An unmistakable undertone of festive cheer is palpable across Europe, as cities and towns are adorned with fir and fairy lights in preparation for Christmas. From renowned family favourites to hidden fairytale wonderlands, the continent’s festive markets boast an array of yuletide treats to suit all tastes.
Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market
WHERE: Cologne, Germany
As the fourth largest city in Germany, Cologne is home to an impressive eight Christmas markets. The biggest and most popular is Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market, located in the famous Roncalliplatz, which boasts over 150 stalls and attracts over four million visitors each year. The market is set against the exquisite backdrop of Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which houses a shrine to the Three Wise Men – a fascinating detail for those seeking out a market with historical or religious significance. At the market’s centre, a magnificent fir tree is adorned with over 50,000 lights, whilst beneath it, a central stage plays host to over 100 free performances, including Christmas carols, a traditional brass band, and children’s entertainment.
WHERE: Bruges, Belgium
A charming alternative to the usual fairground attractions of some of Europe’s larger winter markets, Bruges’ Winter Glow seeks to warm hearts. Developed as an initiative to promote a wider range of wintry activities in the city, Bruges’ Winter Glow includes two Christmas markets, alongside ice skating at the Lake of Love, the ‘Aurora’ light walk inspired by the Northern Lights, and tempting tipples at the Winter Bar Vorst. The centre of the action occurs in Grote Markt, characterised by the iconic Belfry of Bruges tower that overlooks the city’s quaint, warmly lit streets. A fairytale location characterised by ancient cobblestone paths, Bruges is the perfect backdrop for a magical Christmas experience.
Innsbruck Old Town Christmas Market
WHERE: Innsbruck, Austria
Set in the foreground of Innsbruck’s striking snowy mountain landscape, Innsbruck Old Town Christmas Market is a picture-perfect destination for a festive experience like no other. As the city’s oldest and most expansive Christmas offering, the market is well equipped to offer visitors a veritable host of treats, including curious artisan craft stalls, steaming flagons of warm Glühwein, and the uplifting tones of a traditional Austrian brass band. Nestled amongst ornate, snow-topped medieval buildings and set beneath Innsbruck’s legendary Golden Roof, Innsbruck Old Town Christmas Market is a treat for the senses. Even better, as a popular skiing destination, Innsbruck offers the perfect opportunity to combine a Christmas market visit with your ski trip!
Basel Christmas Market
WHERE: Basel, Switzerland
Basel Christmas Market, recently voted the best Christmas market in Europe, offers marketgoers two for the price of one. Located in Münsterplatz, beneath the city’s red-roofed cathedral, and Barfüsserplatz, Basel’s transport hub, the market’s two sites offer something for all. Münsterplatz’s enviable location overlooking the Rhine tempts a romantic moonlit stroll along the riverbanks, whilst a magnificent Christmas tree in the square’s centre boasts intricate ornaments and warm, glowing lights. Wander down the city’s winding, cobbled streets and you’ll find the rustic wooden chalets of Barfüsserplatz. Culinary delights are abundant here with tastes to tempt all palates, from Basel Läckerli (gingerbread) to Öpfelchüchli (deep fried apple doughnuts) and Chäsbängel – a crusty baguette filled with Swiss fondue!
The Christmas Town
WHERE: Tromsø, Norway
Tromsø in Northern Norway is committed to becoming a one-stop shop for all things Christmas. Between December and January, this tiny, snow-covered town is transformed into a veritable festive sanctuary. Local highlights include catching a glimpse of the remarkable Northern Lights, enjoying a sleigh ride pulled by beautiful huskies across vast Nordic planes, meeting Santa’s reindeer in the flesh, or joining a whale-watching safari on the icy arctic waters. The market itself is steeped in history and the locality prioritises traditional offerings, such as a food kiosk complete with a fire pit and reindeer skin rugs or ice skating on a rink by the harbour. Visit Tromsø for a truly immersive Christmas experience.
WHERE: Copenhagen, Denmark
Danish “hygge”, a staple of the nation’s cultural values, can be defined as the concept of finding comfort, pleasure, and warmth in enjoying the good things in life with those closest to you. Where better to embody this ideal than at the magical Tivoli Gardens at Christmas time. Fun for all the family, Christmas at Tivoli Gardens features rides, rollercoasters, a concert hall, and, of course, Santa Claus and live reindeer. Adorned with over 70,000 sparkling Christmas baubles and 1,000 snow-covered Christmas trees, Tivoli Gardens is undoubtedly a haven for all things Christmas.
Edinburgh Christmas Market
WHERE: Edinburgh, Scotland
Each year, Edinburgh’s historical city centre is transformed into a winter wonderland as one of Europe’s largest Christmas markets takes place. Spanning across Prince’s Street, St Andrew’s Square, George Street, and Castle Street, the city plays host to a huge number of exciting activities, including riotous rollercoaster rides, sumptuous food stalls, immersive ice skating experiences, and marvellous mince pies. The Polar Express™ Train Ride, complete with live-action characters serving hot chocolate onboard, will delight the little ones. This year, the Castle of Light show at Edinburgh Castle will coincide with the Christmas market, providing a glorious spectacle for all that attend.