From Brussels to Vienna, these historic markets specialize in handmade crafts, mulled drinks, and other holiday treats.
The Best Christmas Markets in Europe
The massive market, dating back to the 17th century, is set amid the city's gabled houses hung with fir branches and angels, and sprawls across several historic center squares between the Gothic cathedral and ivy-clad castle. Vendors in 280+ stalls sell wooden toys, glass baubles, nutcrackers, and sheepskin clothing, along with sheep ham, sheep sausages, sheep's-milk cheese, waffles, gingerbread, roasted almonds, and Hutzelbrot (fruitcake). In the evening, grab a warm Glühpunsch wine scented with cinnamon and vanilla and amble into the Old Castle's Renaissance courtyard for the daily Christmas concert. For the kiddies, the Kinderland on Schlossplatz offers rides (carousel, Ferris wheel, mini steam railway) and some hands-on holiday experiences like making candles.
Look For: There are fantastic thematic markets in a pair of satellite towns, each just 15 minutes away on the S-Bahn light rail system. The Esslingen Medieval Christmas Market includes fire-eaters and live medieval music as a backdrop to costumed craftsmen creating leather apparel, calligraphy, silver jewelry, baked goods, and hand-dyed clothing. The Ludwigsburg Baroque Christmas Market consists of tidy stalls overseen by massive sets of twinkling angel wings under the floodlit facades of the baroque main square.
Dates: Late Nov.–Dec. 23
For More Info: stuttgarter-weihnachtsmarkt.de
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.