Colorful rows of glittering fairy lights surrounding charming cobblestone streets with small wooden figurines ready to come home in your suitcase — it sounds like a dream.
The Christmas season is one of the best times to go to Europe with the festive spirit in full swing and the cold weather just mild enough to walk around. And Christmas markets, found in towns large and small, are one of the best ways to soak it all in.
Drink mulled wine and nibble on petite cookies as you meander around the stalls and chalets from Strasbourg to Berlin to Amsterdam and beyond. Stuff your suitcase with figurines made of prune in Germany and collect Tartan Christmas ornaments in Scotland.
These are the best Christmas markets throughout Europe, by country.
This Christmas market dates as far back as the 16th century. Feast on mulled wine and bratwurst and then indulge in some gingerbread as you walk the rows of stalls. Pick up some Zwetschgenmännle, figurines made of prune that come in more than 350 different varieties, including chimney sweeps and kissing couples. Later, take a classic stagecoach tour around the city to soak up that festive Christmas spirit.
When: Nov. 29 to Dec. 24
Where: Nuremberg, Germany
Gendarmenmarkt Christmas market
Marvel at the 1,000 fairy lights that illuminate this historic market in Germany’s capital city. Shop traditional blown glass and wood carvings as well as more unique gifts like origami. Head to the heated tents for some food and fill up on Austrian specialties and Bavarian treats. On New Year’s Eve, be dazzled by the fireworks from the celebratory tents, ringing in the new year with cheer.
When: Nov. 26 to Dec. 31
Where: Berlin, Germany
Munich Christmas market
This market traces its roots in some form all the way back to the 14th century, and has been located on Marienplatz since 1972. Today you can spoil your loved ones with traditional gifts like hand painted glass baubles, sheepskin jackets and paper pictures brought back from this historic market made up from more than 160 booths. While there, enjoy stollen, fruit cake and baked apples, then wash it down with berry mulled wine or herb liqueur.
When: Nov. 27 to Dec. 24
Where: Munich, Germany
This is the oldest market in Germany and offers visitors about 250 different stalls to shop from. Celebrate the holiday season with the festival’s gingerbread party or the Christmas tree decorating competition (the winning tree receives a check for 500 euros, which is then donated to a social group like a hospital). While there, feast on glazed apples and, of course, mulled wine.
When: Nov. 27 to Dec. 24
Where: Dresden, Germany
Strasbourg Christmas Market
Miles of fairy lights illuminate this city along the Rhine River as its Christmas market dates back to 1570 — Strasbourg used to be part of the German Rhineland. Shop wooden toys and blown glass candles from the more than 300 market stalls where you can find the perfect souvenir. After, dig into some Alsatian bredele (traditional small cookies), or foie gras in true French fashion.
When: Nov. 22 to Dec. 30
Where: Strasbourg, France
Christmas market at La Défense
This market is the biggest in the Paris area, with more than 300 chalets showcasing crafts and more than 4,000 square feet of merry decorations, all underneath the Grande Arche de la Defense. After a long day of shopping go ahead and indulge in some cheese — you are in France, after all.
When: November - December
Where: Paris, France
Bath Christmas Market
Nearly every single item at this artisan market is handmade by the owner of the stall, in Britain or abroad with Fairtrade certification, according to the market, and more than 80 percent of the stall owners come from the area. Pick up some felt animals and tableware, along with small-batch gin and local fudge. While there, snack on hog roast or caramelized nuts to keep your energy up for shopping.
When: Nov. 28th to Dec. 15
Where: Bath, England
Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park
Sip hot chocolate topped with marshmallows or mulled wine in London’s Hyde Park as you shop for candle votives, ornaments, crafts and gourmet food. After shopping, go ice skating or choose from nine different roller coasters before going to meet Santa in his workshop.
When: Nov. 21 to Jan. 5
Where: London, England
Load up on sweets with cinnamon and sugar chimney cakes and cotton candy at this joyous celebration in the Scottish capital as you shop for hand carved wooden candle holders and Tartan Christmas ornaments. Later, spend a few hours in Santa Land where you can ride the Candy Cane Bunjees and the Reindeer Ride.
When: Nov. 16 to Jan. 4
Where: Edinburgh, Scotland
Vienna Christmas Dream
More than 150 market stalls make up this festive display of Christmas cheer complete with romantic ice-skating all in front of Vienna’s City Hall, erected between 1872 and 1883. Kids will love the area inside the building where they learn how to make Christmas cookies and candles, as well as be dazzled by the Ferris wheel and carousel.
When: November to December
Where: Vienna, Austria
Salzburg Christmas market
This historic market dates as far back as the 15th century and turns the area at the foot of the Hohensalzburg fortress and around the cathedral of Salzburg into a winter wonderland with 95 different exhibitors. Breathe in the smell of hot chestnuts as you learn how to bake gingerbread cookies in this sprawling market.
When: Nov. 21 to Dec. 26
Where: Salzburg, Austria
Plaza Mayor Christmas Market
Pick up Belen figures to make your very own nativity scene as well as intricate ornaments to decorate with at this centrally located Madrid market. While there, soak up the history of this large plaza, dating back to when King Philip II moved his court to Madrid.
When: November to December
Where: Madrid, Spain
Piazza Duomo Market
Stroll underneath the gothic-style cathedral of Milan’s Duomo with a warm drink in hand as you browse the charming stalls and small huts set up in long rows. Shop Italian cheeses and Yuletide souvenirs as you take in the spirit of the city, making it the perfect way to cap off a day of sightseeing.
When: December to January
Where: Milan, Italy
Het Amsterdamse Winterparadijs
This “winter paradise” is a sport and entertainment dream with Christmas spirit and seasonal delicacies built right in. Try your hand at a game of curling, have a snowball fight with real snow or get lost in a snow maze. Later, warm up by roasting marshmallows on the fire or heading to the Christmas cinema for a “nostalgic” Christmas movie.
Where: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Christmas Market Haarlem
Listen to Christmas music and several choirs as you walk through this one-weekend-only large market with more than 300 stalls in this city just west of Amsterdam. Take away charming Santa-themed stockings and fill up on freshly made waffles and broodje worst, or sausage sandwiches.
When: Dec. 7 to Dec. 8
Where: Haarlem, Netherlands