The World’s Most Beautiful Christmas Markets

Is there anything more festive than a beautiful Christmas market? Europe is one of our favourite cold weather destinations to visit these pretty markets and enjoy mulled wine, buying Christmas gifts and crafts and soaking up the festive atmosphere. Here are some of the most beautiful Christmas markets in the world.

Words: Melinda Healy, originally published in ele Magazine Issue 2.

Budapest, Hungary

Step back in time in Vörösmarty Square, named after the Hungarian poet. Wooden stalls illuminated by lamplight, choirs singing and handmade crafts make this a nostalgic experience. On one side of the square is the beautiful Gerbeaud Cafe house built in 1870 where festive light shows are projected each night. Stop for a warming Goulash soup or traditional Chimney cake (Kurtoskalacs), a sweet rolled pastry flavoured with cinnamon sugar and baked over charcoal.

Best For: Hungarian embroidery and traditional lacework, exquisite but not cheap. Fine wooden toys and flowers. Dried fruit and spice garlands to remind you of the aromas of Budapest.

Prague, Czech Republic

Two Christmas markets within five minutes walk of each other – one in Wenceslas Square, the other in the Old Town Square in one of the world’s most beautiful cities – what’s not to love? To trawl that many stalls you’ll need a drink in hand. Mulled wine (svařák); honey wine (Medovina); or grog, a mixture of rum, water, lemon and sugar should loosen the purse strings. t

The Old Town Square with its medieval Town Hall and famed astronomical clock is stage set for a magnificent Christmas tree brought in from the forests of the Liberec region. Position yourself on the Observation Bridge, or pay to ascend the Town Hall tower, to watch the tree’s lights being switched on every hour from 4.30 onwards, accompanied by rousing a symphony. They love their markets so much in Prague, they even open on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Best For: Prague is home to the National Marionette Theatre so handmade puppets are a specialty. Glassware has a long history here and the hand-blown and painted glass baubles are high quality. Folk art decorated ceramics and traditional lace ware.

Ravennaschluct, Germany

The magnificent Hell Valley railway viaduct is the backdrop to this small, atmospheric Christmas market, nestled in a gorge in the Black Forest. The towering arches are lit up in kaleidoscope colour at night, and big open fires are dotted around for warmth as temperatures can be icy. There’s a little ice-rink with skates for hire, piano performances and a chance to hear Christmas tunes played on an alphorn, a several-meters-long horn played by Alpine mountain dwellers. Hard to resist the typical Bratwurst German sausages made locally – but if you choose to make the three-mile hike from Hinterzarten through a winter wonderland to arrive at the market, then you deserve one! Alternatively, there are free shuttle buses from Hinterzarten and Himmelreich railway stations.

Best For: Bavarian crafts include glass-blown decorations, woollen socks

Klagenfurt and Carinthia, Austria

A very different and less commercial destination, the Christmas markets in this region of southern Austria are intimate affairs. Off the tourist radar and more tuned to local customs. There are the added attractions of ski slopes at Katschberg and thermal spas aplenty including the family-friendly St Katrein spa at Bad Kleinkircheim. A highlight is the romantic Katschberg Advent Trail. From the town centre, a horse-drawn sleigh travels a lantern-lit trail, followed by a 45-minute winter walk that passes renovated barns, each one dedicated to a different tradition. There are free-of-charge tea stations, as well as a Christmas maze and a wood of illuminated Christmas figures.

Cologne, Germany

Nestling in the shadow of one of Europe’s most imposing cathedrals with a towering Nordmann fir tree as its centerpiece, this is as Christmas-card perfect as it gets. The soul of any German Christmas market are the stalls selling traditional gluhwein (mulled wine) which is actually an invention of the Romans. Organically certified food is also a feature and the organizers allow only high quality crafts in the market. The Germans love their Nativity scenes and there are more than 100 on display around the city. You can buy your own miniature tableau at the market, including one figure I don’t recall from the Bible – a chap squatting with his pants down, reflecting the Germans’ scatological obsession. As a reminder of what Christmas is meant to be about, a calendar of musical events runs throughout December in the Cathedral. Pop inside to hear the choir singing. Heaven on Earth!

Best For: Wood carvings, glass ball decorations, ceramics, accessories, children’s toys, soaps.

Zagreb, Croatia

For sheer abundance, Advent in Zagreb is hard to beat. There were more than 20 markets last season, all a little different. An easy city to explore on foot, head to Zrinjevac Park where a magical sight greets you: hundreds of trees lit up with fairy lights framing stalls selling handicrafts. Nor should you miss a stroll along the medieval walls of the Strossmayer Promenade for spectacular views over the city. Several unusual markets open here with unusual themes. One year, there was a retro living room, complete with plush sofas, vintage lamps and live jazz music.

Best For: Nearly everyone goes home with a ‘licitar’, a red heart-shaped honey biscuit, intricately decorated, and traditionally given as a gift from young men to the girls they loved.

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