The Most Beautiful Christmas Markets in Europe

The Most Beautiful Christmas Markets in Europe

When you’re traveling abroad at year’s end, visiting a Christmas market is probably the best way to dive into the holiday spirit and start enjoying the festive atmosphere. These markets offer unique traditional settings where you can try typical winter street food and beverages, buy cute and quirky decorations for your tree, keep the kids busy with games and toys or even ice skate or have a visit with Santa and his elves. Every year, some of the most charming European towns and cities host their own magical local events. Read on to learn about the most beautiful Christmas markets in Europe– ones we always recommend you visit on your next trip to the Continent or the UK. We’ve included details on market dates for 2018, so you can plan your trip accordingly. Time to get festive!

 

Cologne, Germany

One of the most beloved Christmas-time destinations in Europe is Cologne, in Germany. In this lovely city, millions of visitors from around the world head to the annual markets to enjoy the festive atmosphere, usually on the last Monday before Advent.  The city offers five different markets, where revelers can purchase decorations, toys, mulled wine, gingerbread and many other local treats. In particular, we recommend the Old Town Market, in front of Cologne’s Town Hall, which, legend has it, is populated by gnomes.

Dates in 2018: Christmas markets in Cologne run from the 26th of November through the 23rd of December.

Read related: These Are the 11 Most Tempting Food Markets in the World 

Lille, France

From the 23rd of November until the end of December, the Northern French city of Lille hosts around 90 wooden chalets selling delicious regional food and crafty Christmas gifts ideas from Russia, Canada and Poland. For a stunning view of the festive town from above, we strongly recommend a ride on the Ferris Wheel. Head to the town center of this pretty but under-estimated city in France for some unique holiday cheer. A day trip from Paris is even possible!

Dates in 2018: November 23rd through the end of December

Alsace, France

Christmas market in Colmar, France

Christmas market in Colmar, France

Have time to visit a couple more festive holiday markets in France? If so, also make sure to check out the lovely traditional markets of Alsace, including in Strasbourg and Colmar. There’s little more heartening and spirited than strolling through rows of warm chalets decked with lights and decorations, sipping spiced mulled wine and nibbling on gingerbread or crepes. Alsace is located at the border of Germany, and the cultural influences of both France and Germany combine in local Christmas fare and customs.

Dates in 2018: See this page for a full list of markets in Alsace this year.

 

Lisbon, Portugal

With fairy lights adorning the historic city center, the Portuguese capital looks completely different during the Christmas season. The bright colors and the delicious smells of the Natal E Na Fil Festive Market turn it in a whole new gem to discover. The Market, held in the Feira Internacional De Lisboa, usually takes place during the first week of December. If you’d like to try a typical Christmas cake, we advise to taste the ‘Bolo rei’ (the King’s cake), a round pastry stuffed with seasonal fruit, and to accompany it with a glass of fine regional wine.

Dates in 2018: Generally in early December. Visit the Lisbon Tourist Office for updates. 

Venice, Italy

How does ice skating in the gorgeous city center of Venice, Italy sound to you? In Campo San Polo, the biggest Venetian square after San Marco, an ice rink is set up every year for tourists and Venetians to enjoy. Campo Santo Stefano, located in the Sestiere of Dorsoduro – at a walking distance from San Marco via the Accademia Bridge across the Canal Grande –  is also turned into a Christmas Village, running for three weeks until the 24th of December.

Read related: Spotlight on Montefeltro, Italy 

The Village has a whole section dedicated to Italian food, where you can find cakes, olive oils, fine vinegars and gourmet products to taste. Pannetone, a typical Italian cake that comes in different flavors, is one that’s especially enjoyed during the holiday season.

Dates in 2018: Early December through Christmas Eve (December 24th)

Florence, Italy

Photo by Alice Barigelli via flickr

Piazza Santa Croce, one of the most beautiful squares in the city of Florence, hosts a Christmas Market in 2018 from late  November to the 20th of December. Following the tradition of the well-known German markets, you’ll find plenty of small wooden chalets decorated with festive garlands and fairy lights. Vendors at these cheerful stalls sell Christmas decorations, handmade gifts and, of course, delicious food. In addition to regional Italian delicacies, the market also offers a good selection of German Christmas foods, including gingerbread and strudel.

Dates in 2018: November 28th to December 20th

Birmingham, UK

By Paul Englefield [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Heading across the channel to celebrate the holidays British-style, Birmingham’s Frankfurt-style Christmas market is the largest outdoor market of this kind in the United Kingdom. It’s also, somewhat surprisingly, the biggest German market outside Germany and Austria. If you love festive holiday markets, this one is truly unmissable! Held for the first time in 1997, it attracts more than five million people every year. Situated in Victoria Square and along New Street, this market will be open for five weeks from mid-November. The broad, festive food selection on offer here includes authentic pretzels, schnitzel, bratwurst sausages, and roasted almonds.

Dates in 2018: November 15th through December 23rd

Guernsey, Channel Islands

Christmas market in Guernsey

Why not arrange a magical winter getaway on the charming island of Guernsey? St Peter Port, Guernsey’s capital, is a perfect location to spend the Christmas break in a different and stimulating way. From the beginning of December, the historic central square of the town will be lit up each Saturday with festive street markets and many other Christmas activities, including carol services and Christmas pantos.

Dates in 2018: Saturdays in December (1st, 8th, 15th and 22nd)

Copenhagen, Denmark

Fairy lights at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen. Photo by Anna Maria Colivicchi / All rights reserved

Danish winter culture is all about ‘hygge’ – pronounced hoo-ga: a term that doesn’t have a proper translation in English, but essentially means ‘living in the moment’ and enjoying quality time with your loved ones, usually in a cozy environment. Visiting Christmas markets is, of course, one of the activities that can be described as ‘hygge’.

Read related: The World’s Most Beautiful Destinations for Fall Foliage 

The Christmas market at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen features a "heart tree" beloved by visitors. Image: Visit Copenhagen

The Christmas market at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen features a “heart tree” beloved by visitors. Image: Visit Copenhagen

Copenhagen’s biggest and most festive market is held at the iconic Tivoli Gardens. There, half a million lights guarantee a magical Christmas setting after dark – but there are many other seasonal markets to visit in Copenhagen, such as Højbroplads, an old-fashioned market in the heart of the Nordic city.

Dates in 2018: Visit the Copenhagen Tourist Office for more details 

 

Vilnius, Lithuania

At the start of December, Vilnius turns into a winter wonderland where magical Christmas lights, festive trees, live performances and seasonal food tastings guarantee an unforgettable year-end holiday celebration. Head over to the market in the Cathedral Square, where, surrounded by the delicious aroma of candied nuts, you can buy Lithuanian souvenirs, unique gifts, herbal teas and typical pastries.

Dates in 2018: From early December

Prague, Czech Republic

Christmas markets in Prague are the most impressive in the country, featuring brightly decorated wooden huts where you can find local handmade products like ceramics, embroidered lace, wooden toys, gloves and candles for your cozy winter nights. The annual markets are usually located in the Old Town Square and in Wenceslas Square; every year, the markets follow a different theme, usually announced in late November; in 2017, it was ‘history of Prague’.

Delicious typical Christmas food you can buy in Prague’s Christmas markets include large hams roasted on spits (Pražská Šunka), barbequed sausages (klobása), Hungarian flatbread topped with garlic, cheese and ketchup (langoš); pancakes (palačinky) and a variety of cakes and pastries that are prepared in front of you, such as ‘Trdelník’, a hot sugar-coated pastry.

Dates in 2018: From early December through the first week of January. See this page for more information .

Bruges, Belgium

Last but certainly not least, the fairy-tale-pretty city of Bruges is another of our favorite destinations for cheerful holiday markets. From the 23rd of November, Bruges’ gorgeous town center becomes a giant Christmas market, which is considered by many the best of its kind across Europe. If Bruges is magical on any day, the market that fills up the entire town adds an enchanting extra touch to this charming Belgian gem.

Dates in 2018: See this page for more information 

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos. 

Anna Maria Colivicchi

 

The 8 Most Beautiful Leaf-Peeping Destinations in the World

The 8 Most Beautiful Leaf-Peeping Destinations in the World

Nature Puts On Her Fall Coat

As we sail into the fall season, one of the things many of us look forward to the most is the opportunity for leaf peeping. As temperatures begin to dip and deciduous trees change from summery green hues to fiery shades of yellow, orange and red, the splendor of autumn announces itself in a colorful show.

Haven’t we all experienced moments of joy on a quiet walk in a forest, perhaps with a loved one or even alone? There’s something about trees: they seem to act as a balm for body, mind and soul. Now, healing therapies are bearing this out. 

Did you know that Japanese people (and specifically many Tokyo residents) have been indulging in a practice called “forest bathing” for decades? Called Shinrin-yoku and developed in Japan as a healing therapy in the 1980’s, forest bathing is a nurturing experience for the senses: a way to calm body, mind and spirit by spending time in wooded areas. It’s been scientifically proven to boost your sense of wellbeing, and even lowers blood pressure and stress hormone levels. In the autumn, of course, the colorful sights can enhance the soothing effects even more.

Forest bathing amid yellow fall foliage

Destinations abound for viewing this autumnal tour de force from Mother Nature. When you think of magnificent fall leaves, what’s the first place that pops into your mind? England or New England? Canada or Australia? Depending on where you happen to live, you will no doubt have your own favorites. The truth is that there are many worthy destinations for an awe-inspiring autumnal experience, on almost every continent.

Read on for 8 of the world’s most stunning destinations for leaf-peeping. Take a drive, boat or train to any of these splendid places- and once there, make sure you have time to indulge in your own version of “forest-bathing”! Let us know if you have a personal favorite among them by leaving a comment below. 

1. Agawa Canyon Park, Algoma Highlands, Ontario, Canada

Agawa Canyon, Ontario: the train tour in autumn is absolutely stunning for leaf peeping and fall foliage.

This favorite fall destination in North America is best reached by train!  Hop on the famous Train Tour through the spectacular Agawa Canyon in northern Ontario, Canada, which begins and ends at Sault Ste. Marie. There’s an hour-and-a-half stop along the way, allowing you to enjoy the surrounding wilderness trails and scenic viewpoints in all their glory.

Travelling to just over 100 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie and back via a breathtaking ride through the Canyon, this is definitely one for the bucket list. Of course, you can enjoy the vast pristine wilderness and its numerous provincial parks by car as well. The Train Tour simply adds a “truly extraordinary” element while you sit back and enjoy the unparalleled views of fall foliage. 

When does it run?

The train runs from late June through mid-October. The last two weeks of September and the first two weeks of October are the recommended times for leaf peeping. This time-frame varies with each year as it is dependant on seasonal conditions: in years when cooler temperatures arrive earlier, so do changing colors. 

Be sure to reserve well ahead, as this tour definitely sells out. Click here for inclusive packages for the Train Tour, Accommodations and a Pass Book.

Visit this page to view the map and trails in the Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park.

2. Japan

Gorgeous fall leaves in Japan

More famous for its cherry blossom season and its population’s general love for trees, nature and gardens, Japan is in fact equally spectacular in the fall season. Home to millions of maples and other deciduous trees, Japan puts on an autumnal spectacle that is among the world’s most extraordinary– and we highly recommend that you travel by train to take it all in. As for the inimitable style and diverse fauna found in Japanese parks and gardens, they can’t be beaten. You will revel in the seasonal enjoyment of neatly and precisely planned natural settings, some of which contain thousands of trees. 

Read related: Top 7 Tips for Exploring Seoul, South Korea 

When to See Fall Leaves in Japan?

As temperature differences between mountainous and lowland areas vary and can greatly affect the best viewing times, possibilities for leaf-peeping in the country come as early as mid-September and as late as early December. The earliest times begin in the northernmost region and the latest are in and near Tokyo.

A beautiful autumn scene in Akiyama Township Valley, Japan

Use this resource to find out when and where to visit. Scroll down the page for a map and list by region with the full forecast for all of Japan.

In the Kansai region, a unique Train Tour allows visitors to enjoy the autumn display of color (also recommended earlier in the year to gawk at breathtaking cherry blossoms). This is the Sagano Scenic Railway, also known as Kyoto’s “romantic train”, and viewing times for leaf peeping are from November into December. This is a one-way ticket– with the option of returning via a river cruise on the Hozugawa River to your point of departure at Arashiyama, a short distance from Kyoto. (Of course you can return by train, but you’ll need another ticket.)

Note: If you have a Japan Rail Pass, this will get you to and from Arashiyama, but the Sagano Scenic Railway is not included in the pass. Tickets for the Sagano Railway can be purchased on arrival at the Saga-Arashiyama Station or at any Japan Rail ticket office in the Kansai region. Pre-purchasing is recommended at peak times, as is checking available days for the Train Tour.

Travel Tip: For nature lovers, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove near Kyoto is also not to be missed.

3. Kootenay Lake, British Columbia, Canada

Love mountain landscapes? Add a crystal-clear glacial lake, and you have an idyllic autumn setting at Kootenay Lake, British Columbia, Canada.

This video speaks for itself and is likely to prompt you to put this part of the world on your bucket list!

Alongside Kootenay Lake and its pristine views, you can also bask in surrounding provincial parks, activities, artisan studios, cultural events and more. Even better: Plan to be there during the salmon-spawning season which runs from August through October. This is an incredible experience in and of itself.  See this page for more details.

For accommodation resources, click here to see a selection of different accommodation types–from hotels to Bed & Breakfasts– in the Nelson and Kootenay region. Prefer something self-catered? Take a look here using “Kootenay Lake British Columbia” to create your search. Yes, there are log cabins on this list!

How to get to this part of the B.C. interior? Click here to learn more.

4. New England, United States

Autumn Leaves in New England

The problem with including New England on our autumn leaf-peeping bucket list? There are simply too many marvelous destinations in this part of the United States to properly account for. Places like Maine, Connecticut, Vermont and other New England states offer opportunities for viewing fall foliage at its most glorious.  

With their winding country roads, billboard-free drives, sinuous rivers and picturesque small towns all accumulating in idyllic pastoral scenes, these are destinations sought out by hordes of tourists every year. Visit this page for a spectacular selection and a fully comprehensive list of leaf-peeping destinations from Town And Country Mag. 

Experiencing New England Fall Foliage by Train

What is it about trains? They’re both charming and relaxing, eliminating all need to worry about the road ahead. Sit back and enjoy, take some travel pictures you’ll treasure forever, and wend your way through some truly gorgeous landscapes.

The Essex Steamboat and River Company offers some truly unique excursions that allow you to take in breathtaking fall foliage as you cruise through the Connecticut River Valley.

5. Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

The splendor of autumn at Niagara Falls

Let’s face it: a spectacular autumn visit to Niagara Falls would be incomplete without some serious leaf peeping involved. Southern Ontario is yet another place to see the gorgeous colors of autumn burst into full expression. The protected Niagara Escarpment is wooded as far as the eye can see, and an uncountable number of maple trees, birch trees and other deciduous varieties offer up a feast for the eyes as you make your way to the world-famous Falls.

Further, surrounding vineyards provide a spectacular autumn vista, since the vines also change in hue as cooler temperatures set in. Better yet, it’s harvest time for the grapes– although this is closely monitored for each varietal and by each winery. Maybe you’ll be lucky, and get to observe as the grapes arrive ‘in the back’ to be crushed. This is yet another fall experience that’s both festive and fun.

Best Places to Leaf-Peep in Niagara?

For a superb vista of the Niagara River as it makes its way northward to Lake Ontario through a densely-wooded landscape, check out the Lookout Point just below Queenston Heights Park, about ten minutes north of Niagara Falls along the Niagara ParkwayThe Niagara Parkway itself is a stunningly beautiful drive that takes you north to Niagara-on-the-Lake, billed as the prettiest town in Canada with its quaint shops, wineries and B&Bs. We think it’s true! This beautiful, tree-dense drive will not disappoint, as you take in rolling vineyards and a fall display unlike any other. 

(Read our full guide to beautiful fall foliage in Niagara Falls, Ontario)

The area just near Niagara Falls has many parks and gardens, all of which afford opportunities for lovely strolls and something to see outside the Falls themselves. Free to visit, the Niagara Botanical Gardens— a 99-acre year-round marvel that is vastly appealing in the fall– is well worth adding to your list.

For those visiting from Toronto with a wine tour in mind, there are certain tours that will drive you there and back for a day-long outing. The drive takes you along part of the magnificent Niagara Escarpment: all you need is the right time of year and, ideally, a sunny day. Fall foliage colors truly come alive against the backdrop of a bright blue sky.

Colorful leaves and grapevines in autumn

Toronto’s iYellow Wine Club offers an annual Niagara Harvest Tour that will take you to three wineries as you are driven through the beautiful landscape of this viniculture region. Check their page for dates and information on how to book. 

If you’re already in the Niagara Region and want to take a wine tour, with leaf peeping as an added bonus, there are several companies to choose from. Click here for a number of options from Niagara Vintage Wine Tours, including a half-day wine and cheese tour, an evening wine tour with dinner, design your own private tour and others.

Last but not least and for something truly out-of-the-ordinary, consider this: fly down from Toronto’s downtown airport to Niagara and be whisked away in a private car to one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s premium winery estates, the Two Sisters vineyard. Take in the escarpment’s gorgeous fall colors from the air, then enjoy a VIP tour and luncheon in their famed Kitchen76 restaurant, or on the patio for the very finest Italian fare. Romantic, much? We think so! Click here for all the details and to book your tickets.

Note: The Niagara Grape and Wine Festival generally runs for most of the month of September, a time to enjoy Niagara at its most colorful.  The Discovery Pass offers multiple wine-tasting opportunities, events and more. 

For tons of authentic features and travel tips on visiting Niagara, see our dedicated Secrets of Niagara site. 

6. Paris (With a Stopover in The Loire Valley)

Paris Park in Autumn

Famous for its many elegant parks, Paris is a city that’s glorious in the fall. if you’ve already planned your trip there for around the end of September or early October you’re in for a treat, as its many trees transform to show glorious autumnal hues. Whether it’s the Jardins des Tuileries and Luxembourg, the vast Bois de Boulogne or simply a window-shopping wander along the Champs-Elysées you’re after, cooler temperatures and perhaps fewer tourists are all added bonuses. 

Read related: These Are the World’s 10 Most Romantic Honeymoon Destinations 

If you’re planning on a day trip or weekend whirl through the Loire Valley and its iconic châteaux, you’ll be equally amazed by the fall splendor of vast, sprawling parks and ancient trees that abound there. Vineyards bursting with autumn colors only adds to the overall charm. The autumn season really is one of the best times to visit– we highly recommend it!

7. Patagonia, Argentina

An increasingly popular tourist destination, Patagonia has an autumn season running from March through May, due to its location in the far southern hemisphere. Here’s a leaf-peeping opportunity for the more adventurous and intrepid among you: this remote location has an incredible array of its own distinct flora, as the world’s most southerly forest of the “subantarctic” variety.

A travel photographer’s dream, Patagonia offers rugged mountains and dramatic plains bursting with autumn foliage. This part of the world is beyond compare, and an ideal destination for anyone wishing to get off the beaten path. See this page for a great list of reasons to consider an autumn visit.

To visit here, you will need to join a tour and don your best hiking boots. Visit this resource for some options and to learn more about the Torres del Paine National Park— described by so many as an “otherworldly” experience.

8. New Zealand

Last but certainly not least, New Zealand is another intrepid destination for the ambitious autumn traveler. Here’s the consensus on the best time to visit: mid-April. Offering more yellow hues than fiery reds because of the varieties of trees most commonly found here, the contrast provided by pristine landscapes and waterscapes makes it all worthwhile. The best recommendation we can find is for Lake Tekapo on the South Island with its turquoise blue glacial water and yellow-hued leaves. There are a number of reasons many choose to visit Lake Tekapo, as outlined here, including the striking blue color of the lake, a whimsical statue of a dog gracing the shore and the opportunity to stargaze into the light-pollution-free night sky.

Click here to learn more about this incredible stargazing opportunity, complete with hot springs from which to observe the stars. We’re pretty sure there aren’t too many places on the planet where this is possible- what an experience!

Looking for a place to stay in the area? Visit this page for a list of good Lake Tekapo accommodations.

Our List Is Just the Beginning…

This list isn’t exhaustive, of course- but represents some of our favorites, and will go a long way in giving you a bit of inspiration for your next autumn adventure. Do you have other leaf-peeping spots you love and recommend? Feel free to tell us about them and share them with others by leaving a comment below!