Come late November and early December, the yuletide spirit descends on Europe and festive Christmas markets pop up in towns and cities across the continent. Filled with traditional crafts, mulled wine, and tasty eats, these holiday bazaars are the perfect way to take in some local culture and stock up on special gifts for loved ones at home. Christmas may seem a long way off, but now’s the time to book your trip (in fact, some of our Fodorites started planning theirs months ago). Make your yuletide list, pack some warm clothes, and get in the spirit at our favorite Christmas markets in Europe.
Just about every city, town, and village in Germany has a Christmas market (and larger cities have more than one—in Berlin, for example, there are as many as 60 markets every year). The most famous markets are those in Dresden and Nuremburg, both of which have long traditions. Shop for hand-made gifts like carved wooden figures from the Erzgebirge region and warm up with traditional, hot-spiced Glühwein (mulled wine).
The Vienna keeps the Christmas flame burning perhaps more brightly than any other metropolis in the world. Here, during the holiday season, no fewer than nine major Christkindlmärkte (Christmas Markets) proffer their wares, with stands selling enough wood-carved Austrian toys, crêche figures, and Tannenbaum ornaments to pique anyone’s fancy. We especially like Altwiener Christkindlmarkt, located on one of Vienna’s largest squares; Innsbruck and Salzburg draw crowds to their markets as well. You can refuel on Glühwein and Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes) almost everywhere you go.
December is arguably the prettiest time of year to visit Prague, thanks to the Christmas Market in the city’s main squares and the dusting of snow on the ground. From December 5 ("Mikulas," or St. Nicholas’ Day), wooden kiosks offer Czech handicrafts, piping-hot snacks, and spicy mulled wine to festive visitors. Choral and music performances are also held in Old Town Square throughout December, in the glow of a towering spruce tree.
More Christmas Market Travel Ideas from Fodors.com
Planning a trip to Europe’s Christmas markets? Want to combine your holiday shopping with a cruise? Our Fodorites also have lots to say about these topics. We’ve highlighted more great ideas, below.
Ingo says: The most beautiful Christmas Markets are in the Erzgebirge/Ore mountains between Dresden and Nuremberg. In case you’re in the area on a weekend, try to see a parade or attend a Christmas concert or visit a workshop where Christmas items are made.
lilla says: We have been going to Christmas markets for the past few years, and my favorite city is Regensburg. If I were planning your trip, I would stay in Regensburg overnight and take the train to Prague the next day. We especially liked the Medieval Christmas market at night; it was very different from most of the other Christmas markets we saw.
Danube River Cruise
beame says: I sailed the Amalyra, an AmaWaterways ship, with 100 passengers last Christmas and had the best time ever. The tour director knew everyone’s names within a day . . . the service, the people, the ports, and the Christmas Markets were all just a dream come true! Bundle up, it is freezing and it rains, but that’s what gives the area its Christmas flavor. Buy comfortable rainboots to keep your feet warm and dry.
Gary_Mc says: We visited the Rothenburg Christmas Market the last two years and really enjoyed it. The Advent season is active there, but we found the crowds much smaller than in the summer. We like to mix Rothenburg with some less-touristy locations during a trip. This year, we started in Stuttgart, which has a massive Christmas Market, before going to Rothenburg. It was a good combination.
Check out these Forums for more information and tips:
Christmas Market Cruises
Please Critique My Christmas Market Itinerary
Rothenburg o/d Tauber Christmas Market Trip Report
Which Christmas Market Tour for 2010?
Photo Credits: iStock