Europe's top Christmas markets 2016: Five best alternatives

Jingle bells, twinkling fairy lights, and the spicy smell of mulled wine: with Christmas on the way, it's time to start thinking about a festive getaway. The Christkindlmarkt (aka Christmas market) may have its roots in Germany but it has been well and truly embraced by countries around the world keen to adopt their charm and popularity.

Europe's Top Christmas Markets © A Lein -

Christmas markets can be found everywhere from London to St. Petersburg and back, all with their own distinct personalities. To make the most of this holiday season, we're sharing some of the best alternative destinations where you can check out Europe's top Christmas markets for winter 2016:

1. Tallinn, Estonia

When the snow falls on the wooden market stalls, the tall pine tree is trimmed and the fairy lights are strung, Rotermann Square looks like the front of a Christmas card. Tallinn knows how to celebrate the holidays; in fact, it's even argued that the city was home to the first Christmas tree in the 15th century.

Tallinn Christmas Market © Ari Helminen - Flickr Creative Commons

Layer up before browsing the stalls and boutiques for Estonian candles, hats and holiday wreaths, and huddle with revellers to enjoy a traditional Estonian Christmas: watch folk dancers on stage and eat blood sausage with lingonberry compote, and a side of spiced gingerbread for dessert.

2. Lille, France

This historical town in the north of France sparkles with joie de vivre at Christmas time, and its market is renowned for the thousands of fairy lights that decorate the town. You'll find great Christmas gifts to take home among the artisans in Place Rihour, and plenty of treats to enjoy. The smell of waffles permeates the air, and you'll see merrymakers enjoying their fresh gaufres fourées topped with chocolate sauce or brown sugar.

Christmas Market in Lille © Velvet - Wikimedia Commons

Take a ride on the Ferris wheel after dark to really enjoy the city's Christmas lights. Lille's Christmas market opens earlier than any other in France, so you can indulge in the Christmas spirit that little while longer.

3. Budapest, Hungary

There's something romantic about winter in Budapest, as if the neoclassical and baroque architecture looks more natural in the cold and snow. You'll find this market on the Pest side of the city in Vörösmarty Square, within view of Gerbeaud House's giant Advent calendar.

Christmas Market, Budapest - photo courtesy of

All of the crafts sold at the market are made by the Association of Hungarian Folk Artists, so you know you're getting the real deal. Pick up some matyo-embroidered pieces on your way to one of the stages to watch traditional Hungarian puppet shows, and eat chimney cake for an authentic festive experience.

4. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of a typical Christmas market destination. The Fira de Santa Llúcia market certainly has its own style, and as it's been going strong for over 200 years, it's certainly traditional.

Fira de Santa Llúcia © Jesús Corrius - Flickr Creative Commons

You won't find hot food like most other Christmas markets, but there are more than 300 stalls selling Catalan crafts, nougat, honey and their unique caganer Christmas characters. Even with less than wintry weather, you can still get into the spirit with traditional activities like ice skating in Plaça Catalunya, and the nativity scene in Plaça Sant Jaume.

5. Riga, Latvia

Riga takes Christmas seriously. In fact, Latvia even disputes credit for the first Christmas tree with its Baltic neighbour Estonia. Though the Latvian Christmas tree dates back to 1510, the Old Town Christmas Fair is a new development.

Riga Christmas Market © Foxy A -

This year, Riga celebrates its 10th anniversary in Dome Square with treats and handicrafts. Latvian knitted accessories, honey, and amber jewellery make great Christmas presents. You can also learn more about Christmas traditions in Latvia, such as log dragging and stitchcraft while singing along to local Christmas songs.

What have we missed? Think there's another cracking Christmas market destination that should feature in this list? Tell us! If you want to experience one of Europe's top Christmas markets in 2016 for yourself, why not check out the current cheap travel deals on everything from flights to city breaks.

Alyssa James

Alyssa James
Article updated on Tuesday 1st September 2015 in: Culture Europe Season

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