Cologne Christmas market (Shutterstock.com. See main credit below)
Article Words : Wanderlust team | 20 November

The Wanderlust guide to the best of Christmas markets

Got a hankering for mulled wine, pretzels and blown-glass trinkets? You need to get yourself to a Christmas market. Here’s how.

Christmas markets offer traditional delights for the senses: aromas of spiced mulled wine, gingerbread and sausages fill the air as you wander through the finger-tingling cold streets, soaking up the festive atmosphere.

From food and drink to hand crafted toys, tree decorations, candles and lambskin shoes, the stalls in Europe's Christmas markets offer something for everyone. Here’s your guide to the best Christmas markets in the world – and what to do once the shopping is done.

Christmas market in Vienna (Shutterstock.com)Christmas market in Vienna (Shutterstock.com)

Where it all began

The history of Christmas markets can be traced back to the Late Middle Ages and the German-speaking parts of Europe. Held during the four weeks of the Advent, the markets sold food, drink and seasonal items, accompanied by traditional singing and dancing.

It’s no surprise then that some of the biggest and best-known Christmas markets are in Germany. Penny Walker has rounded up the best of them – from Rothenberg ob der Tauber on the Fairy Tale route to the big cities of Berlin and Dresden – in her list of Top 8 German Christmas Markets.

Thomas Rees, on the other hand, went in search of Western Europe’s top 7 unique Christmas markets. From the subversive and scatological markets of Catalonia to Dublin’s Dockland Christmas festival, it’s Christmas, but not necessarily how you know it. He also uncovered the most romantic and picture-perfect markets of Central and Eastern Europe too.

The UK has embraced Christmas markets too. Usually held in the shadow of a cathedral or castle, the best Christmas markets in the UK are just as atmospheric and cheerful as their continental counterparts.

More information

Top 8 German Christmas markets – Penny Walker

Western Europe's top 7 unique Christmas markets – Thomas Rees

Central and Eastern Europe's best Christmas markets – Thomas Rees

The UK's 7 best Christmas markets – Thomas Rees

Christmas market stall (Shutterstock.com)Christmas market stall (Shutterstock.com)

Further afield

Can’t get to Europe for Christmas? Don’t despair, you can find Christmas markets in other parts of the world too. While Europe features heavily in Lauren William’s list of 10 magical Christmas markets, there’s a few surprises as well. Mulled wine in Marrakech, anyone?

Chilly Canada loves its Christmas markets too. Thomas Rees discovers 5 Canadian Christmas markets that combine French-Canadian tradition with German folklore. (German folklore, in this sense, meaning bratwurst and bretzels.)

Long time Wanderlust reader, FarawayVisions, on the other hand, reports from Guatemala and the totally unexpected Christmas market she stumbled upon in Chichicastenago.

The Christmas spirit, it seems, is everywhere.

More information

10 magical Christmas markets – Lauren Williams

Canada's top 5 Christmas markets – Thomas Rees

Chichicastenango Christmas Markets – Faraway Visions

Rothenburg ob de Tauber (Shutterstock.com)Rothenburg ob de Tauber (Shutterstock.com)

When the shopping is done

You’ve had your fill on gluhwein and bratwurst and you’ve got enough trinkets to last a lifetime. What next?

Thankfully, the Wanderlust team are on hand with Short Break guides to some of the most popular Christmas market destinations that will help you eat, drink and sleep well when the shopping is done and provide plenty of ideas to pass the time when the thought of looking at another blown-glass bauble is about to push you over the edge. From Germany’s Fairy Tale Route to Salzburg, Berlin, Tallinn and beyond, we’ve got you covered.

More information

Short Break Fairy Tale Route, Germany – Tom Hawker

Short Break Berlin – Katherine Price

Short Break Innsbruck – Phoebe Smith

Short Break Salzburg – Holly Gurr

Short Break Tallinn, Estonia – Daisy Cropper

Frankfurt Christmas market (Shutterstock.com)Frankfurt Christmas market (Shutterstock.com)

Capturing it all on film

Christmas. The nights are long and the light is dim. Capturing the colour and excitement of Christmas markets can be tricking. Especially when the exposure times are long and slow.

Our resident photography guru, Steve Davey, says that lighting is a key issue. When you shoot at night, you will be photographing in low levels of artificial light or in darkness. You can use the flash, but this is intrusive, and will generally kill the picture’s atmosphere. You’ll find more of his tips on night-time shoots here.

If it’s inspiration you’re after, maybe you should check out Stuart Foster’s photos from the Hamburg Christmas markets.

More information

Photography tips: night-time shoots – Steve Davey

Hamburg Christmas Markets

Friends enjoying mulled wine in a German Christmas market (Shutterstock.com)Friends enjoying mulled wine in a German Christmas market (Shutterstock.com)

Ready to go?

Many of our partners offer Christmas market tours. Use our Trip Planner or consult our Tour Operator directory for more information.

Main image: Cologne Christmas market (Shutterstock.com)