Last updated on: May 5, 2020
Taking a Christmas Market breaks to Europe is something every one should do at least once, as every December sees the re-emergence of this great European tradition.
The first recorded market was held back in 1296, known as a “Dezembermarkt” (December market), which took place in Vienna with permission from emperor Albrecht I.
The sight of pretty little stalls replete with hand-made wares and the aroma of hot mulled wine have filled the December evenings across Europe ever since. But where are the best places to experience this age-old tradition? Although there are literally thousands to choose from, here are the stand out contenders for a truly authentic experience.
Even though Vienna is the unofficial birth place of the Christmas market, it’s another city in Austria that perhaps leads the way when it comes to market festivities. The hometown of Mozart and the setting for The Sound of Music, Salzburg features stalls that look just as they did all of those hundreds of years ago.
The focus for this market is hand-made wares (think knitted socks), although you can still quite easily get your hands on some of the finest Austrian bratwurst and glühwein available in the country. For those of you wishing to truly enter the Christmas spirit you can join in with the daily open-air concerts in front of the cathedrals, with Tuesday nights marking karaoke carols.
Top Tip: Take the bus to the nearby town of St. Wolfgang which takes roughly 90 minutes. On Wednesday nights, their quaint little lake-side Christmas markets are illuminated entirely by candles. How’s that for a romantic fairy-tale Christmas setting?
Most Christmas markets in the UK tend to be tacky rip offs of their Germanic counterparts across the continent. However, the Roman city of Bath is one of the few exceptions to that rule and a great place for a Christmas Market break.
Spread out over its historical cobbled streets, 80% of the 200-plus stalls sell local produce as opposed to the generic frankfurters and crêpes offered at the majority of British Christmas markets. Better still, the crypt at St. Michael’s Church is turned into a fairy-tale grotto complete with free story telling events.
Top Tip: Bath sits in the heart of England’s cider-making country. Instead of trying a hot chocolate, try a hot glass of mulled cider at the Lodge on Stall Street for a really authentic festive beverage fresh from the orchard.
Known as France’s “Capital of Christmas”, this city knows how to do Christmas markets. The main squares are dressed up to resemble the quintessential definition of a cozy Germanic winter village. This is of course helped by the fact that Strasbourg straddles the Rhine river which separates France from Germany.
Perhaps one of the most famous sections is the “Market of the Invincible Small Producers of Alsace”. Here, you’ll find some of the world-famous Alsace sausages, as well as the local delicacy kugelhopf, which is best described as a fruity brioche-like sweet bread cake.
Top Tip: Strasbourg hosts one of the most famous Christmas markets on the planet, which attracts huge crowds. If you want to experience them without feeling like you’re stuck in an enormous penguin huddle, then make sure to get to the markets for opening (10am), and avoid weekends if at all possible.
There is no other place on earth that is able to create a picture-postcard Disney-style Christmas market than the Bohemian city of Český Krumlov. Already a UNESCO World Heritage site, the markets take place in a beautifully-lit square under the watchful guardianship of a romantic baroque castle, giving off more than a little hint of Frozen vibes.
The small wooden stalls (lit by twinkling fairy lights) sell freshly baked cookies and grilled sausages to the merry punters, as well as a range of hand-made trinkets. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Top Tip: Nearby city České Budějovice creates a very similar atmosphere for their version of Christmas markets. So if you want to cram in even more picturesque Christmas market action, you can!
If buying an advent calendar just isn’t going to do it for your Christmas cravings this year, then you need to make sure that you experience the warm fuzzy glow that accompanies holding a hot mug of mulled wine whilst slowly inhaling the wafting smells of freshly-prepared food lingering in the cold December air.
Christmas markets are one of the great ever-lasting European traditions, and they offer a unique way to discover a country you perhaps haven’t yet had the chance to check off the bucket list. So don’t let too many more Decembers pass before you make your journey to one of these winter wonderlands!
Related post: 10 Perfect Places to Visit Over the Holidays
Have you taken a Christmas Market break to Europe before or is it on your list?