Feel the Festive Spirit at Europe’s Top Christmas Markets

by Grace-Yvette Gemmell in Explore

Twinkling fairy lights, a towering spruce, fir or Scotch pine, and a steaming mug of mulled wine to combat the crisp chill – what could be better than a Christmas market to get you into the festive mood? Europe is the home of this spirit-rousing, heart-warming tradition, so get your Christmas celebrations off to the perfect start by heading to one of these joyful European markets.

Sip glühwein in Germany

Christmas market in Frankfurt

Frankfurt's fabulous Christmas market is arranged around a giant tree in Römerburg square (Photo: Getty Images)

The first true Christmas market is said to have been held in Germany in the fourteenth century and the country remains a real hub of the tradition. In Munich, the streets glitter with fairy lights come late November and a plethora of markets springs up to tempt visitors with Bavarian crafts and glühwein. Head to Marienplatz for Nativity scene shopping and traditional folk music to a backdrop of the Neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus, or visit the Christmas Village in the Residenz to see Hansel and Gretel in a fairytale forest, as well as craftspeople, including glassblowers, at work. The Aloft Munich hotel has an ideal city centre location.

In Berlin you can’t miss the Berliner Weihnachtszeit, which runs from the Rotes Rathaus to St Marienkirche and is a glorious celebration of festive nostalgia, complete with Ferris wheel, carousel and circular ice-skating rink. Meet Santa Claus here and feast on bratwurst and baked apples before recharging at the elegant Hotel Luc, Autograph Collection, a short stroll away.

Cologne is home to some of the country’s most lavish markets, from the vast Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom, which fills the square in front of the glorious Gothic cathedral with festive stalls, to the Cologne Harbour market at the Chocolate Museum, which overlooks the Rhine and has a maritime theme (think fish specialities and glühwein served from a three-masted ship’s hull). A cute Christmas train links the markets and runs near to the stylish Cologne Marriott Hotel.

You could easily spend an entire day at the Christmas market in Frankfurt, which is arranged around a giant tree in Römerburg square and the surrounding streets. Explore the stalls selling decorations and toys, go for a spin on the vintage carousel and don’t miss the Brenten and Bethmännchen marzipan treats. Get a good night’s sleep afterwards at nearby Le Méridien Frankfurt

Be enchanted by Vienna's Christmas magic

Christmas market in Vienna

Christmas market season is a truly magical time in Austrian capital Vienna (Photo: Getty Images)

Few places rival Vienna for festive flavour and there are numerous Christmas markets around the city. Head to the Christkindlmarkt at Vienna’s Rathausplatz, where the Neo-Gothic nineteenth-century city hall is an elegant backdrop for a twinkling tree and also houses a children’s area where they can make Christmas cookies and candles. The Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace is not to be missed for its traditional crafts and Baroque backdrop, while the Christmas village on the campus of the University of Vienna showcases gifts and gourmet luxuries from around Austria. Base yourself at The Ritz-Carlton, Vienna for an unbeatable location and rooftop bar with views over the fairy-lit city centre.

Experience Zurich's indoor market

Christmas market in Zurich

Zurich's indoor Christmas market is full of stalls selling pretty trinkets to decorate your home with (Photo: Getty Images)

Zurich's Christkindlimarkt is a little different – it takes place indoors, lit by a towering tree covered in sparkling crystals. Step inside the Swiss city’s main station and smell the mulled wine and cinnamon as you explore more than 100 stalls touting Christmas gifts and festive food. Alternatively, hit the Wienachtsdorf at Sechseläutenplatz in front of the neo-classical Opera House for a Christmas village-style market known for its one-of-a-kind jewellery by local designers. Shopping done and Christmas spirit kindled, head back to your Art Deco-style room at Neues Schloss Privat Hotel Zurich, near the north shore of Lake Zurich.

Join a 400-year-old tradition in Strasbourg

Christmas market in Strasbourg

Strasbourg's gorgeously atmospheric Christmas market was the first to be established in France (Photo: Getty Images)

The oldest Christmas market in France is also one of its most picturesque, featuring some 300 wooden chalets strung along Strasbourg’s atmospheric ancient streets and glittering with lights and baubles. The city calls itself the “Capital of Christmas”, so you can expect a winter wonderland, especially the area around the jaw-dropping Rayonnant Gothic cathedral. Wander awhile with a mulled wine, stock up on bredele (traditional Alsatian Christmas cookies) and don’t miss the 30-metre-tall tree in Place Kléber. Afterwards, head to your room at Maison Rouge Strasbourg Hotel & Spa, Autograph Collection to warm up in chic surroundings. 

Discover the UK's winter wonderlands

Edinburgh.jfif

At Christmas time, the Scottish capital Edinburgh is bedecked with festive decoration (Photo: Getty Images)

There are so many magical Christmas markets in the UK that you’re spoiled for choice. One of the most fun is Winter Wonderland in London’s Hyde Park, an extravaganza of yuletide joy that encompasses the country’s largest open-air ice rink, a 70-metre ferris wheel and circus acts, plus dozens of stalls selling everything from personalised gifts to one-off jewellery. Stay nearby at the sophisticated London Marriott Hotel Park Lane or, for atmospheric views of the Thames and Shakespeare’s Globe, at The Westin London City.

In Cardiff, the city’s Christmas Market focuses on the handmade and the local, with wooden huts selling beautiful gifts scattered throughout a pedestrianised area. Nearby, the Cardiff Marriott Hotel has views of the Welsh capital and its castle. Head further north, to Edinburgh, and you’ll be immersed in festive cheer with the Scottish capital bedecked in its Christmas finery. Lights twinkle throughout Princes Street Gardens, Scottish arts and crafts tempt shoppers from stall to stall, and you can warm up with a mulled wine or two. Check in to the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh afterwards to wind down in the city’s best spa.

Browse traditional crafts in Budapest

Christmas market in Budapest, Hungary

Come Christmas time, Budapest's markets are stocked with a rich array of traditional crafts (Photo: Getty Images)

The Christmas markets of Hungarian capital Budapest focus on the traditional, with high-quality handmade gifts enticing shoppers to browse. Look out for exceptional leather bags and shoes, hand-blown glass and beautiful candles, and nibble some roasted chestnuts as you browse. Vorosmarty Square has some of the best stalls, while the Budapest Basilica Christmas Fair fills the square in front of the grand domed St Stephen's Basilica with fairy lights and Hungarian treats such as chimney cake. A short walk away await two of the city’s grandest addresses, the Ritz-Carlton Budapest and Matild Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Budapest.

See Prague at its festive prettiest

Christmas market in Prague, Czech

Czech capital Prague is pretty all year round, but especially so during the Christmas market season (Photo: Getty Images)

As one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, Prague is naturally home to one of its most beguiling Christmas markets. The capital of the Czech Republic knows how to put on a show, with a gorgeous display of glittering lights filling both Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square from late November. Come to explore the market's village of wooden huts packed with local handicrafts and winter warmers such as spit-roasted ham and spicy gingerbread. Round off the festivities in style by booking a room at Augustine, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Prague.

Published: October 21, 2022

Last Updated: November 02, 2022

Article Tags:  Austria , Berlin , Budapest , Cardiff , Christmas Market , Cologne , Czech Republic , Edinburgh , France , Frankfurt , Hungary , London , Germany , Munich , Prague , Strasbourg , Switzerland , United Kingdom , Vienna , Zurich

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