The 8 Best European Christmas Markets for Winter 2018
There's no better way to celebrate the holidays than with a weekend break to Europe. Between the cobble-stoned streets kissed with snow, horse-drawn carriages, and the scent of freshly baked gingerbread, Europe is a bonafide winter wonderland. Fancy riding on a vintage carousel in the square? Keen to listen to carols under a Christmas tree bathed in Swarovski crystals? Whether you're after the most magical atmosphere or the best mug of hot cocoa, these European Christmas Markets will have something to make your Christmas season memorable.
With its snow-capped mountains and timber ski chalets, Zurich is the ultimate winter wonderland. The cosmopolitan city is home to half a dozen festive markets, including the famous Christkindlimarkt in the Zurich Main Station: Europe’s largest indoor Christmas market. Make sure to sample some of Zurich’s famous winter delicacies as you explore the wooden stalls. Raclette – a savoury Swiss cheese often served with a crusty baguette – is a popular choice.
The Selling Point: the 50-foot-tall Christmas tree located at the Christkindlimarkt. The tree is studded with 7000 Swarovski crystals, and the glittering branches light up the market.
When: 22 November-23 December 2018
Filled with the smell of roasted chestnuts and German beer, this sprawling Christmas market is packed with 150+ stands selling everything from delicately crafted glass baubles to artisan soaps and fudge. Don’t miss the Markt der Heinzel, a market dedicated to the ‘Heinzelmännchen’. According to Cologne legend, these house gnomes help the locals prepare for Christmas by preparing sausages, sewing clothes, and baking bread.
The Selling Point: the fairy-tale atmosphere. The market is set beneath the towering 13th-century Gothic Cologne Cathedral, making it an unbeatable location.
When: 26 November-23 December 2018
There’s no better place to experience European Christmas markets than the place where they originated. Since the 14th century, December in Munich has been filled with the smell of freshly-baked gingerbread, sizzling bratwurst, and candied almonds. The Christmas market is set against the romantic neo-Gothic façade of the Neues Rathaus.
The Selling Point: the Christmas mugs. Most stalls in Munich serve hot chocolate or glühwein in small red boots decorated with snowflakes, Santa’s sleigh, or other Christmas-y illustrations. They make for the perfect photo op.
When: 27 November-24 December 2018
This affluent German city offers several themed Christmas markets congregated around the Königsallee, a boulevard packed with designer stores. Dusseldorf’s most well-known Christmas market is in the Marktplatz, and it features a number of wooden stalls, twinkling lights, and a hand-carved, life-sized manger. The Little Angels Market is another popular choice, and the wrought iron angel figures and diffused golden light in the trees create a cosy Christmas atmosphere.
The Selling Point: the 100-year-old vintage merry-go-round in the Marktplatz. Despite its age, the merry-go-round remains in working condition, and children eagerly await a turn on its painted horses.
When: 22 November-30 December 2018
With over 20 pop-up Christmas villages across the city, you won’t run out of festive activities in Austria’s capital city. Visit the Christmas market at the Belvedere Palace for a fairy-tale winter evening, where you can snack on gingerbread beneath the tiered fountains and Baroque sculptures in the palace gardens. Alternatively, visit the Viennese Christmas Dream in front of the City Hall for carols, ice skating, and more festive fun.
The Selling Point: Vanillekipferl. These Austrian crescent-shaped biscuits are made from almonds and dusted with vanilla sugar. Be warned – they’re dangerously addictive.
When: 17 November-26 December 2018
Affectionately known as 'Winter Wonders', this sprawling Christmas market is home to 200+ chalets selling steaming plates of Brussels waffles, pomme frites with mayonnaise, and genièvre – a Dutch gin flavoured with juniper. Tour the city during the day and explore the market in the evening; there’s a nightly light show at the Grand-Place choreographed to music. This year’s spectacle features upbeat Christmas songs by Australian singer-songwriter SIA.
The Selling Point: Hot cocoa. Belgium is known for its chocolate, and a warm, rich mug from the Christmas market doesn’t disappoint.
When: 30 November 2018-6 January 2019
This small, enchanting market is a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of larger European Christmas markets. Tallinn’s Town Hall Square is often dusted with snow, and people wrapped in furs leisurely stroll through the handful of stalls on display. The crowning jewel of the market is the appearance of Santa Claus, who arrives in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. The market is especially popular with children, who eagerly await their turn to visit Santa in his festive cottage.
The Selling Point: The historic Christmas tree. Tallinn has been setting up a spruce tree in the Town Hall Square since 1441, making it one of the first European cities to display a tree.
When: 24 November 2018-6 January 2019Fly to Tallinn from Edinburgh Airport with Ryanair from £22.*
The capital of Poland boasts a colourful Christmas market at the centre of the Old Town. Eighty curated wooden stalls are nestled between Gothic and Baroque buildings, and visitors have the chance to purchase pottery, knitwear, and handmade gifts. Make sure to try the famous Polish dumplings stuffed with cheese and topped with sour cream.
The Selling Point: the ‘Christmas Crib’ contest. Known to locals as szopki, Krakow hosts an annual competition where expert craftsmen are invited to build miniature architectural masterpieces. The ornate structures are usually replicas of buildings in the city, including St. Mary’s Basilica and Wawel Castle.
When: 30 November-26 December 2018
These European Christmas markets are ideal for a weekend break in November or December, especially if you're looking for unique handcrafted gifts to give your family and friends for Christmas. Make sure to leave room in your suitcase for yourself as well — you won't want to miss out on bringing some gingerbread home with you.
*prices based on cheapest quotes made in Skyscanner.net in October 2018
Robin McKelvie has been a travel writer, broadcaster and photographer since 1997. He has written thousands of travel articles for magazines and newspapers across five continents. In recent years he has also moved heavily into online writing, social media and blogging.