It's that time of year again! Europe's cities are bursting with excitement as locals and tourists brave the cold and celebrate together.
Every market has its own unique charm and feel but you'll find fairly similar items at each of them. Browse ornaments, nutcrackers, lace, traditional foods and candy. Most markets will sell commemorative mugs for hot mulled wine or rum punch. These can, of course, be returned for a deposit but make a great collectable to bring home!
So, in no particular order, here are some of Europe's most festive and beautiful Christmas markets to get you in the holiday spirit:
1. Prague, Czech Republic
Okay, I may be a bit biased towards Prague's Christmas markets, having lived here through two holiday seasons. But, this city truly has charm and people really do show up for that hot wine ("Svarak")! There are multiple markets around the city but the largest is in Old Town Square.
You'll find everything from ornaments, to wool socks, wooden toys, and traditional pastries. Keep an eye out for Trdelník - a cuff-shaped pastry made of dough and rolled in cinnamon sugar.
2. Dresden, Germany
Dresden's markets are a real treat. The famous Striezelmarkt is the oldest in Germany with 2017 marking the 583rd year! The Germans are seriously committed to their traditions. There are multiple markets set up around the city but the Striezelmarkt is truly extraordinary. Here you get the feel of a mini theme park, the stands are intricately decorated and there are often performances.
At any of the German markets in particular, look out for traditional wooden pyramids (giant one pictured above). They typically display a nativity scene on multiple tiers. Candles positioned at the base of the pyramid create the energy needed to spin the propellers. They also make smaller versions with just one candle and a spinner. These are well-priced and compact enough to take home as a cool memento or gift for family. My aunts and grandparents all have these in their homes now!
Vienna has a relatively small but cute market right in the city center, just outside St. Stephen's Cathedral. The wares are similar to other markets around Europe, but the setting is gorgeous. The cathedral is striking with its colorful roof tiles lit up at night. Enjoy the scenery and be sure to pick up a refillable souvenir mug for the Glühwein (hot wine)!
There is also a main shopping street less than five minutes away. It's all lit up as well and a great place to pick up some European fashions once the cold sets in.
4. Colmar, France
Colmar is an absolutely stunning little town any time of year, but comes alive especially during the holidays. This French-German town right on the border is a nice blend of both cultures. The colorful buildings with typical German wood accents are accented by the glow of festive Christmas lights. This quaint little town is a great place to relax and take the in markets a a leisurely pace.
The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is one of the most famous in the world. Grab some rum punch, gingerbread and a bratwurst for the true German experience. This is another one of those postcard-worthy stops and is within reach of many of the other cities already mentioned.
6. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
This little gem truly captures the holiday spirit! Having visited as young child, I still remember referencing it as "the Christmas town." The yearly Weihnachtsmarkt ("Christmas Market") has been operating for over 500 years. In addition to the festive market, you can check out the famed Käthe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Village, open year round. More of an attraction than a store, this place boasts an 18 ft. tall revolving Christmas Pyramid, over three miles of Christmas garland and over 122,000 artificial lights. It's no wonder Rothenburg stands out a a true holiday town!
Virtually every European city has it's own take on the holiday market. No matter where in Europe you end up for the season, you're sure to find people out in the square sipping on hot mulled wine and enjoying the festivities! Why not join them next year?