Best Christmas markets in Europe – and where to stay

The best cities on the Continent to get your festive kicks

Mary Novakovich
Monday 18 September 2023 10:58 BST
Gingerbread and glühwein: The best Christmas markets in Europe this year

The sound of carols on the air, scent of mulling spices and spectacle of hundreds upon hundreds of lights and decorations make Christmas markets one of the highlights of the festive season around the world.

Most cities want to muscle in on the magic that these markets can bring, but it takes more than a few fairy lights and overpriced trinkets to make one truly special.

You need the right combination of fantastic food stalls, a few places to buy presents beyond the usual wooden toys on offer, and an atmosphere that will get even the grumpiest Grinches in a festive mood.

Numerous European destinations have all this and more, pulling out all the stops for their markets. From the ‘Capital of Christmas’ in France to the traditional markets littered throughout Germany, Austria and Belgium, these are the places to visit whether you’re looking for great gifts, glasses of cinnamon-spiked wine or simply to get into the festive spirit ahead of 25 December.

Read more on Christmas travel:

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest’s markets take place from mid-November

They like to kick off the Christmas season early in Budapest, where food and gift stalls pop up in Vorosmarty Square from mid-November. The square in front of St Stephen’s Basilica also joins in the fun, with ice-skating and more luscious Hungarian food and trinket stalls, along with smaller markets in Deak Square and Fovam Square. Just follow the scent of cinnamon-heavy chimney cake mingled with mulled wine.

Opening dates

While nothing has been confirmed yet, the usual opening dates are from 17 November to 1 January.

Where to stay

D8 Hotel is a simple but trendy three-star. It is very close to both Vorosmarty Square and St Stephen’s Basilica, and is less than 1km from Buda Castle and the Opera House.

Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb’s main Christmas attraction is its Ice Park

Croatia’s capital goes into a six-week festive frenzy, when at least a dozen Christmas markets take over Zagreb. They’re everywhere – in parks, along hilltop paths, in tunnels, in squares and on pedestrianised streets. Not surprisingly for Croatia, you’ll find many more food stalls than gifts, so let your nose be your guide. Afterwards, join the ice skaters gliding around the rink that twists and turns in Ledeni Park.

Opening dates

This year the markets will open slightly later than usual on 2 December 2023, running until 7 January 2024.

Where to stay

Hotel 9 is a contemporary boutique hotel with free breakfast and a rooftop terrace, just a mile from the city centre.

Lille, France

Lille’s main market is held in Grand Place

A quick nip across the Channel on the Eurostar or Eurotunnel and you’re in the heart of French Flanders. Rustic wooden chalets fill Lille’s Place Rihour, selling toys and gifts along with tempting vats of cheesy tartiflette and sweet waffles dripping with chocolate. Around the corner in the stately Grand Place, go for a ride on the giant ferris wheel before checking out more stalls and the Christmas grotto.

Opening dates

The markets open on 22 November and run until 31 December 2023.

Where to stay

Mama Shelter Lille brings couples fun and funky design with chic interiors and a stylish bar and restaurant area. Situated just 600 metres from Grand Place, it’s a good base for exploring Lille.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin boasts more than 70 markets

There are more than 70 Christmas markets spread across Berlin and its suburbs, giving you a mind-boggling choice. The biggest is in the old town of Spandau, a historic suburb on the west of Berlin. For something more central, check out the stalls in Gendarmenmarkt for the classic German Christmas market experience. Hop through the centuries at Alexanderplatz, where there’s a medieval market as well as a ferris wheel offering fabulous views.

Opening dates

Most markets in Berlin will open on 27 November this year, with many closing on Christmas Eve. The market at Potsdamer Platz continues until New Year’s Day, with Gendarmenmarkt closing on New Year’s Eve and the City Hall market ending on 30 December.

Where to stay

The four-star NH Collection Berlin has modern rooms a stone’s throw from Gendarmenmarkt. It is located on Berlin’s famous Friedrichstrasse, just a short walk from the Brandenburg Gate and the TV Tower.

Vienna, Austria

Many winter concerts also take place in Vienna during Advent

Elegant Vienna gets a glittering makeover as over a dozen markets pop up around the city. If you want a full-on traditional Christmas, stroll around the market in front of the Schönnbrunn Palace and the Christmas Village taking over Maria-Theresien-Platz. Join the ice skaters on the rink at Vienna Christmas World in Rathausplatz after you’ve sampled all the Austrian culinary treats sold at the Advent pleasure market by the Opera House.

Opening dates

Dates vary across the city’s markets, with the earliest opening on 10 November 2022 – the Christkindlmarkt opens the next day, though the latest to open is on Karlsplatz on 24 November. All locations will stay open until at least 23 December, with the Christkindlmarkt closing on 26 December and the markets at Belvedere and Marie-Theresien-Platz open until New Year’s Eve. The Wintermarkt on Riesenradplatz runs until 7 January.

Where to stay

Elegant, spacious rooms are on offer at four-star Parkhotel Schönbrunn, near Schönnbrunn Palace and the city’s zoo. This is the ideal place for out-of-town relaxation, with a metro station just 50 metres away to take you to the centre in 15 minutes.

Bruges, Belgium

The Christmas celebrations in Bruges are known as ‘Winter Glow’

Picturesque Bruges has bucketloads of Christmas charm, with its gingerbread house-esque medieval buildings strung with fairy lights. Known as “Christmas Glow”, its celebrations go beyond the Markt – where you’ll find craft and food stalls, with more pop-up bars and stalls around the corner in Simon Stevinplein – and extend to a light experience trail and ice skating on the rink in front of the belfry. Best of all, this quaint city can be reached by train from the UK in just 3 hours and 30 minutes by catching the Eurostar to Brussels and an onward service to Bruges.

Opening dates

From 24 November 2023 to 7 January 2024, opening at 11am and closing at 10pm most days.

Where to stay

Three-star Martin’s Brugge is right in the city’s historic centre, just behind the famous 13th-century Belfry and 50 metres from the Central Market Square. Rooms are slick, contemporary and suitably spacious.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Christmas is a particularly good time to sample Denmark’s famous ‘hygge’

The wonderfully over-the-top Tivoli Gardens gets even more delightfully kitsch when the Christmas market takes over. As well as checking out the food and gift stalls, you can have a whirl on the ice skating rink. And if you happen to be in Copenhagen on 13 December, you can catch the Santa Lucia floating parade of light-festooned kayaks on the canals.

Opening dates

The Hojbro market is the first to open on 3 November, though the Tivoli market doesn’t start until 17 November. Hojbro and other city centre markets close on 21 December, while Tivoli runs through until 31 December 2023.

Where to stay

Within a three-minute stroll from Tivoli Gardens, millennial-favourite citizenM’s Rådhuspladsen offers stripped-back sophistication at affordable rates. Rooms are modern and functional, while the common areas boast fantastic views.

Basel, Switzerland

Basel’s market goes heavy on the cheesy snacks

Smaller in scale but full of charm, Basel’s Christmas market sets up 155 stalls from Münsterplatz to Barfüsserplatz, where the range of food stalls will tempt you with gooey raclette and chunky sausages. If you haven’t had enough snacking, check out the food stalls along the right bank of the Rhine at Claraplatz.

Opening dates

The markets begin on 23 November and last until 23 December, opening daily from 11am until 8pm.

Where to stay

The Passage has plenty urban design and an excellent central location, with a fitness room and sauna available to guests. The city’s main markets can be reached on foot in just four minutes.

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg has France’s oldest Christmas market

France’s oldest and biggest Christmas market turns this exquisitely pretty city into something quite extraordinary. Once you’ve marvelled at the Christmassy scene in front of the towering cathedral, browse the 100 or so stalls in Place Broglie before tasting Alsatian delicacies in the market in Place du Marché-aux-Poissons. Strasbourg also holds the OFF Market, a socially responsible way to celebrate the season, with second-hand stalls and fair-trade products.

Opening dates

The majority of the city’s markets open on 24 November and close on 24 December 2023.

Where to stay

The four-star lifestyle hotel BOMA is all boldly coloured rooms and retro decoration, with a fitness room and lively bar and restaurant. It is just 300 metres from the scenic ‘Petite France’ area and 10 minutes from Strasbourg’s main markets.

Birmingham, UK

Birmingham has been labelled ‘the UK’s most Christmassy city’

Germany comes to Britain when the Frankfurt Christmas Market takes over Victoria Square. It’s the biggest German market outside Germany and Austria, and the place to fill up on bratwurst, gluhwein, schnitzel and every other kind of winter comfort food. Nearby, the Cathedral Square market runs until mid-December, offering a range of food and crafts stalls run by around 50 different local traders.

Opening dates

This year, the market will run from 2 November to 24 December 2023, opening until 9.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Where to stay

Malmaison Birmingham brings sleek rooms to a canalside location not far from Victoria Square. Its bar and restaurant are a classy affair too, as is the luxurious spa.

Read our reviews of the best hotels in Europe

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