PLEASE NOTE: This post on European Christmas markets was drafted up before the COVID pandemic, which has caused current travel restrictions. We’ve decided to share it as inspiration for when we can freely travel once again. (Instead of dreaming of sugar plums – you’ll surely have visions of Lebkuchen dancing in your head this Christmas😋!)
I have a wanderlust heart. Unfortunately, as soon as cold weather hits, I’m in hibernation mode. Traveling in winter wasn’t something I’d ever really considered. That is until a few years ago after hearing of Lori’s tour in Europe! Experiencing Europe in winter and visiting their Christmas markets has been on my wish list ever since. And here’s why they should be on yours, too!
Dreamy Christmas Markets in Europe
Perhaps it’s my European background or working in “Michigan’s Little Bavaria,” also known as “Christmas Town,” that makes European Christmas markets so idyllic to me.
Think thousands of twinkling Christmas lights overhead rows of wooden chalets. The scents of culinary specialties and mulled cider wafting on the air. Live musicians entertaining among enchanting Christmas displays. Set that all against remarkably-detailed, Old-World architecture and the cobblestone streets of Europe. It’s no wonder these Christmas markets are described as nothing less than a chapter from a fairy tale!
My head and heart are swirling with all the options. Here, in no particular order, is a look at some of the top-voted European Christmas markets I’m dreaming of visiting.
Well, in no particular order except for Germany. Germany does top my list because, having family there, it has always felt like a second home to me.
Nuremberg Germany’s Christkindlesmarkt
I’ve always thought of the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt as the European Christmas market. Before writing this post, however, I never realized how many other Christmas markets Europe has. (Not surprisingly, markets from many other German cities have appeared among top lists as well.)
Perhaps it has made an impression because Nuremberg is possibly Germany’s most famous Christmas market. The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is, after all, among the oldest, dating all the way back to the 16th century!
Many European Christmas markets bear the same trademark of vendor stalls and hot mulled wine (called “Glühwein” in Germany). Attractions special to Nuremberg include the historic opening ceremony by the Christkind, stagecoach tours in the iconic yellow carriage and a sister-cities market nearby, just to name a few.
The city’s main market square offers an authentic selection of gifts and delectable delights. Evoking the feeling of stepping back in time. And while there aren’t any “Zwetschgenmännle” here at Bronner’s (little figures made from dried figs, prunes and walnuts), the Frankenmuth, MI. store does offer many traditional Christmas market items, too. (It makes me feel a little closer to my second home!)
Love for Lebkuchen at German Christmas Markets
Gingerbread is one Christmas flavor that can transcend borders while retaining distinct cultural characteristics. Germany is known for their variation on the classic Christmas cookie called “Lebkuchen.” Lebkuchen is a softer version of our traditional gingerbread recipe. Filled with warm spices, Lebkuchen are topped in a sweet glaze or chocolate coating. To my delight, Bronner’s imports this yummy treat, available only during the Christmas season. I so look forward to this cookie that my coworkers once had a little hide-and-seek fun with me and a case of Lebkuchen to celebrate its arrival!
Explore the incredible 360° tour of Nürnberg’s Christkindlesmarkt.
Advent Basilica, Budapest, Hungary
Budapest has been flying high on my radar ever since discovering some of its remarkable sites while following the #LibkaGirlsTakeEurope adventure. So I was not surprised to see this historic city on Condé Nast’s list of Christmas markets. However, I was surprised to learn that the Basilica market in Budapest has topped the list while only in its 9th year!
Craftsmen, ceramists, designers, jewelers and leather-workers fill booths with a myriad of their wares. Central to the market, a large ice rink surrounds a beautifully lit Christmas tree, adding to the magic of the season.
Budapest’s Basilica Christmas market offers the unique experience of a 3D light-show set against St. Stephen’s Basilica. This festive combination of innovative lighting technology and a historical landmark is the largest display of 3D light paintings in central Europe!
Hungarian Pastries at Christmas Markets
Every Christmas market boasts gastronomical delights from the region. Winter is the perfect time to enjoy Hungary’s traditional sweet pastry “Kürtőskalács,” also known as chimney cakes. This pastry is fresh-roasted over a spit. Another is “Bejgli,” a flaky rolled pastry with a creamy nut filling. And I can’t forget “Flódnija,” the Hungarian-Jewish layered-confection of poppy, apples, walnuts and plum jam made increasingly popular by Budapest’s top pastry chef Ráchel Raj.
Tallinn Christmas Market, Estonia
Tallinn, Estonia, caught my eye because it was named “Best Christmas Market of 2019” by European Best Destinations. As I continued reading, I found it absolutely remarkable “that the tale of Tallinn’s most famous Christmas tree” records it in 1441. That makes it the first Christmas tree to ever be displayed in Europe.
What I hadn’t realized was just how fairy-tale beautiful this medieval city is. (Check out Tallinn’s Towers.) I’m ready to pack my bags and go!
Salzburg Christkindlmarkt, Austria
Salzburg, Austria, makes my list because, after experiencing the Silent Night Memorial chapel at Bronner’s, I hope to make it someday to see the original. And what better time than CHRISTmas to visit the city where “Silent Night” was first sung over 200 years ago?
Imagine experiencing the magic of a European Christmas market against the backdrop of Austria’s Hohensalzburg Fortress. Or listening to a traditional wind concert performed from the surrounding towers of the Dom and Residenzplatz.
Christmas in Zagreb, Croatia
It seems fitting to complete my wish list with a stop in Zagreb, Croatia. They’ve won the “Best Christmas Market” award three years in a row!
What makes the Christmas market of Croatia’s capital city so dreamy? This video speaks for itself.
I also love the fact that Zagreb celebrates CHRISTmas with a live Nativity!
Live Your Best Life
These are just a handful of many incredible experiences you will find in Europe at Christmas time. (I didn’t even have time to mention the magic of Vienna -they transform their Rathausplatz into an architectural Advent Calendar during the Viennese Dream Christmas Market.)
Looking for something a little closer to home? Great local fall and winter festivals along with local and national Christmas markets await you.
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