From potent mulled wine in Salzburg to sugar-dusted gingerbread in Valkenburg, Europe’s Christmas markets are the perfect opportunity to get yourself in the festive spirit. Here are 10 of the very best.
Shop underground in Valkenburg, The Netherlands
Valkenburg, The Netherlands
The Christmas market of Valkenburg is hosted in the caves beneath the town and is part of a month-long programme of festive activities. Visitors can admire a network of underground passageways and caverns that were once carved out to mine marlstone for local architecture including Valkenburg Castle. It's in this atmospheric subterranean setting that you’ll find stalls selling Christmas gifts and a Santa’s grotto decorated with fairy lights. Stay at Bella Vista, a welcoming B&B in a beautiful Valkenburg building with stone turrets.
Discover local delicacies in Nuremberg, Germany
Nuremberg's Christmas market (known as Christkindlesmarkt) is one of the largest and oldest in Germany, drawing around two million visitors annually and dating back to 1628. Today, over 180 stalls sell traditional, locally made goods, including Christmas ornaments like Zwetschgenmännle (tiny figurines made out of prunes) and wooden nutcrackers. You can also buy some of the city's renowned sweet gingerbread, or enjoy a grilled, spiced sausage known as the original 'Nuremberg Bratwurst'. The aroma of these sausages being traditionally roasted on an open beech wood fire fills the air, alongside the smell of glühwein (mulled wine), gingerbread, rum punch and roasted almonds. Spend the night just two minutes' walk from the square where the market is held, at the Hotel Five.
Swap a white Christmas for a green one in Trento, Italy
In the northern Italian city of Trento, the Christmas Market has an entire section devoted to both mulled and non-mulled local wine; the Trentino-Alto Adige region is one of the world’s most important wine-producing areas, known for its sparkling vintages, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While a white Christmas might be the idealised image of the festive period in Europe, the market organisers are just as interested in creating a ‘green’ experience by using clean energy, local products and eco-certified paper bags to minimise any negative impact on the environment. Check into HEART OF TRENTO apartments, overlooking the city’s Old Town.
Enjoy the bright lights in Colmar, France
Nicknamed 'Little Venice', the Alsation town of Colmar is often said to have been the model for Belle's village in Beauty and the Beast. Its medieval centre is crisscrossed with cobbled streets and canals lined with colourful, half-timbered houses, creating a fairytale background for Colmar's six Christmas markets (held in Place de Dominicains, Place de la Cathedrale, Place Jeanne d’Arc, Place de l’Ancienne Douane, Petite Venise and Koifhus Indoor Market). There's also a lights festival in the town, illuminating bridges, trees and the stained glass windows of its old stone churches. Head to one of the markets to find Christmas wreaths, elaborately decorated gingerbread, French liqueurs and hundreds of sweet stocking fillers. The James Boutique Hôtel is highly rated for its festive atmosphere and location on the Alsatian Wine Route.
Go market-hopping in Salzburg, Austria
The Austrian city of Salzburg is a magical setting for a Christmas market, overlooked by the bold, grey turrets of the hilltop Hohensalzburg Fortress. There are several markets here to choose from, including a farmers’ market, a Christmas market inside the fortress itself and the gigantic Salzburg Christkindlmarkt. The latter runs from the end of November until just after Christmas every year, celebrating the Advent period with performances, choirs belting out carols, and all the usual festive market trimmings. The Hotel Sacher is a great spot to recover after a long day exploring the city.
Browse the merry markets of Berlin, Germany
Christmas markets are a beloved German holiday tradition, and the capital is a brilliant place to be if you want to get in the festive spirit. Warm up with a slice of stollen cake and a mug of glühwein at one of the many merry markets in the city. You’ll find these in sumptuous settings like the grounds of the Charlottenburg Palace in west Berlin and the central Gendarmenmarkt, a historic public square. Most of the city’s Christmas markets are fairly big-scale events, running for the entire Advent period between late November (the first Sunday of Advent in 2022 is 27th November) and the end of December. Check into the bright and elegant Wilmina Hotel, just 20 minutes’ walk from the Charlottenburg Palace.
Experience a festive fairy tale in Vienna, Austria
Vienna’s beautiful Baroque architecture forms a fairy-tale backdrop for the city’s 20-plus official Advent markets. Between early November and the end of December, the Austrian capital is a dreamy place to hear choirs singing carols and to snack on sugared almonds, roasted chestnuts and strudel. One of the biggest, most popular markets is the Christkindlmarkt in front of the Vienna City Hall (Wiener Rathaus). Here, hundreds of stalls centred around a huge Christmas tree sell artisanry such as delicate glass baubles. While the adjacent park features an ice-skating rink and ‘Dream Path’ – illuminated, winding skating trails. Stay just a 3-minute walk from the Christkindlmarkt at Hotel Rathauspark Wien.
Witness the quintessential Christmas Market in Cologne, Germany
With numerous, varied festive markets popping up across the city during the Advent period, Cologne knows how to deliver Christmas cheer. You can listen to live music, go ice-skating and admire the imposing cathedral splendidly illuminated by the twinkling lights of the market below. Browse the market stalls selling seasonal wares that range from gingerbread and glühwein to handmade trinkets, decorations, wooden nativity scenes and much more. Cologne’s markets run from 21st November to 23rd December in 2022, so make the most of this opportunity to purchase a few charming, traditional Christmas gifts. Stay in the lap of luxury just opposite the cathedral at Excelsior Hotel Ernst am Dom.
Stock up on stocking fillers in Düsseldorf, Germany
Get into the gift-giving spirit and stock up on stocking fillers in Düsseldorf, where crowds of festive revellers and myriad stalls offering the full spectrum of seasonal offerings make up the city’s Christmas market scene. There are seven main markets all centrally located near the Altstadt (Old Town) area, open from 17th November until 30th December 2022. Stay in the Old Town at the stylish Hotel Orangerie.
Enjoy an authentic Alsace welcome in Strasbourg, France
Strasbourg is home to several Advent markets, including Europe's oldest Christmas market, the Christkindelsmärik – dating back to 1570. The city’s seasonal celebrations have stayed true to their traditional roots, so you can expect an authentic, festive Alsace welcome here. Shop for the perfect presents for your nearest and dearest and revel in the festive atmosphere and elegant surroundings including the city’s grand Gothic cathedral. In Alsace, Christmas markets tend to open on St. Catherine's day, 25th November (although some may open the weekend before the official start date). Stay at Le Carré d'or, an apartment with a view of the cathedral.
Get ready for the season with this playlist of festive faves.