‘Tis the season for all things festive; fairy lights, mulled wine, mistletoe, candy canes and most importantly, the notorious Christmas markets.
When the Christmas season approaches, cities all across the globe are filled with magical scenes that create a festive atmosphere like no other. People travel far and wide to marvel at the quintessential European inspired markets, engulfing themselves in the aroma of fresh baked goods, listening to the sound of choirs singing carols and indulging in traditional mugs of mulled wine.
Dresden's Christmas market in Germany, known as the Striezelmarkt, is widely regarded as one of the first holiday marketplaces. Having originated in 1434 it now welcomes over 2.5 million visitors every year. If you are looking to visit some of the best European inspired Christmas markets this holiday season that have taken inspiration from the pioneering Dresden markets – we’ve got you covered. We have created a list of the top 25 European and American Christmas market destinations to visit in 2023.
Both are tucked into the ancient Old Town, where professionals and artisans vend their creations from traditional wooden cabins. For the food lovers, Basel is the go to city; traditional waffles, authentic Basel Läckerli (similar to gingerbread), mouth-watering Swiss raclettes, and famous grilled sausages are among the culinary delights that can be washed down with warming mugs of mulled wine.
Belfast has plenty for your family and friends to see, including street parades, horse and carriage trips, choirs and Christmas films showing on the big screen at the waterfront. One of our favourite things were the endless steins of flavoured beer. Even for the non-beer drinkers we recommend trying the strawberry one, you'll regret it if you don’t.
Not only do their chocolates taste amazing, but they look amazing too. Walk around the Grand-Place, Bourse and Place Sainte-Catherine to feast your eyes on the animated displays of beautifully crafted toys and chocolates decorated with garlands and lights for the festive season.
Of course, Budapest is known for its Baths, so if you are looking for some bubbles instead of baubles stop by the Szechenyi Baths. Here, there are 15 indoor baths and 3 grand outdoor pools where you can enjoy hot spring pools and massages in a stunning surrounded by a historic and elaborately furnished palace.
Another market worth a visit is the Heavenue market. Being that Cologne is the gay capital of Germany this charming market distinguishes itself from the other Christmas markets in Cologne with its flashing LED lights, flamboyant decorations and extravagant performances. We suggest visiting in the evening as the market comes alive with music and dancers to create a fun filled atmosphere.
Copenhagen also prides themselves on the many grand Christmas trees dotted around the garden (more than 70,000)! This year, for the first time ever, you can see a sparkling Christmas tree on the Tivoli Lake in addition to the famous Tivoli Concert Hall Christmas tree.
One of our favourite festive features in Edinburgh is their 24 Doors of Advent, where every day during the advent lead up to Christmas, one of the hidden gems of the city (that are usually off limits) opens to the public. This is the perfect time to see a side to Edinburgh that not many have the chance to.
The Edinburgh Christmas market is both traditional and romantic, with an ice-skating rink, a large carousel and vendors selling various seasonal trinkets. Scotland is also known for its Hogmanay celebrations, so why not extend your visit a wee bit to reign in the year in true Scottish style. With promises to be a larger and better party than most New Year celebrations, it’s no wonder December is one of the busiest months of the year here.
Local delicacies, including the famous Polish pierogi, can be found throughout the stalls alongside other European delights. Make sure to try the grilled sausages, roasted chestnuts, and smoked cheese. If you're looking for a sweet treat, visit the market's Chocolate or Cinnamon streets. Try the gingerbread, loaded waffles or their ‘chimney cakes’ - delicious!
Alternatively, we recommend exploring Gothenburg itself. There are plenty of shopping options all within walking distance and shopping in this magnificent 17th century city is truly magical. Equally, there are various castles and palaces to visit to really enhance the Nordic Christmas vibe. If you have the opportunity, we recommend going to Gunnebo House and Gardens, Naas Slott, and Tjolohoms Slott, all of which are beautiful during the holiday season.
When visiting Innsbruck it is worth taking a stroll along Kiebachgasse, which runs parallel to Erzherzog-Friedrich-Straße. This street is converted into a fairy tale alley in December, with countless characters from well-known fairy tales adorning the shops and their bay windows.
Aside from the gorgeous hand-crafted products and festive atmosphere, perhaps one of the major draws here is the breath-taking view of Innsbruck. To see the Christmas Markets from a different angle, take the Hungerburg Funiclar car to see the markets from above, with the dramatic mountainous landscape as a backdrop, this truly is a magical experience.
For all your Christmas shopping needs, head to the Christmas markets in Poland this year. These markets offer plenty of local handicrafts including ceramics, knitted and embroidered clothing, wood and leather goods and handmade jewellery using amber and bohemian crystals. Even the locals love to shop for their loved ones here. One of the most popular gifts from Krakow are their dainty hand-decorated glass baubles but be sure to pack them carefully on your return trip.
After your trip down the ‘arcade mile’ head to the Bavarian Village to quench your thirst with a stein of beer and grab a pretzel or some churros from the street food village on the way. Located in the heart of London, this Christmas market has everything you’d expect, plus a lot of untraditional things that you wouldn’t; from extravagant circus acts, to thrilling rollercoasters, to fireside concerts, to skyline views from the big wheel, there isn’t much else you could want.
For a one-of-a-kind Christmas experience, go to Wittelsbacher Platz; this is the event for you if you enjoy unique experiences and taking a trip through history, as everything is Viking or mediaeval themed. The sellers dress in mediaeval attire and offer items such as lambskins, gold jewellery, and handmade drinking horns. Food is grilled over an open fire, and there are jugglers and knights in sparkling armour roaming around. If you visit, we recommend trying feuerzangenbowle which is their flaming drink.
Its safe to say the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, has become a holiday staple in New York. This festive favourite is perhaps best known for its 17,000 square foot rink as it offers free admission to ice skaters with their own skates (although rental skates are also available). The ice rink is open daily, so after you’ve enjoyed the Christmas music and sparkling lights whilst you skate across the ice you can relax in the ‘igloos’ and try the holiday themed cocktails and nibbles available.
If you were ever planning to indulge yourself in the magic of Disneyland Paris, Christmas is the best time to visit – and as they are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, the festive spirit will be stronger than ever. Meet the characters, enjoy the rides, or experience one of their many shows and performances. Not only do they have fireworks, dancing fountains and Christmas songs but this year they have added a touch of innovation to guarantee the shows will be even more dazzling then ever in honour of its 30th anniversary; so, keep your eyes peeled for the Disney D-Light drone display, which was designed for the anniversary celebration, lighting up the Disneyland Paris’ sky every night.
If you want to avoid the tourist-oriented areas and experience a more local version of the Christmas markets, then head to the Náměstí Míru Christmas Market (via tram, as it is up steep hill). Here they sell more traditional food and drinks - we loved tasting the local beverage, Medovina, which means "honey wine" and is almost like a Czech mead. They also offer unique treasures here that make for great gifts and are better than the "gift shop souvenirs" gifts seen in the Christmas markets in Old Town Square or Wenceslas Square.
Don’t miss out on experiencing Advent at Salzburg at the Honensalzburg Fortress; take the funicular 500m above town to the courtyard and here you explore the small museums, partake in a tour of the fortress and most importantly view the Christmas markets from above, so be sure to have your camera ready.
When it comes to Stockholm's Christmas market scene, there's a little something for everyone, from quaint market stalls in the historic Gamla Stan, to the markets at the open-air museum, located in Stockholm's Royal Djurgrden, to magnificent Christmas fairs at the country's royal stables. In addition to the markets, there are plenty of activities and celebrations to see. The week leading up to Saint Lucias Day is not to missed. This is perhaps one of the most unusual Swedish traditions, but we recommend attending the annual candlelit St Lucia Procession on the 13th of December.
This Christmas market is family friendly and hosts a variety of activities to keep you entertained including winter carnival games, kid crafts and puppet shows. At Peppermint Park you can also visit the elves workshop for DIY Christmas gifts, watch a variety of entertainment on the Christmas Castle Stage, take a trip on the Christkindl Express, enjoy the confectionary at the S’more and More sweet shop and even play games with Santas Reindeer.
The market is brought to life with a dazzling ice rink, a glittering Ferris wheel, and an antique, rustic carousel. If all the festive activities have worked up an appetite, fear not, there are plenty of sweet treats available. The stalls are filled with the perfume of roasted chestnuts, the tart sweetness of sugar apples, and the festive scent of Christmas punch, but be sure to save space to try some Weihnachtskekse, their traditional Christmas cookie.
If you have already finished your Christmas shopping the Downtown Holiday Market is still the perfect excursion. The markets are free to browse and there is plenty of live music to enjoy, so grab some candied nuts explore with your friends or family.
We recommend staying warm with a cup of hot chocolate or mulled wine and heading to the churches of Zagreb to view the nativity scenes and listen to the sweet sounds of the local church choirs. Zagreb is brilliant for its festive recitals so be prepared to enjoy performances by local soloists, groups and orchestras who sample beautiful renditions of everyone's favourite Christmas classics. The vibrant light displays and the sounds of youngsters laughing paint the perfect Christmas scene.
Sechseläutenplatz in Bellevue is home to the Zurich Christmas Village (Wienachtsdorf). In addition to the twinkling lights, unique Christmas trees, grand ice-skating rink and festive activities for all ages, you’ll also find hundreds of wooden stalls selling traditionally made delicious foods, drinks and handmade goods to enjoy with your family and friends.
The market features numerous artisanal stalls offering handmade gifts and local delicacies. You can warm up with a cup of glögi (Finnish mulled wine) while enjoying traditional Finnish Christmas foods like karjalanpiirakka (Karelian pasties) and savoury salmon soup. Additionally, Senate Square is beautifully illuminated during the evenings, creating a magical atmosphere for visitors.
The market offers a wide variety of Latvian crafts, from intricate knitted items to wooden ornaments and amber jewellery. As you stroll through the market, you'll be enticed by the aroma of roasted almonds, gingerbread cookies, and hearty sausages. Don't forget to try some Latvian mulled wine and traditional grey peas with speck.
One of the highlights of the Riga Christmas Market is its beautiful Christmas tree, often dubbed the "Riga Christmas Tree." Each year, it's creatively decorated and lit in a spectacular ceremony attended by thousands. The tree's lighting marks the official start of the holiday season in Riga.