There’s something magical about Europe in the lead-up to the holidays. They don’t call a certain road in Germany “the Romantic Road” for nothing, and the cities in this region will warm the heart of even the Grinch-iest globetrotter come Christmas time. Even those who don’t celebrate Christmas can enjoy the atmosphere and unique holiday treats that come out at this time of year, along with lighter crowds in many of Central and Northern Europe’s most popular cities.
One might even be forced to admit that it’s all just a bit… romantic?
Whether they’re classic markets or slightly unusual takes on the festive season, these cities are our picks for the best, most romantic holiday markets in Europe.
Munich, Nuremberg, Dresden, Berlin, Cologne…
We tried. Honestly, we tried to choose just one German city to feature here. The effort proved futile. If there’s one country in Europe that knows how to capture the spirit of Christmas in its city squares, big or small, it’s Germany. Munich is the most obvious choice, with its famed Glockenspiel looming over the annual markets of medieval Marienplatz. But Nuremberg offers that same Bavarian charm on a more intimate scale, a festive counter to some of the city’s more sobering points of interest. Dresden’s markets echo the grandeur and beauty of one of Germany’s most enchanting cities, while Berlin offers a choice of markets in Europe’s most exciting city. On the western side of the country, Cologne’s Christmas markets offer their own unique discoveries, and just in case you can’t find the perfect gift, the city’s famous fragrance and chocolate museums are close at hand!
11-Day Explore Germany’s Christmas Markets: Berlin to Munich
Vienna is the grand dame of Central Europe’s cities, so it stands to reason that its Christmas markets take things up a notch. Vienna’s palaces are a highlight of any visit at any time of year while on a trip to Austria. During the festive season, the Christmas Market in front of Schonbrunn shows the palace off in its full imperial splendour. Belvedere Palace meanwhile offers a Baroque backdrop to Vienna’s annual Christmas Village, while those visiting with little ones won’t want to miss Art Advent on Karlsplatz. Foodies should head to Advent pleasure market at Vienna’s Opera House, while the Imperial and Royal Christmas Market on Michaelerplatz favours Austrian-produced wares, and is a great spot to find local gifts.
13-Day Austria, Germany and a Magical Christmas Cruise
There’s no other country quite like Hungary, on a European vacation, so of course, there’s no other Christmas market quite like Budapest’s. In the shadow of St. Stephen’s Basilica, which dominates the Budapest skyline, nibble on uniquely Magyar delicacies such as sugary Chimney Cake. Sip tokaji, Hungary’s signature sweet wine, and shop for local ornaments and souvenirs. Winters on the Danube can be merciless, so warm up with a soak in one of the city’s thermal baths when you’re done. Even the outdoor baths of Szechenyi remain open during winter. They host Budapest’s hottest New Years’ Eve party too.
The best of French and Germanic Europe comes together in Switzerland, and at Christmas time, there’s no better place in the country to be than in Basel. Positioned on the edge of the Black Forest, Basel’s Christmas market is widely considered to be one of the largest in Europe, yet it manages to be just as beautiful. It’s also not a bad destination for some gallery and museum hopping to escape the cold, and many local museums join in the festive fun. If time allows, pop over the border to Freiburg in Germany and picturesque Colmar in France.
4-Day Christmas Markets in Three Countries: Basel to Basel
We’d love to promise you lighter crowds, but Prague remains one of Europe’s most popular cities year round. The good news is there’s a reason for that, if considering a trip to the Czech Republic. If any other city captures the magic of a fairy tale Christmas quite like Prague, we haven’t been there. The city of spires turns on the holiday charm in its beloved Old Town Square, just steps from must-see attractions such as the Charles Bridge (get there early) and the Jewish Museum. Spreading the crowd, the festivities spill over into Wenceslas Square, a mere five minute walk away, while smaller markets are held in the shadow of Prague Castle.
If you’ve ever wanted to celebrate the holidays at a particularly enchanting amusement park, Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens is arguably your best bet. It also happens to be the world’s oldest still in operation, and is an essential stop while in Copenhagen. Some of the high speed thrill rides are closed during Denmark’s winter, but they’re replaced with season-appropriate options including an ice rink, live musicals, and a holiday market experience you truly aren’t going to find elsewhere. Tivoli is a delight to visit at any time of year, but the holidays transform it into the kind of fantasy world you may not want to leave.
Stockholm’s most memorable Christmas celebration takes place in Skansen, the city’s “Sweden in Miniature” amusement park. Part museum, part public event space, and part theme park, Skansen comes alive during the holidays with celebrations of Sweden’s jul traditions along with some slightly more modern customs. It’s worth braving the cold. Since Stockholm comes up on so few winter European vacation itineraries, you’ll feel as if you have one of Europe’s best cultural destinations almost to yourself. For the ultimate Swedish winter vacation though, extend your trip to Lapland with a stay in the famous Ice Hotel.
4-Day Ice Hotel Sweden Lapland Adventure
Want to go somewhere a little different for the holidays? Tallinn’s Christmas markets are among the coziest, most intimate, and colourful in Europe. A trip here combines all that’s great about Tallinn’s old town with a uniquely Estonian take on the holiday season. The city’s compact size and affordability makes it easy to explore on a trip to Estonia, though few tourists make their way here during the winter, so enjoy the lighter crowds as you roam one of Northern Europe’s most enchanting cities.