From Brussels to Vienna, these historic markets specialize in handmade crafts, mulled drinks, and other holiday treats.
The Best Christmas Markets in Europe
Vienna's venerable Christkindlmarkt on Rathausplatz flings open its stall shutters in mid-November, and some three million visitors flock here each year for beeswax candles, wooden toys, and glass ornaments. Shoppers snack on cream-filled pastries, candied fruit, roasted chestnuts, and Weihnachtspunsch (a spiced "Christmas punch" of wine, brandy, or schnapps sweetened with warm fruit juices). This market puts a premium on tradition: there are precious few tacky stands selling plastic toys, and Santa Claus, whom many locals view as the Hollywood harbinger of a commercialized Christmas, is strictly verboten. Instead, there's the traditional Wiener Christkindl, the official Christ Child—invariably played (following an odd Teutonic custom) by a young woman with long blonde curls. There's another market of luxe Christmas wares in the baroque forecourt of the suburban Schðnbrunn Palace, and a more intimate and sophisticated market lining the narrow cobblestone streets of Vienna's Spittelberg district.
Look For: More than three-dozen Advent season concerts. The city of Haydn and Strauss invites choirs from around the world to perform Christmas music in the Rathaus every weekend (Friday to Sunday) from late November to Dec. 24 as part of the Internationales Adventsingen festival.
Dates: Mid-Nov.–Dec. 24
For More Info: christkindlmarkt.at
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.
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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.