Every year travelers from around the world are drawn to Europe’s beloved Christmas markets, where visitors and locals alike can take part in the centuries-old festivities. If traveling to Europe during the holidays is on your wish list, here are the top five markets not to miss.
1. Nuremburg, Germany
Also known as Christkindlmrkt, this may just be the most famous of all of Europe’s Christmas Markets. The market, open November 25- December 24, features everything that makes a Christmas Market special. Bratwursts cooked in open air, a carousel for the kids, and horse drawn carriages are among the top draws. Close to 200 candy cane striped stalls fill the streets offering crafts, ornaments, and cookies to market customers. The festival gets a nod for authenticity, as organizers do not allow any artificial wreaths or recorded Christmas music as part of the festival. Crafters compete to win the coveted “Gold Plum Person” award for creating the best tiny puppet made from prunes, figs, and walnuts. The shining moment of the Market comes on the Friday before Advent when a golden Christmas Angel appears to recite the opening prologue for the event.
2. Dresden, Germany
230 craft stalls lined with lights and often capped in snow await you in this German Christmas Market. From November 24- December 24th you will also find a four-ton fruit cake and a 43 foot “Christmas Pyramid” here. In fact, the Christmas Pyramid is a main draw of the market, as it is the world’s largest. Believed to be a predecessor to the Christmas tree, a Christmas pyramid is German icon of Christmas consisting of a wooden carousel structure with figurines that revolve in circles with the help of heat generated by a candle. Dresden is also the home of the world’s biggest nutcracker. With roots dating back to 1434, Dresden is Germany’s oldest continually running Christmas Market. Highlights here include traditional blue and white ceramics, wooden crafts, hand blown glass, and nutcrackers.
3. Munich, Germany
Stalls surround an impressive 85 foot Christmas tree in the German Capital. Here you’ll find children dressed as angels and learning to be the next generation of crafters inside the “Heavenly Workshop” in town hall. Musicians fill the air with festive music every Friday before Christmas as guests hop on the Christmas tram that parades them through the old city as they eat gingerbread cookies and sip hot spiced wine. This market, like many others, operates from November 25- December 24. In addition to the wooden crafts and blown glass, many children favor this market for the Christmas Post Office found here. It will post and deliver festive “Chriskindl” for children and adults. Letters sent to the “North Pole” will actually receive a reply, too!
4. Vienna, Austria
The Am Hof Christmas Festival in Vienna blends old world with new, pairing traditional wooden gifts and beeswax candles with modern Christmas lights. That doesn’t mean this market has lost its authenticity, though. There are very few plastic, modernized toys and the presence of Santa Clause is against the rules all together! Instead, look for the nativity of the official Christ child, typically played by a young woman with blonde curls. Keep a keen ear out as well for the choirs from all around the world who are invited to perform as part of the market. Other Austrian Markets worth noting include Innsbruck and Salzburg.
Salzburg opens their market a bit earlier, November 17th vs the traditional November 24th, and features festive food and renowned musicians throughout most of the festival.
Innsbruck features a particularly beautiful market as the lights from the Christmas tree glitter off the tiles of the Golden Roof. Another early opening market, this one on November 15th, Innsbruck is known for the medieval facades and Alpine beauty that make this quaint market one worth visiting.
5. Zurich, Switzerland
With 150 stalls and operated completely indoors, a 50 foot Christmas tree adorned with Sworovski crystals welcomes visitors as they arrive at the Main Train Station. With fruit cake, vendors from all over the world, and all kinds of other traditional Christmas cuisine, the air is filled with the scents and sounds of the holidays. Exhibitors compete for the honor of being named the “Most Beautiful Stall” at the market, ensuring that the entire venue is beautifully adorned. The Zurich market is the largest indoor market in Europe, making it the perfect escape for those blustery cold evenings.
Another notable Swiss Christmas Market can be found in Basel. This is considered to be one of the largest and most beautiful Markets throughout Switzerland. The 180 wooden vendor stalls make this quaint market feel very authentic. A highlight is the children’s “Christmas fairy-tale forest” playground and activities where children can make and pour their own wax candles, decorate gingerbread cookies, or eat campfire bread and drink hot chocolate. There is also a kiddie train ride and the option to purchase kid friendly trinkets.
Have you experienced any of Europe’s Christmas markets? Tell us in the comments below!