Five Must-See European Christmas Markets
Updated: Dec 27, 2020
Something about wrapping up my Christmas shopping online this year has me dreaming of traveling to European Christmas markets in the years to come. There’s a reason so many made-for-TV Christmas movies are set in Europe: nothing says Christmas like the Old World ambiance of ski chalets, cobblestone roads, snow-capped mountains, and Gothic cathedrals.
While this centuries-old annual tradition is on hold this year due to the pandemic, European cities and villages are eager to reopen their pop-up markets complete with shopping, eating and drinking, and holiday cheer in 2021. If you’re looking for a little festive travel inspiration this year, here are my five must-see European Christmas markets to see in 2021
If your heart is set on a classic German Christmas market, look no further than Cologne’s Cathedral Christmas Market, featuring 150 elaborate wooden pavilions outside the towering 500-foot cathedral. Beneath a beautifully decorated tree—at nearly 100 feet tall, it’s the largest in Rhineland—taste sweet delicacies, witness artisans and craftsmen at work on treasures like woodcarvings, ceramics, and soaps, and sip the original recipe for mulled wine (called glühwein) to keep you warm. With more than 100 musical performances throughout the festival and a carousel for children, even non-shoppers will find themselves in the Christmas spirit in Cologne.
For a storybook medieval backdrop to your Christmas shopping, check out Krakow’s Christmas market located in the city’s picturesque old town. Here, shoppers browse dozens of stalls featuring handmade jewelry, candles, and wreaths, while horse-drawn carriages transport shoppers across cobblestone streets. Sample grzaniec galicyjski (Poland’s version of mulled wine) aging in huge wooden barrels while you browse the szopki—traditional nativity scenes constructed by locals and displayed across the city. And don’t forget to munch on some local gastronomic specialties: kielbasa, pig knuckles, pierogis, and oscypek (smoked cheese).
As one of the world’s oldest Christmas markets, the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt is perfectly situated in the heart of the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site. After browsing 100 market stands featuring local crafts and gifts, including Salzburg’s famous wooden lanterns, join in the holiday fun with a sing along, take in a wind music concert, see a Krampus parade, or hear the “Christ Child” story read aloud. Don’t resist partaking in a sweet treat when the alluring smell of the bauernkrapfen (fried pastries) strikes you as you stroll among the charming stands!
Near the German border but with resplendent French flair, Colmar’s Magic Christmas markets are a series of six public-square markets in and around old town. Surrounded by Renaissance-era timber buildings and canals that will remind you of Venice, Italy, Colmar adds winter magic to its quotidian ambiance with extensive twinkle lights, an ice skating rink, and an antique carousel. Each of the six markets has its own unique theme; for example, in cathedral square, witness cooking demonstrations from local chefs and restauranteurs while sampling oysters and sipping a crisp Alsatian Riesling.
Edinburgh’s Christmas in Scotland transforms the East Princes Street Gardens into Santa Land, complete with market stalls and fairground rides. Hop on the Big Wheel to see panoramic views of the city or take a spin on the carousel. Children will love navigating the Christmas tree maze, with a hidden Elves’ Workshop, as well as riding the train. With all of this holiday cheer in the air, you might as well stay through the New Year to take part in the city’s famous Hogmanay Festival (the Scots’ version of New Year’s Eve).
Planning a European Christmas Markets Vacation
One of the most popular and practical options for a European Christmas markets vacation is a specialty Christmas markets river cruise. Luxury cruise lines such as AmaWaterways offer a number of itineraries between late November and early January that allow you to visit several Christmas markets while unpacking only once! And if you’re traveling with companions who often get stuck holding the bags outside of shops, know that there’s plenty to do besides shopping on such a cruise, including eating and drinking delicious regional specialties, hiking, sightseeing, and museum touring.
And while we’re planning our future trips to European Christmas markets, we might as well bring a little of that holiday joy into our own homes this Christmas. Check out this 360-degree virtual tour of the Christmas Market at Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin, Germany, or this virtual video tour of the Der Kleine Eistraum (the “Little Ice Dream”) Market in Vienna, Austria.
If all of this virtual touring has visions of Christmas market sugar plums dancing in your head, let’s get started planning your European Christmas market vacation for 2021 or 2022.
As always, I’m wishing you festive and joyous holiday travels in the years to come.