Eight Nostalgic European Christmas Markets

Eight Nostalgic European Christmas Markets

Follow the scent of cinnamon, spice and all things nice to our edit of Europe’s top Christmas markets. These eight festive fairs promise nostalgia and Yuletide feasting galore, with nary a plastic-wrapped stocking filler in sight

there anything more festive than a traditional Christmas
market? Forget neon lights and plastic Santas; our Christmas wish
list involves lines of wooden chalets piled high with knitted
mittens and strolls under twinkling lights with a steaming mug of
gluhwein in one hand, a cone of roasted chestnuts in the other.

In Europe, festive fairs are taken seriously, with multiple
markets running in most capital cities from the end of November
right through to the big day (and, sometimes, beyond). Book a
winter city break to a snowflake-dusted metropolis and you’ll be
drinking in the Yuletide atmosphere of a charming European
Christmas market as soon as you step off the metro. Germany is the first place we’d recommend
heading – after all, Dresden claims to be the birthplace of festive
fairs, having opened its first in 1434 – but from Stockholm to
Switzerland, there are markets big and small
across the continent offering handcrafted goods, unique local
traditions and Santa-sackfuls of good old-fashioned fun. Here’s our
pick of the best Christmas markets in Europe, with not a neon light
in sight.

‘Tis the season: eight old-school European Christmas

Stalls at Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria

Best for: traditional trimmings

Fur-wrapped Fraus hunt down wooden decorations and drinking
horns at markets across Austria – a sure sign that the country’s
Christmas fairs are suitably old-school. In Salzburg, the Christkindlmarkt (17 November – 1 January) in
Cathedral Square and Residenze Square keeps things nostalgic.
Follow the nutty scent of toasted almonds dancing through the crisp
winter air to find a festive market arranged beneath strings of
twinkling bulbs, selling hand-knitted socks, sweetly scented
incense and intricate tealight lanterns. The Austrian snack of
choice? A freshly baked apple. Grab one, then head to the cathedral
for 5pm sharp to hear a daily outdoor concert – it might be choral
singing one day; traditional wind instruments the next. On
Tuesdays, a weekly carol singalong commences at dusk.

A red hut, and big wheel, at Montreux Christmas Market
Photo credit: IraVi / Shutterstock.com

Montreux, Switzerland

Best for: Swiss excellence

Each year, the lakeside city of Montreux announces a guest of
honour for its Noël markets (18 November – 24 December). Normally a
fellow European country is heralded, but for 2022, it’s all a bit
off-piste: Le Chat is the VIP. The cat – or rather, 20 giant
statues of Belgian artist Philippe Geluck’s famed feline sculpture
– are spread across the city, accompanied by a Boutique La Chatte,
on Avenue des Alpes, where you can pick up festive delights
associated with the animal. Cats aside, this Swiss city fills over
170 fir-trimmed chalet stalls with local traders at the in-town
market, selling snow globes, nativity scenes and bunches of candy
canes. By the lake, you’ll find 150 more. Drink vin chaud and munch
roasted nuts, but keep your eyes on the sky: every day at 5pm, 6pm
and 7pm, Santa Claus passes by on his sleigh above the Place du
Marché. La magie!

A Christmas market in Berlin

Berlin, Germany

Best for: Kraftwerk and kitsch

Don’t expect only ye olde charm at Berlin’s markets. The German capital holds true
to its alternative reputation, mixing Germanic kitsch (hello,
gingerbread hearts) with a healthy dose of left-field concepts
(think, an eco-friendly fair on Kollwitzplatz, a medieval-inspired market complete with troll
forest at art compound RAW, and an LGBTQI+ fair offering mulled wine-fuelled yoga,
drag bingo and Christmas karaoke).

Of the 70-odd city-wide markets (most of which are open from 21
November – 31 December), WeihnachtsZauber wins all the prizes for being
the prettiest, with its light-strewn Christmas tree surrounded by
bauble-hung, pointed-top tents, each crowned with a softly lit
star. Spandau’s candy-striped sprawl, meanwhile, is
the city’s largest. Kunsthandwerklicher fair on Karl-August-Platz
is our go-to for German handicrafts. For gourmands wanting to stock
their pantry with regional foods, there’s also Kranoldplatz’s
Dicke Linda market, where you can slurp
steaming pumpkin soup and taste-test your way around the schnapps

Biscuits on sale at Strasbourg Christmas Market

Strasbourg, France

Best for: all-out festive feels

Perhaps Europe’s most Christmassy city, Strasbourg’s festive fairs are enchanting for visitors young and
old alike. You’ll find 13 separate Christmas markets sitting pretty
throughout the city’s storied streets. The original,
Christkindelsmärik (25 November – 24 December), has been going
since 1570, and still resides in the Place Broglie, with more than
100 stalls tucked between timber-beamed townhouses and the gothic
city cathedral. Fairy-tale-inspired lights lead the way between
markets and adorn much of the city. In Place Kléber, you’ll find
Europe’s “most decorated” tree (all 30m of it). Prepare to
overindulge when you visit: regional Christmas bites include creamy
spaetzle noodles, crème-fraîche-topped baguette flambée, and
sugar-sprinkled pretzels. For gingerbread – or pain d’épices – seek
out the chalet-style Mireille Oster stalls. The specialist baker’s
fig and walnut gingerbreads make a suitably seasonal souvenir.

Stalls at Prague Christmas Market
Photo credit: R Rostislav Glinsky / Shutterstock.com

Prague, Czech Republic

Best for: food, glorious food

It’s all about the food at Prague’s main Christmas market (26 November – 6
January), but don’t expect any of the ubiquitous Germanic fare
you’re accustomed to. Stalls huddled beneath the city’s
fairy-tale-esque two towers of the Church of Our Lady, in Old Town
Square, serve glossy, plum-coloured klobása sausages straight off
the grill, juicy ham slices, fruit-filled palačinky crepes,
sweet-smelling pastries and cheesy Hungarian flatbreads, lángos.
Forget gluhwein; we’re drinking the citrussy local equivalent,
svařák (or maybe, hot mead or honeyed wine or grog, the Czech hot

Elsewhere in the country, Ceske Budejovice and Český Krumlov are
worth a visit, too – head to their Christmas markets to fill up
your Santa sack with wooden toys and carved Christmas decorations,
all beautifully displayed beneath Bohemian architecture.

A ride at nostalgis amusement park, Liseberg
Photo credit: Trygve Finkelsen / Shutterstock.com

Gothenburg, Sweden

Best for: a real-life rom-com

Guaranteed snowy scenes put Sweden’s selection of Christmas markets at the
top of our wish list (with most open from 19 November – 30
December). From Stockholm’s ancient Stortorgets Julmarknad to
Småland’s Kosta glassware fair and Visby’s medieval shenanigans –
think, torchlight processions and performances of historic choral
music – you can expect ancient customs, excellent craftsmanship and
a commitment to keeping things handmade in fairs across the

Gothenburg’s Liseberg amusement park market is our hands-down
favourite. The 1923-built park is a nostalgic throwback to
Christmases past, complete with wooden roller coaster,
elf-inhabited ice rinks, spinning carousels and gently tinkling
sleigh bells. Scoff smoked reindeer snacks and kebabs (sorry,
Rudolph), washed down with Nordic glögg, visit a dashingly dressed
Santa (fur-trimmed, and with excellent knitwear), then head over to
the Hamnkrogen restaurant for a traditional Swedish seafood

Christmas market in Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

Best for: folk festivities

Tallinn’s spectacular Town Hall Square Market (25 November – 8
January) centres around a 15m Christmas tree, with stalls radiating
out from the festive foliage, housing local traders of sheepskin
slippers, handcrafted tree decorations and intricately made knitted
goods. Find a toasty pair of mittens, then seek out gingerbread and
sticky cinnamon pastries to nibble on, or fill up with a typically
Estonian Christmas plate of black pudding and
sauerkraut, washed down with a warming cup of blackberry glögg.
Oakohv coffee stall is the one to seek out if you’re feeling cold –
the Estonian brand is serving four roasts that are unique to the
Christmas market this year.

Christmas markets beneath the mountain in Italy
Photo credit: Essevu / Shutterstock.com

Merano, Italy

Best for: alpine wonder

This cinnamon-scented market (25 November – 6 January) is worth
the trek into the Italian Alps; you’ll be rewarded with a quirky
selection of stalls winding along the frosty banks of the Passirio,
and jaw-dropping views of the snow-capped mountains towering above
the compact Italian town. You’ll find boiled-wool slippers and
hand-carved wooden goods, such as nutcrackers and music boxes, on
offer at the carefully curated selection of stalls, while food
options include towers of freshly prepared cinnamon cakes and
steaming strudel. Keep your eyes peeled for the loitering Krampusse
if you visit on 5 December; local tradition sees townspeople
donning hand-carved masks and goatskin cloaks to discipline
disobedient children before the arrival of the gift-giving St
Nicholas the next day.

The green Marx Room at Quo Vadis

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