The best Christmas markets in Europe

Nov 12, 2019

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If sipping glühwein, perusing endless stalls of holiday wares and admiring thousands of glittering Christmas lights seems like your personal winter wonderland, plan to celebrate this season at one of Europe’s festive Christmas markets.

Traditional Christmas markets date back hundreds of years and are still popular today in many European countries. Although the weather is cold (and snowy in some destinations), experiencing the sparkling lights, wafting smells of traditional foods and holiday cheer is the best ways to brave the chilly temperatures. And, many markets begin in November and run through the holidays, giving travellers plenty of opportunities to snag a fall or winter flight deal or off-peak award redemption.

Here are some of the best Christmas markets in Europe, complete with tips on the best ways to arrive and where to stay.

Vienna, Austria

Wander past the 150 stalls at Vienna’s largest Christmas market, in famous City Hall Square in Rathausplatz (15 November to 26 December). Besides sampling the snacks and shopping the holiday items, visitors can also strap on rental skates and glide around the 32,000-square-foot ice rink (open through 6 January), viewing all the holiday sparkle and jolly decorations. Kids will love the reindeer train, ferris wheel and carousel — there’s even a Nativity path too.

Rathausplatz Christmas Market by the Town Hall in Vienna. (Photo by Danita Delimont/Getty Images)
Rathausplatz Christmas Market by the Town Hall in Vienna. (Photo by Danita Delimont/Getty Images)

Stay: The Park Hyatt Vienna is the ultimate Viennese luxury: high, arching ceilings, an indoor swimming pool and suites decked out with chandeliers and marble bathrooms. Winter rates start at £367 or 25,000 Hyatt points per night.

Arrive:  British Airways flies nonstop between London Gatwick (LGW) and Vienna. Low-cost carrier EasyJet can get you to Vienna’s Christmas markets on the cheap from London Luton (LTN), London Gatwick (LGW) and Bristol (BRS). Austrian flies from Manchester (MAN) and London Heathrow (LHR) to Vienna.

Germany

Quite possibly the most famous country in Europe for Christmas markets, Germany has a market in practically every city. We simply couldn’t pick just one, so here are some of the best:

  • Cologne: This city, famous for its towering Gothic cathedral, features not one but seven different Christmas markets, including an LGBTQ-friendly Christmas market (25 November to 23 December).
  • Munich: Bavaria’s most famous market (27 November to 24 December) is in Marienplatz, decorated with 2,500 candles and featuring more than 160 stalls.
  • Munich Airport: Jump right into the holiday spirit during a long layover at Munich International Airport (MUC), which transforms into a Christmas market each season (15 November to 29 December). Wake those stagnant muscles up after a long flight by ice skating or enjoy plenty of live music and traditional food.
Christmas and Winter Market in the Munich Airport. (Photo by klug-photo/Getty Images)
Christmas and Winter Market in the Munich Airport. (Photo by klug-photo/Getty Images)
  • Frankfurt: One of the country’s largest markets kicks off 25 November with the Frankfurt Opera hosting a singalong. Enjoy the shopping and the market’s 105-foot-tall Christmas scene (25 November to 22 December).
  • Nuremburg: Besides its world-renowned lebkuchen, or gingerbread, you should keep a look out for this market’s Christkind, a young lady with curly blond hair dressed like a golden angel who makes frequent appearances at the festivities (29 November to 24 Dec. 24).
  • Berlin: Germany’s capital has a number of Christmas markets, but one of the best is the market flanked by two cathedrals in Gendarmenmarkt (25 November to 31 December). Expect the typical food and shopping but also incredible holiday-inspired performances from fire eaters, acrobats, jugglers and choirs belting out classical, jazz and gospel Christmas tunes.
The Christmas market in Berlin. (Photo by Maremagnum/Getty Images)
The Christmas market in Berlin. (Photo by Maremagnum/Getty Images)
  • Dresden: One of the country’s oldest and largest markets in the former East Germany, the Striezelmarkt features puppet theaters, storytelling time and gingerbread-decorating workshops (27 November to 23 December).

Stay: The new Andaz Munich Schwabinger Tor features modern rooms with wooden floors and innovative art pieces, some of which have views of the Bavarian city. Rates start at as low as £161 or 20,000 points per night.

Arrive: If you have a few thousand Avios lying around, many of the aforementioned cities, like Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt and Berlin, have off-peak redemptions in British Airways’ Euro Traveller for just 8,000 Avios return or 15,500 in Club Europe. Airlines like EasyJet, Ryanair and Lufthansa also offer routes to various German cities from many U.K. hubs.

Strasbourg, France

Although you can’t go wrong with markets in French spots like Lyon and Lille, Strasbourg’s Christkindelsmärik, near the city’s cathedral, is one of France’s most popular holiday haunts for sipping mulled wine, tasting French wintery treats like tarte flambée or bredele biscuits and shopping at over 300 wooden stalls (22 November to 30 December). A city known as the Capital of Christmas, Strasbourg’s towering Christmas tree, millions of twinkling lights and festive ice rink will convince any Grinch to love the festive season.

The Place Kleber Christmas Market in Strasbourg. (Photo by MATTES Rene/hemis.fr/Getty Images)
The Place Kleber Christmas Market in Strasbourg. (Photo by MATTES Rene/hemis.fr/Getty Images)

Stay: Those on a budget should stay at the no-frills Holiday Inn Express Strasbourg Centre, with rates starting at £82 or 20,000 points per night. For a more luxurious experience, stay at the Sofitel Strasbourg Grande Ile Hotel, an Accor property a few minutes away from the market. Rates start at £155 per night.

Arrive: You can’t fly nonstop to Strasbourg Airport from London, but you can get to Frankfurt (FRA) or Paris on a number of carriers and then take a train to the French city.

Tallinn, Estonia

Sample Baltic holiday cuisine like black pudding and gingerbread paired with spiced wine at the Christmas market in Tallinn’s medieval town square (15 November to 7 January). The setting is simply stunning: historic buildings surround stalls selling Christmas goods and decorations (many of which are heart-shaped, as Estonians firmly believe Christmas is a time of love), with the enormous tree as a centerpiece. A stage hosts over 3,000 different performers over the almost-two-month-long festival with acts like seasonal music, Christmas theatre and special guests like Santa.

The Christmas market in the Town Hall Square in Tallinn. (Photo by Stuart Black/Getty Images)
The Christmas market in the Town Hall Square in Tallinn. (Photo by Stuart Black/Getty Images)

Stay: The Radisson Blu Sky Hotel is a short walk away from the town square, which you can view from the hotel’s outdoor terrace overlooking over the Estonian capital. Rates start at £115 or 44,000 points per night.

Arrive: Fly low-cost on Ryanair from London Stansted (STN) to Tallinn. Air Baltic operates also between London Gatwick (LGW) and Tallinn.

Brussels, Belgium

While Antwerp, Ghent and Brugge’s markets have a smaller, more charming and cozier vibe, Brussels’ Winter Wonders market (30 November to 7 January) is the largest and most impressive in Belgium, with about 250 stands weaving through the city center. The Grand Palace sparkles, covered in lights and decorations. Take a spin around the ice rink, fly high in the Ferris wheel or enjoy a visit from Santa. New for the 2019 market is a special dome that will create an immersive audio and visual Christmas experience for visitors.

Christmas Market in Place Sainte Catherine in Brussels. (Photo by Jon Hicks/Getty Images)
Christmas Market in Place Sainte Catherine in Brussels. (Photo by Jon Hicks/Getty Images)

Stay: The Brussels Marriott Grand Palace is right in the heart of all the Christmas action. Room rates start at £130 or 30,000 points per night.

Arrive: Although flying from the U.K. is quick and easy on airlines like British Airways and Brussels Airlines, taking the Eurostar train between London and Brussels is beyond simple, and the ride takes just over two hours.

Prague, Czech Republic

It’s hard to decide whether to visit Prague’s Old Town Square market or Wenceslas Square market. Considering they’re a 10-minute walk from each other, it’s easy to visit both (30 November to 6 January). They both may sell similar items, like medovina honey wine and Czech crafts like puppets and dolls, Old Town Square has live animals like sheep and donkeys for children to pet. Both markets have massive Christmas trees and Nativity scenes, too.

The Prague Christmas Market. (Photo by Frank Chmura/Getty Images)
The Prague Christmas Market. (Photo by Frank Chmura/Getty Images)

Stay: Hilton Prague Old Town is a 10-minute walk from Old Town Square, offering modern comforts and renovated guest rooms but not losing the Old World charm that Prague is famous for. Room rates start at £115 or 50,000 points per night.

Arrive: Although British Airways flies to Prague, it’s easy to get to the Bohemian city if your Avios balance isn’t quite topped off via low-cost carriers like Ryanair, EasyJet, Jet2 and WizzAir from various London airports as well as Manchester (MAN), Liverpool (LPL) and Bristol.

Zagreb, Croatia

Voted numerous times as Europe’s best Christmas market, Zagreb’s holiday magic is truly special. In fact, the entire city is decked out with lights, Nativity scenes and decorations. Start at the Zrinjevac Park Christmas market (30 November to 7 January), where you can sample hot štrukle, a pastry with melted cheese or medenjaci cookies paired with soul-warming wine as you browse handmade ornaments and toys. Then visit Zagreb Cathedral with its famous Nativity scene out front. Finish the evening up with a few laps around the King Tomislav Square ice rink or a ride on the carousel in Strossmayer Square.

Zagreb
Zagreb’s Christmas Market. (Photo by Marco Secchi/Getty Images)

Stay: A short walk away from the Christmas action, the Westin Zagreb is ideal for those wanting a quiet, contemporary space to relax in while being close to all the holiday cheer. Rates start £63 or 15,000 points per night.

Arrive: Both British Airways and Croatia Airlines fly between London Heathrow (LHR) and Zagreb (ZAG).

Basel, Switzerland

Wander through over 160 snow-covered wooden stalls at Basel’s Christmas market, stretching from Barfüsserplatz to Münsterplatz (28 November to 23 December). A steaming mug of glühwein perfectly complements traditional delights like waffles, gingerbread and melted Swiss raclette. The market begins at 6:30 p.m. on 28 November, when the city’s president switches on the glittering Christmas lights, accompanied by the Musik-Akademie Basel horn ensemble and a choir from Theater Basel.

Christmas market in the old town of Basel. (Photo by Flavio Vallenari/Getty Images)
Christmas market in the old town of Basel. (Photo by Flavio Vallenari/Getty Images)

Stay: Basel doesn’t have many points options for hotels, as the Hilton Basel is now permanently closed, but there is a Radisson Blu Basel. Once you return from the Christmas markets, you can warm up and relax in the hotel’s indoor pool. Rates start at £148 or 70,000 points per night.

Arrive: Getting to Basel from the U.K. is simple. You can fly EasyJet from London Gatwick, Manchester or Edinburgh (EDI), or British Airways from London Heathrow. Note again that EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg is actually in France

If you want to visit other cities in Europe, check before booking to see if your destination has a market. Many European cities have versions of these seasonal markets, including (but not limited to) Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Madrid, Budapest and Krakow.

Featured photo of the christmas market in Frankfurt by Boris Jordan Photography/Getty Images.

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