It’s the most wonderful time of the year..! It’s (almost) Christmas time. For the past week, my head is filled with quotes from famous Christmas songs. I already bought my Christmas tree and I’m getting in the holiday mood quickly! (aka I don’t want to change out of my Christmas pants!) But nothing will get you in the Christmas mood faster than to plan your Christmas market trip. Dark evenings, the smell of mulled wine and bratwurst, the twinkling stars of all the Christmas ornaments, and the cheerful sentiment that surrounds people.
Anyone who travels around Europe from late November till early January cannot escape them: the festive markets full with Christmas decorations, winter food and sparkling lights. I’ll guide you through the maze of Christmas Markets in Europe and share practical tips on planning your trip to the Christmas Market!
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Christmas Markets in Europe
Europe is filled with Christmas Markets. It seems each city and town has some sort of market, with a Christmas tree. Depending on the religious region, a nativity display and loads of opportunities for shopping. And some great places to taste the local Christmas traditions or regional food.
If you come over to Europe or happen to be in Europe, anywhere between late November and Christmas, a visit to a Christmas Market is a must-do on your travel bucket list! (Curious about mine? Check it here!)
To help you make your visit to any European Christmas Market unforgettable and overall a great time to remember, I share my tips below.
As I live in Europe and can easily hop around and visit any Christmas Market I feel like, I gathered all these experiences firsthand.
How to plan your Christmas Market Trip?
Ok, you want to visit a Christmas Market. But how to plan your trip? And how to have a great time?
In my opinion, you have to have a plan and be well-prepared. Prepared for the cold, and the crowds and you have to know where to go.
Determine why you want to go visit a Christmas Market.
I love Christmas Markets. Not per se to shop for handmade Christmas ornaments or other Christmas-related knick-knacks, but just the atmosphere and the joy of the Christmas lights.
To have an epic time, especially when you’re traveling with someone else, make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to get out of it.
After visiting several Christmas Markets across Europe, I determined several types of Christmas Market visitors:
- Foodie Visitors. Foodies are well off at a Christmas Market because of the plethora of different food stands. Feast on thick chocolate milk with whipped cream or mulled wine, whipped cream cones in Prague, and endless Bratwursts in Germany.
- Shop for that one special something. Hand-made Christmas ornaments carefully decorated Christmas baubles, home-knitted woolen socks and hand-crafted tablecloths, Christmas figures, home decor, puzzles and other toys, and cute sweaters. Or commercial shoes, bags, jewelry, and beyond. You name it, they sell it. Shop until you drop!
- Try before you die- people. Try on a silly hat, a new scarf, hand-made earrings, or festive glasses. At the market, it’s easy to dress up and try things on!
- People watch. Maybe my favorite sport when traveling. Watch other people go about their business. It is amazing what you’ll see. From vendors to helpers, from locals to tourists, and everything in between. Businessmen eating a bratwurst after work, children stuffing their faces with Christmas candy, and street artists in between.
- Entertainment for the kids. Besides the twinkling lights, the food-a-plenty, and the toys on sale, a Christmas Market can also be a great playground for the kids. For example one of the Christmas Markets in Vienna is hosted at a fairground. With a Ferris wheel and everything.
- All of the above. And then some. When you visit a city in Europe for Christmas Markets, it is super easy to explore beyond the market. Pop your head in the main cathedral. Eat out in a nice restaurant off the grid of Christmas markets and take a river cruise to see the city from the water.
What are your reasons for planning a Christmas Market visit?
Which Christmas Market should you visit?
Of course, you need to know where you want to go! Are you looking for the best Christmas market to spend a few bucks?
Are you looking for a Christmas market that’s fun for children? Or you want a food lover experience at the Christmas market.
All markets are wonderful but here’s a list of Christmas markets to get some ideas.
Christmas Markets in London, Germany, Belgium and more
5 of the best Christmas Markets in London, by Emily Luxton. Because London really decks out on the Christmas decoration and this city will appeal to everyone. This is the city for Christmas Carollers and loads of Christmas shopping (besides the Christmas markets in London).
Christmas Markets in Germany by Europediaries. This must be the best place for Christmas markets! In every town and city in Germany, there is some sort of Christmas market. Famous are the ones in Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Nuremberg, and many more. You cannot visit a Christmas Market in Germany without a taste of mulled wine, bratwurst, and some pretzels.
Need more inspiration? Find the best Christmas market holiday ideas in Europe by the World Wandering Kiwi.
3 Christmas markets in Belgium worth visiting, by Alison and Andrew. This couple travels slowly and lists a few blog posts about Christmas markets in Belgium. Brussels and Bruges Christmas Markets are renowned for their delicious foods, snacks, and treats. Enjoy!
My favorite Christmas markets in Europe
I have been to the best Christmas markets in Germany, the Christmas Market of Cologne, and Dusseldorf, and have visited Berlin and Erfurt.
And I also visited Dublin and Budapest during Christmas and stumbled upon a great Christmas Market in Ypres, Belgium.
In 2022 I went all out and did a whole December tour with visits to the Christmas markets in Cologne (Germany), Basel, and Bern (Switzerland) and the Alsace Christmas Markets of Colmar and Strasbourg.
Where will you go this year?
For 2023 I have a Christmas market trip planned to Vienna, Austria for some magic holiday moments.
Looking for the best place to spend Christmas? Check the Christmas traditions around the globe.
How to get to the Christmas Markets?
The most important thing about how to plan your Christmas market trip is to plan how to get there. Depending on where you wish to go and how far it’s from your hometown, you need to arrange the right sort of transportation.
I recommend you take the train or join a budget bus tour. Yes, that’s when you join all the old people who love these sorts of things. But the fare for the bus is cheap and once you arrive, you can wander off on your own.
Take the train to the Christmas Markets in Europe
Taking the train or bus, allows you to drink as much mulled wine as you’d like. You do not have to drive home after having walked all day and you’re feet are killing you. And, last but not least you do not have to worry about high parking fees or traffic driving into the city.
Some helpful tips and links to help plan your Christmas Market Trip:
- Train from the Netherlands to Belgium, France, and nearly any Christmas Market in Germany.
- Trains in France and abroad from France
- Other trains in Europe
- Of course, you can also do Eurail in Winter and visit all the Christmas Markets by train.
- Christmas Experiences across Europe
Fly around Europe to visit the Christmas Markets
With low airfare in Europe, you can pretty much go everywhere for a couple of bucks. Zagreb? Edinburgh? Barcelona? Milan or Copenhagen?
Budget airlines serve them all. Be aware to check the distance from the airport to the city though. Especially the airports around London can have long travel times towards the city.
If you’re on a short break, you might want to consider flying to an airport with less transfer time.
Some helpful links to get you started in your search:
- Your one-stop shop for all airlines and flights
- EasyJet, a low-cost airline with a wide network in Europe
- Transavia Airlines serves a lot of cities in Europe for very affordable prices.
Make sure to check the hand luggage regulations because all airlines have different policies and restrictions.
Visit a Christmas Market in winter
However you travel, always be aware it is winter!
Weather conditions can change, so you need to have a backup plan.
It’s December after all and the weather can turn for the worst. You need snow tires on your car to drive in Germany. The trains can be delayed due to severe snow. Or the flight gets canceled due to fog. It can all happen. Be flexible and plan generously.
How long to stay at the Christmas market?
If you come from overseas, you might want to stay longer in a city than just a market visit. But even if you’re already in Europe, it might be well worth it to stay one or more nights at the Christmas Market.
Of course, it all depends on the time you have and your budget. Christmas markets can get really busy during the last 2 weekends before Christmas, but you can also visit during the week or at the end of November.
Some don’t pack up and leave right after Christmas either (like in Vienna and Budapest), so you might want to consider visiting after Christmas. This way, you’ll have plenty of room to move around and some shop holders might throw in some discounts. Weekends are most busy so be aware of the crowds (and the prices!).
I recommend staying at least one night if you’re traveling further away. This way, you can have a drink at night and explore the city during the evenings.
The lights are all lit and there are plenty of opportunities to wine and dine. You do not want to miss this, because you have to head home early.
Stay in a comfortable hotel or hostel. Make sure to read the reviews if the room is warm enough in winter. Consider spending a few extra euros to stay in a place in the center of the city.
Because you do not want to walk home in the freezing cold in a snow blizzard when you’re tipsy from the mulled wine. Trust me on that.
I always book my hotels via this hotel booking site, mainly because they have the widest network of hotels and other accommodations, but also because they have the lowest prices, and you can cancel free of charge with most accommodations.
Other essential tips to get the best experience at the European Christmas Markets
- Take cash and enough small coins. Some shop holders on the Christmas markets do not have the opportunity to pay with a credit card and only accept cash. You do not want to miss out on your amazing Christmas ornament because you do not have enough cash on you.
- Wear warm clothes. Duh! It’s December. Although it might be nice during the day, once the night falls, temperatures plummet. Wear an extra pair of panties or thermo-pants under your jeans. Wear a hat because you’ll lose heat from your head and gloves!
- Look into the deposit jugs/mugs. At most Christmas Markets in Europe, you can get a mug, jar, or glass for a deposit (2 to 5 or even 7 euros). Once you’ve emptied it, you can either give it back and claim your deposit, take it home as a souvenir, or re-fill it and enjoy your drink!
- Research the best opportunities to move around. Some cities are big and have multiple December Markets and Christmas Markets can be too far apart to walk. Explore the local transport or consider renting a carriage and let the horses show you around town.
- And last but not least: have fun! It’s only Christmas once a year, so start to plan your Christmas market trip and go!
Have you already been to a Christmas Market this year? Or are you planning on visiting one? Please share your best Christmas Market experiences below in the comment section.