Imagine the sound of Christmas carols together with the scent of mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and spiced cookies, everything shines thanks to Christmas lights… If you want to feel the real spirit of Christmas, visit one of these European Christmas markets recommended by Sygic Travel.
Prague, Czech Republic
Beginning with Advent, the always beautiful and captivating city turns into a magical place with festive and memorable Christmas atmosphere. Although the city is decorated and lit up all over, there are two spots you should visit for sure: the medieval Old Town Square and the Wenceslas Square.
Besides seeing the Christmas tree or a Nativity scene, you can also pet sheep, goats and a donkey here. To satisfy your sweet tooth you can try traditional perník (honey-gingerbread), vánočka (a braided pastry with raisins), vosí hnízda ("wasps nests", nutty cookies with rum) or the popular chimney cake trdelník. Later, you can wash it all down with Czech beer, mead or sweet mulled wine - svařené víno.
If you are looking for a Christmas market that isn’t over right before or after Christmas, go to Tallinn, Estonia. Its festive market is small but suitably located in the centre of the UNESCO-listed Town Hall Square with a beautiful Christmas tree, surrounded by little glimmering stalls and grand old buildings in the background. Children will love the merry-go-round and Santa, adults can enjoy a number of folk singers and dancers. Besides the obligatory gingerbread and mulled wine, you can also try some unusual Christmas delicacies such as sauerkraut (finely cut fermented cabbage) or blood sausages.
It’s hard not to be charmed by Vienna’s beauty anytime throughout the year and it’s nearly impossible in Christmas time. The Austrian capital has the oldest Christmas market tradition in Europe dating back to 1294. Today it welcomes winter tourists with illuminated imperial buildings and the aroma of Weihnachtspunsch (spiced hot Christmas punch) or Vanillekipferl (traditional crescent-shaped cookies dusted with vanilla sugar). Vienna has more than 20 Christmas markets and nearly all of them are within a walking distance from each other.
The most stunning one is undoubtedly on Rathausplatz in front of the City Hall, which is all lit up like a Christmas tree.
Although Christmas markets first appeared in Brussels only 15 years ago, its Winter Wonders (or Plaisirs d'Hiver / Winter Pret) festival is no less than spectacular. A huge ice skating rink, a glittering Ferris wheel or the nightly Sound and Light show at the UNESCO-listed Grand Place all make it magical. At this Christmas market you can find stalls with handmade crafts and seasonal goods or food stalls with pots of moules (mussels), caricoles (peppery whelks or winkles), seasonal croustillons (sugar doughnuts) and of course traditional Belgian fries, waffles, fine chocolates and good beer.
Strasbourg is the Christmas capital of France but can also be proud of one of the oldest Christmas markets in the entire Europe. The first market was held here in 1570. As the French and German border has been toing and froing between either side of the Alsace region for centuries, its traditions and food have been influenced by both nations. Today in Strasbourg you can try pretzels, the special bredele cookies (festive orange and cinnamon flavour biscuits), Flammekueche (a "flamed cake" which is a thin pizza of bacon, onions and crème fraîche) or simply sip mulled wine from boot-shaped mugs. And when you feel you’ve had enough, trip planner Sygic Travel recommends you to go listen to caroling choirs, watch Nativity plays or go skating on an ice rink.
Start exploring Christmas Budapest in front of the Budapest Basilica, where you can try flódni (apple, walnut and poppy seed pastry), the traditional kürtőskalács chimney cake or a wide range of fish dishes. You should also consider visiting the fair at Vörösmarty Square, which is the oldest one in the city. Here you can buy handmade gifts and folk art items for your beloved ones such as knitwear, candles, pottery or leather and lace goods. Besides its holiday traditions, Budapest also offers contemporary hand-crafted products or a monumental light show on the façade of St. Stephen’s Basilica.
No other European nation loves festive markets as much as Germans do. Anywhere you go in this country you are likely to find a Christmas market there as Germany has over 1,400 of them. The best one is held in Dresden, though. Its tradition dates back to the 15th century, making it Germany’s oldest continuously running Christmas market. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is special for its supersized stollen (traditional cake with candied fruits) weighing around 2,000 kg / 4,400 lbs and also wooden crafts, blown glass, clothes and pottery - all made in the region.