There are some places that refuse to hold back when it comes to getting into the holiday spirit. You can find buildings draped in thousands of sparkling lights or artisan nativity scenes that leave no detail overlooked, in Europe. Christmas markets have become so ingrained in the culture of many European countries that they have become travel destinations in and of themselves. If you’re planning an adventure this holiday season, you might want to consider seeing Europe through the lens of a Christmas market hop.
Christmas markets are a nod to old traditions. If you like to base your travels on experiencing culture and history, then visiting Christkindesmäkir in Strasbourg, France should be at the top of your list. Not only is it the oldest Christmas market in France, but it’s located in the Alsace region, where France’s charm and holiday decor make this town look like something out of a Disney film. If the Christmas market weren’t enough of a reason to visit, Strasbourg and the surrounding region are known for producing some of the best Rieslings and Gewürztraminers in the world, so be sure to include a wine tasting in your holiday plans.
Every November, the city of Brussels turns into a winter wonderland that includes a market with more than 200 chalets, a fairground complete with a ferris wheel and merry-go-round, and a sound and light show at the Grand Palace. What makes this year’s festivities all the more special: the Mannekin-Pis, Brussel’s most iconic cherubic sculpture, is celebrating its 400th anniversary.
Germany is known for playing host to some of the top Christmas markets in the world and the market put on every year in Cologne is no exception. Sip on Glühwein and snack on roasted chestnuts while strolling past more than 100 stage performances and countless pavilions. While visiting the city, you have the choice of sampling seven separate Christmas markets, making the Cologne holiday experience one that you will never forget.
The Tivoli Gardens first opened in 1843 to the amazement of the world. Today, this larger-than-life theme park is home to Copenhagen’s most vibrant Christmas market, attracting tourists from all over the world. Visit elves inside the Honeycake Castle and be sure to take a photo in front of the 32-foot Christmas tree decorated in 3,000 Swarovski crystals. If you’re around from December 25 to December 27, you’re in for a special treat when the sky lights up each night during the Christmas Fireworks Festival.
The architecture in Vienna make it stand out as one of the most classically beautiful cities in Europe. Add a bit of snow and the holiday spirit, and you have yourself one of the most sought-after winter vacation destinations in the world. The Christmas market here, known as “Vienna Christmas Dream,” maintains its old world charm by offering up reindeer rides and daily performances accompanied by a traditional brass band. Over 154 shopping stalls and an ice skating rink are also open and sure to keep you in the holiday spirit.
Something magical happens when an amusement park is converted into a winter playground. It’s truly breathtaking to see twinkling lights juxtaposed with behemoth, carnival-like structures. Take Liseberg, Sweden’s most popular amusement-park-turned-Christmas-market. While there is a fee to enter, one can’t help but get into the holiday spirit upon seeing Santa in his workshop or watching the available ice show. Kick up some freshly fallen snow as you stroll through the park sipping on mulled wine and nibbling on smoked reindeer. While there are free activities for the kids, this amusement park is classy enough for a romantic night out, as well.
Bath, United Kingdom
The Georgian architecture of Bath is a sight to behold in and of itself. Add sparkling fairy lights and carolers and you have yourself one of the most memorable Christmas market experiences you could ask for. If you happen to be searching for a unique gift for that special someone, each of the chalets has been carefully curated to host local artisans selling their very best, one-of-a-kind wares. Bath is also home to the only natural thermal hot spring in Britain, so after you’ve done your shopping, be sure to get warm and cozy at one of the local spas.
They say to always save the best for last, but when it comes to Christmas markets it’s pretty hard to rank one winter wonderland over another. However, if there were an objective top prize it would surely go to Zagreb Advent, touted the title of “Best Christmas Market” by Big 7 Travel for the past three years running. What makes this market so unique is that it’s more than just a few shops erected in the city center. It’s actually a festival that spreads across the entire city with traditional stalls in the main square, a live nativity at the Zagreb Cathedral, and a huge Christmas tree and water fountain light display in Ban Josip Jelačić Square.
Where in the world are you celebrating the holidays this year?
Header photo by Alisa Anton.