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!
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.
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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
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.
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.
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)
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, UKHeading 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
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)
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
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
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 .
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.