Cinnamon spice wafting through the air, twinkling lights, the hum of carols… There’s no place more festive than a Christmas market. The yuletide tradition goes back to medieval Germany, but over the past 20 years, more and more Christmas markets have popped up across Europe. As summer fades and autumn takes its place, now is the perfect time to start thinking about which festive affairs you’d like to travel to, perhaps on a weekend break (if you can tear yourself away from the mulled wine after so short a while). Here’s our pick of the most enchanting Christmas markets, from the real-life inspiration of Disneyland to snow-covered Salzburg.
The Best European Christmas Markets to Visit in 2023
When? 23 November 2023–1 January 2024
What? According to The Bucket List Company, Poland tops the list for the best Christmas markets in the world – known for being relatively low cost and for selling traditional ornaments and delicious food across Krakow, Wrocław and Warsaw. Our pick of the bunch? Gdansk – which is also one of the most romantic Christmas markets in Europe. Stroll through the fairytale streets of the historical town centre, with its unique scenery and colourful architecture mirroring a gingerbread city.
How? Fly directly to Gdansk from Edinburgh, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool, London Luton and London Stansted airports.
Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen
When? 17 November–31 December 2023
What? Experience the magic of a Nordic Christmas at Copenhagen’s scandi-chic Tivoli Gardens, a historic amusement park which transforms into a winter wonderland during the festive season. With over 500,000 twinkling lights, Scandinavian-style wooden huts and snow-covered trees, it’s no surprise this fairytale setting attracts more than a million visitors every year. The Trainsbury Station theme, which debuted in 2017, has been expanded with two steam engines and an old station building where you can sample aebleskiver (apple dumplings) and glögg (mulled wine). Fun fact: this was the real-life inspiration for Disneyland! tivoli.dk
How? Fly directly to Copenhagen from Gatwick, Stansted, Heathrow, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, or Edinburgh airport. Or take the Eurostar from London to Brussels and another train from Brussels to Copenhagen.
Salzburg Christmas Market, Austria
When? 23 November 2023–1 January 2024
What? With snow often turning the city into an atmospheric winter wonderland, the romantic Salzburg comes alive at Christmas time. There is a snowstorm of festive markets, with the city centre market – the largest and oldest – mentioned in history as early as the 15th century. It is held in Cathedral Square, with the beautiful Northern Alps as a backdrop and over 95 stalls selling everything from candles to crafts to jewellery. austria.info
How? Fly directly to Salzburg from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Belfast, Bristol, Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds Bradford, Newcastle, or Southampton airport.
Christkindlesmarkt, Nuremberg, Germany
When? 1–24 December 2023
What? Most of the Christmas markets in London are modelled on Germany’s – so why not get a glimpse of the real deal? There are hundreds of festive markets across the country, but Nuremberg houses one of the most traditional, Christkindlesmarkt, which dates all the way back to 1628. Traders must go through a rigorous approval process, with all mass-produced goods strictly forbidden, meaning everything on sale is handcrafted. Around every corner you’ll find delicious food and drink, with the aromas of Nuremberg gingerbread, Rostbratwurst (spicy German sausages) and mulled wine floating through the air. christkindlesmarkt.de
How? Fly directly to Nuremberg from Heathrow or Stansted airport, or fly into Munich and take the train to Nuremberg.
Tuomann Markkinat, Helsinki
When? 1–22 December 2023
What? The home of Santa Claus, Finland is one of the most festive countries in the world. If you can’t make it all the way to Lapland, there are plenty of seasonal delights in the capital city of Helsinki, including the stylish Christmas Market in Senate Square. Around 130 vendors set up camp in wooden huts along Gift Alley, selling handmade Finnish products such as himmeli ornaments (geometric mobiles made of straw), pine and birch tar candles, carved wooden kuksa mugs and contemporary jewellery. Visitors can enjoy the traditional Finnish Christmas drink Glögi (a mixture of spiced wine, almonds, raisins, and sometimes a splash of vodka) alongside traditional Finnish pastries with plum jam and gingerbread. tuomaanmarkkinat.fi
How? Fly directly to Helsinki from Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, Manchester, or Edinburgh airport.
Skansen Christmas Market, Stockholm
When? Friday, Saturday and Sundays, 24 November–18 December 2023
What? Take a ferry across to the island of Djurgarden from Stockholm and you’ll find Skansen, an open-air museum which doubles as a festive market in the weekends leading up to Christmas. This one’s about as traditional as it gets: think Swedish handicrafts, sausages, spices, candles and smoked turkey, plus craft demonstrations and workshops. Skansen is also home to a small zoo, so you can combine your Christmas shopping with some reindeer spotting! skansen.se
How? Fly directly to Stockholm from Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Liverpool, or Manchester airport.
Noel au Jardin, Geneva
When? 16 November–24 December 2023
What? You can find unique gifts nestled in amongst many (many) cheese and chocolate winter foodie treats in Geneva’s Christmas market offering at the Parc des Bastions, right in the heart of the city. Visit during the second weekend in December and check out L’Escalade Festival celebrations, with festivities throughout the old town and spilling over into this beautifully decorated Christmas hub. noel-au-jardin.ch
How? Fly directly to Geneva from London City, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Stansted, Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Edinburgh, East Midlands, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester, or Southampton airport.
Old Town Square Christmas Market, Prague
When? 2 December 2023–6 January 2024
WHAT? Hometown of Good King Wenceslas and capital of the Czech Republic, Prague comes alive at Christmas. Festive markets spring up across the city, but you can find the most popular at Old Town Square, which has a daily carol concert, stalls selling traditional Czech crafts, a pretty nativity scene and huge Christmas tree. A visit to Prague is not complete without trying some Czech delicacies, and everything from Pražská Šunka (Prague ham) to trdelnik (a Slovakian dish of spiralled dough coated in sugar and cinnamon) can be found in the market. pragueexperience.com
HOW? Fly directly to Prague from Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Stansted, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Manchester, or Newcastle airport.
Main image: Prague Christmas Market (via Getty Images)