Best European Christmas Markets: Bratislava

There is nothing that puts me in the mood for the holidays more than European Christmas markets.

They have been held in cities and villages around Europe for over four hundred years, and are the perfect antidote to a cold and dark December day.

Around Europe, public squares are lined with row after row of market stalls, people shopping, eating and fighting the cold with cups of mulled wine and apple cider. What’s best is that these markets don’t last for a day, or a weekend, or even a week. Instead, we’re talking over a month of daily Christmas celebrations.

While there are a myriad of Christmas markets around Europe, a handful rise to the top. These special few are worth a weekend getaway (or a few!) from late November through December.

Best European Christmas Markets: London

Winter Wonderland (mid Nov-early Jan)

Every November, a huge section of London’s Hyde Park is converted into a oasis of Christmas spirit. Winter Wonderland includes dozens of rides, for both kids and adults, from spinning teacups to rollercoasters. In addition to the amusement park, there is a Bavarian Village, packed with stands grilling sausages and flowing beer. The Angel’s Christmas Market has all of the holiday trinkets you could ever need, and the street food section has a wide range of good eats.

Unexpected Alternative: Winterville (late Nov-late Dec)

Set up in Victoria Park, in the heart of hipster East London, Winterville is the smaller cousin to Winter Wonderland. There are still rides and fun for all ages, but there are more funky cocktail tents, craft beer bars, a crazy golf course, and stalls hawking vintage clothing. Please note that this annual festival is taking a break in 2016 to reorganize (boo!), but is coming back bigger and crazier than ever in 2017.

Best European Christmas Markets: Traditional

Vienna, Austria (mid-Nov-Dec 24th)

The iconic image of Vienna’s Rathaus, all lit up for the holiday season, is exactly what I think of when I imagine the perfect European Christmas market. The unmistakeable smell of roasting chestnuts, entire rows of stalls selling Christmas decorations including dried citrus and cinnamon wreaths that permeate the air…it’s everything you could ever want from a Christmas market.

Unexpected Alternative: Bratislava, Slovakia (mid Nov-late Dec)

Just an hour by train from Vienna, Bratislava’s festivities are set in the medieval Old Town section of the city, a cozy location protected from the elements of a cold winter. The picturesque neighborhood hosts the annual Christmas market, and while still lively, this market isn’t nearly as swamped as its neighbor, Vienna. Almost one hundred stalls set up each year, and unsurprisingly, the market specializes in Slovak crafts and local specialities like potato pancakes, grilled sausages, and honey wine.

Best European Christmas Markets: Food and Drink

Stuttgart, Germany (late Nov-Dec 23rd)

Stuttgart’s Christmas Market dates back to the 17th century and is visited by almost 3.5 million people each year, making it one of the busiest markets in all of Europe. There are almost 300 stalls in the center of the city, selling nutcrackers, ornaments, and other holiday gifts. Of course, the food is hard to miss, as the whole city smells of cinnamon and spice. There are lots of sweet treats, like gingerbread, waffles, and fruitcake, but it’s hard to look past the tempting bratwurst, spätzle, and sheep’s milk cheese. All washed down with glühwein, the hot, mulled red wine that is practically required drinking at any Christmas market!

Unexpected Alternative: Strasbourg, France (late Nov-late Dec)

Amazingly, the oldest European Christmas market is in Strasbourg, dating back to 1570. This city, right on the German border of France in Alsace, does not hold back: there are over 500 events planned throughout the city each year during the Christmas season. The Alsatians know how to eat well too, so you can drink Lait de Poule, eggnog spiked with brandy, while eating local escargot, foie gras, munster cheese, or giant pretzels. If you crave something sweet, you won’t be disappointed with Kouglof, a sweet, buttery roll filled with raisins and nuts, that is particularly tasty when dunked in hot chocolate.

Best European Christmas Markets: Decoration and Lights

Copenhagen (mid-Nov-late Dec)

Danes may be known for their understated design sensibilities, but during the annual Christmas market at the the legendary Tivoli Gardens, more is definitely more. The centrally-located amusement park is awash in lights and holiday decoration, all arranged by one of the head designers at Tiffany and Co. You can enjoy freshly made apples pancakes while marveling at the nightly light display. Closer to Christmas, they also hold fireworks shows, taking the celebrations to a whole new level.

Unexpected Alternative: Brussels (late Nov-early Jan)

A relative newcomer to the party, Brussels starting hosting a Christmas market in 2002. Winter Plet (“Pleasures of Winter”) has over two hundred stalls, and thanks to the city’s designation as de facto capital of the European Union, the fair highlights goods from around the continent. Of course, they don’t skip the Belgian classics, like chocolate, waffles, mussels, and frites. Each night, the festivities come to life with a daily light and sound show at the Grand Palace, which you can watch from the sparkling ferris wheel, or the illuminated public skating rink.

This post on the best European Christmas markets was inspired by this article on dealchecker. Check it out!

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  • November 21, 2016

    Vienna is my favorite Christmas market so far! Can’t wait to see Copenhagen’s in a few weeks!

    • November 26, 2016
      Julie

      We LOVED Vienna’s market. And Copenhagen is such a highlight. Enjoy it!!!

  • November 21, 2016

    I love Christmas markets! I’ll be missing out on Christmas this year, luckily I have time for at least one christmas market in Essen, Germany this year. I can’t wait!
    Dominique recently posted…Seoul – One Day of Palaces & CultureMy Profile

    • November 26, 2016
      Julie

      Ooh, how is Essen’s market?? I’ve always thought that Germany has such consistently good markets with their old town squares and adorable villages.

  • November 26, 2016

    I love the one in Vienna as well! An unexpected one for me was in Budapest- everything for sale was stuff I would actually buy, and it was so tastefully decorated.
    Tamara recently posted…Adventure and adrenaline: A daredevil day in Laval, QuebecMy Profile

    • November 26, 2016

      i’ve heard that about Budapest. Heard the food was pretty good too. Just another reason to revisit that amazing city.

  • November 26, 2016

    Great list of European Christmas markets. We were so looking forward to spending time in Berlin this year they have 60 markets around the city, unfortunately due to a family issue back in Canada we had to return home to help a loved one. We spent some time in Brussels this year and would definitely like to take in the market there even if it is a new one.
    Rob recently posted…Long-term Packing Tips Learned Over 900 Days of Perpetual TravelMy Profile

    • November 29, 2016
      Julie

      We’ve heard great things about Berlin’s various markets, but I had no idea there were 60! That is the Christmas spirit at its finest 🙂

  • November 26, 2016

    Perhaps it’s just my American idealizing of European markets but all of these sound absolutely fabulous. Here in San Diego we have a yearly celebration in Balboa Park at the old World’s Fair village where representatives for all the countries put on a mini-market of their wares and traditions. It must be amazing to be in the country itself and be immersed in the experience.

    • November 29, 2016
      Julie

      As you describe the celebration in Balboa Park, it reminds me almost of the style of Epcot, with each country having its little section, food and shopping and all. Sounds fab!

  • November 27, 2016

    I have yet to make it to a Christmas market in Europe, these all look fantastic. I would love to do any of them, but I’m such a cold wimp.
    noel recently posted…Zion National Park black and white landscapesMy Profile

    • November 29, 2016
      Julie

      You’re in luck! Many of these cities aren’t too cold in December. Despite their festive look, much of the weather on continental Europe is pretty mild. You can definitely visit without fearing frostbite!

  • November 27, 2016

    Our favorite time of year is Christmas! We were in London at this time last year and visited Winter Wonderland and we absolutely loved it. We were also in Strasbourg shortly after Christmas and was still feeling the Holiday Spirit while there. My family and I have plans on visiting all these Christmas markets soon, thanks for this lovely post.
    Brenda Tolentino recently posted…Sicily – In search of Milza and finding EdenMy Profile

    • November 29, 2016
      Julie

      Winter Wonderland is a favorite in London, and we’ve enjoyed it every winter. I will say that on freezing nights, with the wind whipping around, my Christmas spirit slips fast, but then the next night might be nice and mild and perfect for a visit. At least there’s mulled wine 😉

  • November 27, 2016

    Visiting the Christmas Markets in Eurpoe is high on my wish list. I love that you give some lesser known alternatives to the popular markets.
    Brianna recently posted…Unique Gifts for the Traveler on Your ListMy Profile

    • November 29, 2016
      Julie

      Christmas markets definitely deserve a place on your wish list. They are really fantastic. In fact, over the course of a week, say, in Germany, you could probably visit three or four, just by being based in a major city and taking the train. They are literally everywhere!

  • November 27, 2016

    As someone from the southern hemisphere, I’ve loved the Christmas markets in the UK. We haven’t made it to Europe for theirs though yet.

  • November 27, 2016

    Awesome list of Christmas markets! We’ll be experiencing the markets in Vienna and Bratislava this year.

    • November 29, 2016
      Julie

      Enjoy them! Those were the first we ever visited, and then we were hooked. We loved the small size of Bratislava, and then just a short train ride away, the majesty of Vienna (which was pretty much built to be decorated with twinkle lights in my opinion!).

  • November 29, 2016

    I loooove Christmas Markets! Well, markets in general actually. 🙂 We’ve only been to a couple of Christmas Markets in Belgium (I think you mean Winterpret btw), but we planned on visiting some abroad this year. So this guide comes in quite handy! Thanks!
    Birthe (from Wandering the World) recently posted…Hiking the Rob Roy Glacier Track near WanakaMy Profile

    • December 5, 2016

      Nothing makes us full in love with a city than a good market. And a solid Christmas market? Even better! Thanks for pointing out the Winterpret mistake…must have been an autocorrect!

  • November 30, 2016

    In less than a month, we will be Celebrating Christmas.I love how Christmas is making the colorful cities of Europe even more vibrant.

    For me, London’s Christmas markets and fairs are the places to be.
    And I’ll choose Winter Wonderland. I’m sure that everything that you are looking for a Christmas market are here!
    Trisha Velarmino recently posted…Dear girls of the world: don’t let society dictate who you areMy Profile

    • December 5, 2016

      Such a fun event. Definitely a little something for everyone, from kids rides to beer halls!

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