Imagine wandering through the brightly lit Christmas market, past little stalls selling beautiful ornaments, homemade gifts, candy, and homemade sweets. You can stop for a steaming glass of hot cocoa, cider, or coffee. As you continue to walk, you pass ice skating ponds, carolers, and children playing joyfully. This is the magic of European Christmas markets.
You don’t have to buy anything, as the free experience of walking through the markets will put you into the spirit without any purchases. But I’d recommend planning for a hot drink and a special treat. If you haven’t purchased all your holiday gifts yet, these Christmas markets provide the opportunity to buy a truly one of a kind and thoughtful gift.
Best Unique Christmas Markets in Europe
Best Christmas Markets
There are Christmas Markets in nearly every larger city in Europe. Some are very large and very famous, while others are smaller. Even in the small German village near my house, they have a skating rink and a Christmas market with about 20 stalls. In the larger cities there can be hundreds of stalls in the market.
So if you cannot make it to a large Christmas market, don’t think you’ll have to miss out. Just ask the locals where the best Christmas market is nearby. Everyone has a favorite – either in a favorite city, a hometown, or the local market. The markets below are (mostly) some of my local favorites.
My Top Picks of Christmas Markets
My favorite Christmas markets offer the traditional European charm and a good balance of size, neither overwhelmingly large nor too small. Several of them — Aachen, Cologne, Brussels, and Lille — can be reached by car or train within a few hours of each other, so if you really love Christmas markets, you can visit several in just a few days.
The Aachen Christmas market is set up around the Cathedral in the city center. It is a paradise of lights, colors, and delicious smells. This is probably the smallest Christmas market on the list, which gives is a naturally familiar feel. You will see locals greeting each other and groups of children running through the streets.
Be sure to taste all the delicious German baked goods. I especially love the marzipan bread and spekulatius, a cinnamon-filled cookie. There are of course stalls filled with all types of delightful homemade crafts and holiday gifts to fit your festive needs.
Open November 23 to December 23.
Cologne is known for its large, famous Cathedral, and many Christmas markets. The largest Christmas market in the city is set around the Cathedral. It is a wonder land of lights, stalls, chocolates, beautiful ornaments, and other handmade gifts. Germans are especially good at creating white frosted fairytale villages, and Cologne is a perfect example.
Sample the traditional Christmas cakes and cookies, buy some beautiful lace products and ornaments, or join in the ice skating. There are also often beautifully carved traditional wooden toys on offer for the children in your life. Wander from one market to the next in Cologne, as there are at least six (!) different Christmas markets around the city.
Open November 23 to December 23.
The holiday market in Brussels in known as “Winter Wonders” and is more of a festival than a market. Brussels, being the capital of the European Union, has the flavors of all of Europe represented, but with a unique flair of Belgium. Remember, Belgium is known for waffles and chocolate – so I’d recommend starting your day with those.
Be sure to see the huge Christmas tree, ride the Ferris wheel, catch the sound and light show or one of the many parades.
Open November 30 to January 6.
Budapest has a beautiful Christmas village with large tree set up in their main shopping area of Vörösmarty Square. The Hungarians are known for their chimney cake – a Christmas cake wrapped on a stick, and their mulled cider. Be sure to sample both.
The booths are full of sweets, lace, handmade gifts, and fur. The sweets and bakeries are amazing. Another advantage of Budapest is that your dollar or euro will stretch further here. Take advantage of this by stocking up on beautiful gifts and sweets to bring home.
Apparently, people go to Hungary to purchase fur hats, coats and other furs for less. My brother came home with a pretty dashing fur hat, so if you want to buy some fur, Budapest is the place to do it.
Open from November 9 to January 1.
Lille has the second largest art gallery in France (after the Louve in Paris) and a beautiful, famous Christmas market. But Lille is off the beaten path for most tourists, so you can enjoy all the charm of a historic French city with mostly locals.
From the delicious cheeses and breads in the supermarkets, to adorable hand painted toys and French Christmas carols ringing in the streets, Lille is a wonderful destination. There are arts and crafts from around the world in the Lille Christmas market, so it is easy to find something unique and exceptionally beautiful for anyone you are shopping for.
There are so many beautiful things to see, but for me, Lille is the destination for food – from chocolates and pasteries to cheeses and fresh produce.
Open November 23 to December 30.
Experience the magic of Christmas markets
Whatever your spiritual beliefs or religion, these Christmas markets will fill you with the joy of the European culture and make you feel the spirit of giving and happiness that comes with the holiday season. Whether you pick one Christmas market, or try to visit several, I’m confident you will come away with a full belly and a happy heart.
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