The delicious aroma of mulled wine and gingerbread in the air. Colorful twinkle lights adorning every available surface. A warm glow illuminating the local culinary specialties and handmade wares for sale inside festively decorated wooden huts. Hands and heads bundled up against the sharp chill of wintry weather. Happy shrieks from children as Santa arrives to pass out candies. Laughter from friends catching up over warm drinks and juicy sausage rolls. There’s no denying the spirit of Christmas lives within Europe’s Christmas markets.
Growing up in America, I had to wait a long time for the chance to experience what it was like to look forward to the Christmas markets every December. It wasn’t until our first winter after moving to London that I had the opportunity to visit my first one. My first taste of Christmas market culture was at Hyde Park’s annual Winter Wonderland festival, and while I enjoyed the experience, I did leave wondering if I was missing something because the magic everyone always talked about just wasn’t there for me. I got a little closer to what I was looking for the following year on a visit to Copenhagen, but it wasn’t until I finally made my way over to Austria and Germany during the holiday season that I understood it. So this is what all the Christmas market fuss is about.
No one does Christmas markets quite like Germany and Austria. (Which I suppose makes perfect sense since they originated in Germany!) That magical Christmas feeling that warms you up from your heart to your fingertips was there all along, I was just looking in the wrong place. So if you want the best of the best of European Christmas markets, get thee to Germany and Austria! And while you’re there, visit these 8 incredibly Christmasy Christmas markets!
RATHAUSPLATZ WIENER CHRISTKINDLMARKT
Vienna is a destination well known for its festive atmosphere during the holiday season, so it should come as no surprise that the city offers not just one, but many Christmas markets guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit! One of the very best Christmas markets Vienna has to offer is the Wiener Christkindlmarkt in Rathausplatz. Set amid a spacious park bathed in twinkle lights and with the beautiful Rathaus (Town Hall) looming over the square, the Wiener Christkindlmarkt certainly boasts an impressive setting. But that’s not the only thing that’s impressive here – the Wiener Christkindlmarkt also features over 150 different vendors selling all sorts of sugary treats and handmade gifts, an ice skating rink, rides for kids, as well as a busy events program. These markets get quite busy, so if you want to avoid the crowds, try to visit before dark!
WHEN: 17 November to 26 December
WHERE: Rathausplatz 1, 1010 Wien
WEBSITE: Rathausplatz Wiener Christkindlmarkt
If you’re looking for less crowded Christmas markets in Vienna, but still want to be surrounded in dramatic scenery, look no further than the Weihnachtsdorf Christmas Village in Maria-Theresian-Platz. Situated in the square in between two identical palatial buildings housing the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) and the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) and with the historical sights along the majestic Ringstrasse nearby, the Weihnachtsdorf definitely doesn’t disappoint. With little in the way of activities for children, but plenty of festive stalls offering up unique gifts and Viennese culinary delights with a side of mulled wine, these Christmas markets are probably best for those visiting without small children. Bonus tip: Prices are a little cheaper here, so it may be best to take care of your Christmas shopping at this one!
WHEN: 22 November to 26 December
WHERE: Burgring 5, 1010 Wien
WEBSITE: Maria-Theresian-Platz Weihnachtsdorf
SCHÖNBRUNN PALACE WEIHNACHTSMARKT
What’s better than an authentic European Christmas market? An authentic European Christmas market in front of an Austrian palace, that’s what. The Weihnachtsmarkt at Schönbrunn Palace definitely wins the award for most elegant setting in Vienna! Entrance into Vienna’s beautiful, UNESCO-certified palace will cost you a pretty penny, but thankfully they allow commoners to mingle outside in the markets for free. Over 80 different decorated huts stretch the length of the castle on either side of the massive Christmas tree at the square’s center. Since the Christmas markets at Schönbrunn have branded themselves as cultural markets, traditional Austrian handicrafts, toys, and handmade Christmas decorations are the name of the game here as far as gifts go, but you can still find plenty of the usual Christmas market suspects (mulled wine, sausages, pastries, etc) here as well!
WHEN: 18 November to 26 December
WEBSITE: Schönbrunn Palace Weihnachtsmarkt
The town of Passau in Lower Bavaria is one of Germany’s best kept secrets. With an abundance of scenic river views and an Old Town featuring crumbling alleys and cobblestone streets, visiting Passau any time of year is a good idea, but it’s definitely at its best at Christmas when the Passauer Christkindlmarkt opens in the square outside St Stephan’s Cathedral. With puppet theater performances every Wednesday for kids and traditional folk music and organ concerts in the church multiple nights of the week, the Passauer Christkindlmarkt is one the whole family will enjoy. Thanks to its setting in a less touristy town than the others on this list, the Christkindlmarkt in Passau offers visitors a more intimate and relaxed “small town” Christmas market experience. And as a bonus, the town of Passau is also home to the longest stretch of Christmas lights in all of Bavaria, brightening the entire Old Town over the month of December!
WHEN: 29 November to 23 December
WHERE: Domplatz, 94032 Passau
WEBSITE: Passauer Christkindlmarkt
Located in Regensburg’s medieval Old Town, the Christkindlmarkt in Neupfarrplatz is the city’s oldest Christmas market. For over 200 years, vendors have been setting up in the square beside the Protestant Neupfarrkirche the Monday before the first Advent. Pottery, candles, glassware, and wood carvings are just a few of the many things you’ll find for sale here, but this Christmas market is probably most well known for its 40 different varieties of glühwein offered in all sorts of unusual flavors, as well as knackwurst – sausage served with horseradish, gherkins, and mustard. The Neupfarrplatz Christkindlmarkt features daily musical performances and a visit from Santa every Wednesday. Keep in mind, these markets are located right in the center of Old Town, so they can get pretty busy. For a unique overhead view of the Christkindlmarkt, head to the top of the Galeria in the square!
WHEN: 27 November to 23 December
WEBSITE: Neupfarrplatz Christkindlmarkt
THURN UND TAXIS ROMANTISCHER WEIHNACHTSMARKT
If I had to pick one Christmas market from this list that I thought was the prettiest, most Christmasy of all Christmas markets, it would be this one. Thurn und Taxis Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt is in a league of its own. Located on the grounds of a gorgeous royal palace, the Weihnachtsmarkt at Thurn und Taxis practically radiates the spirit of Christmas. Bustling market stalls fill the palace courtyard and pathways weaving along the grounds of the castle. Blacksmiths, glass blowers, candle makers, and basket weavers demonstrate their trades under festively decorated wooden huts. At evening, the grounds are gently lit with torches, lanterns, and small campfires creating the coziest of atmospheres. With daily activities and events for both children and adults, plus the opportunity to pet alpacas, the Weihnachtsmarkt is perfect for the whole family. (Note: There is an entrance fee for this one, but it’s worth it!)
WHEN: 29 November to 23 December
WEBSITE: Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt
Last but not least in Regensburg is the Adventsmarkt in the Spitalgarten across the bridge in Stadtamhof. This Christmas market benefits from lighter crowds than the previous two thanks to its somewhat hidden location on the other side of the river. Located in what is usually a biergarten during the summer months, the Adventsmarkt is a small, but lively riverside Christmas market with an iconic view of St Peter’s Cathedral across the water. The Adventsmarkt offers rides for kids, well-priced food and gifts for sale, a cozy campfire to gather around, and fluffy sheep you can feed and pet. (Although you might not want to get too attached – there is a definite “sheep theme” here with lots of sheepskin products for sale and lamb dishes to try.) The Spitalgarten stays open late, so it’s a good option if you’re looking to get in the Christmas spirit a little later at night!
WHEN: 27 November to 23 December
WEBSITE: Spitalgarten Adventsmarkt
Nuremberg is most well known for two things – its history and its Christmas markets. While you can explore the city’s history any time of year, if it’s Christmas markets you’re after, you’ll want to make your visit in December. One of the world’s largest and most famous Christmas markets, the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt opens with much fanfare in the Hauptmarkt square in front of the Church of our Lady every year on the Friday before the first Advent. The Nuremberg Christkind opens the market in a televised opening ceremony, and then over the course of the month, two million visitors pass through the square and adjoining streets lined with festive market stalls selling everything from figures made of dried prunes to the famous lebkuchen, Nuremberg’s special gingerbread treat. With special events all month and a separate Christmas market especially for kids, this is one European Christmas market you won’t want to miss!
WHEN: 1 December to 24 December
WHERE: Hauptmarkt, 90403 Nürnberg
WEBSITE: Nürnberg Christkindlesmarkt
Note: All dates are for the 2017 Christmas markets season.
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