Monday, July 15, 2024
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Europe’s Best Christmas Markets

Europe’s Christmas markets charm visitors with wooden chalets, twinkling lights, and unique, handcrafted gifts. Set in historic city squares, the scent of gingerbread, roasted almonds, and spiced, mulled wine fills the air. As the sound of bells and carolers rings among the historic city plazas, it’s easy to believe you’ve stepped into a fairytale. 

In addition to shopping, many markets offer ice-skating, live entertainment, and unique traditions, like Barcelona’s candy-pooping logs or in Germany, where Krampus, a horned creature, often strolls through the holiday markets. Here are our picks for the best Christmas markets to consider visiting in Europe during the holiday season along with LGBTQ+-friendly places to stay and play.

Christkindelsmärik (Strasbourg, France)

Christkindelsmärik, Strasbourgh, France (Photo Credit: Dmitry Dzhus/Wikimedia Commons)
Christkindelsmärik, Strasbourgh, France (Photo Credit: Dmitry Dzhus/Wikimedia Commons)

Strasbourg’s holiday market is among the oldest in Europe. The first Christkindelsmärik (Christmas market) opened for holiday revelers in the late 12th century. The market takes visitors back to Strasbourg’s medieval roots with its regal Christmas tree and charming wooden chalets. Strasbourg is an international city, and you’ll hear both French and the local dialect, Alsatian, German, and English, spoken by people strolling around its historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than 300 stalls selling traditional, handcrafted holiday decor, toys, jewelry, and gifts galore make it a holiday shopping destination extraordinaire. Dazzling shows and concerts, plus plenty of hot, mulled wine, round out the fun. 

Don’t Miss: Flammekueche, a wood-fired pizza topped with crème Fraiche, bacon, and onion.

Where to Stay: Sofitel Strasbourg Grande, located in the heart of Strasbourg’s historic center, on Grande Ile 

Where to Play: Settle in for handcrafted cocktails created with Alsatian liquors, or French champagne, at Codebar.

Old Town and Wencelas Christmas Markets (Prague, Czech Republic)

Old Town Market in Prague, Czech Republic (Photo Credit: Victor Porof/Wikimedia Commons)
Old Town Market in Prague, Czech Republic (Photo Credit: Victor Porof/Wikimedia Commons)

Prague boasts two major holiday markets — Old Town and Wenceslas — located only about five minutes apart by foot via charming cobblestone streets. The city’s Gothic architecture and magnificent medieval monuments add to the fairy tale ambiance. A majestic Christmas tree, selected each year from a different region of the Czech Republic, stands tall in the center of the Old Town Square, the site of the Old Town market. Shop from a wide selection of vendors selling traditional Czech products and handcrafted holiday decorations as you nibble freshly smoked sausages and bratwurst.  

Don’t Miss: Ttrdelník, a traditional pastry rolled in cinnamon and sugar and cooked over a grill.  

Where to Stay: Hotel Josef, located a stone’s throw away from the bustle of Prague’s Old Town Square holiday market   

Where to Play: Unlike many other Eastern bloc countries, Prague is a very LGBTQ+-friendly city. Plan on dancing into the wee hours of the night at one of the many clubs and bars in the Vinohrady neighborhood, located on the eastern edge of the city.

Vienna Dream Christmas Market (Vienna, Austria)

Krippenmarkt in Vienna, Austria (Photo Credit: Marek Ślusarczyk/Wikimedia Commons)
Krippenmarkt in Vienna, Austria (Photo Credit: Marek Ślusarczyk/Wikimedia Commons)

Vienna’s Christmas markets date back to the Middle Ages, when, in 1296AD, Albrecht I granted Vienna’s citizens the privilege of holding the first “Krippenmarkt.” Though the city boasts a few outdoor holiday markets, the Viennese Dream Christmas Market, which unfurls in front of the neo-gothic City Hall in mid-November and runs through Christmas, is perhaps the most spirited. With 150 tiny wooden stalls, it’s also Vienna’s largest Christmas market. Rent skates and enjoy the market’s skating rink or take a spin on the festive carousel.  

Don’t Miss: The roasted chestnuts (Maroni) pair wonderfully with mulled, spiced wine.

Where to Stay: Hotel Sacher, built in 1876, sits just opposite the old opera house. It’s more of a museum than a hotel with over 1,000 museum-worthy silk wall coverings and original oil paintings hanging in its 152 guest rooms. 

Where to Play: For centuries, Kaiserbründl has been regarded as the most elegant bathhouse in Vienna, and it’s likely the oldest gay bathhouse establishment in the world. Three floors offer saunas, bio-saunas, steam baths, mini-chalets, and cocktail bars. 

Leipzig, Germany

Weihnachtsmarkt in Leipzig, Germany (Photo Credit: Joachim Köhler/Wikimedia Commons)
Weihnachtsmarkt in Leipzig, Germany (Photo Credit: Joachim Köhler/Wikimedia Commons)

The Christmas market in Leipzig is one of the oldest and most beautiful in Germany. More than 250 twinkling stalls stretch across two historic plazas, Augustus Platz to Peters Strasse, with six separate areas with different themes. The vendor stalls are topped with fresh pine branches, making the market reminiscent of a winter forest. In addition to artisan gifts and goods, you’ll find every German holiday treat imaginable, from bratwurst to potato pancakes (kartoffelpuffer) with apple sauce.

Don’t Miss: Kräppelchen are delightful mini-donut holes sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Where to Stay: The all-suite Abito, located steps away from the holiday market, offers roomy, glam suites. 

Where to Play: Dance the night away at The Distillery, where a roster of world-renowned DJs spin techno, house, drum N bass, and hip-hop.

Plaza Mayor’s Mercado de Navidad (Madrid, Spain)

Mercado de Navidad de Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain (Photo Credit: Barcex/Wikimedia Commons)
Mercado de Navidad de Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain (Photo Credit: Barcex/Wikimedia Commons)

Madrid is home to one of Europe’s most beautiful Christmas markets, the Mercado de Navidad de Plaza Mayor. Located in one of the most scenic plazas in the Spanish capital, more than 100 log-cabin-style stalls sell Christmas favorites including figurines to make your own nativity scenes, handcrafted Christmas decorations, and local and regional culinary specialties. A vintage carousel draws attention in the center of the market, and a robust schedule of live entertainment keeps the market merry with music. 

Don’t Miss: Swap traditional mulled wine for a glass of Cava, the champagne of Spain.

Where to Stay: Bless Hotel Madrid is home to one of the best spas in the city, the Magness Soulful Spa.

Where to Play: Crawl the Calle Cava Baja, a short, almost 1,000-foot stretch of street, packed with more than 50 tapas and wine bars. Check out the video below!

Amy Bizzarri

Amy is a Chicago-based freelance writer focused on food, wine, and travel. When she's not traveling to her fave destination - Italy - you'll likely find her exploring her hometown of Chicago by bicycle.

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