Christkindlmarkt. Weihnachtsmarkt. Marché de Noël.
Whatever name they go by, Christmas markets are a holiday staple with a long history in Europe. The tradition of the Christmas market can be traced back hundreds of years – all the way back into the Late Middle Ages, in fact. The markets began in German-speaking regions of Europe that today make up Germany, Austria, Northern Italy, and the Alsace region of France.
And it's in these regions that you can find the best modern-day Christmas markets, too.
The markets pop up at the beginning of Advent and last the four weeks until Christmas, drawing thousands (sometimes MILLIONS) of visitors each year. Some cities have one main market, while others have handfuls of smaller ones, often with unique themes. The markets are usually made up of decorated wooden stalls set up in a city square, with vendors selling everything from handmade Christmas ornaments to hot mulled wine and gingerbread.
The market stalls are often decorated with twinkle lights and fake snow, making for a wintery, festive atmosphere regardless of the weather.
Visiting Europe at Christmastime is something that I've always dreamed of doing, and I finally got the chance this year – I went on a cruise down the Rhine with Viking River Cruises and visited no less than seven cities with Christmas markets throughout Germany, France, and Switzerland. Even though there was no snow in any of the cities I visited this year (darn you, unseasonably warm winter!), it was still pretty magical.
In case you need a little more convincing to add “visiting European Christmas markets” to your own bucket list, here are 23 that will make you want to get yourself to a festive market ASAP!
How to do it
Most cities – large or small – in this part of Europe have a Christmas market (or seven). Nuremberg has one of the most famous markets in Germany, and other German cities like Munich, Dresden, Stuttgart, and Berlin are also known for their holiday market offerings. You'll find markets all over Europe, though, from Brussels to Prague to Vienna. Even Spain puts on Christmas markets (though I'm told you won't find much food or mulled wine at those, which kind of defeats the purpose in my opinion!).
Visiting Christmas markets can be as simple as booking a holiday getaway to a city with a popular market for a few days.
Or you could do what I did and book a Christmas market river cruise. We saw SO many cool cities and Christmas markets on my Rhine Getaway cruise with Viking, and enjoyed holiday-themed activities (and drinks) onboard, too. If a Viking River Cruise can fit into your budget one of these years, I highly recommend going in December!
Have you been to any Christmas markets in Europe? If so, which has been your favorite?
*Note: I did partner with Viking River Cruises for this trip, however all opinions and photos are 100% my own. You can't buy my opinions, no matter how much mulled wine is involved. 😉