Europe's 17 best Christmas markets to visit in 2017
The Christmas Market idea originated in Germany back in the 13th Century. In recent years, the tradition has spread to cities all around Europe, and even further afield, with markets to be found in Canada, Australia and Japan. If you're looking for the very best, here are our picks of the ones to go to.
You'll find Christmas markets in towns and cities across the country, with most high streets filled with the spicy aromas of mulled wine and gingerbread from early November. The country's biggest and best include:
But our favourite is the Southbank Centre's Wintertime Market, where chalet stalls pop up alongside the Thames.
This year there's a Scandinavian theme, tying into the Southbank Centre's year-long Nordic Matters Festival. As well as the food and drink, there'll be a few unusual surprises. We've heard rumours about a Finnish Sauna on the Royal Festival Hall's rooftop.
If you're sticking around, here are more things to do in London in winter.
Opening dates: 10th November-4th January
Edinburgh's city centre has two Christmas Markets. The biggest at Prince's Street Gardens includes traditional stalls, as well as rides.
There's more of a local twist at the market nearby George Street, where you can pick up Christmas gifts with a Scottish twist.
Edinburgh's big Christmas celebrations are organised by the team behind the Underbelly Festival, and include rides, art and shows, and of course the city's famous Hogmanay New Year's Eve celebration.
If you're thinking of heading up to Edinburgh for Hogmanay, we've got a list of places to stay for the event.
Opening dates: East Princes Street Gardens - 18th November-6th January
George Street - 17 November-24th December
Manchester has a whopping ten Christmas Markets, with more than 300 stalls between them. The main action can be found in the historic Albert Square, but the others are all within easy walking distance.
The big thing here is the food. You'll find traditional winter warmers like German bratwurst and Hungarian goulash, as well as Spanish paella, French patisserie and Dutch pancakes.
Opening dates: 10th November-20th December (Albert Square open until 21st December)
The Frankfurt Christmas Market Birmingham is, in fact, the largest traditional German-style market outside of Germany and Austria. It takes over Victoria Square and New Street, draping the area in Christmas decorations, and more than 120 traditional-style stalls.
There's also music at the cabin-style bandstand taking place daily throughout the market's run.
If you're off for a visit, here are 24 other things to do in Birmingham while you're there.
Opening dates: 16th November-24th December
...Or, for the full Frankfurt Christmas Market, you can fly direct to Frankfurt from London in just an hour and a half.
Frankfurt's Christmas Market is one of the oldest in Germany. And it's one of the country's largest too. It takes place in several locations around the city, including along the banks of the river Main and the perfectly preserved Romerberg market square.
Look out for giant Santa Claus sculptures made from gingerbread, and the free guided tours in English every Saturday and Sunday.
Opening dates: 27th November-22nd December
Dresden's Striezelmarkt has been running since 1434. It's named after Hefestriezel - a local Christmas cake - which you might know now as Stollen.
They take Stollen very seriously in Dresden (the authentic local variety are marked with a gold seal), so you might want to time your visit with Stollenfest. It takes place on the first Saturday in Advent (9th December 2017), when giant Stollen are paraded through the city's streets. They end up in the heart of the market, where it's sliced up and served to the crowd.
Other highlights are world's largest Christmas Pyramid (a traditionally German wooden Christmas decoration). And the city is home to several other Christmas Markets, too.
Opening dates: 29th November-24th December
The German capital actually has around a hundred Christmas markets. Including the Very British Christmas Market, which brings English Christmas traditions to the city's St George's Episcopal Church.
The biggest, and most famous are the Berliner Weinachtszeit, in the Alexanderplatz. As well as handcrafts and food, there's a ferris wheel, a festive farm and an ice rink. Or there's the WeinachtsZauber in the Gendarmenmarkt square. That's where you'll find stalls, daily Christmas plays, and a big New Year's Eve party.
Opening dates: Weihnachtszeit - 27th November-29th December
WeinachtsZauber - 27th November-31st December
A Very British Christmas - 9th December
Cologne's main market fills the streets around its beautiful cathedral with charming chalets.
However, Cologne's other Christmas Markets are what makes the city a bit different to the rest. The highlight being the "Christmas Avenue" Gay and Lesbian Christmas Market.
Cologne has one of the largest LGBTQ communities in Germany, and one of its largest Pride Parades. And this celebratory atmosphere carries over into the "Bermuda Triangle" gay district's market, with cheekily adult festive pressies, and camp-as-Christmas live performances.
When: 27th November-23rd December
As you'd expect from the home of the snowglobe, Vienna's pretty good at Christmas.
The Krippenmarkt dates back to 1298, but there are now more than 20 official markets spread throughout the city centre. The most famous is Christkindlmarkt, which takes place in front of, and throughout, the city's Rathaus.
The Christmas Village at the Belvedere Palace is also worth seeing. The stalls are set against the backdrop of one of the city's most beautiful buildings.
And, if you're visiting Vienna for its famous new year's celebrations, stop by the market in the gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace. It runs through the festive period into the start of January.
Opening dates: Christkindlmarkt - 18th November-30th December
Belvedere Palace Christmas Village - 24th November-26th December
Schönbrunn Palace - 18th November-1st January
France's oldest and largest market can be found just on the German border, in Strasbourg. Dating back to 1570, it's believed to be the first example of a Christmas Market in the style we'd recognise today.
The Christkindelsmarik has been voted the best Christmas Market in Europe on multiple occasions. The city describes itself as the "Capital of Christmas", and with dozens of kilometres' worth of decorations around town, it's hard to argue with that.
If you visit the Christkindelsmarik, look out for the guest-country village. A different country every year is invited to bring some of their own Christmas traditions to the town. You'll also find the Village of Sharing right by the Great Christmas Tree. This section of market is run by charities and humanitarian organisations, offering ethical Christmas gifts and products.
Opening dates: 24th November-24th December
Lille is less than an hour and a half from London, and easily reachable on the Eurostar.
The Marche de Noel is centred around Place Rihour, although the festive decorations cover the entire city. The market has more than 80 stalls, with hand-made gifts from as far afield as Russia and America.
You'll find more tips for things to do in Lille in our French city guide.
Opening dates: 17th November-27th December
Spend another half an hour or so on the Eurostar, and you'll find yourself at Brussels' beautiful Winter Wonders market.
Taking place in the iconic Grand Place, as well as other famous city centre addresses like the Bourse and Marche aux Poissons, the market features more than 200 decadently decorated stalls.
There are also rides, including an impressive ferris wheel and a skating rink. The highlight, however, is the magnificent sound and light show which takes place in the Grand Place every evening.
Opening dates: 24th November-31st December
For something a little smaller, but truly special, change trains at Brussels' central station and head to Bruges.
The city's historic market squares are enchanting at any time of year, but especially beautiful during the Christmas period.
Bruges is particularly famous for its chocolate, and its Christmas market, found in the picturesque Markt Square, is one of Europe's best for edible gifts and sweet treats.
Opening dates: 24th November-2nd January
During the days around Christmas, Amsterdam's Museumplein square is given a full Christmas makeover, and is transformed into the Ice* Village Amsterdam.
With an ice rink, live entertainment and winter-time fun and games, the Ice* Village offers a taste of the traditional Dutch Christmas.
However, Amsterdam's trendier side is also reflected in the season's celebrations. The hip clothing and homeware store Sissy-Boy hosts their own Christmas market, offering chic and stylish gifts. The Westergasfabriek creative district also has its own Funky Xmas Market, with live music and items on sale from local artists and designers.
If you choose to pay the city a visit, be sure to set aside some time to see the sights, as Amsterdam's a fabulous winter destination. Here's our guide to what to do in the city during the season.
Opening dates: Ice* Village Amsterdam - 20th-30th December
Sissy-Boy Market - 7th December
Funky Xmas Market - 10th December
For something a bit further afield, take a look at Budapest's Christmas markets. There are two in the city, one taking place in the historic Vorosmarty Square, and the other at the foot of the city's Basilica. Both feature food and craft stalls, but you can choose between free concerts in Vorosmarty Square, or high-tech laser projections at the Bacilica.
Whichever market you choose to explore, be sure to sample a bit of traditional Hungarian "Chimney Cake" while you wander around the stalls.
You'll also find plenty of other Christmas celebrations all over the city, from an ice rink in the city park to a special Santa tram service. The city's famous spa baths also get in on the action with special Christmas and New Year's parties.
And if you need some more inspiration, check out our suggestions for 23 things to do in Budapest.
Opening dates: Vorosmarty Square - 10th November-31st December
Basilica - 24th November-2nd January
Croatia is rapidly becoming one of Europe's hottest destinations. And the Advent celebrations in its capital, Zagreb, are some of the most fashionable around at the moment. The city's Christmas Market was even named Europe's best by travelers in 2016.
The biggest market takes place in the streets around the central Jelacic Square. Here you'll find traditional Croatian gifts and food, as well as a stage offering free concerts. There's also a Jolly Christmas Tram service, offering kids the chance to take a trip with santa, fairies, elves and other festive characters.
Elsewhere, a live nativity scene springs up by the city's main cathedral, King Tomislav square is transformed into an ice rink, and balconies around the city are turned into pop-up concert venues.
A more modern market can be found in European Square, which hosts concerts and exhibitions, while offering gourmet treats and stylish gifts. The area around the city's funicular also joins in the celebrations, with the Fooling Around festival bringing international Christmas traditions to the city.
If you're interested in exploring more of Croatia's beautiful scenery and charming cities, check out our other suggestions of places to visit in Croatia.
Opening dates: 2nd December-7th January
A little off the beaten track, Vilnius is another European destination that's on the rise.
And one of the reasons why is its spectacular Christmas Market. In addition to the traditional stalls and an ice rink, Vilnius' historic cathedral hosts a high-tech 3D Fairy Tale light show.
The city's TV tower is also given a festive makeover, being transformed into a brightly lit Christmas tree, forming a centrepiece for the market.
Opening dates: Christmas Market - 1st December-7th January
3D Fairy Tale - 25th-28th December
Fancy discovering Europe's Christmas Markets for yourself? We've put together some great deals on our favourite Christmas market breaks here. And for more festive ideas, a little closer to home, check out our guide to Christmas events in the UK.
Do you have any recommendations for magical Christmas markets and events, which you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments.