7 fantastically festive European Christmas markets

Jessica Baldwin

Jessica Baldwin

When it comes to finding festive cheer, you can't beat a Christmas market; inhaling wafts of roasted chestnuts to the sound of candle-lit carols as you hop between twinkling stalls in search of that special gift.

Some of Europe's best Christmas markets
Some of Europe's best Christmas markets © Irina - Adobe Stock Image

What began as a humble German affair in the Middle Ages, has become anything but, with thousands of beautiful squares across Europe transforming into winter wonderlands, packed with everything from ice rinks and sleigh rides to world-class concerts.

Whilst a classic German Christkindlmarkt may seem the obvious choice, venture off-piste and you could find yourself feasting in UNESCO-listed squares or exploring glittering Alpine markets, surrounded by snow-capped peaks.

Booking your Christmas market break: browse the latest deals on flights and holidays from the likes of British Airways*, Jet2holidays* and TUI*.

Zagreb, Croatia

To do this year's event justice, you'll need comfy shoes and an elasticated waistband. Over 20 different markets will take over the Zagreb's main squares and promenades, offering everything from ice skating and horse-drawn carriages to fireworks.

There are also a dozen augmented reality toy-themed 'time machines' to discover; a nostalgic nod to the toy factory which once resided in the city. Being Croatia, incredible food is a given, with acclaimed restaurants and celebrity chefs taking to the streets.

Warm up with some steaming sarma (stuffed sour cabbage rolls) and a stiff rakija (fruit brandy). Craving retail therapy but wary of tourist tat? Choose 'Made in Zagreb' products to ensure authenticity; paprenjaci (honey and black pepper biscuits) make great stocking fillers.

Winter in Zagreb

Tallinn, Estonia

With its labyrinth of cobbled streets, brimming with medieval façades and fairytale turrets, wandering Tallinn's UNESCO-listed Old Town feels like walking through a Disney set.

The Christmas market in Tallinn's ancient Town Hall Square
The Christmas market in Tallinn's ancient Town Hall Square © Dimbar76 - Adobe Stock Image

Follow the festive thrum to the gothic town hall, where around 60 snow-topped cabins overflow with handknitted woollies, luxurious furs and handmade decorations.

At its heart is a towering spruce, so big it takes 3km of lights to do it justice. Legend has it, it's the world's first-ever Christmas tree. While the children ride the carousel, devour a sizzling blood sausage and a hot Vana Tallinn (a local spiced rum liqueur) - keep your eyes open for Santa, the main man often swoops in as night descends.

Winter in Tallin

Bolzano, Italy

Forget Rome, the pretty pastel-painted South Tyrolean city of Bolzano is Italy's 'capital of Christmas'. Snuggled into an Alpine basin near the Austrian border, the bilingual city is an exciting melting pot of languages, traditions and tastes.

Considered the 'gateway to the Dolomites', it's Ötzi, Bolzano's 5,300-year-old iceman, which attracts tourists the rest of the year.

However, at Christmas, Bolzano's market welcomes almost a million festive shoppers. Festooned in glittering lights, Walther Square buzzes with 80 stalls, piled high with authentic crafts, Alpine delicacies and steaming cauldrons of spicy mulled wine.

Peckish? Feast on smoky speck and rich, fruit-laden zelten cake or head to one of the city's restaurants, many offer fixed-price festive menus. Jump aboard a cable car into the mountains to enjoy the spectacle from on high.

Winter in Bolzano

Bled, Slovenia

Bled may seem like a wild card but, surrounded by snowy summits and watched over by a medieval castle, the Christmas market which fringes crystal-clear Lake Bled ticks every winter wonderland box.

Peruse the string of chalets selling everything from hand-felted slippers to Slovenian delicacies, like potica (a sweet, swirly nut roll). Buying for a foodie? You can't go wrong with a pot of Slovenian honey!

Children shopping for chocolate treats
Children shopping for chocolate treats © Famveldman - Adobe Stock Image

Grab a photo in the gigantic Christmas chair in front of the market's enormous Christmas tree or test your love on the 'wheel of romance'. If you're lucky enough to be in town on Christmas Day, check out the ritualistic 'sinking of the bell' and witness an enormous, illuminated bell sink into Lake Bled's tranquil waters.

Winter in Bled

Vienna, Austria

With a plethora of all-singing, all-dancing Christmas markets springing to life against a backdrop of frozen Baroque palaces, Vienna's grandiose streets certainly celebrate advent in style. Expect epic ice skating, world-class concerts and some of Europe's most glamorous stalls. Crunch your way along the icy streets to UNESCO-listed Schönbrunn Palace.

Christmas decorations on sale at Vienna's Christmas market
Christmas decorations on sale at Vienna's Christmas market © Nataliia - Adobe Stock Image

The Habsburgs' summer residence is the most atmospheric spot for devouring sweet buchteln buns whilst taking in exceptional live music, whilst 18th-century Belvedere Palace, bursting at the seams with Klimt masterpieces, offers spectacular views across the city.

If you think Christmas is big here, you should see New Year, when a 12-hour street party descends on the city and locals waltz their way into the new year.

Winter in Vienna

Basel, Switzerland

Set astride the gushing Rhine at the point where three countries collide, the multicultural city of Basel hosts one of Switzerland's best Christmas markets. Feel free to eat your body weight in raclette and waffles, as you'll soon burn it all off hiking between the city's two markets.

Start in the city centre, in Barfüsserplatz, where garland-strewn huts display everything from nostalgic toys to jewellery.

Warm up with an apple fritter dusted with spiced sugar before wandering through the fairy-lit old town to historic Münsterplatz. Dominated by its striking twin-towered cathedral, it's home to an impeccably decorated Christmas tree and a bevvy of festive stalls.

Before you call it a night, head to the Pfalz viewing terrace for a birds-eye view of the Rhine and the glittering old town.

Winter in Basel

Krakow, Poland

Dominated by its gothic cathedral and royal castle, Krakow's cobbled streets, lined with medieval houses and fascinating museums, are often overlooked by Brits seeking a cultural city break.

But with its impressive Christmas market and a high chance of snow, it's a great value alternative, leaving you more złoty to spend on nostalgic wooden toys, hand-painted baubles and traditional embroidered tablecloths.

Traditional smoked cheese 'oscypek' at Krakow Christmas market
Traditional smoked cheese 'oscypek' at Krakow Christmas market © Curioso.Photography - Adobe Stock Image

Stroll the streets of the enchanting old town until you reach the Christmas bazaar, in the handsome 13th-century town square, where the sweet timber cabins jostle with medieval pomp and palaces.

Once the seasonal nip sets in, feast like a true Cracovian, with an enormous smoked sausage and a hot grzaniec galicyjski (mulled wine), served straight from the barrel.

Winter in Krakow

Ready to book your festive escape? Check out the latest deals on city breaks with British Airways, urban escapes with Jet2holidays and retreats with TUI. You can also get more inspiration and deals in our city breaks' section.

TUI: Book online & save on city breaks in 2023/2024

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Jessica Baldwin

Jessica Baldwin

Posted on Tuesday 1st November 2022 in: City Europe Season

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