Our ultimate guide to the cities offering markets with a memorable festive atmosphere, rich tradition, and delicious warming treats for winter.
Fish out your cosiest hat and ready those gloves that help you to grip a goblet of mulled wine, because it’s time for one of the sweetest parts of the season: Christmas markets. These stalls are an idyllic way to keep active in the frosty air, floating between the stalls that stock lovingly handmade crafts and festive treats from all around the globe as you inhale the scent of roasted nuts deep into your lungs.
There are plenty of Christmas markets worth visiting near home, but sometimes the merriest gift to yourself - or to someone else - is an end-of-year holiday! Whether you are tempted to head to Austria’s famous Christkindlmarkt or the lesser-known delights of Latvia, you are sure to feel a little festive cheer creeping right up.
If you are excited to plan your trip around some of the best Christmas markets, our ultimate guide will have you covered.
Christmas markets are incredibly popular across Europe and in the UK. If sipping mulled wine, or hot herbal bitters, while wandering illuminated stalls for hours sounds like your perfect version of Christmas, add one of these festive markets to your bucket list.
Each year, Krakow puts on a dazzling festive show in its well-preserved medieval town. In the vast square of Rynek Główny, traditional wooden stalls fill the space with decorations, handmade toys, artisanal crafts, delicious spiced nuts, pottery, heart-shaped gingerbread, and carols. During your visit, be on high alert for the huge wooden barrels which contain a soul-affirming mixture of mulled wine, known locally as grzaniec galicyjski. Chances are, you will smell it before you see it!
What makes this Christmas market stand out is the emphasis on Polish culture, with many local vendors selling traditional, hand-painted Christmas decorations. This market isn’t one for all the modern trimmings, it’s more of a nostalgic journey through time. The surroundings of this vibrant, bustling square include historical townhouses (kamienice) and the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), which only helps to build the atmosphere.
When it comes to the Czech Republic’s Christmas culinary offerings, we have one word for you: trdelník. These unique desserts are made by rolling dough around a cylinder, grilling it, and rolling it in a powdered sugar and walnut mix. Yes, it’s every bit as delicious as it sounds. While these can be found at many Prague street vendors outside of the festive season, they are extra comforting during the frosty month of December.
You can find them in strong supply at the Bohemian city’s wealth of Christmas markets. If you are hoping for a wide range of stores, head to one of the bigger markets in the heart of the city at Old Town Square and Wenceslas square. Both are a five-minute stroll from the other, so you can always tick off two in a single night! If you prefer things a little more low-key, check out the smaller markets at Republic Square or on the square right in front of St George’s Basilica.
Wooden toys and embroidered cloth are certainly worth checking out, but the star of the show is the local Czech cuisine. After you have got your mits on a delicious trdelník, check out the barbecued sausages (klobása), smoked meat dumplings (knedlíky plněné uzeným masem), and spiced gingerbread (perníčky).
If you are based in the UK, Edinburgh hardly requires an introduction. It’s one of our most magical cities: breathtaking with its historic skyline and rock castle, electric with its concentration of world-renowned arts festivals. At the end of the year, this city in Scotland takes on a completely different tone, becoming a true winter paradise with festive lights, carols in the streets, and of course, Christmas markets.
Each year, the Edinburgh Christmas market sits pretty in East Princes Street Gardens, where it has been bringing plenty of cheer for nearly two decades. The stalls offer a fantastic range of Christmas treats for the entire family. Think a handcrafted whisky and elderberry spiced liqueur for the grown-ups and mince pies for the little ones. Treats aside, the defining factor of Edinburgh’s festive market is the entertainment and attractions. Depending on the year, the market is home to a Christmas Tree Maze, Santa’s Grotto, and even an ice skating rink.
Framed by the dramatic Swiss Alps, vineyards, and rolling hills, the lakeside town of Montreux is one of Switzerland’s most postcard-worthy towns. And in this country, there are many of them! During the festive season, the shores of Lake Geneva bring sparkle in the form of Montreux’s Christmas markets. While it's not known as one of Europe’s largest of most visited, it is certainly a must-visit for its scenery and small-town charm. The merry stalls offer local produce such as vin chaud and cinnamon crepes - so do arrive hungry!
Now for a market so magnificent Santa would claim it as his own! Vienna’s Christkindlmarkt is certainly a big hitter when it comes to Europe’s festive calendar. The event has links to the Middle Ages when in 1296 the Duke of Austria allowed Vienna's public to host a December Market. With 150 stalls, the market is Vienna’s largest Christmas market. But the magic lies beyond its size. The market is at the steps of Vienna City Hall and is also set against the elegant backdrop of baroque palaces and ritzy boutiques.
Did you know the first documented tree adorned with winter decorations was recorded in 1510 in Latvia? So it’s fair to say that the capital, Riga, knows a little something about Christmas decorations. During December, the stunning Old Town Square is brightly transformed with an intricately decorated tree and stalls selling a unique, warm herbal bitter (Riga Black Balsam), smoked meats, pots of local honey, wicker handicrafts, and more. Sometimes, snow completely blankets the ground - making for a true winter wonderland.
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