From Brussels to Vienna, these historic markets specialize in handmade crafts, mulled drinks, and other holiday treats.
The Best Christmas Markets in Europe
Brussels' Christmas market has been around only since 2002, but it pulls off its Plaisirs d'Hiver/Winter Pret ("Pleasures of Winter") festival with elegant style. The theatrics include a nightly sound-and-light show on the Grand Place and a market surrounding the Bourse (Stock Exchange) and along Place Sainte Catherine. In keeping with that Belgian spirit of a United Europe, the 200+ wooden chalets host artisans from around the world hawking a kaleidoscope of Christmas wares, handmade crafts, and souvenirs. Not that Belgian traditions are left out; browse the many food stalls for pots of moules (mussels) and caricoles (peppery whelks or winkles), Belgian fries and fluffy Belgian waffles, seasonal croustillons (sugar doughnuts), and Belgium's two most welcome additions to world cuisine: fine chocolates and powerful beer. At one end of the shopping, near the fish market, you'll find a spinning, glittering 160-foot Ferris wheel, and, at the Place de la Monnaie, a nearly 8,000-square-foot ice skating rink.
Look For: The Winter Wonders guest of honor. Each year, Brussels invites a different guest to set up a market-within-the-market to share some of its own traditions. Past invitees have included Provence, Québec, Tallinn, and Lapland.
Dates: Late Nov.–early Jan.
For More Info: plaisirsdhiver.be
You haven’t experienced Christmas lights until you’ve seen nearly four miles of them artfully hung in patterns dictated by Tiffany’s head designer in Copenhagen’s famed historic amusement park, Tivoli Gardens—and that’s not counting the 1,800 strands dramatically draped on the lakeside willows. Copenhagen celebrates Jul (as in "yuletide") in high style, with its famed Christmas market the centerpiece. Stalls stocked with fine handmade crafts, including traditional figurines of clog-clad elves in pointy red caps, compete for space with vendors selling iced doughnuts slathered with black currant jam and hefty cups of gløgg, a steaming hot mulled red wine laden with raisins, almonds, cinnamon sticks, and cloves—all of which, for good measure, are steeped in aquavit or schnapps.
Related: 13 Affordable Trips to Europe
Christmas in Europe is a time for elaborate pastries straight out of a medieval cookbook, for lyrical midnight masses in Gothic churches, and for the upholding of quirky local traditions—in many countries, Christmas just isn’t complete without mischievous pixies (Copenhagen), kindly witches (Rome), treacherous demons (Salzburg), or an 8,000-pound fruitcake (Dresden). However else Europeans celebrate the Yuletide season, Christmas still centers around an Advent market that, in most cases, has filled the square before the cathedral each December for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Many markets start on the Friday before Advent, which is four Sundays before Christmas Eve; most end on December 24, especially in Germanic countries, where Christmas Eve is set aside for trimming the tree at home. Others keep celebrating until Epiphany on January 6.