8 magical Christmas markets in Europe with a difference

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

5 mins

1.  Bruges, Belgium

Brudges, Belguim (Shutterstock)

Brudges, Belguim (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: 26 Nov 2021–9 Jan 2022

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: 19 Nov 2021–2 Jan 2022

 

3. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark (Alamy)

Copenhagen, Denmark (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 (Dec 13): 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: 19 Nov–23 Dec 2021

 

4. Cologne, Germany

Cologne, Germany (Shutterstock)

Cologne, Germany (Shutterstock)

Cologne’s city centre is everything you want from a German Christmas market: twinkling lights, mountains of pork, the familiar slosh of glühwein, and all under the stately gothic gaze of the magnificent cathedral. But there are plenty of other options here. Heinzels Wintermärchen even has its own rinks for curling and ice skating, while the defiantly non-traditional Heavenue, a lively LGBTQI+ market in KölnBonn with shows and music every weekend, adds a bit of panache to Christmas.

Must buy: Warm up with a mug of feuerzangenbowle – rum-soaked sugarloaf dipped in mulled wine and set ablaze.

When:  22 Nov–23 Dec 2021

Germany's top 10 Christmas markets

 

5. Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb, Croatia (Shutterstock)

Zagreb, Croatia (Shutterstock)

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: 27 Nov 2021–2 Jan 2022

 

6. Colmar, France

Colmar, France (Shutterstock)

Colmar, France (Shutterstock)

Strasbourg is France’s 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: 26 Nov–29 Dec 2021

5 best Christmas markets in France

 

7.  Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck, Austria (Shutterstock)

Innsbruck, Austria (Shutterstock)

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 2021-6 Jan 2022

5 fabulously festive Christmas markets in Austria

 

8. Blenheim Palace, UK

Blenheim Palace, UK (Alamy)

Blenheim Palace, UK (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 what beats Christmas at a sprawling country house? The history, the grounds, the lights. Winston Churchill’s ancestral home of Blenheim Palace welcomes 70 boutiques in winter, as designers and artisans rise to the fore and illuminated night-time trails through the gardens add to the fun. 

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

When: 19 Nov 2021–2 Jan 2022

12 of the UK's best Christmas markets

Related Articles