Winter wonders: 5 of the best Christmas markets in Europe

We can’t think of anything more festive than spending a weekend away visiting a European Christmas market and totally immersing yourself in the Christmas spirit. Whether in the historic squares of Prague, traditional Vienna or the beautiful Tivoli gardens in Copenhagen, the universal Christmas spirit unites them all and showcases European traditions at their best. So grab your warmest winter coat and pick your favourite winter destination this December.

Striezelmarkt, Dresden, Germany

If you have never been to a German Christmas market, we recommend you visit the Striezelmarkt in Dresden which has been a fixture since 1434 and is believed to be the oldest Christmas market in Germany (of which there are over 2,000 nowadays). Its name stems from “Stollen” or “Streizel”, the German Christmas bread enriched with dried fruit and marzipan, without which no German Christmas would be complete. So if you like having your cake and eating it, Dresden is the place to be. You’ll also find the world’s tallest nutcracker and tallest Christmas pyramid here which are definitely worth a visit. Why not drink some German Glühwein (mulled wine) too, to keep warm?

Wenceslas Square Christmas Market, Prague, Czech Republic

Prague’s largest and most magical Christmas market takes place in Wenceslas Square (as in Old King Wenceslas) and the city’s distinctively medieval backdrop of church domes, towers and stunning 9th century castle provides the most festive skyline. We recommend strolling through the cobbled streets in the week leading up to the Christmas holidays as the streets will sport gigantic tubs of water filled with carp, the traditional Czech Christmas dish – best enjoyed with grog and honey liquor, traditional Czech beverages which are guaranteed to warm you up on a cold winter’s day. Prague’s Christmas markets are filled with giant Christmas trees and fairy light-festooned stalls selling locally made gifts (keep an eye out for stunning ceramics). You can also listen to Christmas carols sung by one of the many choirs. If you’re a fan of fairy tale settings, then a visit to Prague is a must.

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

During Christmas time, Copenhagen pulls out all the stops and masters the art of Christmas decorations and illuminations. If you are a fan of ‘hygge’ – the Danish word for all things cosy and wonderful – then a visit to the Tivoli Gardens, based in the centre of the capital, is a must. From mid-November, Tivoli is transformed into a vast grotto with a special Christmas market, Yuletide grub and an array of nisser (Danish Christmas pixies). The gardens also offer an ice rink, rollercoaster and theme park rides for those up for more than just a leisurely amble around the craft stalls. It attracts up to a million visitors, so expect crowds.

Fira de Santa Llúcia, Barcelona, Spain

If you’re craving warmth that doesn’t come in the form of mulled wine, but actually pleasant weather, head to Barcelona for some alternative festive fun in the sun. Fira de Santa Llúcia is a traditional Christmas fair dating back to 1786 and showcasing more than 300 stalls selling a vast range of handcrafted Christmas decorations and gifts. Children line up for a go on the giant caga tió, a huge, smiley-faced log that ‘poops’ out pressies. We recommend enjoying one of the many musical parades and exhibitions, including the popular life-size nativity scene in Plaça Sant Jaume.

Christkindlmarkt, Vienna, Austria 

Christmas for the Viennese is a social affair, where people meet up at the markets for Glühwein or Punsch (local mulled wine), chestnuts and spiced Christmas cookies. One of Austria’s biggest and undoubtedly most popular markets is the Christkindlmarkt which dates back to 1294 and is bursting with festive atmosphere. Set in the Rathausplatz in front of the neo-Gothic City Hall, the Viennese come to check out the festive window scenes painted by local artists. We recommend taking a stroll through Rathauspark for old-fashioned carousel rides and a ‘Post Office in the Clouds’, where you can post your Christmas cards – a must for lovers of old-school traditions!

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This is a guest post from freelance journalist Beatrice Clark. She has written for Vogue, Glamour and Vanity Fair, among others, and has spent the past 15 years living in France, England and Scotland. She is currently based in Berlin and is always on the hunt for the perfect Eggs Benedict.

 Photo Credit: Dresden – DMG/Jörg Schöner. Copenhagen – Visit Copenhagen.