Christmas markets are a beloved part of holiday traditions in Europe.
Picture market stalls filling medieval town squares in front of centuries-old churches and palaces. Local artisans sold their handcrafted goods—toys, ornaments, decorations, and sweets—and each city established unique traditions that captured the spirit of their people.
Christmas markets are still extremely popular throughout Europe today. They typically come to life on the Friday before Advent and remain open until Christmas Eve. Europe is magical at this time of year, and the following cities, in particular, make for a perfect winter destination.
The Austrian capital was one of the pioneers of the Christmas market tradition, holding its first event in 1298. Visitors today can enjoy any number of markets, including the Viennese Christmas Market—in front of city hall—and the market at baroque Schönbrunn Palace, as well as shopping stalls in the historic Spittelberg District.
Instead of Santa costumes, you’re likely to see the Wiener Christkindl, the Christ child traditionally played by a young woman with blond curls. Vienna, the birthplace of many renowned composers, is also famous for its Christmas concerts, hosting choirs from all over the world. Let’s Go to Vienna!
If you’re partial to A Christmas Carol, then you can’t go wrong by visiting London during the holiday season. You’ll see plenty of Victorian garb and themed events to delight your Dickensian spirit. The season officially kicks off in late-November with a massive parade along Regent Street.
Hyde Park hosts a Christmas market, outdoor skating rink, light displays, and more. You can attend a carol sing-along at the iconic Royal Albert Hall. Or, simply browse window displays and dip into any of London’s famed shopping districts. Visit the Christmas Shops of London
The abundant Gothic architecture provides a perfect backdrop to the Christmas scene you’ll find in Prague. The two most famous Christmas markets, held at Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, are walking distance from each other.
Wander among the traditional wooden huts to admire handmade wooden toys and jewelry, Czech marionettes, nativity scenes, and even a petting zoo. Prague also offers numerous culinary delights, including klobása (sausage), roasted ham, Trdelník (a rolled pastry), Vosí Hnízda (beehive cookies), and hot mulled wine. Experience Prague at Christmas Time
Munich & Nuremberg
These German cities both fully embrace the Christmas spirit. Munich’s Marienplatz, the city’s central square since the 12th century, hosts a popular Christmas market, complete with an 85-foot tree. At any of the city’s markets, you can enjoy Glühwein (mulled wine), sausages, Lebkuchen (gingerbread), and Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes).
Nuremberg, located about 100 miles north of Munich, is renowned for its Christkindlmarkt. With over 180 stalls in the city’s old town, the setting feels like a real-life fairy tale. While there, be sure to look for the Nuremberg plum people, painted figurines made of prunes, figs, and walnuts. Adding to the ambiance is the Christkind, who opens the season by reciting, “Welcome, young and old, to my little community of wood and cloth. While this market’s splendor is fleeting, the joy it brings is eternal.” Take Me to the German Christmas Markets!