Updated: Feb 9, 2019
One of the fascinating things about visiting Europe in December is experiencing the celebrations of Christmas. Nothing is more central to these celebrations than the Christmas Markets. Christmas Markets are spread across most of Europe's major cities and are open most of December and even into January for some locations.
While I have visited three Belgian Christmas Markets in Brussels, Bruges and Leuven, my wife reminds me that we really need do a trip just focused on the major Christmas Markets. My list of top Christmas Markets to visit is below.
Top European Christmas Markets
1. Advent in Zagreb (Croatia)
This is one of the top Christmas Markets for the past few years. Don't miss the activities at Tomislav square, European Square, Ban Josip Jelačić Square with its huge Christmas tree, Zrinjevac Park, Advent in Marić Passage and the Ice Park at King Tomislav Square. Additionally, about 65 km (40 miles) east of Zagreb in the small town of Čazma there is a family that transforms their home and yard into a Christmas Story attraction, with 1.5 million lights! Sometimes this is referred to as Salajland (GPS coordinates: 45.740577, 16.655111). Well worth the visit.
2. Strasbourg, Capital of Christmas (France)
Almost the entire Grande-Île de Strasbourg (island in the center of Strasbourg) has Christmas activities to see and participate in. The central point is Kléber square, where the large Christmas tree is on display. Additionally there are activities at the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg at Place du Château and Place De La Cathédrale.
3. Prague Christmas Market at Old Town Square (Czech Republic)
Old Town Square is the central point of activities, including the lighted Christmas tree and historic buildings and churches. Don't miss the bells playing at the Carillon. Additionally, activities can be found at Wenceslas Square and Republiky Square.
4. Tallinn Christmas Market (Estonia)
Central to Town Hall Square sits the magnificent Christmas tree, which has historic ties back to 1441. This quaint town brings a unique atmosphere to the Christmas season and is highly regarded as one of the best Christmas Markets in Europe.
5. Erfurt's Christmas Market [Erfurter Weinachtsmarkt] (Germany)
Just outside of St Mary's Cathedral and the Church of St Severus is Domplatz Square and the iconic Christmas tree and wood-carved Nativity. Additionally, there is the large Christmas Pyramid with 30 handcrafted Erzgebirge style wood carvings of traditional Christmas figures.
6. Dresden Striezelmarkt (Germany)
Located at Altmarkt Square, in the shadows of the Frauenkirche and Kreuzkirche churches is the Dresden Christmas Market, which has claim on being the oldest in Germany and in 2018 celebrated its 584th anniversary of the original held in 1434. Central to the celebration is the large Christmas Arch and the Erzgebirge Christmas Pyramid.
7. Budapest Christmas Fair (Hungary)
Hungary's largest and oldest Christmas Market takes place at Vorosmarty Square. It focuses on providing an authentic Hungarian experience by emphasizing traditional folk art, good quality handcrafts and Hungarian pastries (Chimney cake). Additionally, the festivities extend to the Budapest Basilica Christmas Market at St Stephen’s Square.
8. Nürnberg Christkindlesmarkt (Germany)
The Nürnberg Christkindlesmarkt takes place at the Main Market (Hauptmarkt) Square in front of the Frauenkirche Nürnberg church. On opening night the Christmas Market is officially opened by a visit and ceremony from Christkind. The atmosphere for this event has been described as, "excited anticipation and reverent silence". This market is well know for its gingerbread and Spekulatius almond cookies, and no visit is complete without an original Nürnberg bratwurst. Additionally, there is a Children's Christmas Market at Hans-Sachs-Platz. This "Christmas City" is perfect for children, with a carousel and Ferris wheel. At the Sternenhaus there is a colorful Christkindlesmarkt cultural program for children. And finally, there is the Lantern Parade where children participate in a procession through the streets of Nürnberg to the Kaiserburg Nürnberg Castle. This beautiful tradition has its own very special charm and the atmosphere is absolutely magical. This is one special event at the Christkindlesmarkt which shouldn't be missed!
9. Aachen Christmas Market (Germany)
Each December, the Marktplatz square between the Aachen Cathedral and the town hall is transformed to create the Aachen Christmas Market. A few of the specialties to experience are the mulled wine and Aachener Printen (gingerbread pastry).
10. Brussels Winter Wonders (Belgium)
The Winter Wonders event takes place during the Christmas holidays at the Grand-Place in Brussels, Belgium. Don't miss the Bourse, the Place de la Monnaie, the Place Sainte-Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons. There is a huge Christmas tree, nativity and a sound and light show in the square. No visit is complete without a Belgian Waffle and a box of chocolate.