The Best European Christmas Markets

We’re here in Beijing, China and the only things going up more rapidly than new buildings are Christmas trees (mostly fake, of course). Last night, we became nostalgic while strolling past another giant shopping center Christmas tree, this one shielded by a roof that houses the world’s largest LED video screen (250 meters long by 30 meters wide).

Beijing Christmas Decorations - China
Getting into the Christmas spirit in Beijing, China.

Though the proliferation of Christmas decorations in Beijing is remarkable, their presence just doesn’t capture the holiday spirit like a European Christmas market would. So, we offer a walk down European Christmas Market memory lane and our “Best of” European Christmas Markets list.

If you’re impatient, go straight to the bottom of the post for our Christmas Markets slide show.

Best European Christmas Markets Awards

1. Hall, Austria: Best Gluhwein and Roasted Chestnuts

If you are looking for a laid back small town market where the locals pour out onto the town square at the end of the day to warm themselves with gluhwein (mulled, spiced wine), this is the place. Think Charlie Brown enjoying a Tyrolian Christmas in the mountains of Austria.

Gluhwein and Roasted Chestnuts - Hall, Austria
A young Dan drinks gluhwein at the Christmas Market in Hall, Austria.

2. Salzburg, Austria: Best Kid Musicians

Some of the best young musicians play their hearts out to earn a little money for their Christmas shopping. Time your visit right with a light dusting of snow and the surrounding landscape will convince you that you are living in a fairy tale.

Enterprising Christmas Choir - Salzburg, Austria
Kid musicians playing Christmas carols at the Salzburg Christmas Market.

3. Munich, Germany: Best Mandeln

The best sugar-coated almonds (mandeln) in all of Central Europe. And if our memory serves, you can find leagues of smoking men from across the professional spectrum, from gardener to banker.

Frauenkirche and Neue Rathaus (New Town Hall) - Munich, Germany
Frauenkirche and Neue Rathaus (New Town Hall) – Munich

Munich was our first real European Christmas Market experience (1998), so it holds a special place in our hearts. We thank our friends, Thorsten and Christiane, for introducing us to gluhwein and mandeln.

4. Vienna, Austria: Widest Selection of Christmas Markets

Vienna is the city where every neighborhood gets its own Christmas market. There are so many Christmas markets here that you’ll need a map to find them all.

Rathaus (Municipal House) Christmas Market - Vienna, Austria
Big Christmas Market at Vienna’s Rathaus.

5. Nuremberg, Germany: Best Children’s Market

OK, Best Sausages, too. Nuremberg is the classic German Christmas Market. When you tire of gluhwein, sausages, and other tourists, escape to the Children’s Christmas Market and watch the kids make cookies. Better yet, join them.

Kids Making Christmas Cookies - Nurnberg, Germany
Christmas cookie factory for kids at the Nuremberg Christmas Market.

6. Barcelona, Spain – Most Curious Nativity Scene Statuettes: El Caganer

Winner, hands down. Er, bottoms up. If you can’t make it to Barcelona and feel that your nativity scene can’t do without one, buy it here.

El Caganer - Barcelona, Spain
Christmas markets in Barcelona, stands filled with El Caganer.

7. Malaga, Spain – Most Unique All Around

Which other Christmas market can boast fresh grilled octopus and a guy who will write your name in Arabic? If that isn’t enticing enough, Malaga also sports some the best post-holiday (Three Kings Day) shoe sales.

Dates at Christmas Market - Malaga, Spain
Piles of dates at the Malaga Christmas Market – Andalucia, Spain.

8. Dresden, Germany: Most Tasteful Medieval Christmas Market

Better expressed as “best ability to pull off a tasteful medieval Christmas market.” The Advent Spektakel taps a nostalgic chord while the more traditional Streizelmarkt offers the typical German Christmas market fare. Dresden’s biggest plusses: fewer tourists and the Neustadt neighborhood which features its own Christmas market and the Kunsthof Passage (artists’ market).

Smoking Men at Christmas Market - Dresden, Germany
Medieval Christmas Market in Dresden, Germany.

9. Prague, Czech Republic: Best Market at Night

Though the Namesti Miru market in Prague’s Vinohrady neighborhood sports a village feel, the best nighttime setting goes to Prague’s main Christmas market on Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti).

Tyn Church - Prague's Christmas Market, Czech Republic
Prague’s Christmas Market on Old Town Square at night.

10. Cadiz, Spain: Best Cabalgata (de los Reyes Magos)

Although technically not a Christmas Market, the Festival of the Three Kings is a frenzied, colorful Christmas surprise. Celebrated throughout Spain on the eve of Three Kings Day (January 6), the festival is worth a detour, especially in Cadiz, Andalusia’s and Europe’s oldest inhabited city. The Cabalgata de Reyes (Three Kings Day parade) takes over the entire town.

Little Girls at Festival of Three Kings - Cadiz, Spain
Festival of the Three Kings in Cadiz, Spain

Honorable Mention

11. Märjamaa, Estonia – Smallest Christmas Market

Audrey’s love of Christmas markets spurred her to organize one in the 3,000 person town of Märjamaa, Estonia when she was a Peace Corps Volunteer there in 1999. Local artists and students sold their handmade products to raise money for themselves and their classes. The Christmas market still continues today.

Marjamaa Joulumess (Christmas Fair) - Marjamaa, Estonia
The tiny Christmas Market in Märjamaa, Estonia.

 

European Christmas Markets Photo Slideshow

If you don’t have a high-speed connection or you would like to read the captions, you can view our European Christmas Markets photo essay.

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Comments

  1. says

    You’re making me very nostalgic! Although I think you should probably mention in the Prague entry that there is a staggering lack of interesting merchandise… :)

  2. Brian says

    Special mention to the Bratislava Christmas Market. It has great food (lokse & Ciganska) and Varene Vino (mulled wine). The best food/drink of all is had at the Matysak stand, where there is always a long lineup.

  3. says

    Nicole: We normally skip Prague’s Christmas market merchandise for that reason and just enjoy a mug of svarak (mulled wine) in the setting. It does seem like Prague is trying harder on the shopping front – the ratio of homemade products/crafts had gone up slightly by the time we had left.

    Brian: Haven’t been by the Bratislava Christmas Market, so we’ll need to find a way to visit in…maybe 2009??

  4. says

    Excellent selection of Christmas market – we have been to a lot of them, but there are still a few missing… looking forward to exploring them as soon as we spend a winter in Europe :-) Personal favorites of mine that are missing: Cologne (there are 5, but the prettiest one is right by the Cathedral) and Frankfurt, where the Christmas market spreads throughout the entire town (the most beautiful part around the Roemer).

  5. says

    @GTG: Thanks for the suggestions. There will always be something missing. That’s the beauty of travel.

    We’ll be sure to add them (and a host of others called out on Twitter after this posted) to the rebound list. There are people who devote their lives to cataloging Christmas markets in Germany alone. As for European winters, they have their moments. Though cold and dark, one of our fondest Christmas memories was our first in Prague back in 2001. Icy and dark, but just about right for Central Europe.

  6. says

    You might want to check this post-the photo for Prague isn’t showing up. And I’ve just returned from a small quaint Christmas market in Tallinn, Estonia, and I just can’t wait to choose my next one!

  7. says

    @Ele: Thanks so much for alerting us to the problem with the Prague photo. I’ve fixed it now!

    I was just speaking with someone over the weekend who was at Tallinn’s Christmas market and had great things to say about it. I also have good memories of it from when I lived in Estonia many years ago. Good luck choosing your next market!

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