Twinkling Christmas lights, warming mulled wine, and the opportunity to get all your holiday shopping done in one spot—Europe’s Christmas markets are the best place to kick off the season. With ferris wheels, ice skating, local vendors, and even a hologram Santa Claus, these are the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Editor’s note: Check the website for each Christmas market before visiting, as pandemic precautions may result in sudden changes to opening hours or entry requirements.
Paris La Défense Christmas Market, Paris, France
As the largest Christmas market in the city, Paris La Défense attracts hundreds of vendors along with cheerful crowds of shoppers. For the entire month of December, this area is transformed into a sprawling Christmas village with 350 themed chalets spread out over almost 140,000 square feet. Grab a glass of eggnog or mulled wine to keep you going as you shop for gifts or sample your way through all the local delicacies on offer.
Tallinn Christmas Market, Estonia
Centered around the towering Christmas tree in the heart of Tallinn’s Town Square, Estonia’s most popular Christmas market is decked out with decorations, lights, and rides. This family-friendly Christmas market features merry-go-rounds for the kids and hot drinks for the adults, plus plenty of traditional Estonian Christmas cuisine for everyone to enjoy. Don’t miss out on a visit with the market's hologram Santa Claus to find out if you’re on the naughty or nice list!
Cologne Christmas Market Express, Cologne, Germany
Why limit your Christmas joy to just one market? In Cologne, you can go on a Christmas market crawl with the Christmas Market Express, a trolley that takes you to four unique markets throughout the city. Go ice skating at the rink in Heinzels Wintermärchen, soak in the picturesque scene at the Hafen-Weihnachtsmarkt on the banks of the Rhine, meet one of the 25 living angels at the Market of the angels, visit the Santa Claus Village at Rudolfplatz, and admire the magnificently illuminated cathedral at the Roncalliplatz.
Winter Wonders, Brussels, Belgium
Brussels’ Winter Wonders is more than just a Christmas market. Here, you’ll find more than 200 shops set up under a large Christmas tree, hourly sound and light shows, an ice rink, a Ferris wheel, merry-go-rounds, art installations, party pavilions (stocked with Belgian beer), and food from around the world.
Advent in Zagreb, Zagreb, Croatia
As soon as you step into the winter wonderland that is Zagreb’s Advent, it’s easy to see why this festival was voted the best Christmas market in Europe for three years in a row. The pedestrian streets in the city center are transformed into outdoor shopping malls, offering handmade gifts, traditional Croatian food, and famously festive gingerbread hearts. Check the music schedule to time your visit around one of the many gigs and famous DJ sessions, or head to Maksimir park for a more family-friendly experience.
Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg, Austria
Austrians have been getting in the holiday spirit at Christkindlmarkt since the 15th century, making it one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe. Held amidst the historic beauty of downtown Salzburg, there are around 100 stalls selling handicrafts, Christmas decorations, and food and drink (including gingerbread and mulled wine). Time your visit for Thursdays and Saturdays at 6:30pm when traditional Salzburg tower blowers play Christmas tunes.
Marché de Noël à Montreux, Lake Geneva, Switzerland
Set along the shores of Lake Geneva, with a backdrop of snow-covered mountains, the Marché de Noël à Montreux is quite possibly the most picturesque Christmas market in Europe. Get a bird’s eye view of the festivities with a ride on the Ferris wheel, where you may be able to see as far as Chateau de Chillon. Bring the kids to the Village des Lutins (Elves Village) to make their own holiday gifts, and be sure to look up each night between 5-7p.m., when Santa Claus flies over the market in his sleigh.