The best way to get into the holiday spirit in Europe? Visit craft-filled wooden stalls, watch performances by Christmas carolers, or hop into an ice-skating rink at these delightfully festive markets.
A distinctly European tradition, Christmas markets are essentially amusement parks for the winter holidays, bringing the spirit of the season to life in the form of treats, goods, and attractions. They’re not exactly hard to come by in Europe—Germany alone has almost 70 spread across the country. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. As the most wonderful time of the year approaches, we’ve rounded up eight unique Christmas markets in Europe. Some are lesser-known and others are well-trotted, but each is a must-see during the holiday season.
Black Forest Highlands, Germany
The setting of the Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market—in a gorge under the viaduct of the Höllentalbahn railway in the Black Forest Highlands—is best described as straight out of a fairy tale. The market’s various stalls are surrounded by forestry, which adds a true “winter wonderland” feel when dusted with snow. In 2018, the pop-up shopping and entertainment fair takes place Friday through Sunday from the last weekend in November through December 23.
Velvet Cave Christmas Market
This Valkenburg holiday celebration features a series of vendors alongside the intricately detailed chapel, murals, and sculptures of the Netherlands’s 18th-century Velvet Cave. The Christmas market is set within a maze of underground passageways and rooms, making an experience here both a festive shopping trip and a historical tour. This year will be the 20th edition of the Velvet Cave Christmas Market, and it will be open to guests from November 16 until December 30.
Christmas and Epiphany Market in Piazza Navona
Set in one of Rome’s grandest piazzas, the Christmas and Epiphany Market in Piazza Navona juxtaposes the new—think torrone sweet treats, souvenir-style trinkets, and Mylar balloons—with the gravitas of the 1st-century outdoor plaza. Throughout December until January 9, visitors can browse stalls filled with handmade crafts, Italian treats, and local art, all while keeping an eye out for the oft-appearing Father Christmas.
In 1298, Austria’s capital held its first Christmas market. Today, there are more than 20 Christmas-related events to choose from across Vienna during the holiday season. From November 16 to December 26, revelers can enjoy reindeer rides, marvel over classic nativity scenes, and wander through more than 150 food and souvenir stalls in front of the grandiose City Hall at the Viennese Christmas Dream Market.
Royal Christmas Market at the Hohenzollern Castle
Burg Hohenzollern, Germany
With a location high atop a mountain overlooking the German countryside, the biggest challenge for those visiting the Royal Christmas Market at the Hohenzollern Castle is deciding whether to browse the goods or take in the views first. Don’t worry—while the castle’s interior rooms house most of the market’s vendors, ticketed visitors are free to roam the treasure room, two churches, cellars, and outdoor terraces of the Prussian Royal family’s ancestral seat. The market will be open November 30 through December 2 and December 7 through December 9 this year.
St. Gallen Christmas Market
St. Gallen, Switzerland
It’s not every day that you can visit a UNESCO World Heritage site, explore a historic Swiss town, and get your Christmas shopping done all in one place—but that’s exactly what the St. Gallen Christmas market offers. While visitors are often taken with the series of stands lined up from the Waaghaus to Market Square, they shouldn’t forget to look up; the sky is illuminated by 700 stars every year during the Advent, leading locals to nickname the quaint Switzerland town “the city of stars.” Back on the ground, merry-go-rounds, seasonal drinks and foods, choir performances, and a lit Christmas tree can be enjoyed by all who visit from November 29 through December 24.
Bring the whole family along to the annual Christmas market at Tivoli Gardens, a historical amusement park in Copenhagen. From November 17 to December 31, the world’s second-oldest operating amusement park opens a festive market alongside its year-round attractions, rides, and games. Locals and tourists of all ages will be delighted by the more than 1,000 lit Christmas trees and approximately 60 stalls with seasonal offerings, including Christmas treats, decorations, and gifts.
Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square Christmas Markets
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague’s largest Christmas markets are walking distance from each other, so you can easily explore both in one day. Old Town Square’s festivities include daily carol concerts, dozens of stalls selling traditional crafts, and a brightly lit central Christmas tree. The Wenceslas Square market specializes in handmade goods and Czech treats such as klobása (Czech sausage) and Pražská šunka (roasted ham). Christmas markets in Prague are open every day from December 1 through January 6, including on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
A version of this article originally appeared online in December 2016; it was updated on November 14, 2018, to include current information.
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