Europe's alternative Christmas markets and their 2023 dates

Don’t forget your wallet as we discover yuletide delicacies, carol-singing kayakers and festive history at Europe's alternative Christmas markets...

5 mins

We have Germany to thank for the creation of Christmas markets, emerging across the country in medieval times. Now, the tradition has spread throughout Europe, and it would be impossible to find a bustling metropolitan without some sort of Christmas market set up. Bringing festive joy to old town squares, cobbled streets and waterfronts, large collections of glowing wooden stalls sell handmade decorations, artisan jewellery and traditional souvenirs. The food is also a highlight, with winter treats such as raclette, currywurst, roasted chestnuts and hog roast often dished up.

Here, we look beyond the major capitals of London, Berlin and Vienna and choose some of Europe's alternative Christmas markets to visit. 

1. Bruges, Belgium

Christmas decorations light up the markt in Bruges (Shutterstock)

Christmas decorations light up the markt in Bruges (Shutterstock)

Bruges rarely lacks for atmosphere, but its medieval cobbles never look more charming than when under a sprinkling of snow. The city’s main square is especially handsome, as food and craft stalls huddle under the gothic menace of the Belfort tower while horse-and-cart rides boost the fairytale vibe. Christmas miracles abound; you can even walk on water over at Minnewater Park, where a floating ice rink nestles on the surface of the lake.

Must buy: Chocolate, of course. If the stalls don’t tempt, head to ‘bad-boy’ chocolatier Dominic Persoone’s The Chocolate Line for cocoa-related whimsy.

When: 24 Nov 2023 – 7 Jan 2024

Read next: Best Christmas markets in Belgium


2. Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn Christmas Market, Estonia (Shutterstock)

Tallinn Christmas Market, Estonia (Shutterstock)

The story goes that Europe’s first public Christmas tree was displayed on Tallinn’s Town Square in 1441. Rather fittingly, it was raised by merchants, perhaps making this the first ever Christmas market. Today’s equivalent is a duly cosy affair, elevated by the medieval Old Town setting. Scout around and you’ll find wooden stalls hawking crafts and treats from Estonia’s small islands as well as plenty of festive installations in the shops on Pikk Street.

Must buy: Piparkoogid (pepper cookies) are, in fact, rather delicious gingerbread biscuits. Locals, meanwhile, can’t get enough blood sausage and sauerkraut – it’s everywhere here.

When: 1 Dec 2023 – 7 Jan 2024


3. Copenhagen, Denmark

Inside Tivoli Gardens' Christmas market (Alamy)

Inside Tivoli Gardens' Christmas market (Alamy)

Come winter, Copenhagen’s historic amusement park, Tivoli Gardens, has festive lights by the million, as stalls bulge with wooden toys, traditional ceramic decorations, mulled wine and Dansk aebleskiver (Danish doughnuts). For a more unique experience, head to the waterfront market at Nyhaven, where you can spy the Santa Lucia Parade (13 December), hundreds of carol singers in fairy-light-strewn kayaks, who paddle the nearby quayside in a floating musical procession. Magical.

Must buy: Denmark is the land of design. Fetching handmade pine tableware and julepynt (Christmas ornaments) adorn every stall.

When: 17 Nov – 31 Dec 2023


Read next: How to take an architectural tour of Copenhagen

4. Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb goes all out when it comes to Christmas (Alamy)

Zagreb goes all out when it comes to Christmas (Alamy)

Awarded the title of Europe's Best Christmas Market three years on the trot, the Croatian capital goes all out in winter, with live music, illuminated fountains and red-cheeked vendors dishing up sweet and savoury strukli dumplings in their thousands. Across the city, a staggering 25 markets scatter everywhere worth walking, from the giant ice rink in King Tomislav Square to stalls packing the former bomb shelter of the Grič Tunnel. For a bit of peace, head up to the delightfully lit Strossmayer Promenade on top of the city walls and take it all in from on high.

Must buy: Hand-carved wooden toys from the Hrvatsko Zagorje region make an exquisite gift and are even UNESCO-recognised.

When: 2 Dec 2023 – 7 Jan 2024


5. Colmar, France

Colmar is enchanting, especially at Christmas (Shutterstock)

Colmar is enchanting, especially at Christmas (Shutterstock)

Strasbourg is Frances oldest and best-known Christmas market. It’s also busy. For a quieter taste of festive Alsace, the canal-side town of Colmar is an understated joy. Its story-book credentials (gothic churches, cobblestone streets, medieval timbered houses) set a cosy scene for its half-dozen markets. Together with the carousel and ice rink, there’s enough festive cheer and späetzle (tiny dumplings) to warm hearts and bellies till New Year. 

Must buy: The hand-made Meisenthal glass baubles are a craft dating back to the 19th century. Colmar is also known for its superb Alsatian wines.

When: 23 Nov – 29 Dec 2023

Read next: 5 best Christmas markets in France


6. Innsbruck, Austria

A view of Innsbruck Christmas market from above (Alamy)

A view of Innsbruck Christmas market from above (Alamy)

While Salzburg is perhaps home to Austria’s most glamorous market, location counts for everything in Innsbruck. In sight of the Karwendel Alps, the city’s Old Town market basks under the glistening tiles of the early-16th-century Golden Roof building – gilded to mark Emperor Maximilian I’s wedding. But the real treat lies above, as a funicular takes you up to Hungerburg and its market in the sky. Shop, peer out over the twinkling city below and get ready for the Krampus Run, when Austria’s traditional festive devils emerge in force. 

Must buy: It would be a crime against snacking not to sample a fresh kiachln – savoury doughnuts overflowing with sauerkraut.

When: 15 Nov - 23 Dec 2023

Read next: 5 festive Christmas markets in Austria


7. Chester, UK

Christmas stalls light up the historic centre of Chester (Alamy)

Christmas stalls light up the historic centre of Chester (Alamy)

The UK isn’t short on Christmas joy. London’s Hyde Park puts on a fine winter show, Manchester typically has a dozen markets on the go, and the Georgian streets of Bath offer festive charm aplenty. But Chester is one that often flies under the radar. Its location makes it an enchanting affair, with more than 70 wooden stalls situated around its Victorian town hall. There's plenty of handmade crafts and sweet treats to purchase, with an iconic Christmas tree lighting up the historic centre: a delightful place to tuck into a glass of mulled wine and Christmas hog roast.

Must buy: Crafts are always top of the list here, with plenty of hand-made decorations and ornaments to choose from.

When: 17 Nov – 21 Dec 2023

Read next: 12 of the UK's best Christmas markets

8. Krakow, Poland

Krakow Christmas Market, Poland (Poland Tourism Board)

Krakow Christmas Market, Poland (Poland Tourism Board)

The ancient city of Krakow is a magical place at Christmas. Wrap up in your cosies and wander the cobbled street, lit up by Christmas lights. The timber market stalls can be found in the 13th-century square, where you can pick up a mulled wine and tasty kielbasa (sausage) to warm your insides, plus a mixture of homemade toys and crafts. There's plenty other things to do in Krakow in the festive season. Grab some skates and hit the ice rink, or perhaps wander the galleries or candlelit churches.

Must buy: Polish Oscypek cheese with cranberries really hits the spot.

When: 24 Nov 2023 – 1 Jan 2024

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