Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, copious amounts of mulled wine and some of the best hot chocolate you've ever had.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas across Europe, with hundreds of festive markets glittering brilliantly as soon as the first Advent door is opened. While Germany is the real fairy-tale deal, Christmas markets sparkle across the continent, come snow or shine, with crafts, choirs, light displays, and local grub.
From Alpine summits to tiny island towns, we bring you 30 European favorites that shine with their own Christmas culture, from unmissable classics to off-the-beaten-track faves.
1. Dresden, Germany
Dates: November 29–December 24, 2023
The granddaddy of Germany’s Christmas markets, Dresden’s Striezelmarkt has enraptured folk since 1434. It’s big, with 240 chalets welcoming nearly three million visitors each year. But it’s not just for tourists. The backdrop is spellbinding, with thousands of lights and, on the Altmarkt, the world’s biggest Christmas pyramid adorned with life-sized figures. The city on the Elbe fizzes festively with carousels and carollers, ice skating and stalls doing a brisk trade in everything from beautifully handmade nutcrackers, Räuchermännchen (smoking men) and Erzgebirge crib figures to Germany’s tastiest Christstollen, dense, buttery fruitcake sprinkled with icing sugar.
2. Innsbruck, Austria
Dates: November 15–December 23, 2023
In the snowy Austrian Alps, Innsbruck hosts several enchanting Christmas markets. In the medieval old town, a huge tree glitters in front of the Golden Roof, folk bands play and chalets sell decorations, candles, gingerbread, and mulled wine. Kids love the traditional fairground rides and puppet shows on riverside Marktplatz or take them to fairy-tale-themed Kiebachgasse. Market stalls and trees packed with twinkling lights light up Maria-Theresien-Strasse.
3. Nuremberg, Germany
Dates: December 1–24, 2023
You can’t whisper Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) without Nuremberg being uttered in the same breath. Does it live up to the hype? You bet. You’ll have to jostle with crowds, as two million visitors flock here each year, but it’s still fantasy stuff, with a blonde-locked, gold-robed Christkind launching the festivities. The hub is the Hauptmarkt, with its candy-striped chalets dishing out everything from Zwetschgenmännle (figures made from prunes, figs and nuts) to Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and brass-foil Rauschgold angels. But you’ll feel the festive vibes everywhere, with carols, concerts, fairground rides and a magnificent nativity scene in front of the Gothic church.
4. Barcelona, Spain
Dates: November 24–December 23, 2023
Who needs Santa when you can have a grinning, present-pooping log called Caga Tió? You will find this Catalan Christmas oddity in miniature form alongside mistletoe, turrón nougat and a biblical wonderland of nativity figurines at Barcelona's Fira de Santa Llúcia, sprawling in front of the Gothic cathedral on Plaça de la Seu. And if you think Caga Tió is bizarre, wait until you see the irreverent Caganer, a defecating figurine hidden in the nativity scene for good fortune and fertile harvests.
5. Ravenna Gorge, Germany
Dates: November 24–December 17, 2023
Sheltering under a strikingly illuminated 40m-high viaduct in the thickly wooded, steep-sided Höllental (‘Hell Valley’) in Germany’s Black Forest, this festive beauty in the Ravenna Gorge looks as though it has been plucked straight from the pages of a Grimm fairy tale. If there’s a dusting of snow, the winter wonderland picture is complete. Tourists? Not really – this one is largely for locals and is all the lovelier for it. Look out for Black Forest paper-cut designs, lambswool rugs and local smoked ham and venison sausage. Take a train to Hinterzarten or Himmelreich, then hop on the free shuttle or walk.
6. Mt Pilatus, Switzerland
Dates: November 17–19, 2023
For novelty value and sensational Alpine views, ride to Europe's highest Christmas market on the world's steepest cogwheel railway, which has been trundling up to 6995ft (2132m) Mt Pilatus since 1889. Perched above Lake Lucerne, the mountaintop Christkindlimärt has festive music and over 40 decorated market stalls selling beeswax candles, nativity figurines, gingerbread and other stocking fillers.
7. Zagreb, Croatia
Dates: December 2, 2023–January 7, 2024
The capital of Croatia might not immediately spring to mind when you fix your sights on Christmas markets, but Zagreb’s is right up there with Europe’s finest. Wintry temperatures, twinkling trees and thousands of fairy lights bring a pinch of festive magic to its parks, squares and historic heart, where the twin-spired Gothic cathedral looms large. Head to Fuliranje (“Fooling Around”) market for carols, concerts, crafts and DJs, or swing across to Ban Jelačić Sq to snack on hot chestnuts, licitars (intricately decorated gingerbread hearts) and Hrvatsko Zagorje–region wooden toys.
8. Schloss Hellbrunn, Austria
Dates: November 23–December 24, 2023
Christmas markets glitter all over Austria come Advent, but few are as magical as Hellbrunn Advent Magic held at Salzburg's Schloss Hellbrunn, with carollers, handicraft stalls, a Christmas train ride and petting zoo for kids, and the baroque palace's 24 windows transformed into a giant Advent calendar. A Christmas parade, brass bands, Alphorn blowers, nativity scenes and a veritable forest of 400 twinkling trees make Yuletide here special.
9. Zürich, Switzerland
Dates: 23 November–23 December 2023
Think you’ve seen one Christmas market, you’ve seen them all? Not like the ones in Zürich you haven’t. Sitting astride its namesake lake and the Limmat River, Switzerland’s swankiest city pulls out all the stops with a flurry of markets. Hit the alleys of the historic Niederdorf quarter for mulled wine, raclette and fondue, pedal an e-bike to make the lights glimmer on the ginormous tree on the main station concourse, or head over to the Christmas village on Sechseläutenplatz to hunt for gifts in 100 chalets set up in front of the opera house. The icing on the festive cake is the Singing Christmas Tree on Werdmühleplatz, formed by choir singers wearing red beanies, who belt out carols and gospel classics at 5:30pm daily.
10. Colmar, France
Dates: November 24–December 30, 2023
For the true spirit of Christmas, you can't beat Colmar in Alsace, where the gingerbready, half-timbered old town hosts five different Christmas markets. Canal-woven Petite Venise hosts the children's market, keeping the kids entertained with its carousel, animated nativity scene and Santa's letterbox, while antique, art and craft shoppers roam the Ancienne Douane. Alsatian gingerbread, spicy Bredele cookies, anise-flavored Springerle biscuits and kirsch-laced Berawecka fruit cake make great foodie stocking fillers.
11. Lisbon, Portugal
Dates: November 18–December 21, 2023
Lisbon gets its Christmas groove on during Advent with sparkling lights illuminating its praças, parks and azulejo-clad façades. Right in the heart of Baixa, fountain-splashed Rossio Sq is where the action is, with a giant tree, Santa train, choirs, workshops, bands, and chalets selling crafts, mulled wine, hot chestnuts and porco preto (black pork) sandwiches. While you’re in the festive mood, take the kids to Wonderland Lisboa (November 30, 2023, to January 1, 2024) in Parque Eduardo VII for a spin on the Ferris wheel and ice rink.
12. Gengenbach, Germany
Dates: November 30–December 23, 2023
Few towns look as Christmassy as Gengenbach in Germany's Black Forest. Its half-timbered old town is real snow globe stuff when the fairy lights are flicked on, timber chalets glow and carollers sing in front of the 18th-century, pink-and-cream Rathaus (Town Hall). Grab a spot here at 6pm to see one of 24 windows open to reveal an Advent calendar scene by famous artists and illustrators.
13. Helsinki, Finland
Dates: December 1–22, 2023
With frosty winds whipping across the Baltic and often the promise of snow, the Finnish capital, Helsinki, is the real Christmas deal – and one of the few cities where you can combine a festive shop with a sauna and swim in an avanto (ice hole). Market-wise, the biggie is on elegant 19th-century Senaatintori (Senate Sq), topped off by the pearly-white dome of the neoclassical Tuomiokirkko cathedral. Here a vintage carousel turns and rustic timber chalets sell traditional crafts, decorations and glögi (mulled wine). Festivities kick off with the switching on of the lights on Aleksanterinkatu, with a glittering parade, dance troupes, elves and a visit from Santa all the way from Lapland.
14. Tallinn, Estonia
Dates: December 1, 2023–January 7, 2024
You're more or less guaranteed snow in Tallinn at Christmas. Festivities are spread throughout the Unesco-listed Old Town, with an enormous tree towering above quaint wooden chalets on Raekoja plats (Town Hall Sq), its medieval centerpiece. Estonian crafts like hand-knitted hats, sea-grass animals, wickerwork and wood carvings are top buys. Santa Claus often stages an appearance in the evening. Find respite from sub-zero temperatures in candlelit cafes and warm up with hearty Estonian grub like sauerkraut and blood sausage.
15. Nice, France
Dates: December 7, 2023–January 7, 2024
It’s usually more blue skies, palms and double figures than snow, but Nice is a cracking choice if you want to combine a Christmas shop with a shot of southern French flair. The stately Promenade des Anglais dazzles with lights and Jardin Albert 1er gets properly into the festive swing with chalets selling gifts, crafts, mulled wine and (this being the ritzy Côte d'Azur) champagne and oysters. DJ sets, light festivals, fairground rides and visits from Santa are all part and parcel. And don’t miss the opportunity to grab gourmet stocking fillers like Provençal olive oil and honey.
16. Tromsø, Norway
Dates: 1–22 December, 2023
Oslo’s festivities are bigger, but for snowglobe looks and the true heart-warming spirit of Christmas, stray further north to Tromsø, 400km (248 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. Even bah-humbugs can’t help but be touched by the magic here, with snowy streets beautifully illuminated and stalls selling woolly hats, hand-carved gifts, gløgg (mulled wine) and the local riff on a kebab (wild mutton in pitta). Stomp down to the harbor for the Ferris wheel and ice rink, or float above the city on Fjellheisen cable car to see the lights from above. Here you can combine a festive shop with Northern Lights shows, reindeer sleigh rides and dog sledding. Cool, huh?
17. Winchester, UK
Dates: November 17–December 21, 2023
Gazes are lifted in wonder to the soaring spires of one of Britain’s most magnificent medieval cathedrals at Winchester’s Christmas market. After a romp around the city’s decorous Elizabethan and Regency streets, the market in the cathedral’s historic grounds beckons. Taking a leaf out of the traditional German book, it’s all incredibly tasteful, with baubled trees, family craft workshops and timber chalets selling everything from hand-carved music boxes to artisan cheese, bean-to-bar chocolate and hand-blown glass. For more festive spirit still, time your visit to catch one of the cathedral’s Christmas concerts.
18. St Helier, Jersey
Dates: November 23–December 10, 2023
Supporting local artisans is central to the Genuine Jersey Simply Christmas Market held in St Helier, Jersey. Chestnut trees strung with lights illuminate Royal Sq, and market stalls get shoppers into the festive spirit with mistletoe, real ales, minced pies and locally-made crafts. There'll be live music and entertainment too, bringing visitors all the Christmas spirit they need in one enticing package.
19. Ulm, Germany
Dates: November 27–December 23, 2023
Never heard of Ulm? You’re not alone but you are missing a trick. Midway between Munich and Stuttgart, this southern German city on the Danube is a stunner – it’s the birthplace of Albert Einstein, home to a whopping Gothic cathedral crowned by the world’s tallest steeple (161m or 528ft high) and enchants visitors with its canal-woven, half-timbered old quarter. Oh, and its Christmas market is a cracker, with a live nativity scene to coo over, a carousel to ride, a tree glimmering with 18,000 lights, a storytelling yurt, and 120 stalls trading in everything from Steiff toys to beeswax candles and edible snowballs.
20. Malmö, Sweden
Dates: November 24–December 18, 2023
Malmö dishes up a Swedish smorgasbord of Christmas markets, concerts and twinkling trees. Browse for handmade decorations, pausing to warm up over glögg (mulled wine) with pepparkakor (ginger biscuits) or lussekatter (saffron-flavored buns). Katrinetorp manor (December 8–10) is the go-to-market for antiques, poinsettias and festive food, while the market in Gustav Adolf Sq sells fairtrade, recycled and vintage gifts. Slip on skates to twirl around the open-air ice rinks at Raoul Wallenberg’s and Folkets Park.
21. Berlin, Germany
Dates: November 27–December 31, 2023
Berlin turns the Christmas fun up to the max, with more than 80 Weihnachtsmärkte switching their lights on for Advent and shimmering brightly until New Year. If you have kids in tow, don't miss WeihnachtsZauber on Bebelplatz, overlooked by the grand State Opera. Street entertainers deliver a full-on fairy tale, with acrobats, dance troupes, ice queens, golden angels, choirs and performers on stilts, and white, star-topped tents selling everything from quality ceramics to wood carvings, marzipan, fondue and schnitzel with champagne. If you fancy a shot of snow fun, head over to Potsdamer Platz for ice skating, sledding and mulled wine.
22. Seville, Spain
Dates: November 5–December 23, 2023
You might associate Seville more with flamenco and sunburn than Father Christmas and snow. But the high-spirited capital of Andalucía has tons of festive sparkle, as well as pleasingly mild temperatures and the first oranges ripening on trees in December. Most enchanting of all the Christmas markets is the Feria del Belén on Avenida de la Constitución in the shadow of the Gothic, gold-stone Catedral, which specializes in the belén (nativity scene), with exquisite and incredibly ornate hand-carved scenes, figures and decorations. The streets are also filled with lights, campanilleros (musical choirs) and sweet treats like convent-made polvorones (almond shortbread biscuits).
23. Erfurt, Germany
Dates: 28 November–22 December 2023
Medieval Erfurt, right in the heart of Germany, is a proper feast at Christmas. The city’s big market is on Domplatz, backdropped by the stately Gothic cathedral (where Martin Luther was ordained) and the three-towered, five-naved Severikirche. For kids, it’s like the Nutcracker come to life, with a 20m-high (65ft) tree, Ferris wheel, carousel, towering Christmas pyramid and nativity scene, enchanted forest, fairy-tale scenes and bakery. Brass bands and choirs enliven crowds as they browse 200 stalls selling pottery, Erzgebirge wood carvings and traditional blue-dyed fabrics. Pause to snack on Thuringian bratwurst and Erfurt Schittchen (the local take on Stollen).
24. Padstow, England
Dates: December 7–10, 2023
On the blustery Cornish coast, Padstow's Christmas Festival is a cracker. Rick Stein, Paul Ainsworth and Nathan Outlaw are among a star-studded line-up of chefs giving cookery demos to spice up Christmas dinner. Jazz bands and carollers entertain crowds milling around quayside stalls selling Cornish chutneys, pies and mulled cider, wooden toys and decorations. For kids, there's the reindeer enclosure and Santa Fun Run, where some 200 Father Christmas wannabes race for charity. Fireworks sparkle in the harbor at 8:30pm on Friday.
25. Freiburg, Germany
Dates: November 23–December 23, 2023
In Germany’s Black Forest, snug against the border with Switzerland and France, the vivacious university city of Freiburg hosts one of the country’s loveliest Christmas markets in its alley-woven medieval heart. Lights illuminate the gabled houses on Rathausplatz, where 120 wooden chalets keep things traditional with regional food and crafts. Nose around the stalls for folk carvings and nativity figures, Moravian stars, beeswax candles, sheepskin rugs and Black Forest ham. Snacks like roasted almonds and local Langer Rote sausages pair well with glühwein. Kids will have a blast baking cookies, making candles and riding the Ferris wheel.
26. Budapest, Hungary
Dates: November 18–December 31, 2023
The Hungarian capital dazzles at Christmas, especially at the market on stately Vörösmarty tér, which is transformed into a sea of gold lights and red-baubled trees. There’s no tourist tat at this nostalgic number, just choirs and concerts, glass-blowing, wood-carving and candle-making workshops, and a parade of prettily lit timber chalets where you can pick up mézeskalács (honey gingerbread), Hungarian pottery, embroidery and wood carvings. Warm up over gulyásleves (goulash soup in a bread bowl). If you can, tie in your visit with the candle-lighting ceremony of the enormous wreath at the Basilica of St Stephen at 4pm on Sundays during Advent.
27. Milan, Italy
Dates: December 1, 2023–January 6, 2024
As the fashion powerhouse of northern Italy, Milan styles Christmas in its own glam way. The headline market is Oh Bej! Oh Bej! (How Beautiful! How Beautiful!), which kicks off on December 7, 2023 (the Feast of St Ambrogio) at Renaissance Castello Sforzesco – a fortified vision in red brick. Going strong since 1510, the Christmas fair hums with stalls selling handcrafted toys, flowers, books, artisan-made iron, copper and brass creations, panettone and firunatt (necklace-like strings of chestnuts). More? Head over to the Christmas market twinkling below the Duomo, or go skating and snow tubing at the central station.
28. Basel, Switzerland
Dates: November 23–December 23, 2023
A progressive, art-loving city on the Rhine, Basel in northern Switzerland is never more bewitching than during Advent, when a heart-warmingly traditional Christmas market springs up on historic Barfüsserplatz and cathedral-crowned Münsterplatz. Snowglobe-strung trees, a fairy-tale forest, a revolving Weihnachtpyramide (Christmas pyramid) with nativity scenes, a fantasy carousel and stalls brimming with handcrafted toys, decorations and crafts await. Snack-wise, try local potato pancakes, grilled sausages and Baumstriezel (chimney cake) with hot chocolate or mulled wine.
29. Vienna, Austria
Dates: November 18, 2023–January 4, 2024
With its palaces and horse-drawn carriages, Vienna is fantasy stuff – and never more than during Advent, when you’re only ever a step away from the next Christmas market. Go for fairground rides, ice skating and mulled wine at the buzzy market in front of the neo-Gothic Rathaus or high-quality crafts at the romantic number in the narrow Biedermeier lanes of Spittelberg. Fairest of the lot, though, is the market on the grounds of Schloss Schönbrunn, with its magnificent tree, choirs, brass bands, carousel, and 80 huts selling everything from nostalgic wooden toys to beeswax candles, felt figurines, Alpine cheese and candied nuts.
30. Brussels, Belgium
Dates: November 24–December 31, 2023
With its step-gabled townhouses, cobbles and strikingly lit Grand Place, Brussels is like a scene behind the door of an old-fashioned Advent calendar. And at Christmas, it’s a knockout. Winter Wonders sprinkles the city with fairy dust, with sound and laser shows and a fabulous tree lighting up the Grand Place, ice and curling rinks and a merry-go-round on Place de Brouckère, and a 200-stall market spreading out from Place Sainte-Catherine, where you can shop for stocking fillers, scoff waffles and pick up Belgian beer and chocolate.