Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz is a must-visit Christmas market in Vienna, Austria — Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways
Europe’s fairy-tale cities are charming year-round, but they’re even more wondrous during the holidays when Christmas markets — or Chriskindlmarkts — create a festive winter wonderland. Christmas markets originated in Europe during the Middle Ages, making Europe an especially magical place to celebrate the holidays.
With literally hundreds of Christmas markets happening across Europe during the months of November through January, it can be overwhelming to decide which ones to visit. Consider letting a cruise company plan the itinerary for you by embarking on a river cruise. Several companies — from Avalon to AmaWaterways to Viking — offer incredible itineraries.
If you’re set on making your own plans, we’ve singled out 10 Christmas markets in Europe to put on your wish list.
Trdelník is a traditional pastry served at the Bratislava Christmas market — Photo courtesy of Bratislava Tourist Board
The city center’s three markets celebrate the joyous season with shopping in the main square, ice skating in Hviezdoslavovo Square, and panoramic views from the hilltop of Bratislava Castle. Decorated wood huts offer traditional Slovakian culinary delights that include grilled sausages, and fried potato pancakes.
Highlight: Indulge in a smorgasbord of traditional dishes, including cigánska pecienka (chicken, pork, or beef wrapped in a bread roll) and Trdelník (a sweet pastry).
Nightly light shows project on St. Stephen’s Basilica at the Budapest Christmas market — Photo courtesy of Carole Rosenblat
Budapest’s two most popular markets, in Vörösmarty Square and nearby St. Stephen’s Basilica, feature handicrafts as well as traditional holiday dishes like goulash spiced with paprika, stuffed cabbage, Hanukkah specialties, and Pálinka, a traditional fruit brandy).
Strap on a pair of skates to glide around a small ice skating rink by the Christmas tree. Wrap the day by visiting one of Budapest’s thermal baths — a sure way to warm up!
Highlight: At the basilica, a light show projects holiday scenes about every 30 minutes.
Feel like a kid again at this Christmas market at Tivoli Gardens theme park — Photo courtesy of Visit Copenhagen
Copenhagen’s Christmas in Tivoli is hosted inside the legendary Tivoli Gardens theme park, where thousands of colorful lights and decorated trees present a feast for the eyes. Snow-covered food stalls offer roast pork sandwiches, gingerbread, rice pudding, and aebleskiver (Danish pancakes). Endless rows of market stalls offer knitted products, leather goods, and crafts. If you plan to go, you’ll need to budget for theme park admission fees.
Highlight: Simply being at this enchanting amusement park, built in 1843, is the highlight. Walt Disney cited Tivoli Gardens as a point of inspiration prior to building Disneyland.
Oversized illuminations connect Craiova’s four market squares — Photo courtesy of Alina Purcaru
While Bucharest’s Christmas market may be more well-known, Craiova at Christmas is Romania’s hidden gem, sparkling with four themed public squares: Mihai Viteazul, Frații Buzești, Doljeana, and Shakespeare. Ornately painted Christmas cottages and a diverse array of food stalls and handicrafts turn this town into a wonderland.
In Mihai Viteazul, you’ll find elaborate décor themed after the Snow Queen fairy tale — a landscape of cool, snowy colors, a larger-than-life Snow Queen doll, a dream castle, and an ice skating rink. In contrast, warm colors and jolly Santa Claus light up Frații Buzești Square. Surrounding bars, restaurants, and hotels get in on the fun, decorating their halls and interiors with lights and ornaments.
Highlight: In 2023, the largest Ferris Wheel in Romania comes to Shakespeare Square.
Marvel at the world’s largest Erzgebirge step pyramid at Dresden’s Striezelmarkt — Photo courtesy of LianeM / iStock Via Getty Image Plus
Claiming to be Germany’s oldest Christmas market, Dresdner Striezelmarkt has been around for almost 600 years. Here, you’ll find sing-alongs, storytelling, and a few hundred festively decorated market stalls. Each day, Santa and his elves open a window on an Advent calendar to count down the days to Christmas. Yuletide treats include stollen (German Christmas bread) and pflaumentoffel, a handcrafted edible figurine made from dried plums.
Highlight: Delight in seeing the world’s tallest step pyramid, standing at nearly 50 feet tall.
Prague, Czech Republic
The Christmas tree in Old Town Square is a sight to behold — Photo courtesy of Philippe Salgarolo / Wikimedia
This city hosts several Christmas markets, but the two we recommend take place in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, which are within walking distance of each other. Elaborately decorated wooden huts are filled with embroidered tablecloths, glass ornaments, candles, and other handicrafts. The aromas of roasted ham, sausages, and smoked meat dumplings permeate the air.
Join locals for a mug of grog, a festive concoction of rum, water, lemon, and sugar. Both markets have nativity scenes in wooden stables. In Old Town Square, there’s a live animal stable, where children are welcome to pet furry creatures.
Highlight: The 82-foot-high Christmas tree is the star attraction in the Old Town Square.
Salzburg and Vienna, Austria
Salzburg’s Christkindlmarkt has a wide variety of handicrafts — Photo courtesy of Carole Rosenblat
Roughly 2.5 hours from Vienna by train, Mozart’s hometown of Salzburg serves as the stage for a music-filled Christkindlmarkt at the Dom and Residenzplatz. Stalls are filled with handicrafts and yummy goodies, including toasted almonds, roasted chestnuts, and baked apples. Live music, storytelling, whimsical parades, and nativity exhibits round out festivities. Stay for New Year’s Eve and be treated to a dazzling fireworks display.
In Vienna, you’ll find a host of festive events during the holiday season, but Wiener Christkindlmarkt on Rathausplatz is the epicenter of Christmas here. Each year, a different Austrian province donates a Christmas tree to display in front of Vienna’s town hall. In addition to browsing the market’s stalls, children can ride the reindeer train, and couples can kiss under the Herzerlbaum (heart tree).
Highlights: In Salzburg, treat your ears to the angelic choral concerts. In Vienna, go ice skating in Rathauspark.
Mulled wine is a staple at Christmas markets in Europe — Photo courtesy of Vincent Muller
Feel the joie de vivre in Strasbourg, the renowned “Capital of Christmas,” where several markets and hundreds of stalls span Old Town’s illuminated streets. Don’t miss Christkindelsmärikat at Place Broglie, the oldest of the markets, founded in 1570. Sip mulled wine while savoring traditional Alsatian gingerbread, sausages, baguette flambée (wood-fired pizza), and bretzel (pretzel).
Highlight: A 1907 wooden nativity set with five scenes inside the gothic cathedral in Place de la Cathédrale.
The 2022 Christmas tree installation was shaped like a cake in anticipation of Vilnius’ 700th birthday — Photo courtesy of Go Vilnius
This Vilnius Christmas market in historic Cathedral Square features Lithuanian sweets, beeswax products, natural honey, and handmade wool socks and mittens. Be sure to try Lithuanian Christmas Eve cookies, bite-sized poppy biscuits typically served with poppyseed milk on Christmas Eve.
Of note is the former Lukiškės prison, which has been completely reimagined as a holiday wonderland. This gastro Christmas market features live concerts, DJs, a sauna, and an ice skating rink.
Highlight: Instead of a traditional Christmas tree, the Vilnius Christmas market features a festive installation made from sustainable spruce branches, metal structures, garland, mirrors, and other materials. But shhh! The tree’s decorative theme is kept a secret until the lighting ceremony December 1.
Spend your next Christmas in Croatia — Photo courtesy of Julien Duval / Croatia National Tourism Board
More than 25 themed Christmas markets span the city’s squares and promenades during Advent for Christmas. Festively decorated stalls are filled with colorful ornaments, woolen scarves, heart-shaped gingerbread cookies, hand-carved wooden whistles, and other unique crafts.
Regional cuisine includes kobasice (pork sausage), sarma (cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice), and strukli (pastry filled with cottage cheese and sour cream), which pairs nicely with kuhano vino (mulled wine steeped in spices and dried fruit).
Highlight: Go ice skating in King Tomislav Square and stroll through Gric Tunnel, a former WWII bomb shelter that gets decked out for Christmas.