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  • Writer's pictureJulie Prusak

Enchanting Festivities Await: Discover the Top Christmas Markets in Europe for 2023

When it comes to festive holiday traditions, Europe’s Christmas Markets top the list. Village squares, palace courtyards, and even train stations throughout Europe are decorated with the season’s finest from mid-November to early January. Locals and tourists alike come together to shop for handcrafted treasures, watch traditional performances, sip spiced mulled wines and taste seasonal sweets. It's the perfect experience to share with family or friends to get into the Christmas spirit.

Here's our list of Europe's best Christmas Markets to check out this holiday season:

Cologne, Germany (November 23 to December 23, 2023)

Christmas Markets started in Germany in the Late Middle Ages. While more Christmas Markets are held in Germany than in any other European country, you can now find them throughout Europe. If you fancy stollen, lebkuchen, and gluhwein, start with one of many Christmas Markets in Cologne.

The largest Christmas Market in Cologne is in the city center beneath the famous Cathedral. Markt der Engel features hundreds of twinkling lights suspended like stars, complete with angels flying overhead. Nikolausdorf tells the story of the real St. Nick. To work off the treats, lace up your skates and head to the outdoor ice-skating rink at Heurmarkt. There are even theme markets for gnome lovers or pirate fans.

Nuremberg, Germany (November 29 to December 24, 2023)

The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt holds its impressive opening ceremony on the first Friday before Advent. The tradition begins at 5:30 pm, when trumpets are blown and local choirs begin to sing. Christmas tree decorations, tinsel angels, wooden nutcrackers, and more make the atmosphere festive. The market has an eco-tourism focus, with all mulled wine dealers using a reusable cup system that saves energy.

Strasbourg, France (November 24 to December 24, 2023)

There are dozens of Christmas markets located all over France, but perhaps the most magical is Christkindelsmärik. Held since 1570, it's one of Europe's oldest Christmas markets, earning Strasbourg the title of "the Capital of Christmas." The mulled wine served here is made from Alsace white wine. Sip and savor some while you watch skilled artisans practice their craft during a different show each week. You’ll find 300 traditional market stalls crowding the city’s central squares. Proximity to Germany and Switzerland makes it easy to visit other international Christmas markets, especially on a river cruise.

Zurich, Switzerland (November 23 to December 23, 2023)

During the Christmas season, Zurich’s main shopping street is lined with over 12,000 lights, nicknamed “Lucy.” Zurich’s most spectacular Christmas Market, Christkindlimarkt, is inside the main train station. Its centerpiece is a 50ft tall Christmas tree decorated with over 6,000 Swarovski crystal ornaments. 150 stalls surround the tree, making it one of Europe’s largest indoor Christmas Markets. Adjacent to the famed Opera House, the Zurich Christmas Village (Wienachtsdorf) attracts families with a large skating rink, pop-up fondue restaurants, and Bavarian curling.

Basel, Switzerland (November 23 to December 23, 2023)

The Basel Christmas Market is the largest in Switzerland, split between Barfuserplatz and Munsterplatz. Barfuerplatz features handmade wooden toys, nativity scenes, and jewelry, while Munsterplatz’s is filled with fun festive activities for kids. Don’t miss authentic Basel Lackerli (a local twist on gingerbread).

Vienna, Austria (November 10 to December 26, 2023)

If you're traveling with children, then the Viennese Christmas Market, filled with traditional wooden toys, is for you. Christmas markets spread out along the narrow streets of the old town, with the main market held in front of the City Hall. Inside the City Hall, a children's area offers kids the opportunity to learn to make Christmas cookies or candles. Parents can sip steaming drinks and shop for artisanal handicrafts like handmade soaps.

Salzburg, Austria (November 23, 2022 to January 1, 2024)

While Salzburg is a popular destination in summer for Mozart and The Sound of Music fans, it is magical at Christmas. After all, Silent Night was written and first performed nearby. The Christmas Market stalls still look much as they did in the 15th century. Expect hand-knitted socks rather than factory-produced ornaments for stocking fillers. For Christmas cheer, join the free daily concerts in front of the cathedral.

Budapest, Hungary (November 18, 2023 to January 1, 2024)

Vorosmarty Square, Budapest’s oldest Christmas market, sits in the heart of the city. Here, you’ll find plenty of food stalls, handicraft shops, and free concerts. A second and preferred Christmas Market is set up at the Basilica. In addition to food and handicraft stalls, it features an ice-skating rink that circles around a grand Christmas tree. Christmas-themed lasers are projected on the Basilica itself.

Prague, Czech Republic (December 2, 2023 to January 6, 2024)

Postcard-pretty Prague is a perfect setting during the festive season, but the local food is the highlight. Large hams (aptly named Prague Ham) roasted on spits, barbecued sausages, fresh pancakes, and savory crepes are at every corner. Make like a local and swap your mug of mulled wine for a glass of grog — rum, water, lemon, and sugar. Step into one of the many historic churches throughout Prague and enjoy an evening of classical music.

Many other European countries host festive Christmas Markets, each with its unique traditions. Croatia, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, Estonia, Scotland, Sweden, Spain, and Poland are additional countries to consider visiting for an authentic European Christmas Market experience. Whichever Christmas Market you choose, you will be delighted by the festive foods and spirits of the holiday season. Perhaps, you will even become a collector of Christmas Market experiences, enjoying the priceless gift of travel with loved ones.

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