The Best and Most Festive Christmas Markets in Europe
Get into the holiday spirit with a shopping trip at these Christmas markets in Europe
Having barely recovered from the food coma of Boxing Day and a cracking New Year’s hangover, the months just seem to fly by and before you know it, it’s Christmas again. There’s a lot to plan over the holidays, from dinner menus to decorations to gift shopping. Overwhelmed? We don’t blame you. We’re not advocating you running away from your problems, but if you do plan to escape from it all, a little getaway to Europe might be just what you need. And here at Plum Guide, we've put our expert heads together to give you the perfect guide to Christmas in Europe, so you’re in good hands. There’s something about winter in Europe that feels more festive than anywhere else, so we've put together a guide to the best Christmas markets in Europe - and where to stay nearby.
London is by far one of the best destinations for Christmas markets in Europe, as there are multiple markets spread all over the city. If you’re new to London, one of the best seasonal markets to visit is Christmas by the River. Set along the riverbank, the market has a backdrop of the city skyline across the Thames and landmarks like the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Find everything from food to crafts in the German style wooden cabins.
You can’t mention Christmas in London without bringing up Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. This giant Christmas fair is home to the UK’s largest outdoor ice rink, an ice bar, a ‘ski village’, festive food stalls, German beer tents and even hireable karaoke huts (please don’t). If you don’t mind spending time in the tourist district, Leicester Square Market is one of the merriest spots in town. As well as food and gift stalls, the market also pays tribute to its location in the West End by hosting award-winning performances. You’ll find variety shows, fire-breathers, cabaret shows, girl bands and drag tributes.
This Christmas, head to one of the most Christmassy countries in Europe: Germany. Okay, so while its capital may conjure up images of graffiti and edgy clubs, when it comes to Christmas time, the city transforms into a winter wonderland. One of the favourite Christmas markets in Berlin is the Weihnachtszauber am Gendarmenmarkt (try saying that after a few beer steins). Surrounded by the architectural delights of the French Cathedral, German Cathedral and Berlin’s concert hall, it’s impossible not to get into the festive spirit. You’ll find a whole range of stalls selling culinary delights, arts and crafts and even a bit of showmanship.
Head to Charlottenburg Palace for what we reckon is one of the most romantic Christmas markets in Europe. One of Berlin’s most famous sights, the late 17th-century palace is known for its lavish Rococo aesthetics and ornamental gardens (yet to be added to our list of Plum Guide homes). The Christmas market at the palace boasts over 250 exhibitors from across the globe. You’ll find pretty much anything you want here, from tree ornaments and knitted scarves, to artwork and traditional desserts.
Bit of a foodie? Merry Markthalle is the place to be. It’s set in the 19th-century Markthalle IX, in the cultural centre of Kreuzberg. All year round you’ll find food festivals, farmers markets and local vendors selling everything from Nigerian food to Italian breads. At Christmas, the hall is transformed into a Christmas market where you’ll find traditional German delicacies like handmade sausages and baked apples, as well as international Christmas specialties like Swiss cheese fondue and Italian panettone. You can also pick up some gifts like handmade ceramics, natural cosmetics and home decor.
Copenhagen was built for Christmas. Come here in December and it’s impossible not to get into the Christmas spirit. There are plenty of markets to choose from, and one of the most popular is the one at Tivoli Gardens. Dating back to 1843, this is the second oldest operating amusement park in the world. Once a year, the historic garden goes all out with the Christmas theme. The whole park is filled with Christmas lights, miniature villages, rides and 60 stalls of food, drinks and handicrafts.
Head to the historic harbour of Nyhavn for another fantastic market. Set against the iconic harbour front with its pastel coloured buildings and wooden boats bobbing in the water, it’s the perfect snapshot for the front of a Christmas card. Find handicrafts, local dishes and unique gifts to take home. After a few drinks you might even feel like dancing along to traditional Danish music. Stroll to Højbro Plads - this public square transforms into a glittery hub of festivities, with 18,000 decorative lights, Santa’s sleigh and live reindeer (no, you’ve not had too much mulled wine). You can find everything from effortlessly cool Scandi designs to knitted garments and traditional Danish foods.
As you wander the narrow cobbled streets and look up at magnificent Renaissance buildings, you’ll understand why there’s no place like Florence (at Christmas, or any time). One of the largest markets in the city is located in Piazza Santa Croce. The Basilica Santa Croce, which overlooks the square, is the largest Franciscan church in the world and final resting place of Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. At Christmas, the square is transformed into a bustling German-style market with wooden cabins selling everything from Christmas decorations to clothing and gifts. Make sure to pick up some locally made jams and sauces, snacks and the ever-present mulled wine.
If you’re looking for something a little different, visit the Fierucola dell'Immacolata (Immaculate Small Fair) in Piazza Santissima Annunziata. Located in Florence’s historic centre, the square is a treasure trove of Renaissance architecture. Look around and you’ll see elegant arches, intricate carvings and fountains. Each Christmas, the square hosts a market where you’ll find stalls selling organic food products, handmade crafts, handmade candles, local olive oil and beeswax. There are also workshops, games and demonstrations for the whole family. You’ll find smaller markets in different neighbourhoods in the historical centre of Florence. You could even make a day of it and venture out into the surrounding areas of Florence to the Christmas markets and fairs in the villages of Chianti, Fiesole and the Mugello area.