10 of the best Christmas markets in Europe

We’ve rounded up 10 Christmas crackers for a mini-break in Europe

The Christmas market in Krakow takes place in the mammoth central square, Rynek Glowny, in the middle of its atmospheric Old Town.

The Christmas market in Krakow takes place in the mammoth central square, Rynek Glowny, in the middle of its atmospheric Old Town.

 

Vienna

The Viennese have been holding Christmas markets since 1298 so they know how to do it. Of the 20 or so to choose from, the best sits in front of city hall, the Rathaus. Despite the unfortunate name, the building is a thing of beauty by night when its fairy-lit gothic facade competes with the twinkly lights of 140-plus stall holders.

An area of the ground floor of City Hall is given over to children to learn to how to make Christmas cookies and candles while neighbouring Rathaus Park undergoes a transformation too, becoming an enchanted forest with ice rinks, carriage rides and Christmas illuminations. There’s a fairground too.

When November 17th to December 26th.
What to buy Handmade jewellery and rustic decorations for the tree.
What to do Don’t miss the Culture & Christmas Market at Schoenbrunnn Palace, the former Habsburg summer residence.
How to get there Aer Lingus flies return from around €236. Cassidy Travel has, at the time of going to press, a discounted two-night stay at the three star Hotel Mozart from €215 per person sharing, departing 12th December, a saving of € 75 on the regular price. Or stay in the elegant Pension Nossek – Mozart did – suites from €196 a night.
Websites christkindlmarkt.at, weihnachtsmarkt.co.at, austria-trend.at, cassidytravel.ie.

Vienna Christmas market
Vienna Christmas market

Salzburg

It would be hard to find a more picturesque option for Christmas than a snowy Salzburg. The big market here is the Salzburger Christkindlmarkt, which takes place in front of the cathedral and is filled with the festive hubbub of stallholders and Christmas tree sellers.

If you’re bringing kids check out the Advent Magic market at Hellbrunn Palace. More than 400 conifers are decorated with red Christmas balls and rope lights while the palace itself is like an oversized advent calendar with fountains, gardens, and an eight-metre Christmas angel.

Don’t miss the choral advent plays which take place in the Grand Festival Hall, performed by a mix of professional and musicians and local school children. Expect lots of Silent Night, Holy Night, the town is the birthplace of its composer, Josef Mohr.

When November 17th to January 6th.
What to buy Mozart balls – marzipan and nougat sweets.
What to do If you can’t get a ticket for one of the main choral events, check out the traditional Salzburg Adventsingen in the churches of surrounding towns.
How to get there Round trips from Lufthansa from €186. For €1,902 you can get three nights for a family of four staying at the Hotel Amadeus in Salzburg, including flights, departing Tuesday, December 5th, returning Friday 8th, from ebookers.
Websites christkindlmarkt.co.at, ebookers.ie.

Stalls at the annual Christmas market at Mozartplatz in Salzburg, Austria. Photograph: Johannes Simon/Getty Images
Stalls at the annual Christmas market at Mozartplatz in Salzburg, Austria. Photograph: Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Graz

Its picturesque Old Town is home to a variety of traditional Christmas markets. Hard to pronounce – Franziskanerviertel, Faerberplatz, Mariahilferplatz, Mehlplatz and Glockenspielplatz – they are however easy to traverse, all 14 being within walking distance of each other. It makes Graz the perfect spot to enjoy the traditional ‘fifth season’.

Franziskanerviertel is the city’s oldest and specialises in Styrian handcrafts and locally produced foods. At the Eiserne Tor market, in the centre of the city’s pedestrian zone, the stalls are run by charities so you can shop with a clear conscience.

For an international flavour, check out Tummelplatz, which has crafts from around the world and stall holders that change daily, so it’s always worth a repeat visit. Check out the ice crib at the Landhaus, the giant Advent calendar projected on to the Rathaus and the “Office for Christmas Carols” where you can pick up sheet music and lyrics to get you carolling with the best of them.

When November 17th to December 24th.
What to buy Top quality textiles, ceramics and glass at Faerberplatz. It’s run by a local arts and crafts group.
What to do Take the funicular to see the 1,000 year old castle atop Schlossberg, a forested, hilltop public park.
How to get there Fly Dublin to Graz, via Amsterdam, with KLM from around €177 in early December. Stay in the centrally located Mercure in Lend, rooms around €92 a night or opt for two nights at the elegant Schlossberghotel at the foot of Schlossberg in the heart of the old city centre, from €420 for a double.
Websites graztourismus.at, mercure.com, schlossberg-hotel.at.

Graz Rathaus during the christmas market.
Graz Rathaus during the christmas market.

Berlin

Visitors to Berlin are spoiled for choice when it comes to Christmas markets – there’s even one for dogs.

For humans, the most magical is at Gendarmenmarkt Square, specialising in handmade goods. Visitors to the craft makers’ tent can see their Christmas gifts and baubles – belts, combs, Christmas jumpers – being made.

There are jugglers, acrobats and fire-eaters too plus choirs, classical musicians and Gospel ensembles. And if the 250-plus stalls aren’t exhausting enough, hit the toboggan run at Potsdamer Platz.

Berlin even has a Christmas market for people who don’t care for traditional Christmas markets. The Holy Shit Christmas Market – for one weekend only (December 16th and 17th) – sees more than 300 artists, designers and creative folks selling alternative gift items to a backdrop of DJ electronica.

When November 27th to December 31st.
What to buy Roasted chestnuts. Even if you hate them they keep your hands warm.
What to do Drop your bags and relax at the Liquidrom, a warm salt water pool with underwater colour, lights and music.
How to get there Round trips from Ryanair from around €60 in December. Stay at the Hilton overlooking Gendarmenmarkt from €173 a night for a double in December via booking.com. Click and Go has a three night stay, departing December 20th, room only from €225, staying at the Ivbergs Hotel, Charlottenburg.
Websites clickandgo.com, booking.com.

Berlin Christmas market at Alexanderplatz.
Berlin Christmas market at Alexanderplatz.

Budapest

Budapest’s big market is on Vorosmarty Square, right in front of Gerbaud, the famous coffee house. Both serious and festive, craft quality standards here are overseen by the Association of Hungarian Folk Artists – so no tat.

In fact, the market is used as a vehicle to introduce visitors to Hungarian customs, folk music and dance, as well as arts and crafts. And it’s all perfumed with the scent of mulled wine, fresh ‘langos’ bread and good old rooster testicle stew.

When to go November 10th to December 31st.
What to buy When you finish your mulled wine keep the specially designed mug it was served in. There’s a new design commissioned each year.
What to do Soothe your shopping muscles in the Szechenyi Spa Baths in the City Park.
How to get there Ryanair has round trip flights in December for around €80. Stay at the Corinthia Hotel, which has an original 19th century spa, from around €170 a night for a double on Trivago. Alternatively, Click and Go has a three -night Christmas market package, staying in Mediteran Hotel, from €488, including flights, departing Sunday, December 17th.
Websites budapestinfo.hu, clickandgo.com, trivago.ie.

Budapest’s big market is on Vorosmarty Square, right in front of Gerbaud, the famous coffee house.
Budapest’s big market is on Vorosmarty Square, right in front of Gerbaud, the famous coffee house.

Prague

What could be more traditional than being on Wenceslas Square on the feast of Stephen, or at least in the weeks preceding it? It’s just one of the city’s Christmas markets, alongside the main one at Old Town Square and smaller ones at Havelske Trziste and Namesti Republiky. All are within easy walking distance of one another.

Throughout advent market goers are entertained by choirs and carol singers, including school children in traditional costume. Check local churches for classical concerts too.

For eats, don’t miss the Prague ham. Just follow your nose, every market offers it and it’s best washed down with local hot mead.

When to go December 2nd to January 6th.
What to buy Bohemian Crystal tree ornaments and amber jewellery, Christmas gingerbreads and festive cookies.
What to do Arrive for December 5th for Mikulus, to see drifts of St Nicholases, angels and devils asking kids to sing songs or recite poems.
How to get there A three-night Prague break including B&B hotel accommodation, flights and a city tour costs from €399 from Travel Department. Or self package with flights from Ryanair at around €80 return and stay in the plush Four Seasons right in the old town, from €379 a night for a double.
Websites czechtourism.com, traveldepartment.ie.

Copenhagen

For a kitsch-free Christmas you can’t beat Copenhagen. They arrest you for tinsel here and throw away the key for multicoloured lights. Being Danes of course they get away with the kind of soi disant tasteful decorations that look simply po-faced elsewhere.

Yet despite their Scandi cool, for sheer twinkly exuberance you can’t beat the madly illuminated Tivoli Gardens, a gazillion fairy lights strung around a picture book Victorian pleasure garden. Stalls heave with locally produced crafts, a sea of red and green, watched over by handmade Nisser, tiny figurines made from string who tell Santa if you’ve been naughty or nice.

There’s no nicer atmosphere in which to glug your glogg, especially after taking a turn around the nearby ice rink or strolling down Stroget, the endless shopping street. Smaller markets take place at Nyhavn harbour and at Christinia, the famously autonomous hippy town too.

When November 18th to December 31st.
What to buy This year’s Royal Copenhagen Christmas plate, a traditional festive memento.
What to do Lace up at the ice rink at Frederiksberg Runddel, skates can be rented and entry is free.
How to get there Cassidy Travel has two-night stays, including flights departing Saturday, December 9th, from €160 per person staying in a choice of hotels. Or book your own flights and stay over in five star luxury with rooms starting at €436 for a double. Ryanair has return flights from €60 in December, SAS from around €96.
Websites tivoligardens.com/en, cassidytravel.ie.

The Christmas market at Hojbroplads in Copenhagen. Photograph: Francis Joseph Dean/Deanpictures
The Christmas market at Hojbroplads in Copenhagen. Photograph: Francis Joseph Dean/Deanpictures

London

For us Irish, about the only silver lining to Brexit is the fact that our holiday euro will go that bit further on a visit to London this festive season. It’d be worth going even if it didn’t, given the enormous Christmas market and festive fairground at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.

As well as ice skating there is a family Christmas circus by day and a Cirque Beserk for grown-ups by night, plus its German and Angels markets offering a total of 350 chalets to peruse.

Keep some time for the Nordic-themed Southbank Centre Winter Festival, a market with Nordic entertainment such as a rooftop sauna, a clown show and a Super Trooper Abba exhibition.

When November 17th to January 1st.
What to buy I Will Always Love EU Christmas jumpers.
What to do Catch a show on the West End. Rhys Ifans is Scrooge at the Old Vic.
How to get there Stay Airbnb a five-minute walk from Hyde Park offered by a very nice sounding man who, after 25 years in the corporate world, is retraining as a nurse. Help him foot the bill by staying two nights in mid-December from €221. Only a Grinch could say no. Or to hell with his studies and stay at Claridge’s, the iconic Mayfair hotel instead, with doubles from £570 a night.
Websites visitlondon.com, airbnb.ie.

The Winter Wonderland attraction at Hyde Park in London. Photograph: Yunus Kaymaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The Winter Wonderland attraction at Hyde Park in London. Photograph: Yunus Kaymaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Amsterdam

Amsterdam isn’t famous for any one, big Christmas market but is increasingly worth putting on your Christmas wish list for the Festival of Light which lights up Advent.

And in amidst Christmassy icons such as the 20-metre tree on Dam Square and Christmas markets and ice rinks at Museumplein and Leidseplein, there is a night market for night owls, called Pure, which features artisanal foods, and the city’s great flower market, where the locals get their Christmas trees. There are quirky events too such as the pop up Sissy Boy Christmas market, offering an eclectic mix of stalls and unusual gift items – taxidermy, anyone?

But the main event is catching sight of all the sculptures, projections and art installations that go into the Festival of Light in December. It’s like Pokemon Go for grown-ups.

When Market dates vary but Amsterdam Light Festival takes place November 30th to January 21st.
What to buy Oliebollen – a delicious doughnut-cum-dumpling.
What to do Catch the magical paintings of Matthijs Maris, on show at the Rijkmuseum, until January 7th.
How to get there Flights from Dublin to Amsterdam are available from €44 on the Ryanair website at time of writing. Stay three nights in the W Hotel for €865, checking in on Thursday 14th. Or mind your money with Cassidy Travel which has two-night Christmas market breaks in December starting from € 100 per person based on two sharing, including flights and staying at the Tulip Inn at Riverside, on the outskirts of the city.
Websites iamsterdam.com, trivago.ie, cassidytravel.ie.

People shop at a Christmas market in the centre of Amsterdam. Photograph: Robin Utrectht/AFP/Getty
People shop at a Christmas market in the centre of Amsterdam. Photograph: Robin Utrectht/AFP/Getty

Cracow

The Christmas market in Cracow takes place in the mammoth central square, Rynek Glowny, in the middle of its atmospheric Old Town.

As well as all the traditional festive edibles, from heart-shaped gingerbreads to spiced nuts and colourful confectionary, the big draw is the painstakingly crafted nativity cribs featuring the city’s beautiful baroque and gothic buildings. Called ‘Szopki’, these are models made by people of all ages, from school children to pensioners, and displayed in Market Square in early December. A hotly contested competition, winners get to take pride of place in the local museum.

When November 24th to December 26th.
What to buy Calik Christmas tree baubles. They designed a whole set for Ivana Trump but don’t let that stop you, they’re gorgeous.
What to do No visit is complete without a trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Could 40 million visitors be wrong?
How to get there Ryanair flies from around €80 in December return. Stay at the five star Grand Hotel Krakow from around €120 a night via Trivago. Or opt for a package. A four-night Cracow Christmas markets package from Travel Department, including a walking tour of the city and a trip to the salt mines, costs €429.
Websites traveldepartment.ie, trivago.ie.

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