It may only be October, but the nights are drawing in, the organised amongst us are starting their Christmas shopping and there’s a chill in the air, which means the festive season will soon be upon us. Christmas markets offer the perfect setting to get into the spirit thanks to the sweet cinnamon scented air, an abundance of delicious treats and stalls packed with gifts galore but choosing the best market to go to is no easy feat.
To save you the effort, here are the top European Christmas markets you should consider exploring this year.
1. Wenceslas Square, Prague, Czech Republic
With brightly decorated wooden huts stocking everything from local handicrafts to chocolate treats, the fittingly named Wenceslas Square celebrations are the epitome of Christmas. With everything from school choirs singing carols to an interactive animal stable, you’re sure to find fun in the festivities on offer in Prague.
Top tip: Don’t miss out on trying a hot sugar pasty known locally as trdelnik. The rolled dough is wrapped around a large tick and grilled in front of your eyes before being doused in a sugar and walnut mix.
2. Viennese Christmas Market, Vienna, Austria
Step into the joy of Christmas throughout the beautiful streets of Vienna by visiting the Viennese Christmas Market. Known locally as the “Viennese Dream” markets, the unique backdrop of the City Hall offers a burst of seasonal joy. Indulge in some of the many sweet treats on offer as you wander around the grounds, whilst having the opportunity to listen to a range of international choirs singing well known carols.
Top tip: If the cold gets a little too much, head inside the City Hall and have the opportunity to survey the area dedicated to children, complete with cookie and candle making classes.
3. Winter Wonders, Brussels, Belgium
Belgium is often associated with festivities and it’s easy to see why. Each year the city is transformed into a true winter wonderland filled to the brim with sparkling lights, unique decorations and even a weekly parade. Both little ones and adults alike will delight in the 200 chalet style stalls offering a range of local delicacies and take-away gifts. Going above and beyond for it’s visitors, the market even puts on a sound and light show spectacular.
Top tip: Thanks to its close proximity to local transport links, this is no doubt one of the easiest European Christmas markets to get to. For a super-savvy trip, purchase Eurostar tickets through the Trainline App and arrive direct from London in less than two hours.
4. Krakow Christmas Market, Krakow, Poland
One of the seasons most popular highlights, the annual Krakow Christmas fair located on the main square is a sight to behold. You’ll find stalls filled with folk art and ornaments, candied foods and even pear trees ready for you to purchase and take home in time for the big day.
Top tip: Spend a little time planning your trip and book tickets in advance for the Christmas Music Concert.
5. Zagreb Christmas Market, Zagreb, Croatia
Perhaps surprisingly, Croatia’s capital Zagreb has come out on top of the “Best Christmas Market in Europe” stakes, that is according to the 200,000 site visitors of the European Best Destinations website. With everything from festive markets to live music and even an ice risk, Christmas is serious business in this Eastern-European destination. Alongside all of the typical offerings you’d expect from a Christmas market, there’s a huge Christmas tree on Ban JosipJelačić Square and illuminated fountains, avenues of trees and lanterns as far as the eyes can see.
Top tip: Sample a baked štrukli from one of the many stalls, this local delicacy is like a delicious warm cheese pastry.
6. Cologne Christmas Market, Cologne, Germany
If you’re looking to source the true magic of Christmas feeling, then look no further than the Cologne Christmas markets. Attracting millions of visitors from all over the world each year, the markets are located beneath the beautiful Cologne Cathedral, with hundreds of stalls creating the aroma of baked apples and mulled wine and a huge selection of individually crafted artisan gifts on offer.
Top tip: After you’re all marketed out, head onto one of the Yuletide river cruises and see the enchanting Rhine lit up in all it’s glory.
7. Piazza Walther, Bolzano, Italy
Opening its metaphorical doors for the 29th time, the Bolzano Christmas markets are a traditional spectacle to behold. Bolzano is well known for its family traditions and celebration of Christianity and the markets definitely reflect this. With over 80 exhibitors, a mini market dedicated to the children and a feast including the likes of festive roasted pork and sweet fritters, there’s something for everyone.
Top tip: Don’t miss the rustic recreation of the nativity underneath the main Christmas tree, complete with holy family, cow and donkey instead a real miniature stable.
8. Lille Christmas Market, Lille, France
Centre stage in the picturesque Place Rhiour town square you’ll find a giant Ferris Wheel adorned with fairy lights, signifying that Christmas has arrived. If traditional festivities are to your liking, then this is the place for you. With row after row of stalls adorned with handmade gifts and homemade treats, the atmosphere is certainly something to behold. Be sure to indulge in a glass or two of world-famous French wine to really get you in the spirit!
Top tip: Eurostar journeys are now available direct from London to Lille making this trip as easy as a quick weekend away.
9. Manchester, England
Manchester is well known for being one of the cities within the UK that seriously know what they’re doing when it comes to Christmas. The central hub of this particular market is centred in Albert Square, complete with the usual stalls offering hot chocolates and waffles galore. Not only this, the wintry wonderland is once again returning to Cathedral Gardens, offering a mythical beasts themed ice village complete with ice bar, rink and grotto.
Top tip: Make a full weekend out of your trip by setting up base in the beautiful and nearby Lake District. Within easy travelable distance to the markets, there’s a great selection of holiday cottages in the Lake District that offer open log fires and breath-taking winter views.