When it comes to celebrating the festive holiday season, there is no better place to be than a historic European city that is full of Christmas cheer! Travelers from all corners of the globe head to Europe in anticipation of enjoying the festive spirit and undoubtedly the best way to achieve this is by experiencing a myriad of Christmas markets across a variety of European cities. Why not consider entertaining the prospect of taking one of these awesome Christmas market breaks in Europe, not only because of the iconic markets but also because of all the other attractions that make each city so popular?
We want to share some of the best European cities than should be on your radar this year and we are delighted to collaborate with some of our friends from around the world that have been fortunate enough to visit their recommended spot. Drinking mulled wine in Berlin, finding the best handcrafted Christmas ornaments in Budapest or perhaps just listening to traditional festive music in London are surely enticing prospects this year.
Best Christmas Market Breaks in Europe
Hopefully after reading this post along with our other recommendations on where to spend Christmas in Europe, you will be raring to hop on a plane and head to your favorite city! We have asked our friends to not only highlight their favorite Christmas market in their chosen city but also highlight one or two other reasons for visiting this destination. Throw in a recommended hotel and restaurant and hopefully we will have plenty of inspiration to justify an end of year trip to Europe.
Christmas markets have long been a tradition that we associate with Europe. It’s an opportunity for locals to showcase their homemade products that epitomize the local culture. It also offers locals and visitors alike to spend time mingling among each other while indulging in iconic, traditional cuisine and sipping on a glass of wine or hot chocolate to keep them warm in the freezing cold temperatures that we associate with Europe in December.
Let’s take a look at which European cities made this year’s list and of course, please feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments below as to where we need to visit across Europe during the holiday season. You may be surprised by one or two of these gorgeous destinations!
Basel has some of the best Christmas markets in Europe, full of fascinating traditions and special charm. Captivated by the dominating skyline at Basel’s highest point is the spacious Munsterplatz Christmas markets, with fairy tale Christmas stalls set out like a small town under chestnut trees decorated with beautiful lights. But the main features of Munsterplatz is Munster cathedral and a giant, beautifully decorated Christmas tree.
Barfusserplatz is another Christmas market with a large Christmas pyramid surrounded by stalls selling sweet and savoury treats like pretzel bread, grilled sausages, gingerbread, fresh potato puffs and raclette cheese. In the inner courtyard of the Town Hall add your Advent wishes and hopes for peace and good health in the Basel wish book.
In addition to the Christmas markets Basel has a lot to see and do and is a great weekend destination.
It is a charming city lined with cobblestoned streets, inviting cafes and over 40 museums. The baroque architecture of the beautifully adorned houses, galleries, delicatessens and other buildings in the historic alleyways of the old town will have you enchanted. There is the whimsical decorative Tinguely Museum, the Gate of Spalen, a former city gate considered one of Switzerland’s most beautiful and the rich history.
But the surprise for us was a massive mural depicting many rock legends like Bob Marley, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix and more. It incorporated the Beatle’s Abbey Road album cover with Billy Joel, Amy Winehouse, Freddie Mercury, Janis Joplin and many others.
I am sure if you had a weekend in Basel the narrow alleyways, secluded squares, impressive buildings and vivid cityscape will charm you too.
Novotel Basel City Hotel
Tel: +41 61 306 68 68
Bar Restaurant zum Sperber
Tel: +41 61 264 68 00
Thanks to Lyn and Steve Baker from A Hole In My Shoe for sharing their thoughts on why Basel should be on your radar this year! Be sure to check out their site for more information on their travels.
As a local, I might be biased but I think, Bremen is a wonderful place to visit before Christmas and to enjoy a great weekend break. Bremen’s Christmas Market is unique and beautiful – probably one of the most beautiful ones in Germany!
The Market Square in the city center is filled with many stalls selling gifts, snacks, and mulled wine. There are even some small carousels for the children and the Christmas lights make everything look very festive. However, the Market Square is not the only place with many stalls- just stroll along the city center or the train station to find even more.
Head to the Old Town of Bremen, the Schnoor and get lost in the extremely narrow streets with historic and colorful buildings (some are older than 500 years), though it is very festive there as well, it is less Christmas like than around the Market Square.
If it snows, do not forget to have nice walks in the Wallanlagen – a beautiful park with a little river. It is a great place for a nice stroll on a sunny winter day.
Finish your days off at the Schlachte. The Schlachte is a beautifully decorated area – a promenade on the Weser River where many restaurants are lined up. This place looks incredibly pretty in winter and the restaurants offer all kind of food.
Merry Christmas and enjoy a great stay in Bremen!
The Radisson Blu directly located next to the Market Square is a nice 4-Star hotel. However, if you are looking to experience ultimate luxury while visiting Bremen, stay at the gorgeous Dorint Park Hotel located in a beautiful, quieter part of the city, yet still centrally located.
Dorint Park Hotel
Tel: +49 421 34080
There are many nice restaurants- at the “Schlachte” visit Camarillo. A bit further in “Überseestadt” is my favorite restaurant and the biggest in Bremen (still always very busy) El Mundo.
Tel: +49 421 384010
Thanks to Arzo from Arzo Travels for sharing her thoughts on why Bremen is the perfect European Christmas destination! Be sure to check out her site for more information.
Budapest, the capital of Hungary is an awesome destination for those, who want to have a white Christmas. The temperature falls below zero in most cases in December and it often snows.
Also, Hungarians really enjoy the Christmas spirit and there are many Christmas markets all over the city, where you can shop for traditional Hungarian Christmas presents and taste some Hungarian dishes and sweets like Kurtos Kalacs and Beigli.
People love drinking mulled wine. The city is beautifully lit up and you can hear Christmas songs everywhere. Winter sport enthusiasts can also ice-skate in these markets. It is a beautiful time of the year in Budapest. Whether you only have time to explore Budapest in one day or plan on spending several days in the Hungarian capital, come and check it out if you can bear the cold!
Aria Hotel Budapest by Library Hotel Collection
Kör is a great restaurant that serves traditional Hungarian food next to the Bazilika.
Sas u. 17,
Tel: +36 1 311 0053
Thanks to Barbara Wagner from Jet-Settera for sharing her thoughts on why Budapest is a great European Christmas destination! Be sure to check out her site for more information.
For a truly traditional European Christmas market break, Cologne in Germany is a must. There’s not just one but six different Christmas markets dotted throughout this city on the Rhine. All the markets have beautiful Christmas lights and decorations and quaint wooden huts but each market has its own unique character and atmosphere.
For me, the best thing about the Cologne Christmas markets is the food and drink. Everywhere you turn, stalls tempt you with warm pretzels, sizzling bratwurst sausages, roasted chestnuts and ginger cookies whilst the aroma of spiced hot glühwein perfumes the air.
When you need a break from the markets, you can relax in the Claudius Therme thermal baths or take a tour of the Schokoladenmuseum chocolate museum and create your own bespoke chocolate bar. For something a little more educational and sombre, you can visit the old Third Reich Headquarters at El-De-Haus.
Tel: +49 221 27243387
For great food by the cathedral head to the Brauhaus Früh am Dom (Früh brewery at the cathedral). Make sure you order the local Kölsch beer and the local dish Himmel Un Ääd (Heaven and Earth).
Brauhaus Früh am Dom
Am Hof 12-18,
Tel: +49 221 2613215
Thanks to Melanie May for sharing her thoughts on why Cologne is the ultimate European destination for Christmas markets among many other things. Be sure to check out her site for more information.
Dresden is a beautiful city to visit at anytime of year but in the winter with the influx of Christmas markets, it really comes to life. The Striezelmarkt on the Altmarkt square is the largest market in Dresden and also the longest continuously running Christmas Market in all of Germany. The buildings in the market are carefully decorated with carved figures, animated in Christmas scenes, the view from the main Ferris Wheel is the best way to enjoy these displays.
Sip hot and perfectly spiced Gluhwein while browsing the carefully handcrafted ornaments still produced in the traditional ways in villages in the Ore Mountains. There are 4 other Christmas markets in the old town. Sitting in amongst the grand Baroque buildings of the city palace, Zwinger and Frauenkirche.
Museums stuffed with treasures and art, most collected by the most notable ruler of Saxony, Augustus the Strong, make a perfect stop to warm up and maybe sober up before heading out for more Gluhwein, shopping and eating at the nearby markets. The Historic Green Vault is the most popular Museum in Dresden, entry is via a timed airlock so booking is recommended.
Stay at the Vienna House QF Hotel, an elegant but modestly priced hotel next to the Frauenkirche with direct access to 3 of the main Christmas Markets, it is the perfect location.
Vienna House QF Hotel
Tel: +49 351 5633090
For a hearty German meal in a Bavarian-style beer hall head to the Altmarktkeller, this underground restaurant sits on the edge of the Altmarkt square right by the Striezelmarkt.
Tel: +49 351 4818130
Thanks to Kaylie Lewell from Happiness Travels Here for sharing her thoughts on why Dresden is the perfect European destination for Christmas markets among many other things. Be sure to check out her site for more information.
The beautiful Austrian city Graz is a true beauty. The second largest city in Austria and the capital of Styria, was added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites back in 1999 – and this is definitely not surprising. Graz is full of cobblestoned streets, cute buildings and amazing landscape. Especially in winter, this city really starts to sparkle, when 14 truly Austrian Christmas markets add a special atmosphere to the rather old, traditional and sleepy city.
Then, it is also the perfect time to get to the Schlossberg. This mountain lies on top of the city and functions as perfect lookout for those, that are sunset-lovers just like myself. Within five minutes the funicular will take you to the top.
The mountain is 123 meters high and during Christmas time home to one of the most romantic Christmas markets I have ever seen. It’s called “Aufsteirern” and is somehow a mix of medieval market and a magic Christmas play that takes place right around you.
But Austrians are also good in partying – even during the cold winter days. Every Friday, they meet at the “Wonderlend” Christmas market. It’s located in the cool and upcoming district Lend and combines some proper old Austrian and German music with Christmas atmosphere. Could it get any better? You’re cold winter feet will vanish immediately – promise!
Hotel Das Weitzer
Tel: +43 316 7030
Tel: +43 316 840000
Thanks to Clemens Sehi from Travellers Archive for sharing his thoughts on why Graz is the perfect European destination for Christmas markets. Be sure to check out his site for more information.
Prague is one of the most visited capitals in Europe. While winter is not the best time of year to go due to the cold weather, the atmosphere during Christmas time is incredibly cozy: Christmas lights and decorations are up; markets can be found all over the city selling crafts, local products, and a lot of good and cheap street food (and drinks).
Among the unmissable places to visit in Prague there’s Charles Bridge, which connects the Old City with Mala Strana. The view from there is stunning. Once in Mala Strana, it is possible to walk to Prague Castle, where the beautiful St. Vitus Cathedral is located. Sunset views from Prague Castle are stunning, and if one looks carefully enough it is also possible to see the Dancing House, one of Prague’s iconic attractions.
Christmas markets in Prague are spread all around the city. One of the best ones is that located right below St. Ludmilla Cathedral, in the center of the city. Since it is not directly in the Old City, it gets a bit less tourists. A beautiful tree is at the centre of the square, and all the stalls surround it.
Miss Sophie’s is a lovely boutique hotel with incredibly cozy rooms, stylishly furnished. Breakfast is served in the adjacent hostel and includes a cold buffet and a hot brunch. All guests are welcomed in their rooms by a bottle of champagne, one of water, and a few local snacks.
120 00 Nové Město,
Tel: +420 210 011 200
Café Imperial is located in a gorgeous historic building and serves both traditional Czech dishes and international cuisine. Café Louvre is equally nice, and an ideal place to stop for a hot drink during the cold winter days.
Na Poříčí 15,
110 00 Nové Město,
Tel: +420 246 011 440
Thanks to Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across The World for sharing her thoughts on why Prague is an awesome Christmas destination. Be sure to check out her site for more information.
Christmas Markets in Italy, known in Italian as Mercatino di Natale are not as numerous or on the same grand scale as the network of Christmas markets in Germany. Nevertheless, a visit to an Italian Christmas Market is one to remember. We loved visiting one such market in the city of love.
The Christmas market in Verona is held at Piazza dei Signori, an UNESCO World Heritage Site which has always been a meeting point for culture and traditions. It was transformed and dressed in lights, sounds and colors of Christmas. The entrance to the city wall was illuminated by hundreds of lights, going through all the streets of the historic center, and arriving in the beautiful Piazza Bra, along with Roman Arena and decorated with an impressive Christmas tree on the square.
The Italians pride themselves on the elaborate crib displays and nativity scenes on display at many Italian Christmas Markets. As with any Christmas Market the Italian stallholders in Verona had mouth-watering displays of local food and drink plus of course the usual array of locally manufactured seasonal gift items. We wandered around looking at the wares in the different stores and tasting the food.
The freshly baked potato pizzas were awesome claimed my kids as the eyed the chocolate dipped strawberries. We bought some trinkets and truffle in a bottle to take back home as souvenirs.
If you find yourself in Verona, stay at the Escalus Luxury Suites – Named after the character Escalus, the Prince of Verona, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Escalus Luxury Suites Hotel is an all-suite hotel steps from the Roman amphitheatre in the center of Verona.
Escalus Luxury Suites
Vicolo Tre Marchetti,
12, 37121 Verona VR,
Tel: +39 045 803 6754
Every Italian region has its own culinary heritage, and Verona is no exception. Visit a traditional Osteria and try local risotto, rich bowls of stew with polenta, or soft potato gnocchi.
Thanks to Priya Vin from Outside Suburbia for sharing her thoughts on why Verona is an awesome Christmas destination. Be sure to check out her site for more information.
Christmas in Europe is unlike anywhere else in the world. When it comes to Christmas markets, the traditional Old Town of a European city is the idyllic location for locals to showcase their homemade products and as you can see, it’s not just the iconic cities that are worth visiting.
We would like to thank all of our contributors for collaborating with us on this post and hopefully we have inspired you to consider heading to Europe to explore some of these gorgeous cities. We just returned from an amazing European adventure around the Baltic States and I would strongly recommend entertaining Christmas in Tallinn, Estonia in the future because this epitomizes everything a European Christmas is about.
Have you experienced any of these Christmas market breaks before? Which are your favorite European cities to celebrate the festive season?
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