This winter, many of Europe’s most magnificent squares, town halls and boulevards will come alive with twinkling lights and festive cheer. While almost every major city on the continent will be preparing for showstopping events, many of the most charming markets can be found in more intimate and unexpected settings.
As the dark nights set in, nothing invokes the Yuletide spirit quite like a Christmas market. The tradition dates back over 600 years and, in the centuries since, they’ve become an essential component of the Christmas calendar, stretching well beyond their birthplace of Germany. The best markets feature tiny wooden chalets selling handcrafted gifts and festive trinkets, accompanied by the scent of mulled wine and hot chocolate and the hum of Christmas carols.
To compile this list, we set a few rules. We only included smaller markets with between 40 and 100 market stalls, and set a limit of one market per country. Our selection criteria prioritised the right combination of stalls selling both quality items and local or regional seasonal specialities, a picturesque setting, a variety of festive entertainment and reams of festive flair – think twinkling lights, cheering music, tastefully decorated lodges and spirit-stirring atmosphere. From Sibiu to Stockholm, here are the most charming small Christmas markets guaranteed to deliver some much-needed festive cheer.
Bergen Christmas Market (Bergen, Norway)
Norwegian winters may be cold and dark, but the Christmas spirit still burns brightly in towns and cities across the country. And nowhere more so than in beautiful Bergen, where thousands of sparkly lights and pretty decorations adorn the charming streets and parks. Located in Festplassen, right in the heart of the city, Bergen Christmas Market offers the perfect chance to get in the Christmas mood. Featuring some 80 stalls, visitors will find plenty of handmade crafts and local goods – ideal for picking up some gifts ahead of time – plus local delicacies such as the Norwegian Christmas drink gløgg (mulled wine). For families with kids in tow, a traditional Ferris wheel and horse carousel are the perfect antidote to all of that adult browsing.
Blenheim Palace Christmas Market (Woodstock, Oxfordshire, UK)
Set against the magnificent backdrop of Blenheim Palace deep in the Oxfordshire countryside, this Christmas market is part of a whole host of festive entertainment that takes place at the impressive country house each winter. Spread across the palace’s Great Court are around 80 boutique wooden chalets showcasing a range of hand-picked artisan ceramics, textiles, homewares, leather goods, jewellery, toys, stationery, bags, hats, and plenty more. There are also food and drink producers serving up traditional Christmas nibbles and mulled wine. The market is free to enter with a pre-booked ticket.
Bruges Christmas Market (Bruges, Belgium)
Bruges, with its gingerbread houses and gleaming canals, seems like something out of a fairytale at any time of year, but in December it positively dazzles. Around 50 wooden chalets crowd around the city’s iconic Markt, under the gorgeous gaze of the 15th-century Belfy tower. Visitors can snack on piping hot tartiflette, crepes, waffles and steaming mulled wine, then stock up on high-quality Christmas gifts and hand-painted toys. As well as traditional stalls, there are horse-drawn carriages, an old-fashioned carousel and arcade games. A short stroll away, along the tree-lined Simon Stevinplein, is a second, smaller market with 30 stalls dedicated to local artisan arts and crafts.
Cesky Krumlov Christmas Market (Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic)
Built around a windy river at the foot of a giant 12th-century castle, the town of Cesky Krumlov in the southern reaches of the Czech Republic is tailor-made for a Christmas market. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, during wintertime it oozes festive twee and charm, with heavily wrapped-up revellers flocking to the small but bustling market in Svornosti Square to sample Svarak (Czech mulled wine), pick up adorable crafts items and trinkets, and listen to live polka bands. As an added bonus, prices are low compared with the country’s better-known tourist spots like Prague.
Debrecen Advent (Debrecen, Hungary)
Hungary’s second city really comes into its own at Christmas, with concerts, fairground rides, and at least 90 snow-sprinkled market stalls set before the elegant Great Church. As well as hand-made ceramics and stocking fillers, visitors can pick up more unusual festive wares, such as speciality crafts, carpets and textiles. The celebration kicks off with a procession from the Town Hall for the candle-lighting ceremony in front of the church and Christmas tree, followed by four weeks of revelry with a dizzying programme that includes stiltwalkers, rollerskating pianists, a Christmas “mini-city” surrounded by 24 tiny Christmas trees for kids, and performances from local artists. For a truly traditional festive experience, head to the 750-square-metre outdoor ice-skating rink.
Goslar Weihnachtsmarkt & Weihnachtswald (Goslar, Germany)
Germany is home to many of Europe’s most famous Christmas markets, but Goslar offers one of the most memorable. In the glow of hundreds of twinkling lights, the UNESCO-listed medieval market square takes on the appearance of an antique Christmas card. With around 60 glittering wooden huts, revellers can find plenty of traditional handmade gifts and regional delicacies, all accompanied by the lingering scent of baked apples, roasted almonds and cinnamon. Once you’ve stocked up on stollen and schnitzels, head to the Weihnachtswald, an enchanting Christmas tree forest of 60 illuminated Christmas trees. Other programme highlights include a visit from St. Nicholas himself and Carillon concerts from the “Goslar Angels”.
Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market (Odense, Denmark)
Positioned on the island of Funen, the Danish city of Odense is never more pretty than during the Christmas period when white lights festoon the streets. At the heart of the celebrations is the Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market, which takes place in the old part of town during the first weeks of December each year. The historic market is surrounded by charming townhouses, old merchant houses and centuries-old crooked half-timbered houses that add to the atmosphere. As for the market itself, more than 60 stalls sell handicrafts, gastronomic delights and mulled wine, while the live entertainment is inspired by H.C. Andersen and his famous fairy tales, with musicians, choirs, actors and showmen helping recreate a 19th-century Christmas feel.
Innsbruck Old Town Christmas Market (Innsbruck, Austria)
The jewel of the Austrian Tyrol and one-time seat of the house of Habsburg, Innsbruck is oh-so-pretty in winter, when the chocolate box city is blanketed in snow and the creamy peaks of the Nordkette mountains come into view. In the heart of the Old Town, some 70 Alpine-inspired stalls crowd around a giant Christmas tree just in front of the famous Golden Roof, made with 2,658 fire-gilded copper tiles at the start of the 16th century. Feast on freshly-made kiachln (hot doughnuts), sugary toasted nuts and a mug of gluhwein (mulled wine) to the sounds of Austrian brass bands for a truly Tirolean Christmas experience.
Krakow Christmas Market (Krakow, Poland)
Home to a delightfully well-preserved medieval core, the southern Polish city of Krakow draws large numbers of tourists throughout the year. And those who brave the bracingly cold conditions in December time are rewarded with one of Europe’s most historic Christmas markets. Covering a sizeable portion of Rynek Główny, a vast square in the old town, are around 80 timber hunts selling all manner of enticing goods. Among them are examples of exceptional Polish craftsmanship, including hand-painted glass Christmas decorations, carved wooden toys and amber jewellery – the distinctive gem being abundant in Poland. But above everything, it’s the food offerings that stand out, with national specialities such as grilled and smoked meats, goulash, pierogi (stuffed dumplings with cheese), Polish pastries and grzane wino (hot wine) aplenty.
Lille Christmas Market (Lille, France)
A carnival atmosphere takes over the northern French city of Lille during winter. Slap bang in the city centre, loudspeakers belt out festive tunes as a Ferris wheel carries passengers in a gentle loop in open pods. Nip around the corner, and you’ll find the Christmas market, laid out so visitors follow a natural path past all of the cute wooden stalls – ensuring you don’t miss a thing. For a relatively compact market, it certainly packs a punch when it comes to variety. Along with your classic Chrimbo foodie fare, you’ll also find local beers, liquors and other specialities from northern France, gorgeous wooden mechanical toys and puzzles, and even a stall selling magic tricks complete with live demos. Keep warm with a cup of milled wine with a boozy twist, such as kirsch (cherry brandy).
Maastricht Christmas Market (Maastricht, Germany)
Magical Maastricht, to give the Dutch city’s Christmas Village its full name, is guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit. Open until the end of December – unlike many of its counterparts, which tend to wind up before Christmas Day – the village’s hugely popular market welcomes a million-plus visitors each year to Vrijthof square, where St. John’s Church and St. Servatius Basilica provide a scenic backdrop. Dotted around the square, dozens of market chalets offer up Christmas-ey gifts, crafts, and time-honoured culinary delights that we’ve all grown to know and love at this time of year. There’s also a gigantic Ferris wheel, an ice skating rink, a children’s slide, a Christmas train, and a merry-go-round.
Milan Piazza Duomo Christmas Market (Milan, Italy)
Throughout December, Milan’s most famous square hosts the city’s most traditional market, with all the trimmings. Lanterns illuminate the mighty Duomo and a 25-metre tree – adorned with 80,000 glittering lights, 800 baubles and 600 bows – takes centre stage. Best of all is the pretty market of 60 wooden huts, selling gifts made by local artists and festive food and drinks, like panettone and barbajada, a decadent marriage between hot chocolate and coffee. Complete your festive pilgrimage with a visit to “Oh Bej! Oh Bej!”, a four-day event honouring Milan’s patron Saint Ambrose, which has taken place every year since 1510.
Navideno de la Artesania Market (Seville, Spain)
Sun-soaked Andalucia isn’t often associated with Christmas revelry, but Seville has something special up its sleeve. Every year, around 80 local artists and craftsmen descend on the Plaza Nueva to ply their wares throughout December. The focus here is on quality rather than quantity, so expect festive ceramics, pottery, wooden toys and lamps that all showcase Andalusian techniques and traditions. The nearby Feria de Belen (Fair of Cribs) offers 30 stalls dedicated to one-of-a-kind nativity scenes and traditional religious figurines representing everyone from the Three Kings to the goats, which locals will proudly display in their homes throughout Advent.
Riga Christmas Market (Riga, Latvia)
Set against the backdrop of the beautiful 13th-century Dome Square, Riga Christmas Market is the capital’s oldest and – arguably – most authentic market. From the end of November, the square transforms into a winter wonderland, bedecked with twinkling lights and a tight-knit maze of 60 lodges laid out around the towering Christmas tree. Stalls bulge with traditional crafts and gifts, from wool jumpers and socks to ceramics and wooden toys, as well as local festive specialities like peas and bacon, toasted sugar almonds and Karstvins, Latvia’s version of mulled wine. For little ones, there are workshops with Santa’s helpers and a petting zoo with sheep and donkeys, while those in the market for more adult-friendly pursuits can enjoy Christmas carol concerts and live DJ sets every Friday evening.
Sibiu Christmas Market (Sibiu, Romania)
Located in the heart of Romania, Sibiu was built by German settlers more than 900 years ago. This small German-speaking population has left its mark, most notably in the city’s festive traditions. At the end of November every year, the main square is crammed full of stalls selling hand-crafted gifts, food and drink under a canopy of twinkling fairy lights. As well as hot dogs and hot sugar-dusted doughnuts, there are local specialities to be sampled, like kurtoskalacs, chimney cakes made from spirals of sweet dough and topped with sugar or walnuts. This year, there are plans for an ice rink, an illuminated Ferris wheel and children’s arcade games.
Sternenmarkt (Bern, Switzerland)
Sternenmarkt (Star Market) might be a relatively new addition to Bern’s Christmas calendar, but it’s quickly become the festive focus of the Swiss capital. Named for the thousands of glittering lights suspended overhead like stars, there are presents aplenty to be found at its 60-or-so chalets and, unlike most markets, vendors change every week. But it’s the food that will keep you hanging around: velvety hot chocolate made with fair-trade cocao from Peru; flamed-licked sausages; fondue feasts at the Gstaader Fondue-Chalet, all topped off with a soothing cup of mulled wine. Stick around for the entertainment, which includes fire shows, fairytale recitals, and more.
Stortorget Julmarknad (Stockholm, Sweden)
Come wintertime, scattered across the 14 islands that make up the Swedish capital of Sweden are several gorgeous Christmas markets that invite visitors to warm their cockles with body-warming drinks and a magical atmosphere. The oldest and most famous of all – but still relatively compact – takes place in Stortorget square in the city’s Galma Stan (Old Town), where it has drawn throngs of visitors since 1837. Here, over 50 little red stalls sell a range of Swedish Christmas temptations including smoked sausages, mulled wine, gingerbread, cheese and candy, alongside various craft items from ironworks to ceramics.
Tampere Christmas Market (Tampere, Finland)
With snow-specked huts scattered around Tampere’s Central Square, this market features all of the trappings you’d expect of a traditional European Christmas bazaar, with an extra dash of quintessential Finnish character thrown into the bargain. Vendors from all over the country sell their high-quality products in quaint wooden huts, while Christmas songs ring out from speakers and Santa Claus himself thrills wide-eyed kids with his distinctive presence. Visitors can also enjoy theatre shows and glass-blowing demonstrations, and for sweet sustenance tuck into pancakes browned over open flames. There’s also the chance to ride a horse and carriage through the twinkle-lit streets.
Tallinn Christmas Market (Tallinn, Estonia)
There are few Christmas market claims more impressive than being located on the site of the world’s first public Christmas tree. Back in 1441, locals gathered in what is now the Town Hall Square in central Tallinn to witness the erection of the iconic Yuletide symbol for the first time. Fast forward almost six centuries and the Estonian capital continues to shine the beacon for Christmas festivities, with its heart-shaped plaza playing host to one of Europe’s most historic Christmas markets. Every year, more than half a million visitors descend on the market to peruse handicrafts and sample seasonal treats including gingerbread and mulled wine. At the same time, a special cultural program sees groups from Estonia and beyond take to the stage to keep revellers entertained.
Wonderland Lisboa (Lisbon, Portugal)
For one month each year, the manicured gardens of Eduardo VII Park morph into a wintry wonderland, with fairy lights draped across Christmas trees, a festive ice rink and around 70 wreath-covered stalls. Fill up on delicacies from around the world, from traditional Polish dumplings to German chimney cakes, as well as treats from closer to home, like dried fruits and porco preto (black pig) sandwiches, and the familiar slosh of mulled wine. Beyond the stalls, there are merry-go-rounds, Santa’s Village, daily performances and an 18-metre-tall Christmas tree. For bird’s-eye views of Lisbon’s exuberant Christmas light displays that crisscross every street, take to the sky with a trip on the 26.5-metre Ferris wheel.