As the festive season approaches, Europe transforms into a winter wonderland adorned with Christmas markets, each telling a unique tale of traditions, culinary delights, and enchanting lights. While the renowned markets like those in Germany, France, and Belgium steal the spotlight, there are hidden gems waiting to be explored. Join us on a journey to discover the best underrated European Christmas markets, where the spirit of the season truly comes alive.
Budapest – Advent Feast at the Basilica
For the third consecutive time, the Advent Feast at the Basilica in Budapest has been crowned the Best Christmas Market in Europe, a testament to its timeless charm. From November 24 to December 31, 2023, the square in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica transforms into a magical realm. The Advent Basilica promises a festive atmosphere with 120 craft exhibitors, gastronomic delights, and heartwarming programs. Immerse yourself in the authentic Christmas spirit, and explore Budapest’s beauty with activities like a night cruise with champagne.
Gdansk emerges as one of the Best Destinations in Europe for a Christmas City Break, offering a Christmas Fair celebrated as one of Poland’s most beautiful. The unique ambiance is set by the Three Wise Men, angels, and saints overlooking the festivities. Enjoy a ride on a Venetian carousel, seek solace at the Holy Family Shrine, and let Gdansk weave its winter magic.
In its debut on the podium, Craiova in Romania stands out as a hidden gem. With an exceptional cultural program, an ice rink, Christmas cottages, and dazzling lights, Craiova offers a family-friendly Christmas experience. The city’s meticulous planning distributes Christmas events, markets, and concerts across four locations, creating a festive tapestry with over a million LED bulbs.
Montbeliard, nestled in Franche-Comté, takes its place in the top 5 of the Best Christmas Markets in Europe and claims the title of the most beautiful Christmas market in France. Known for its illuminations, Montbeliard hosts a traditional market with 140 stalls offering authentic and high-quality items. Stroll through illuminated streets, savor gastronomic delights, and experience the charm of this enchanting Christmas market.
Essen claims the title of the Best Christmas Market in Germany, securing its spot in the top 5 of the Best Christmas Markets in Europe. From November 17 to December 23, Essen’s International Christmas Market unfolds, promising fragrant mulled wine, roasted almonds, and a festive ambiance that bathes the entire city center in a warm glow.
Madrid’s Christmas Market stands out for its unique focus on antiques, artworks, and collectibles. With over 12,000 items, collectors and enthusiasts will find vintage pieces spanning the 1960s to the 1980s, archaeological treasures, paintings, and more. The market showcases a diverse array of furniture styles, making it a haven for those seeking distinctive pieces.
Winter Wonders takes the crown as your favorite Christmas market in Belgium. With 2.5 million visitors, this end-of-year event in Brussels transforms the city into a festive spectacle. Grand-Place hosts magnificent Sound and Light shows, a majestic tree, a life-sized manger, and a skating rink. Explore Christmas markets filled with treasures and indulge in culinary delights in this capital of Europe.
Edinburgh’s Christmas celebrations spread festive cheer across the Scottish capital. From mulled Irn Bru to vegan pigs in blankets, the Christmas Market in East Princes Street Gardens offers a delightful array of treats. Santa Land in East Princes Street Gardens promises rides for all ages, while Santa’s Grotto on Castle Street adds a touch of magic to the season.
Already awarded the title of the most beautiful Christmas market in Europe three years ago, Tallinn has become a must-see destination at Christmas. The Tallinn Christmas Market delights everyone with its coziness, historical location, centuries-old buildings, and long traditions. Every year, more than half a million people from close by and far away come looking for magic at the Tallinn Christmas Market.
Location: Czech Republic
The Christmas markets in Old Town Square in the centre of Prague are the biggest project of its kind in the Czech Republic. Set in the very heart of the city is a traditional Czech marketplace, where, in dozens of wooden stalls, merchants offer typical Christmas goods such as traditional Czech blown glass balls, products made of glass pearls or straw, hand-embroidered tablecloths, wooden toys, biscuit cutters and many other things.
Grown-ups will enjoy the typical mulled wine, and all gourmet, young and old, will enjoy Czech Christmas biscuits, hot roasted chestnuts, gingerbread biscuits, or typical Czech grilled sausages and skewered foods.
Glittering lights, twinkling stars, beaming children’s faces, mulled wine, the scent of gingerbread, and Christmas carols – Dresden’s Striezelmarkt boasts a unique character, despite being in its 587th year. Regional specialties, such as Ore Mountain wood crafts, Lusatian blue-printed fabrics, and Moravian stars, are particularly popular. And a piece of Original Dresdner Christstollen fruit loaf in the light of the step pyramid from the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) is of course another must.
Everyone who loves the typical Dresdner Stollen, the 26th Dresden Stollenfest is exactly the right place to go. A big festival dedicated to the unique Dresden baking tradition, with a historic pageant and giant Stollen, weighing several tonnes.
Location: United Kingdom
For your next winter holiday, explore one of the UK’s largest and most beautiful Christmas markets. The most original, biggest, and – arguably – the best Christmas markets in the country, Manchester Christmas Markets are an ideal destination for a festive outing.
Arriving in the city in 1999, the first Christmas market in the UK has grown every year since, now attracting more than nine million visitors each year. Some 300 beautifully crafted stalls located across the city offer mouth-watering international food, drinks, and finely crafted Yuletide gifts in the heart of the buzzing city centre. Spread across 10 individual sites – each with its own distinctive character, the Manchester Christmas Markets have something to offer every festive visitor.
The romantic city of Bruges has one of the most beautiful Christmas Markets in Europe, and you are guaranteed to fall under its spell during your stay. From the end of November, the historic city centre of Bruges will be transformed into a giant Christmas market. In addition to a wonderful atmosphere and plenty of seasonal jollity, you will also be able to find that unusual last-minute present for someone special. The Bruges Christmas and winter market will be located on the Markt and Simon Stevinplein, in the cosy city centre. There will be a good range of stalls offering all kinds of scrumptious local food and drinks.
The Christmas Market on Cathedral Square is truly a romantic market with a long history. Its origins go back to 1491, making it the oldest market in Salzburg. Spending the Advent season in Mozart’s city is like walking into a fairy-tale. The Fortress sits high above the city, and the Cathedral serves as a magnificent backdrop for the sales booths while the tempting fragrance of bake apples, incense, and cotton candy wafts through the air. With over 90 events, the Salzburg Christmas Market offers visitors a varied social and cultural programme. These include an exhibition of Christmas mangers, exciting processions of Perchten in their frightening masks and costumes, as well as genuine folk song and dance performances.
In 2016 Zagreb was voted the Best Christmas Market in Europe by worldwide travellers and to prove it was no one-off fluke, Zagreb was again named Best Christmas Market in Europe the following year. And the year after that. Three years in a row.
The Croatian capital’s Advent programme expanded rapidly, reaching all corners of the city, with a rich programme of events, concerts, gastronomy, ice skating, kids’ activities, and more, all tastefully lit up with festive lighting.
This year it’s the return of the magical offer that made it the very best in Europe three years in a row, and which had hundreds of thousands of tourists heading to Croatia. The return to Advent Zagreb in all its glory is perhaps best symbolised by the return of the popular ice skating rink on King Tomislav Square, a magnet for the little ones and a great socialising point for parents watching their kids skate.
Lower Town, Upper Town, and several other parts of the city will once again welcome back the food and drink kiosks, filling the cooler evening air with spicy aromas and an opportunity to catch up with friends at every corner.
As you plan your winter escapade, consider venturing beyond the well-trodden paths of Christmas markets. These underrated gems promise a blend of tradition, culture, and festive magic. Embrace the warmth of Budapest, the charm of Gdansk, the cultural richness of Craiova, the illuminations of Montbeliard, the fragrances of Essen, the uniqueness of Madrid, the enchantment of Brussels, the festive cheer of Edinburgh, the coziness of Tallinn, the grandeur of Prague, the tradition of Dresden, the vibrancy of Manchester, the romance of Bruges, the history of Salzburg, and the magic of Zagreb. Uncover Europe’s hidden treasures and create lasting memories in these lesser-known Christmas markets.