'Tis the season to visit those magical Christmas markets in Europe

The underground Christmas market in Valkenburg, Netherlands. — Christmastown Valkenburg

Seasonal markets always add something extra to the festivities. For example, the Christmas markets in Europe – where the winters can get cold, gloomy and perhaps even miserable – have a “magical” feel to them that somehow makes visitors more cheerful, jolly and perhaps even generous.

This is where you can stroll around with the aroma of freshly baked gingerbread and mulled wine wafting in the air, and where you will be greeted with sparkling fairy lights and colourful baubles each turn you take. The rows and rows of Bavarian-style huts selling trinkets, ornaments, gifts and delicious snacks will also make you spend more money than you intend to!

To top it off, cheery holiday music – sometimes sung by a choir – will play throughout the market.

Christmas markets originally started as seasonal street fairs in Germany, where its history goes all the way back to the Middle Ages. As the years pass, and the Holy Roman Empire expands in Europe, so do the markets.

These street fairs usually took place during the four weeks of Advent season (Advent takes place on four consecutive Sundays, beginning with the last Sunday in November and ending on Christmas eve) back then. This later became a common Advent custom that’s observed by many countries in Europe.

Today, many tourists plan their trip to the continent during the year-end holiday season, for the specific reason of visiting at least one Christmas market. Naturally, one would start with Germany as this is where the oldest documented Christmas market – Dresden Striezelmarkt in Dresden, in1434 – can be found. But, of course, there are other countries you can visit too which have equally fascinating Christmas markets.

(It is interesting to note that some markets are also referred to as “December markets”, so do look out for these as well.)

We have compiled 10 Christmas markets in Europe – other than Dresden Striezelmarkt – that you can check out if you happen to be holidaying there this holiday season. But if it’s too late to plan for a trip this year, you can always keep these markets in mind for your future travels.

Basel, Switzerland
Location: Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz in the city’s Old Town

In the heart of Basel’s historic Old Town square is where you can find Switzerland’s famous Christmas market. Here you can find lots of goodies in the form of knick-knacks, souvenirs and food.

Look for the Basel läckerli (a type of gingerbread the city is famous for), raclette (a Swiss cheese dish where cheese is melted an poured over boiled potatoes or any other snacks) and grilled sausages if you’re feeling peckish.

The place is usually decked in fairy lights, with lots of pine trees beautifully decorated in locally-crafted Christmas ornaments. The world’s largest manufacturer of handmade Christmas ornaments, Johann Wanner, has a store located in the square too.

The centre piece is the 13m-high Christmas pyramid – you can’t miss it!

In the courtyard of the City Hall, members of the public are invited to add their entry wishes into the annual Basel Wish Book. You can write either a message or a wish list for Santa Claus, or just a general wish for peace, love, and good health for everyone in the world.

The Christmas market outside Belvedere Palace in Vienna, Austria. — Austrian National Tourist OfficeThe Christmas market outside Belvedere Palace in Vienna, Austria. — Austrian National Tourist Office

Vienna, Austria
Location: Belvedere Palace, Prinz Eugen-Straße

Who else can do baroque-style Christmas better than Austria? Belvedere Palace in Vienna is one of the most stunning landmarks in the city and serves as the perfect venue for its annual Christmas market, also known as a Christmas Village. Here, 40 festively decorated stalls will sell their mostly hand-crafted wares to both local and international visitors.

This may not be the biggest market around, but because it is located in a place with historical significance (it is an 18th century palace, after all), there’s just something more magical about it. Also, as it is outside of the usual tourist area, you will probably find a smaller crowd here.

The most alluring feature of this market is breathtaking backdrop – apart from the castle, there’s also a lake nearby.

Breitnau, Germany
Location: Ravenna Gorge

Imagine a circle of stalls with dazzling lights at the base of a large, historic bridge with stunning arches. There are only snow-covered hills in the area, no tall buildings can be seen...

The entire setting is certainly lovely and calming, immediately conjuring up images from a fairy tale. But this isn’t fiction, this is a real place, and you can only find it in winter.

One of the most extraordinary Christmas markets in Europe, the Ravenna Gorge, is hidden in the snowy hills of Germany’s famous Black Forest. Here, there are plenty of stalls offering regional foods like Swabian maultaschen (a sort of dumpling from the Swabia region in south Germany) and spätzle (German egg noodle pasta) as well as glühwein (mulled wine).

If you’re more adventurous with your alcohol, you can also try the feuerzangenbowle, which is a glass of mulled wine with a sugarloaf (a kind of cone made from sugar) that has been quick-dipped in rum. Before serving the drink, the bartender will fire up the sugarloaf. Don’t worry, you won’t burn your mouth when you drink this ... we hope.

When you’re done checking out the market, don’t leave yet. Instead, walk for about five minutes to the top of a nearby hill. This is where you will get a panoramic view of the market, and the surrounding forest.

One of the main goals of having this market at this location is to preserve and showcase regional customs around the area.

Valkenburg, the Netherlands
Location: Cauberg, Valkenburg

Not all Christmas markets are created equal, and not all of them are located above ground too! For a truly unique holiday experience, head to the Christmas Town Valkenburg in the Netherlands, to discover the largest underground Christmas market in Europe.

This is actually not just a market, it’s a whole festival that lasts nearly two months!

The Municipal Cave in Valkernburg, also known as the Gemeentegrot, is festively decorated during this time so it’s pretty mesmerising navigating your way through the cavern.

But the magic is not just con

fined underground as there are plenty of things to do on the street level too. There’s a “Christmas town” where there are more stalls selling seasonal goodies, a Nativity scene, several Christmas-themed shows (singing, dancing, theatre skits), light shows and even a parade.

The Christmas market in Ravenna Gorge, Germany is definitely worth checking out. — Weihnachtsmarkt RavennaschluchtThe Christmas market in Ravenna Gorge, Germany is definitely worth checking out. — Weihnachtsmarkt Ravennaschlucht

Strasbourg, France
Location: The Grande Ile (Old Town)

The iconic Christkindelsmärik is more than 400 years old and easily one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe.

In the olden days, it was only open for a few days prior to Dec 25, but in modern times the markets runs for more than a month.

Before the pandemic, the market attracted around two million visitors annually from all over the world, bringing in revenue worth billions of euros.

People flock here to buy or just check out seasonal “essentials” like spiced bread, candles, herbs, cheese, gifts and other items.

There are actually 13 markets in the Old Town or Grand Ile, with Christkindelsmärik (in Place Broglie) being the most visited one.

The market in Strasbourg, France with a lovely arch. — Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia CommonsThe market in Strasbourg, France with a lovely arch. — Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons

Heidelberg, Germany
Location: Altstadt, Heidelberg

The Heidelberg Christmas Market is located in the Old Town quarter of Heidelberg in Germany’s Baden-Wurttemberg state. There may not be that many stalls here (as compared to other markets of the same size), but what makes this worth of a visit is the picturesque alleys and traditional vibe of the place.

Plus, you can also get a good view of the ruins of the famous Heidelberg Castle from here (at Karlsplatz).

On top of that, there is also a gorgeous ice rink that visitors can skate in. This rink will be open until the first week of January.

Other attractions to check out include Bismarckplatz, Anatomiegarten, Universitatsplatz, and the main Marktplatz. This is where the huge Heidelberg barrel is located. Be sure to make your way into (yes, it’s that huge) the barrel and stand on the platform for a good overview of the whole area.

Like many of the Christmas markets in Europe this year, Heidelberg follows sustainable practices and uses energy-saving technology for all its attractions.

Tallinn, Estonia
Location: Tallinn Old Town

Talinn is the historic Estonian capital that overlooks the Baltic Sea. This is also where you can find the annual Christmas market. Here, you can visit Santa’s cottage in the square and browse through the various stalls for handcrafted decorations or perhaps even some comfortable sheep wool knits.

If you’re hungry, have some sauerkraut and blood sausages.

The star of the market is the Christmas tree, which is said to be the most important Christmas tree in Estonia as it has been shown at the Town Hall Square in Talinn Old Town since 1441, making it Europe’s first Christmas tree to be put on display.

The square and neighbouring cobblestone streets are crowded with holiday decorations and merrymakers. There are many wintertime activities in Old Town for everyone, too.

Younger visitors can ride merry-go-rounds while the elderly sip on some Glögi and listen to a variety of Christmas music.

To keep the Christmas joy alive, a special programme is curated during this season. Various groups from Estonia and abroad play on the stage of the Christmas Market during the weekends with around 3,000 artists on the stage.

Christmas market in Govone, Italy. — Govone Christmas MarketChristmas market in Govone, Italy. — Govone Christmas Market

Copenhagen, Denmark
Location: Tivoli Gardens

The best way to experience Danish hygge is through their Christmas markets. The people (and visitors) live in the moment with their friends and family in a cosy atmosphere.

This is said to be a traditional Danish experience and way of life.

Stroll through Tivoli Gardens to admire the sparkly decorations, and soak up the rustic Christmas ambiance. Try some local treats at food vendors and just do some shopping while you’re there.

Danish Yuletide favourites such as gingerbread hearts, pancakes, marzipan, roast pork sandwiches, aebleskiver (pancake balls), and rice pudding can usually be found here.

The Tivoli Gardens features fantastic live music too. You can enjoy the Tivoli Youth Guards’ fantastic orchestral repertoire, as well as catch the popular Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker.

This year, the Vivienne McKee production takes its cabaret show, the Crazy Christmas, to Tivoli. You can expect lots of fun, laughter and pure British silliness in this special show entitled Who Killed Don Calzone?.

Govone, Italy
Location: Govone Castle

The Govone Christmas market is the third most visited Christmas market in Italy. It is held within the Govone Castle grounds, giving it a fairytale setting.

There are hundreds of wooden stalls and booths set up at this market, selling ornaments, Nativity sets, gifts and souvenirs, as well as delicacies from the Province of Cuneo. You can try the farinata (a traditional pancake made from chickpeas), the Piedmontese hamburgers, roasted chestnuts, nougats, cakes, cheese and so much more.

Street performers and musicians all add to the merry atmostphere.

Govone Castle is located about 60km away from Turin, so you just need to make a day trip here.

A carousel at the Helsinski Christmas market. — KIM OHMAN/TuomaanmarkkinatA carousel at the Helsinski Christmas market. — KIM OHMAN/Tuomaanmarkkinat

Helsinki, Finland
Location: Senate Square

The main attraction of the holiday season in Helsinki, Finland is the Christmas market held in the city’s Senate Square. It’s all about unwinding, enjoying some good food and drinks, and spending time with friends and family here, as well as getting into the holiday spirit.

There are about 140 vendors selling their wares in this Christmas market, all in cute small wooden huts.

For those who come for the food instead of the handicrafts, there are pizzas, lörtsys (which are like Cornish pasties or even, currypuffs but bigger and without all the spices) and sweet delicacies,.

For drinks, you can almost be sure that bartenders will come up with delicious concoctions for you, if you ask nicely, that is. To get you in a festive mood, try the Glögi drink. (Glögi is a hot spicy alcoholic drink that;s similar to mulled wine, but with a stronger flavour.)

There’s also a lovely vintage carousel installed right in the middle of the market. Kids will surely enjoy this, but so will yuong-at-heart adults.

There’s a lineup of shows and performances that visitors can catch here. Of course, if you’re not into all that, then there’s always the large Christmas tree that you can enjoy looking. Aside from the carousel ride, children can also meet elves and adorable animals, as well as Santa Claus.

The Helsinki Christmas Market is the city’s oldest outdoor Christmas market. Visiting the Christmas Market has become a favourite holiday pastime for many, and over 300,000 people visit each year.

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