29 of the Tastiest Treats to Try at Europe’s Christmas Markets
The markets, bountiful with local goods, have become a tourist attraction in their own right today, offering visitors and locals alike selections of handmade gifts, nativity plays, ice rinks, and walking buffets of delectable food selections and warm drinks to taste throughout the evening.
Some of the foods found at the markets today date back to the Medieval ages, giving travelers a chance to get to know each country a bit better by tasting local delicacies typically enjoyed during the festive holiday season.
Whether you have a sweet tooth or prefer a savory selection, the markets have something to offer everyone, from flaming mulled wine to fluffy fried donuts and smoked cheeses.
We’ve rounded up 29 of the treats you won’t want to miss, though each market also has a wide selection of additional goods to taste during your visit.
While timing of markets can vary by destination, most tend to open on the Friday before Advent (four Sundays before Christmas Eve) through Dec. 25 (though some markets continue to remain open until as late as Jan. 6).
The Alsace region of northeastern France is noted for its culinary offerings including bredele biscuits, which are a popular treat during the holidays that come in a variety shapes and flavors. The biscuits are baked using flour, butter, eggs, and sugar before adding ingredients that can range from lemon and gingerbread to spices like cinnamon, anise, or cardamom.
Christmas markets abound in Denmark during the holiday season, with one of its most popular being the Christmas market held in Copenhagen at the historic amusement park, Tivoli Gardens.
Travelers wandering through the market can enjoy a glass of gløgg (hot mulled wine spiced with cinnamon and cloves) alongside an aebleskiver, which are spherical cakes resembling a treat in between a pancake and doughnuts that are often served with jam, powdered sugar, or sweet roasted almonds.
Stollen is a rich, dense, and sweet cake-like bread filled with dried fruits, candied citrus peels, and nuts, with a dense butter and sugar coating to hold its variety of flavors together.
The Dresdner Christstollen, which is made with raisins, butter, sweet and bitter almonds, candied orange and lemon peel, stolen spices, and spirits, dates back hundreds of years and remains a treat to enjoy in the German city’s markets today.
Prague is already noted for its ham, which is typically lightly smoked and boiled to achieve its flavor. The roasted hams found at the markets are sliced straight from the spit to make for a fresh and succulent bite.
Another savory snack that’s a popular treat in Poland is the pierogi. The stuffed dumplings can include a variety of fillings that range from sweet combinations like strawberries and cherries or sweet cottage cheese and raisins to savory mixes like chopped mushroom and shredded cabbage.
Visitors will find stalls selling pierogi stuffed with cheese, sauerkraut, and fruits galore at markets like the Krakow Christmas market.
Biting into a deep fried treat can offer a warm retreat from the outdoor cold, and if you’re in the Netherlands be sure to sample oliebollen. These sweet dumplings, whose name translates to oil balls, are deep fried and topped with powered sugar to offer a crispy and sweet bite.
Sometimes oliebollen will also be studded with raisins and currants to add an extra punch.
Another Dutch savory snack to try are bitterballen. This crispy creation consists of meatballs that are deep fried to form a crust before they're served with a side of mustard to dip into, making the ideal compliment to a cold glass of beer.
One of Poland’s most famous cheeses, oscypek is a smoked cheese that’s made out of ewe’s milk in the Tatra Mountains of Poland. The cheese is eaten in a variety of ways including cold versions, or hot options that are fried or grilled.
The Gugelhupf is served in a variety of European countries (with small variations in its name based on where it is served) that include Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, France, and more. The brioche-like and semi-sweet cake is baked in a bundt mold and often combined with raisins and dusted with powdered sugar.
Similar to a pizza, this Hungarian bread dough is baked in a clay oven and topped with bacon, onion, cheese, and cream to create a savory and hearty holiday bite.
Beigli is a popular holiday snack in Hungary typically filed with poppy seeds or grounded walnuts, though some recipes include varieties that range from a filling of chestnut puree to sour cherries and apple fillings.
Before mince pies were stuffed with the sweet filing people know and love today, they often just contained meat. Today, the sweet British pie is filled with a combination of fruits and spices referred to as mincemeat.
These sweets get their noted rich and creamy flavor from a combination of almonds, fruit, and honey, being served as a popular treat since the 16th century.
The macarons are distinct from the varieties typically found in other locations thanks to a soft biscuit base as opposed to a meringue. They were introduced to France by the Italian former queen Catherine de Medici and were later popularized by French chocolatier Jean Trogneux.
These light crescent-shaped biscuits are a popular holiday treat in Vienna, though they can also be found during Christmas in countries that include Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.
The cookies are typically made with ground walnuts, though variations can also include almonds or hazelnuts instead. They are heavily dusted with vanilla sugar to give them their angelic holiday taste.
These cookies hail from Sardinia and are made using raisins, flour, lard, eggs, almonds, and grated orange peel or lemon zest. They’re typically glazed after being baked, while star anise provides spices to pack a punch.
This dark brown and fruit-filled bread gets its combination of sweet and spicy flavors from spices that are mixed in with dried fruits that include prunes, figs, apples, and apricots.
Kletzen — which are sweet brown-colored pears — are the main dried fruit ingredient that form the staple, which are often baked in loaf and box shapes of various sizes and served as a popular holiday dish in Austria and Germany.
Another beloved treat in Germany and Austria, bauernkrapfen are donuts made from yeast dough and baked in fat before being topped with powdered sugar.
The donuts can also be filled to create savory versions stuffed with sauerkraut or sweet varieties packed with cranberry jam.
Panettone is a sweet bread laced with candied fruits and raisins and is typically baked in a cupola shape. The sweet bread, which has a light texture and originates from Milan, used to be considered a luxurious treat that was preserved specifically for religious celebrations, according to food commentator and panettone expert Stanislao Porzio.
Raclette is a Valaisan cheese made from the milk of cows that graze on alpine pastures. The cheese is enjoyed in a variety of ways that often include melting it over a wooden or charcoal fire and serving it over potatoes.
Head to Christmas markets in Switzerland and in other locations like Germany, and you can find it being served in anything from grilled cheese sandwiches to hollowed-out baguettes for a fondue to enjoy on the go.
Pretzels have become a popular treat at Christmas markets in countries that range from Germany and France to England and Italy.
The baked dough that’s shaped into a twisted knot pairs perfectly with a cold beer and can be found with a variety of toppings that range from savory selections like cheese and seeds to sweet versions drizzled with chocolate and sugar glazes.
A holiday drink you don’t want to miss in Germany is feuerzangenbowle. Translating to fire tongs punch, the drink gets its name from the process used to create it. A rum-soaked sugarloaf is burned on a large cauldron, causing the sugar to melt and caramelize as it combines with red wine to create the drink.
For a true spectacle, head to the Nuremberg Christmas Market to see the world’s largest version of the drink. The market is home to a cauldron that can hold a whopping 9,000 liters of the drink, which is made using hot red wine, spices, lemon, orange peel, and rum.
Mulled Wine, Christmas Beers, and Holiday Drinks
Besides food, Europe’s Christmas markets are also filled with a variety of drinks to enjoy alongside your snacks of choice. In Switzerland, be sure to enjoy hot chocolate made from fresh chocolate, while mulled wine varieties abound. In Austria and Germany enjoy Gluehwein—a mulled wine made with red wine and spices.
The Scandinavian version of mulled wine is glogg, which is made with red wine that is spiced, sugared, and simmered and typically includes raisins and blanched almonds.
Besides mulled wine, you’ll also find drinks like beer, with Alsace in France even offering a dark ale Christmas beer. More than half of the beer consumed in France is produced in Alsace, according to representatives of its tourism board, with the Alsatian brewers guild dating back to 1268.
Sausages have become just as popular as mulled wine when it comes to Europe’s Christmas market selections. Enjoy freshly grilled sausages at markets across Europe, whether you’re looking to try selections in Hungary that come spiced with ingredients like cumin, chili, lemon and ginger or the famed Nuremberg Rostbratwurst sausages in Germany.
The tiny sausages, which are typically only the size of your finger, are traditionally grilled over a beechwood fire at the Nuremberg Christmas Market. You'll also find varieties at markets throughout Europe, whether you're in Austria, England or the Czech Republic.
Nuremberg is also famous for its gingerbread (lebkuchen), a sweet and spicy treat that’s been baked in the city for more than 600 years.
According to representatives of its tourism board, the city had an advantage early on thanks to its trading connections with merchants throughout the world to gain access to ingredients in the gingerbread that include almonds, cinnamon, and other spices, while the many forests surrounding Nuremberg provided the natural honey.
Today, the treats can be found in everything from giant heart shapes to cookies coated with icing or chocolate. While Nuremberg's gingerbread must be made within city limits, travelers will find gingerbread varieties across Europe's markets.
Chimney cakes can be found at various Christmas markets from Austria to the Czech Republic and England, but they’re particularly popular at Hungarian Christmas markets.
The sweet desserts are made out of dough that is wrapped around a spool and turned over an open fire after being covered with oil and sugar to help it to give it a crunchy crust. They’re often topped with cinnamon and nuts like crushed almonds or walnuts. Merchants will also add playful spins to the dessert by topping it with chocolate or stuffing them with ice cream.
Knedle sa šljivama are dumplings that are filled with sweet plums. The dumplings are made from a potato dough and are typically sprinkled with cinnamon to be eaten as a dessert when complete.
Find them at markets like the Zagreb Christmas Market in Croatia, which was voted the best in Europe for the third year in a row in 2017.
These pork crisps are like Eastern Europe’s version of pork rinds. Cubes of pork are fried in their own fat, sometimes with milk added into the fat, and served with onions for a crunchy, savory snack.
When the craving for potatoes hits, skip the fries and go for a Kartoffelpuffer. These potato pancakes, which are popular in Germany, are fried to a golden crisp and served with fresh applesauce to offer a sweet and savory bite all in one.