau Christmas Market an unmistakeable Advent landscape comes into being here every day during Advent. 250 stands during the week and 400 at weekends and the stage program (including a Christmas rock concert on Fridays from 6 pm) ensure multifaceted entertainment. Highlights are a Christmas crib with living animals on Reformationsplatz, the St. Nikolai Christmas Garden and crafts and design at the historic crafts market on Reformationsplatz – where a medieval plague procession also takes place every Wednesday. There is a special range for children and families around the St. Nikolai church.
For a Nordic-Scandinavian Christmas Market experience visit the Lucia Christmas Market at the Kulturbrauerei (Cultural Brewery). Situated in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin, the Kulturbrauerei is an ensemble of 20 historic buildings and 6 charming courtyards. Named after Lucia, the Nordic goddess of light, this Christmas Market is very popular with anyone looking for a romantic atmosphere.
A nostalgic Christmas market takes place between the Staatsoper and Opernpalais. Craftspeople, confectioners, almond and chestnut roasters, and candle and lantern makers offer their wares in more than 200 wooden booths. There is also a crib with real animals and a wooden horse carousel. The much loved Christmas market on the boulevard Unter den Linden twinkles and shines. The illuminated Palais and the Staatsoper Berlin provide the nostalgic Christmas market with an appropriate backdrop. A coachman also invites you to take a pre-Christmas carriage drive through Berlin’s “old center”. You can enjoy the historical atmosphere at the market and on a carriage ride against a unique backdrop.
Of course Berlin has 54 more Christmas Markets to explore. Scattered throughout the city the Christmas Markets all offer something unique, different and sometimes unusual. Enjoy the Christmas markets of Berlin. You can easily get an overload of Christmas markets in Berlin, so we advise you chose one or two and move on to other Christmas markets in other countries.
Now we move on to the Czech Republic. Germany and Austria are not the only countries in Europe to feature inspiring Christmas Markets.
Prague Christmas Markets
November 20, 2012 – January 13, 2013
Visitors come from all over to experience the Christmas markets (vánoční trhy) in Prague. Some unique products that are available at the markets are Christmas ornaments and holiday decorations, traditional Czech Christmas cookies, tablecloths, Frankincense or the Czech Christmas potpourri called purpura. Some other items on offer are Czech wooden toys, crafts, clothing accessories, scented candles or handmade soap. You can taste some traditional Czech foods that are made fresh right in front of you. Hot wine (svařené víno or svařák), grog, and warm honey liquor called medovina come in handy in the cold weather. Czech Christmas carols add to the festive atmosphere. After dark, the markets are lit up beautifully.
Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí) – Prague, Czech Republic
The Old Town Square Christmas market is the prettiest and busiest of the Christmas markets in Prague. Little stalls are nestled around the Jan Hus statue and surrounded by centuries old Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. The market is dominated by a Christmas tree, which is adorned with hundreds of lights and is lit every evening at dusk, usually around 5 p.m. A stage is erected every year where Christmas concerts and short plays are performed in the open air.
Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí) – Prague, Czech Republic
Wenceslas Square has its own brightly lit Christmas tree too, which can be admired from all parts of the square.
Christmas is a special time of year in Prague and the Christmas markets (Vanocni trh) are a key ingredient in the Czech festive magic. The Prague Christmas markets bring visitors and locals together to share the holiday spirit in a true ‘winter wonderland’ setting.
Prague Christmas markets run daily from 9am to 7pm throughout the festive period. The main markets are at the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, with smaller ones at Namesti Republiky and Havelske Trziste.
The Prague Christmas markets consist of rows of brightly decorated wooden huts, selling Czech handicrafts, hot food (corn on the cob, sausages and local specialties) and warm drinks. Outdoor Christmas shopping is much easier with a cup of hot wine (svarene vino) in your hand!
Some interesting Christmas stocking fillers can be found in the markets, which stock a variety of Czech glass, wooden toys, scented candles, Christmas tree ornaments, hand-made jewellery and, of course, puppets, always puppets!
Paris Christmas Markets – Paris, France
The winter holiday season in the city of lights would feel degrees less cheerful and inspired without the traditional Paris Christmas markets that spring up each year. The markets, with their iconic clusters of wood chalets offering custom holiday treats like mulled wine, gingerbread, sausages and specialties from various regions of France, are an essential part of celebrating Christmas in Paris. They also make an ideal outing with kids in Paris. Visit one of Paris’s many Christmas markets for a scenic winter stroll, or stock up on traditional foodstuffs or handcrafted toys, clothing and other items for gifts.
Christmas Market on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées – Paris, France
This is the largest of the Christmas markets within Paris’s city limits. The market stretches from the Champs-Elysées roundabout (Metro Champs Elysées-Clémenceau) to the Place de la Concorde (Metro Concorde). Also visit the Maison de l’Alsace at 39 avenue des Champs-Elysées, a temporary boutique offering traditional Alsatian Christmas goodies.
Parisians know how to set a scene when it comes to Christmas markets. The enormous annual Christmas market that stretches along the Champs-Elysées is like a winter wonderland on steroids. There’s a real sense of French pride to this market, with plenty of stalls specializing in regional crafts (lace) and food (like, mais oui, cheese, chocolate, and crepes) as well as a massive Ferris wheel in the Place de la Concorde.
Tivoli Gardens’ Classic Christmas Market – Copenhagen, Denmark
Christmas in Tivoli Gardens is a dear Christmas tradition amongst Copenhageners as well as visitors to the city. If you are in Copenhagen during the months of November and December, do not miss Tivoli’s Christmas market, sweets, decorations, lights and entertainment for the world. One of the most unforgettable of all Christmas Markets.
In 2011 Tivoli Gardens introduced a Russian theme to its Christmas season. Among the attractions were a Russian city with a Tivoli version of St. Basil’s Cathedral known from the Red Square in the Kremlin, featuring a 21 meter tall tower with onion domes and a carillon.
The spectacular Russian basilica from last year remains the focal point of the central Tivoli square with its nine onion shaped domes and impressive Christmas tree. Surrounding the basilica are shops and food outlets as well as the Siberian Lantern ride, one of Tivoli’s 28 Christmas rides.
New Nordic area and the return of the pixies.
In last year’s Russian theme, the pixies had been omitted, but this year the little pixies or gnomes (in Danish: nisse) are back by popular demand.
This Christmas in Tivoli Gardens, guests are welcomed by a new Nordic setting with Father Christmas residing in the Pantomime Theater, built 1874. The stalls and decorations take inspiration from Danish and Scandinavian tradition and live reindeer add to the Christmas feel.
A new addition to the scenery will be Nutcracker decorations linking the gardens to the new splendid production of the Nutcracker, which opens in the Tivoli Concert Hall 22 November 2012 choreographed by Tivoli’s Peter Bo Bendixen with set designs and costumes by Queen Margrethe of Denmark.
There are many European Christmas markets not mentioned in this post. Of the literally hundreds of Christmas markets throughout Europe, these are, in my opinion, Christmas markets that are well worth the time to explore. Do not be afraid to venture out to some smaller cities (especially in Germany) for some very interesting and quaint Christmas markets. The possibilities are endless. One cannot see all the Christmas markets of Europe in one lifetime.
If you do get the chance to visit Europe during the Christmas season we hope that this list of Christmas markets will give you some great memories. We hope you are ready to pack your bags and visit several of the Christmas Markets of Europe.
Have a Very Merry 2012 Christmas!!