Christmas markets signal the start of Advent with wood chalets clustered together to sell native handicrafts, mulled wine, and holiday cheer. Dating back centuries, the tradition comes from winter markets of the Late Middle Ages across the German-speaking part of Europe and other parts of the previous Holy Roman Empire, together with what is now eastern France and Switzerland these days.
Winter markets occurred over the course of many days, rather than a week, allowing residents to stock up on supplies of on baskets, wood carvings, seasonal food, and other provisions for the looming cold months. Dresden’s market could also be the oldest in Germany, with the first event approved by Frederick II, Elector of Saxony, in 1434. Eventually these seasonal markets turned their focus on Christmas celebrations, as renowned nowadays. Here are a number of the best Christmas markets in Europe for a true holiday treat.
Strasbourg: French classic
The largest and oldest in France, the Strasbourg Christmas Market dates back to the sixteenth century. Many market stands unfold across the Grande Île–an island within the historic center of town and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Enjoy delicacies from this part of northeast France, like crepes, spices to bake gingerbread, and Alsacian white wines.
Next to the tall Christmas tree in Kleber, the “Sharing Village” supports local nonprofits and charities and an ice skating rink offers a view of the main cathedral by night on Place du Chateau. Within the Quartier Gare railway station district, Off de Noel highlights Strasbourg’s native designers and fair trade artisans, encircled by the city’s best neighborhood for street art.
Vienna, Austria: Romance
Advent brings out Vienna’s romantic side: Garlands of bulbs glisten over thoroughfares and shops are adorned with pine branches and silk ribbons between November 26th and December 31st. Large chandeliers lead to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and daily Advent concerts ensue at Schönbrunn Palace.
The Christmas markets in Vienna truly are an age-old tradition. The forerunners of the present-day events date back to the Middle Ages when in 1298 Albrecht I granted Vienna’s citizens the privilege of holding a December Market or “Krippenmarkt”. Since then, the character and prevalence of these markets has changed considerably. Nowadays, over 20 official Advent Markets sell a vast array of seasonal gifts and mouth-watering treats.
Zagreb: Rising star
The Croatian capital of Zagreb takes Advent seriously, earning accolades for the best Christmas market in Europe the past 3 years in a row. The fountain in Ban Josip Jelačić square transforms into a light display and lanterns cast a warm glow across the avenue of trees and old music pavilion in Zrinjevac Park.
Wash down the baked štrukle–a warm pastry dish of soft cheese–with vino before burning off the calories by skating around King Tomislav square. The six-piece Ad Gloriam brass band plays concerts from a number of the foremost picturesque balconies within the town of Zagreb, setting the tone for the festivities within the streets below.
Amsterdam: Christmas on the canals
Overflowing with twenty-six Christmas markets round the town, Amsterdam sets up an ice-skating rink in front of the Rijksmuseum, encircled by a village of wood chalets serving olibollen (Dutch donuts) and vino on the Museumplein. Trees fill the traditional flower market, a Ferris wheel provides the best view from RAI Amsterdam, and native artists and designers show off their work at the Funky Christmas market within the city’s former gasworks at Westergasfabriek.
The capital of The Netherlands kicks off the season with the annual turn on the Lights celebration in mid-November, when over four hundred thousand LED lights and fireworks showcase the 19th-century Bijenkorf department store building and also the 65-foot-tall tree in front of the Royal Palace on Dam square. However the real magic brings artists from round the world to decorate the canals with installations throughout the Amsterdam light festival, the perfect time for a cruise.
Nuremberg: The Og
In Southern Germany, the Nuremberg Christmas Market builds upon over four hundred years of tradition and surrounds the Gothic, 14th-century Church of Our Lady soaring over the main square.
Children will love the charming Children’s Christmas Market, complete with a nostalgic, two-tiered carousel with reindeer, a Ferris wheel, and a steam railway. Nuremburg sausages come three in a roll, then top it off with the famed Lebkuchen gingerbread, baked for over 600 years in the town and offered in every form and size.
Rome: Shopping for sport
The Eternal City’s market on piazza Navona sits upon the stadium of Domitian, where ancient Romans watched games as early as the 1st century A.D. Throughout December, native Rome sellers crowd the square to hawk pastries and traditional toys as street musicians perform, all in front of the backdrop of Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers and also the 18th-century Church Saint Agnes in Agone.
The showstopper is when a hundred Presepi exhibition hosts around one hundred fifty nativity scenes from across Italy and over forty different countries, together with reproductions of ancient 18th-century Neapolitan and Sicilian cribs and 19th-century Roman mangers, and modern versions made of unconventional materials like sand, rice, pasta, and nuts. In 2018 for the first time, the show takes place at Rome‘s Via di Conciliazione 5 near the Vatican Palace.
Bailiwick of Jersey: Island-style holiday
Translated from the old Norman-French language merely as ‘Christmas festival,’ La Fête de Noué means parades, lights, festive films, and street theater on the streets of Bailiwick of Jersey within the Channel Islands. The biggest parish, St. Helier, fills with processing floats, marching bands, and dancers throughout the Christmas Battle of Flowers parade.
Created in 1810 against the threat of Napoleonic invasion, the Grève de Lecq Barracks transform into a market of artisans. taste crepes, saucisson, and cider from the French vendors lining the Royal square in St. Helier or at the Norman-French Market at Weighbridge Place.