When it comes to charm and whimsy, it’s hard to top a great Christmas market for a lovely way to spend some time during the holiday season. But which ones are worth the trip? Our correspondent Jillian Tangen has curated a list of the best luxurious European-style Christmas markets this year.
Just like that, Thanksgiving has come and gone, making it officially the Christmas holiday season.
And if you’re one of those people who love to revel in the holiday as we do, what better way is there to get in the spirit than at one of the fairy tale-like European Christmas markets taking place this month?
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the joys of the European-style christmas markets
The classic European Christmas market feature many of the elements of a holiday dream. You’ll find sparkling white lights, quaint cobblestone streets, traditional holiday decorations and towering Christmas trees.
Plus nativity scenes, handcrafts, fresh-baked pastries sold only at Christmastime, mulled wine, ice skating, outdoor concerts and performances in churches and palaces. And if you’re lucky, you’ll also be greeted with sweetly falling snow to top it all off. Is there anything more Christmasy than that?!
each one is different and special
From gløgg in Scandinavia to foie gras in France, each country has a slightly different set of traditions, and handcrafted goods to shop and place under the tree. Which one is for you?
We’ve rounded up our picks of the 12 best luxurious European Christmas markets to explore this year. So whether you are looking to maximize the spirit of the season or finish off that shopping list with something extra special, here’s where to head this month.
the best luxurious european christmas markets this year
1. basler weihnachtsmarkt, basel, switzerland – through Dec 23
The Basler Weihnachtsmarkt is considered one of the best and biggest Christmas advent markets in Switzerland, drawing visitors from around the world. The market features more than 160 vendors selling handmade toys and handcrafted jewelry from their wooden stands. Plus culinary delights like waffles, glühwein, genuine Basel Läckerli (a kind of gingerbread), delicious cheese (hello, creamy raclette) and grilled sausages.
On top of that, you will find a magnificent Christmas tree with ornaments by the well-known decorator Johann Wanner. And enough twinkle lights fill a million social media feeds. For accommodations, try the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois located only about one mile away.
2. tivoli gardens, copenhagen, denmark – through Jan 5
Copenhagen’s Tivoli, with its fairground rides and warren of shops and stalls, is a year-round destination in its own right. But during the holiday season, the amusement park really comes into its own. The Ferris wheel spins while Christmas lights twinkle above the skating rink. Add to this the aromas of caramelized almonds and the fragrant scent of cinnamon-infused gløgg (mulled wine), and you’ll find yourself in the midst of Christmas market joy.
In addition to stands selling Christmas decorations and snacks, you will find not just one, but three different light shows as well as multiple fireworks displays. On December 13 the park will celebrate the annual Lucia procession, with 100 girls passing through the gardens carrying candles and singing to mark St. Lucia’s Day. For more ideas on where to stay and what to do while visiting Copenhagen, check out our insider itinerary on the City of Spires.
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3. fira de santa llúcia, barcelona, spain – through Dec 23
What started as a one-day celebration of the feast day of Santa Llúcia on December 13 in 1786 has developed into one of Spain’s foremost Christmas fairs. Now it lasts three weeks. Located right in front of Barcelona Cathedral, Fira de Santa Llúcia features 300 stalls selling everything from Christmas decorations, trees and nativity figurines to musical instruments, handmade puppets and jewelry.
One of the most notable activities during the season is the caga tio, an enormous piñata-style Christmas log, which spills candy and gifts when beaten with a stick. It’s a favorite of the local children and adults alike. After collecting your loot, unwind at the Hotel Arts where you can take in sweeping views over the Mediterranean.
4. christkindesmäkir, strasbourg, france – through Dec 30
Strasbourg, in the Alsace region of France, is the birthplace of French Christmas markets. Its Christkindesmäkir dates back to 1570, making it the oldest one in France. With charming wooden chalets, nightly concerts, an outdoor ice skating rink, if you visit only one Christmas market in Europe this year, make it this one.
The Place Kléber is the site of an enormous Christmas tree. The main market is next to the red sandstone Gothic Cathedral (the first stone for this structure was laid in 1015). Every year, a different European country is a featured guest at the market. You’ll find 300 traditional market stalls crowding the city’s central squares filled with wooden toys and blown-glass candleholders.
After finding the perfect souvenir, dig into some Alsatian bredele (traditional small cookies) or foie gras in true French fashion before retreating to the nearby Hôtel Les Haras. We also like the Hotel Regent Petite France, the Cour du Corbeau, or the Sofitel Strasbourg Grande Ile. Or try the Hotel Le Colombier, a boutique hotel in nearby Colmar.
While you’re in the region, you can also visit museums, a 14th-century wine cellar, the historic leather-tanning district, and sample the wonderful wine and food on offer. The city is headquarters for both the European Council and the European Parliament.
By the way, you can easily make your visit to this Christmas market a day trip: you’re only 45 minutes away from Paris by TGV train (there is frequent service daily, to and from the Gare de l’est station in Paris).
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5. skansen julmarknad, stockholm, sweden – through Dec 20
The Christmas markets in Stockholm offer the opportunity to buy Swedish handcrafts like glass, pottery and jewelry while sampling glogg (mulled wine), smoked sausages, saffronsbullar (saffron buns), reindeer and elk meat (don’t tell the kids!) and gingerbread.
The oldest and largest is the Old Town market in Stortorget Square (on Gamla Stan), in the medieval center of the city just south of the Royal Palace.
You will find bustling with stalls selling Swedish handicrafts, traditional sausages, spices, smoked turkey and candles, in addition to a small zoo with Nordic animals like reindeer. There are also regular craft demonstrations as well as dancing games around the Christmas tree.
Take a step into one of the property’s farmstead houses and you’ll be transported to Christmas Past. In each home, the interior and Christmas tree are adorned with period-appropriate holiday decor. And tables are done up with typical Swedish feasts.
Afterward, attend one of the concerts celebrating the feast day of Lucia, held every December 13th. Lucia comes to light the darkness, and the day is marked with concerts by singers wearing head-dresses lighted with candles. You can also go ice skating in Kungstradgarden. And see the Living Christmas Calendar, a multi-story home with a new door or window opening every day.
After all of the tradition, when it comes to accommodations you might prefer something a little more modern. If so, we love The Strand Hotel.
6. bath christmas market, bath, united kingdom – through Dec 15
Nearly every single item in the 200+ snug wooden stalls of the Bath Christmas Market is handmade by the stall’s owners. On top of that, more than 80% of the owners come from the Bath region. Making it not only a beautiful place to shop, but also one where you can be certain you are supporting the local economy.
Pick up some felt animals and tableware, along with small-batch gin and local fudge or snack on a hog roast or caramelized nuts as you wander throughout the twinkling lights. You’ll need the snacks help to keep your energy up for all that shopping, after all.
Afterward, duck into St Michael’s Church. The crypt has been transformed into a fairy tale grotto for storytelling sessions. Finally, warm up over a glass of mulled cider in the Lodge on Stall Street, a cozy cabin with plenty of Christmas cheer, hot chocolate and mulled wine. Make the most of your weekend in the countryside with a stay at one of the area’s many spa hotels like The Gainsborough Bath Spa.
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7. vienna christmas dream market, vienna, austria – through Dec 26
Vienna’s history of Christmas markets is long-standing. In 1298, Albrecht 1 granted the Viennese the privilege of holding a December Market. Today, the city on the banks of the Danube has over 20 Christmas markets.
Our top pick is the Viennese Christmas Dream Market. It’s complete with romantic ice-skating, a Ferris wheel and a carousel, all in front of Vienna’s atmospheric City Hall. You’ll find more than 150 market stalls.
Inside City Hall, there is an area dedicated to children, where they can learn how to make Christmas cookies and candles. And where you can also listen to international choirs singing carols with free entrance on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Other fun things to do and see include reindeer rides, a classic nativity scene and a chance to try your hand (and balance!) at curling on the ice rink.
Other holiday pleasures in Vienna include the Lipizzaner Stallions, the Cathedral of St. Stephen’s, and wonderful cafes and bars (the coffee and the pastries alone are worth the trip). December is opera, ballet, and classical music season, so the Vienna Philharmonic and many other performances are available in the places where Mozart and Beethoven once played.
And what better to top off your charming experience than with a stay at the luxurious Grand Hotel Wien? There are several other lovely hotels,too, including two “grand dames:” the Hotel Bristol next to the State Opera, and the 5-star Hotel Imperial. However, the best choice if you want true luxury is the relatively new Golden Quarter Park Hyatt hotel, which is perfectly located for exploring Vienna on foot.
8. Cathedral Square Christmas Market, Salzburg Austria – through Dec 26
Salzburg is one of our all-time favorite European cities, and December is a wonderful time to visit. The birthplace of Mozart always has outstanding concerts – many in historic venues – and the city’s Christmas Market in Cathedral Square, first held in 1491, features chocolate pralines in the composer’s honor.
The writer of the carol Silent Night is also a son of Salzburg, so Christmas and music have very deep roots here.
In addition to visiting the market stalls to eat baked apples and cotton candy, you can take sleigh rides pulled by reindeer and listen to the Turmblasen brass concerts held every Saturday evening.
This market also features more whimsy and holiday mischief than most. The “Christkind” and accompanying angels (children dressed in white and gold robes with feathered wings) walk quietly through the stalls on Saturday afternoons. But the evil Krampusses are also lurking about, with birch branches, bells, and beastly masks. If you’re being naughty, expect to be reprimanded by one of them.
While you’re in town, you have to take a Sound of Music tour – it’s so much more fun than it sounds, trust us. The hotel Goldener Hirsch or the Hotel Bristolare lovely places to make your home base if you want to stay in town. East of town, the Hotel Schloss Fuschl is a great choice.
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9. gendarmenmarkt, berlin, germany – through Dec 31
While you could visit a different Berlin market for all 12 days of Christmas, if there’s only time for one, our pick is Gendarmenmarkt. No less than 1,000 twinkly lights illuminate this market, where visitors can shop traditional blown glass and wood carvings as well as more unique gifts like origami.
After perusing the stalls, enjoy some delicious traditional sausages and warming cups of mulled wine. Do make sure though to stick around for the nightly concerts, ranging from choral to jazz before settling in at Hotel Adlon Kempinski, which has hosted many luminaries, among them Her Majesty the Queen of England.
10. Munich Christkindlmarkt in Marienplatz
Munich has 20 different Christmas markets. Christkindlmarkt in Marienplatz is the oldest and largest. Enjoy the best Bavarian holiday traditions in style: Gluhwein (mulled wine), grilled sausages, gingerbread, and stollen.
You can stay at the historic Bayerischer Hof hotel, opened in 1841 – it has a great spa where you can work off all of those beers you consume.
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11. Prague old town square Christmas market – through January 6
Known as the Golden City of One Hundred Spires, Prague’s connection to Christmas is undeniable. Good King Wenceslaus, he of the famous carol, is the patron saint of the Czech Republic.
Prague has two main Christmas markets: Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, which are only a 5-minute walk apart. Old Town Square has the largest Christmas tree, and schoolchildren from all over the country travel there to sing carols in traditional dress.
Trdelnik is the hot sugar-coated pastry of choice, and you’ll also find hams roasting on a spit, klobasa (barbequed sausages), warm honey wine and a nice variety of Czech beers. Staying in the city center is the best way to experience the markets: either the Four Seasons Prague or the Dancing House Hotel would be great choices. While you’re in town, take in a marionette theater performance.
12. advent in zagreb, croatia – through January 7
For fun the whole family can enjoy, you can’t go wrong at Advent in Zagreb, which was voted the best Christmas market in Europe in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Based in the streets surrounding Jelacic Square, the numerous attractions on offer include market stalls filled with shopping, an ice rink, live ice sculpture carvings, a live nativity scene, pop-up bars, street food stands and outdoor music stages. There’s even an area dedicated to fuliranje (fooling around) where revelers can dance in the street and eat and drink to their heart’s content.
And for the littlest kids there is the Jolly Christmas Tram, where they can cruise through the city center accompanied by Santa and his elves. After all the good cheer you can recoup before heading out for more the following day at the nearby Esplanade Zagreb Hotel.
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13. jul i vinterland, oslo, norway (through Dec 30)
Located in Oslo’s city center, Jul i Vinterland has all the elements you’d expect from a classic European Christmas market: decorated stalls filled with arts and crafts, a tree-lined ice skating rink and lots and lots of snow. What really makes this market special, aside from the very instagrammable Stjernehimmelen (archway of lights), is the food.
Be prepared to fill your belly with everything from warm gløgg and porridge to Kokosboller (coconut marshmallow treat) and candied apples to currywurst and smoked salmon from the Lofoten Islands, just to name a few. So be sure to go hungry – we know we will when we head there later this month. After all that eating, you will probably want to be someplace comfortable to relax. Since my in-law’s house will be full, try the new Amerikalinjen or one of our suggestions from the Dandelion Chandelier Oslo Guide.
14. Vörösmarty Square, Budapest – through January 1
Budapest’s Christmas markets focus on the traditional. In Vörösmarty Square, you’ll find Hungarian folk art (including garden gnomes) for sale in the stalls. The air is perfumed with honey cookies, mulled wine, chocolate, and fresh-baked cinnamon pastries. Save room for the toki pompos (bacon and cheese pizzas).
Once you’ve had your fill of the markets, there’s a wonderful city waiting for you. The Pest side of the city will remind you of Paris; cross the bridge to see the Buda Castle. See the Nutcracker performed by the National Ballet at the State Opera House, warm up in one of the thermal bathing houses, and end the day hanging out at your hotel.
The boutique Aria Hotel, near St. Stephen’s Basilica, features a heated roof terrace bar with gorgeous views. The Four Seasons Gresham Palace is also terrific.
15. the winter village at bryant park, new york
We have just one more suggestion for you, but it’s not in Europe. It’s just European-inspired. The open-air Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park is one of the most well-known Christmas markets in New York. And if you can’t make it to Europe this month, it’s definitely the next best thing.
The Winter Village features outdoor ice skating, 125 charming holiday shops filled with great gifts, hot chocolate and great food options, all in the center of Manhattan. Not to mention that The Bryant Park Grill is still one of the most romantic restaurants in midtown. Especially when it’s snowing.
the best European Christmas markets this year
And there you have it! Our top picks for the best luxurious European Christmas markets this year. Will we see you at Jul i Vinterland? Happy holidays, and enjoy!
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For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter here. And see luxury in a new light.
Jillian Tangen is the Head of Research at Dandelion Chandelier and a former Senior Research Analyst at McKinsey & Co and Analyst at Shearman & Sterling. She is an avid fan of Nordic design, having owned an independent lifestyle store and sales agency focused on emerging Scandinavian design. Jillian lives in New York and is married with three young children. She loves cross-country skiing, the New York Rangers, reading, travel and discovering new brands.
Join our community
For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter. And see luxury in a new light.