The holiday season in Europe is a true winter wonderland. Christmas lights illuminate the long nights and the smell of gingerbread and spiced wine wafts through the air. For hundreds of years, Europeans have been celebrating the holiday season by filling the main squares of cities and villages to wander among beautifully decorated, snow-covered Christmas stalls. The following is a collection of the best Christmas Markets Europe has to offer.
1. Prague, Czech Republic
If you want to experience some Christmas magic, spend your winter days wandering around Prague’s festive markets. The well-known Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square never fail to impress with their selection of Christmas wares and gingerbread men, the beautifully decorated Christmas trees, and the petting zoo, a favorite for the whole family.
2. Antwerp, Belgium
The Belgian city of Antwerp will transform into a full-blown winter playground this Christmas season, which will run from December 7th until January 5th. Anyone visiting during this period can take advantage of the 1000-square-metre ice skating rink smack in the heart of Groenplaats, and enjoy smooth gliding under a roof designed to emulate a starry sky. Grote Markt will be another happening hot spot, with its giant Christmas trees and hanging winter garden sparkling with magical lights, plus a scattering of inviting Christmas Market stands, which, in addition to the classic ‘spekpatatjes’ (fried potatoes with bacon), will this year be taking you on a culinary journey across the world, with delightful treats like fish & chips and steamy Vietnamese ‘pho’ soup.
Antwerp’s city center is compact enough to easily get around on foot. While you do so, remember to wander through the entrancing winter forest of tree sculptures and natural moss in Handschoenmarkt, and pay a visit to the irresistibly cosy Steenplein with its inviting, family-friendly Bar Den and multiple tiny heaters to warm up at.
3. Paris, France
Festive lights, Christmas decorations and gingerbread men everywhere – these are just a few ways the City of Lights gets you into the Christmas spirit. There are several places to visit throughout the city if you are looking for some Christmas fun. Visit Trocadero Gardens, stop by Champs-Élysées to spend time in the Christmas Village, or head to the Latin Quarter to see Santa’s Village.
4. Vienna, Austria
With more than 150 stalls right in the heart of the city, on Rathausplatz, Vienna’s Christmas Market is huge, decorated throughout with amazing Christmas lights. During your visit, don’t forget to look for gingerbread hearts with sweet messages, and of course, beeswax candles should be on every shopping list. If you get thirsty – or just want to warm up while walking around in the snow – give Weihnachtspunsch a try!
5. Bologna, Italy
Christmas markets are not exclusive to northern Europe, as some of the most festive ones can be found in the Mediterranean region. Bologna’s two Christmas Markets are the oldest in the whole country. Walk among the stalls either at the Fiera di Natale or the Antica Fiera di Santa Lucia, and you will surely find some Christmas decorations to treasure. Stuff your tummy with tasty Christmas delights, such as specially shaped marzipan and nuts.
6. Trondheim, Norway
At the heart of Trondheim, you will not only find stalls but also traditional tepee-style tents where you have the chance to buy your very own woolen jumper – a great way to experience the real Christmas feeling that spreads around Norway. While munching on some berry-flavoured cheese, hop on a sleigh and let the horses take you for a ride in the beautiful snowy surroundings.
7. Vilnius, Lithuania
Vilnius has a different take on Christmas trees – they decorate the 550-ft high Vilnius Television tower for the holiday season and hang a bunch of Christmas lights all around it. While strolling among the beautiful sites of Vilnius, sip some karstasvynas (mulled wine) and buy a pair of woolen gloves to keep warm. Find the perfect handmade gift from among the many Christmas decorations and candle holders. And be sure to do all this while munching on some raguolis (a traditional Lithuanian pastry).
8. London, England
Spending a winter break in London is an excellent choice. The Christmas lights in the city are lit ceremoniously in November, accompanied by a parade. For the holiday season, Hyde Park turns into a real winter wonderland, offering not only the traditional stalls, but also the largest outdoor skating rink of the city. Strap on your skates and head out onto the ice. Wander around the different Christmas markets of London, stop by a Christmas concert or experience the carol sing-along at the Royal Albert Hall.
9. Gdansk, Poland
The Christmas Market in Gdansk is not only a traditional market, but an attraction, as well. Besides meeting Santa Claus, riding a carousel horse and skating around the ice rink, visitors can explore the traditionally decorated Christmas trees from all over Europe that are exhibited at the fair. Cakes, chocolate covered fruit and different roasted nuts are just a few of all the culinary delights waiting for you in Gdansk.
10. Zagreb, Croatia
During the weeks of Advent, Zagreb celebrates the holiday season with a huge Christmas market that takes place in different streets around the Jelačić Square. Look around and find yourself among hundreds of gingerbread hearts with the sweetest figures and pick a beautifully decorated, locally produced seasonal souvenir, while being entertained by local choirs, dancers and live music.