Chestnuts and sausages roasting on an open fire, warm mulled wine wafting through the crisp cold air, twinkling fairy lights lighting up the dark sky and snow dusting the roofs of wooden huts.
This can only mean one thing, it is Christmas time in Europe. Christmas time in Europe means one thing…..Christmas Markets. City squares across Europe are filled with cosy wooden stalls, selling handcrafted decorations, warm local foods and of course, beautiful cups of mulled wine. As an Australian, we are not lucky enough to have snow at Christmas let alone, Christmas Markets. I was like a kid in a candy shop during our winter trip across Europe. Keep reading for the Ultimate Guide for the best Christmas Markets in Europe.
We were lucky enough to spend November – January travelling around Europe visiting Christmas Markets….I mean sightseeing!! Visiting the Christmas Markets is something you have to do at least once in your life.
To help you plan your European Christmas adventure, I have created the Ultimate Guide for the best Christmas Markets in Europe. I took on the task of visiting some of the best Christmas markets in Europe so that I could create this guide for you! (Yep, it was a very tough task!)
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In this European Christmas market Itinerary you will find some of the best Christmas Markets in Austria, Germany, Denmark and many many more.
- 1 What are Christmas Markets?
- 2 What to expect at the Christmas Markets
- 3 Important things to know about the Christmas Markets?
- 4 Some words that might be handy to know….
- 5 BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN GERMANY
- 6 BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN AUSTRIA
- 7 BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN DENMARK
- 8 BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN FRANCE
- 9 WHAT TO WEAR TO CHRISTMAS MARKETS
- 10 WHAT TO EAT AT THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS
- 11 WHAT TO BUY AT THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS
- 12 SAFETY AT CHRISTMAS MARKETS
- 13 CHRISTMAS MARKETS ON A BUDGET
- 14 Other European Markets worth checking out
- 15 CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN EUROPE – TOURS
What are Christmas Markets?
Before the Christmas markets as we know them today, there were the December markets in Austria. These December markets date back to 1298 when residents were allowed to hold an advent market in December.
The Open-air Christmas markets that we see today originate from Germany in 1384, this market began in Bautzen Saxony, Germany. The first Christmas markets only sold meat but did evolve to selling other seasonal products including handmade gifts and treats, and included festive singing and dancing.
Christmas markets are also known as Christkindlmarkt, Christkindlesmarkt, Christkindlmarket, Christkindlimarkt, and Weihnachtsmarkt and take place during the start of Advent. You will find the most traditional markets across Germany and the most “over the top” markets reside in Austria…..usually in Vienna.
What to expect at the Christmas Markets
If you resonate with the Grinch, you might not be a lover of Christmas markets and believe me when I say they take over Europe! Before you even get to the Christmas market the sounds of Christmas carols fill the air, the smell of mulled wine wafts up your nose and the chill of the snowflakes dust your cheeks. You feel as though you have walked straight into a Christmas fairy tale.
Most markets begin at the beginning of December and run through until Christmas Eve or Boxing Day. However, some Christmas markets begin in November and end around the 10th of January. Top tip: They are also a fantastic place to spend New Years Eve!!
Europeans (and tourists) love Christmas and love their Christmas markets. As such, the markets get super busy. The best times to visit the Christmas markets are during the day, but if you would like to experience the night magic of the Christmas market, I suggest going during the week. We found that Monday-Wednesday nights were the best nights to visit the Christmas markets. If possible, avoid the weekends. If you’re only in town on the weekend, be prepared for the crowds.
Most cities, towns and village have a Christmas market. The big cities with usually have quite a few, don’t worry you can pick up a map for the Christmas markets in big cities.
Important things to know about the Christmas Markets?
Usually when you purchase a mulled wine or a hot chocolate (and some food items, usually those that come in a bowl) you will be charged a “pfand”. Essentially, this a deposit for your cup or bowl and costs roughly 2€, and you will get your 2€ back when you return your items. However, if you are like me and find the cups super cute, you can keep it! It is a pretty cheap souvenir from the Christmas markets.
Keep in mind, that each market (even if they’re in the same city) will have their own cute cup!! To avoid keeping all of the cups, I recommend looking at the cups that people are using and decide which market has the cutest cup and keep that one!!
Bring cash with you. Some vendors do take card but there are many that only take cash and you don’t want to be caught out. Try to avoid bringing big notes, stick to 20€ or 10€ notes at the biggest. If you are in a small town, they might be light on change.
Christmas markets are outside, dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes. There are quite often fires dotted around the markets but you don’t want your experience to be ruined because you are cold.
The best way to get from market to market is to walk, so make sure your feet are warm and comfortable. Remember, Europe is full of cobble stones and when the markets are busy, it can be hard to look at your feet to see where you are going.
Some words that might be handy to know….
Many people across Europe do speak English and this makes shopping in the markets a lot easier. However, it is still great to know (or at least recognise) some words. These are some of the words that I recommend you learn (or if you don’t learn them before you go, you will definitely know them by the end of your Christmas market trip).
Christstollen (fruit bread)
Bethmännchen (pastry with marzipan)
Bratwurst (German sausage)
Knoblauchbrot (garlic bread)
Thuringian raclette (melted cheese sandwich)
Glühwein (mulled wine)
Eierpunsch (similar to egg nog)
Apfelwein (hot cider)
Don’t worry, you can always point at the sign!
** Please note: the 2020 Christmas dates DO NOT take into account any changes due to COVID-19. Please check the dates closer to the term on the official web pages. These pages are linked throughout the posts.**
BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN GERMANY
The German Christmas markets are the most traditional and the most famous Christmas markets in Europe. Since these markets date back to 1300s there is so much history and many of the markets still incorporate some of these traditions. Every city and town (even the tiny ones) have a Christmas and they are all beautiful. If you are in a smaller town or area you might want to check in advance that the market is on. Not all small markets run all the time, some only open on weekends and some might only be on one weekend of the year.
Regensburg Christmas Market
Regensburg Christmas market was one of my favourite markets in Germany. It might have been because it was the first market we were in where it snowed! It was just magical walking around the markets in the snow with a mug of hot chocolate!
In Regensburg there are four Christmas markets dotted around the City. In 2020, the markets will be opening on either 22nd of November, or the 28th of November, depending on the market and they will all close for the season on the 23rd of December.
Nuremberg Christmas Market
Nuremberg’s main Christmas market is in the main square! The market is huge and sells things from jewelry to Christmas decorations to leather goods. We were only in town on the weekend but I recommend trying to visit on a week day!
Nuremberg also has a children’s Christmas Market which is absolutely adorable. It has little stalls for the wee ones and also some rides! So if you have kids, this is the market for you!!
During the 2020 market season, the Markets are open from the 27th of November until the 24th of December.
Heidelberg Christmas Market
Sadly, they hadn’t quite finished setting up the Christmas markets when we were in Heidelberg but it was already looking amazing. We were told that even though Heidelberg is a city, it is a very laid back Christmas market.
There are SEVEN markets across the city and are all slightly different. So if you LOVE Christmas markets you definitely won’t be bored in Heidelberg.
In 2020, the market will be open from the 23rd of November until the 22nd of December.
BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN AUSTRIA
Vienna Christmas Market
Vienna has one of the biggest Christmas Markets in Europe. There are several markets spread around the city and they have all a different theme! Just to warn you, they all have different mugs to serve mulled wine, so if you’re wanting to keep a mug, I would check out all of the markets before making a decision!
The markets in Vienna are a must, you cannot skip these markets but DO NOT go on the weekend. We walked passed the markets on a Sunday and felt as though we wouldn’t be able to fit in the markets, so I highly recommend going during the week or if you are only there on a weekend go late morning when they first open!
The buildings that play as the backdrop for all of these markets are just stunning! Do not miss the market at Karlskirche. It has a live nativity scene and petting zoo! The goods for sale are expensive here but they are beautiful.
At every Christmas you can find maps of all of the markets around this city! Make sure you grab one so you don’t miss out on any of the Christmas cheer.
This year the markets will open on the 14th of November and close on the 23rd of December.
Salzburg Christmas Market
The Salzburg Christmas Market was also one of my favourite Christmas Markets. Salzburg’s biggest market is in the main square but in some of the courtyards at the end of the lane ways are the cutest markets!
You must order some Apple Struddle with Vanilla sauce at the market to help you warm up.
In 2020 the markets will open on the 19th of November and run until the 26th of December.
BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN DENMARK
Copenhagen Christmas Markets
The Copenhagen Christmas Markets were the first markets that were open when we were in Europe! As with the other markets, there plenty of markets around the city to keep you entertained. The most popular are the markets along Nyhavn, you MUST get a bratwurst from these markets. They are amazing and pretty cheap considering you are in Denmark.
In 2020 the markets will be open from the 16th of November until the 5th of January, so these is plenty of time to explore these markets.
Tivoliv Gardens is an amusement park in central Copenhagen. It is not your typical amusement park, and is a must for everyone of all ages. Whilst this is not technically a Christmas market, Tivoli Gardens turns into a Christmas wonderland! If you are in Copenhagen in December, you have to check it out! The gardens around the beautiful Tivoli lake and is lit up by hundreds of lights. You can either choose to ride the roll coaster or stroll around the gardens enjoying the Christmas stalls.
Tivoli Gardens open for Christmas on the 16th of November until the 5th of November.
This is not the most budget friendly option, you need to buy an entrance ticket and pay extra for food and rides. The Christmas decorations are very price too! However, it is 100% worth it. I have been to Tivoli twice and I would go again in a heart beat.
BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN FRANCE
Strasbourg Christmas Market
Strasbourg is the Christmas capital of Europe. At Christmas time the whole town turns into one massive Christmas market. The decorations are so elaborate and beautiful and there are many different Christmas markets to check out.
The markets in this UNESCO Heritage listed town are one of the oldest in Europe.
Strasbourg Christmas market will be open from the 20th of November until the 30th of December. I am sure you can image, these markets are very very popular, so be prepared for the crowds. The markets are less busy when they first open in the morning.
Colmar Christmas Market
We were not lucky enough to visit the Colmar Christmas Markets. Colmar is another stunning town in France located about 30 minutes from Strasbourg. The best thing about these markets is they are not as busy as Strasbourg. If you are staying Strasbourg (or a neighbouring town) I suggest you make some time to visit the markets in Colmar.
Colmar Christmas markets will be open from the 20th of November until the 30th of December.
WHAT TO WEAR TO CHRISTMAS MARKETS
Make sure you rug up before you head out to the Christmas markets, winter in Europe is very cold. Make sure you are warm and comfortable. I always make sure I wear layers, its easier to take off a jacket if you get too warm walking around than it is to try and get warmer. The Christmas markets that we found less enjoyable were the markets where we were cold!! Don’t let the weather get you down. Remember, it is likely to snow at the Christmas markets and with lots of people walking on the snow it can make the ground slippery so make sure you have sturdy shoes on.
Beanie – make sure it is a double lined beanie. This will keep you warmer than a single lined beanie
Scarf – a huge scarf is a great option, you can use it as a scarf, an extra layer, or to put over your head if your beanie isn’t warm enough
Jacket – a good quality down jacket is a must for those cold European nights
Boots – you need to make sure your boots are comfortable and you have worn them in before your trip! There is nothing worse than having uncomfortable shoes. Waterproof boots are also recommended, if you are visiting Christmas markets you are travelling winter which means rain and snow!!
WHAT TO EAT AT THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS
If you are travelling on a budget (or if you’re not), the Christmas markets are a great place to get some food. From lunch to dinner to desserts and of course snacks and treats, there is so much food at Christmas markets. There is something so nice about grabbing a bratwurst and strolling around Christmas markets with a warm snack.
When you’re at the Christmas markets make sure you try some of the local foods, my favourites are:
Bratwurst – an authentic German sausage. You will find these at all Christmas markets, even if you’re not in Germany. They are all done slightly different but they are still amazing. My favourite was from the Christmas markets at Nyhavn in Copenhagen.
Kartoffeln – German potatoes that are usually fried and come with bacon, cheese and a sauce. Quite often you will find them with apple sauce or with Garlic sauce. They are amazing and very warming.
Crepes – Of course, Crepes originiate in France, but you can find them at almost any Christmas market. Whether you like them sweet (nutella is a must!) or savory (cheese and ham) there is a crepe for you!
Waffles – Belgium waffles are another staple item at Christmas markets, just don’t dribble chocolate sauce down your jumper.
Fruit Skewers – At almost every Christmas market you will find fruit skewers and chocolate coated strawberries and marshmallows!!
Gingerbread – Gingerbread makes for a great snack and they are decorated so beautifully. Every Christmas markets sells Gingerbread. Just be mindful that some of the gingerbread can be super hard, don’t break your teeth!
Glühwein – of course you cannot go to the Christmas markets with out getting a mug of Glühwein. Glühwein is a mulled wine (warmed spiced wine!). Often you can choose from white wine or red wine, my favourites were in Denmark and Finland. At some markets it can be hit and miss, we had terrible mulled wine in Strasbourg!
WHAT TO BUY AT THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS
Christmas markets are a great place to stock up on souvenirs or gifts for your family and friends! You can buy everything from sheep skin mats, to gloves, beanies, to Christmas decorations.
I love buying a Christmas decoration in every country that I visit. It is a great way to remember the places you have visited and makes putting up the Christmas tree even more exciting.
Many of the Christmas markets sell similar things so shop around! We found that the markets in Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Budapest and Nuremberg had some unique items. So if you are looking for something a little more unique try to work one of these markets in your itinerary.
SAFETY AT CHRISTMAS MARKETS
Generally speaking, Christmas Markets in Europe are very safe. They are family friendly events and a place for everyone to celebrate the holidays and have a good time.
They are very crowded places so use your common sense when it comes to your money. It is a hot spot for pickpockets as people are distracted drinking and shopping. While it is recommended that you use cash, do not take all of your cash with you, keep an eye on your bag, and when you are buying something, try not to “flash your cash around”.
Again, because they are crowded places it is important to plan ahead and decided on a meeting place in your get lost. It can be very hard to find each other if you get separated, but if you have a meeting place this can make it much less stressful if you get separated.
CHRISTMAS MARKETS ON A BUDGET
Christmas markets are great for every kind of budget but if you are travelling on a strict budget I suggest setting yourself a budget for the night (or the day) and stick to it.
If you are in the same place for a few days, plan to go to the markets a couple of times. This way you can take your time to decide if you really want to buy something.
If you are visiting a few cities, plan to buy your souvenirs in “cheaper” cities such as cities in the Czech Republic, Poland or Germany. Christmas decorations are quite reasonably priced and they make for great souvenirs.
While you can buy snacks and meals at the Christmas markets, I suggest picking up a cheaper snack at the supermarket on the way. That way you won’t jump for the most expensive food item just because you’re starving and it’s the first thing you see.
Other European Markets worth checking out
Prague – this is one of the only markets on Christmas day. If you are in Europe on Christmas day and you’re wandering what to do, maybe add Prague to the list!
CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN EUROPE – TOURS
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