Open-air winter street markets are back again to mark the season of Advent, and there’s nothing better to get you into an epic Christmas vibe. The first recorded Christmas market was in Vienna, the Krippenmarkt, in 1298!
People go to great lengths to get to them. The highest Christmas market in the world, at almost 7,000 feet, is Christkindli Market on Mount Pilatus in Switzerland, and to reach it you have to take the world’s steepest Cogwheel Railway for 30 minutes. It is only open for two days in mid-November however, so plan for next year.
Initially, Christmas markets would only sell meat, but have evolved since gift-giving on Christmas Day took off sometime in the sixteenth century, and have since become a wonderful opportunity to find unique gifts made using leather, cloth, wood, silver, or glass from local artisans, as well as traditional seasonal goodies all accompanied by festive song and cheer! The latter two things are often directly related to how much glühwein or whatever the hot spiced wine is called wherever you find yourself (mulled wine in England, so you know).
These are some of our favorite markets, and a couple thrown in for fun.
Until January 8, 2023
Vienna is the alpha dog of Christmas markets, and why settle for one Christmas market when you can have a whole bunch of them, all in Baroque settings? Krippenmarkt was first staged in front of the old City Hall, in Rathausplatz, and it’s still a good place to start.
There are more than 20 events across Vienna to choose from, with hundreds of stalls and everything to equal magical, from Christmas decorations, traditional handicrafts, international choirs, carousels, hot mulled wine (glühwein), hot chestnuts, reindeer trains, children’s workshops and a huge ice rink where you can try curling if it grabs you. Maybe it will after a few glühweins!
The Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace (November 18 – December 26) boasts well-designed handicrafts and culinary tasty bites, and the view across the lake is a fairytale on wheels. There’s Schönbrunn Palace for quality handmade decorations, Karlsplatz is good for places for kids, Am Hof for artist’s booths, Wintermarkt is almost entirely food and drink and next to a Ferris wheel and dodgems for good measure, and the market on Maria-Theresien-Platz has museums on all four sides.
The Advent Pleasure Market at The Opera House focuses on local regional delicacies including gingerbread, cheeses, meats, hot punch, and wine. And it’s next to the Opera House. When in Vienna… Happy times are ahead.
November 25 – January 8, 2023
The medieval city of Tallinn is one of the oldest, best-preserved cities in Northern Europe, located 50 miles south of Helsinki, Finland. There will most likely be snow. In fact, be very afraid if there isn’t.
This capital city has had various influences throughout its history from Russia, Denmark, Germany, as well as Estonia, making it a fascinating, very literally storied cultural hub. Grand Gothic architecture sits alongside old churches from the middle ages, and rows of wooden huts set in the town square set the scene for the market where carolers, poets, and dancers perform, where (they claim) the world’s first-ever Christmas tree was erected, in 1441.
Try the local Vana Tallinn rum-based liqueur flavored with citrus oil, vanilla, cinnamon, and spices. It’s over eighty-proof so it’s perfect to warm you up we think.
November 25 – December 24
Strasbourg has one of Europe’s oldest Christmas markets. Set in eastern France, close to the German border, the market has been happening since 1570. The city claims to be the capital of Christmas markets. (We couldn’t independently verify that claim and we stopped trying after half an hour, when we realized, who cares? Christmas markets don’t need a capital!)
Stalls can be found all over the place around different squares and into enchanting alleyways. The whole set-up is pretty fantastic with over 300 market chalets in the center and a 98-foot Christmas tree. Eat your heart out Rockefeller Center…
November 22 – December 22
Located in the medieval town of Erfut, the market is set in the cathedral square. There are traditional handmade crafts plus local specialties.
Try the Thuringia Raclette toasted cheese sandwiches. You’ll never eat an American cheese-toasted sandwich ever again. You will, in fact, move to Erfut, and produce little Erfut babies.
November 22 – December 23
Another one of the oldest and most decorous European Christmas markets, dating back to 1458, and one of the largest in Germany. Try the Apfelwein (hot cider), and thank me later.
Dresden, Saxony, Germany
November 23 – December 24
Back to Germany, which really does the Christmas market right, is really the universal postcard for it. Dresden has the largest Christmas market in eastern Germany, and the original Striezelmarkt is the oldest, now being in its 587th year (since 1434, to save you working it out). Named after German Christmas cake, Striezel, or Christstollen, which is a traditional highlight of the market. The wooden chalets hold Saxony folk art amongst a myriad of twinkly lights, there’s a Ferris wheel, puppet theaters, an enchanted forest, several markets including a medieval market at Dresden’s Royal Palace, and a romantic market close by. The Advent Market sells goods from the historic crafts including chocolatiers, engravers and sign writers.
Useful terms to know:
Christstollen is Christmas fruit bread
Bethmännchen is pastry with marzipan (warning for marzipan haters)
Bratwurst is German sausage (a whole other animal to an American hot dog)
And most importantly, Glühwein is mulled wine. Drink lots of it. Your life will be richer for it. WONDERLUST never lies to you.
Stay in the Baroque Hotel Kempinski with an ice rink in the courtyard.
Prague is three hours away, by the way.
Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany
November 25 – December 24
Nuremberg was once considered to be the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Christkindlesmarkt in this Bavarian city is one of the largest and best-known Christmas markets in the world, first believed to be held in 1628, it now welcomes more than two million visitors per year from around the world. Tens of thousands of spectators attend the official opening ceremony by the Christkind, who brings gifts to the children and is an ethereal blond elected to perform official duties, including reading the opening prologue. Requirements are that she must be a native, aged between 16 – 19, at least 5 ft 3”, and not be afraid of heights.
It all takes place in the Hauptplatz square.
November 25 – December 26
Krakow has more of a diverse Christmas market. Set in the city’s enormous square, it also offers antiques and weird artifacts among the usual Christmas fair of hand-painted baubles and beautiful carved wooden things.
Prague, Czech Republic
November 26 – January 6, 2023 (including Christmas day if you’re at a loose end)
Prague is stunning anyway, with its Gothic and Renaissance splendors around every corner. Add to that two Christmas markets five minutes’ walk from each other. One is in Old Town Square and the other in the historic Wenceslas Square, named after the good old king, which, in more recent times, was the scene of the declaration of the rejection of Soviet communism, (and subsequent uproarious celebration of the fall of it weeks later) in then Czechoslovakia, in late fall 1989.
If you like your sausages, look out for the Klobasa, the Czech sausage.
November 26 – January 7, 2023
The capital of Croatia is a big hit during the Advent season holding a plethora of unique events, music, excellent food, carousels, art, a beautiful ice park, stunningly lit walkways, and several Christmas markets. Plus it’s great for shopping, generally, anyway. And food!
Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland
Open 365 days a year
Four miles south of the Arctic Circle is Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, home to around 63,000 people and… Santa himself!
There’s a giant Santa Claus village where you can visit Santa and his elves all year long, however, on December 23rd Santa leaves the Arctic Circle to deliver gifts to children all over the globe, and watching him depart is a must-experience event!
Besides that, there are Finnish crafts, traditional cuisine, reindeer and husky dog sleigh rides, and trips to ‘the forest of the elves’, oh and the Aurora Borealis. Nothing really. Lapland is JUST A MAGICAL KINGDOM (and home to our Number One location and experience on the WONDERLUST 100).