One of my favorite travel experiences is finding those traditional wooden huts that seemingly pop up out of nowhere in December and fill a city with holiday cheer. Starting and ending my days at the Christmas markets promises the ultimate holiday cheer. The Christmas lights come on, music fills the air, and the smell of delicious treats lead you through the market. Despite cold temperatures, the Gemütlichkeit will keep you warm when visiting these 5 European Christmas markets.
For more than 700 years, Nuremberg has been the destination for Christmas markets. It is the first market I visited and it’s first on my list for both of these reasons. There’s a reason why famous places are, in fact, famous. Steeped in tradition, the Nuremberg Christmas market is opened by the Christkind, a local woman who is elected to serve the community for two years. In addition to local specialties (my favorite is the Nuremberg sausage) and gifts, Nuremberg offers a unique opportunity to experience Christmas around the world through a smaller sister cities market with international offerings. To warm up, you can take a class to learn how to make your own gingerbread.
Bonus: If you can’t make it to Nuremberg this year, there are numerous sister city Christmas markets held all over the world.
Salzburg feels postcard perfect at any time of the year, but it really shines at Christmas time. With Christmas markets on both sides of the Salzach River and flanking the castles and palaces, every Salzburg site will be dressed in holiday cheer. From schnapps to handblown ornaments, from aromatic bath salts to soaps, from spices to flavored vinegars, you’re sure to find something for everyone on your Christmas list in Salzburg. Whether you are standing in Residenzplatz or standing on the edge of Hohensalzburg Fortress, you can hear music celebrating the season from every corner of Salzburg.
Bonus: Head to the chapel where Silent Night was first performed for a special performance on Christmas Eve.
Prague, Czech Republic
With a towering Christmas tree, continuous musical performances, and the perfect medieval backdrop, it feels like Old Town Square was made to host the world’s Christmas party. With stalls providing kielbasa, various types of potatoes, fresh trdelnik, and Pilsner to wash it down, the Prague Christmas market is my favorite meal in Prague. The Prague Christmas market is the perfect place to pick up more Christmas décor. Smaller but equally magical Christmas markets can be found below the Charles Bridge in Mala Strana and at Prague Castle, for the ultimate fairytale experience.
Bonus: Escape the crowds and see the Christmas market from above by taking the elevator to the top of the Astronomical Tower at Old City Hall.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Whether you make it to Rothenburg ob der Tauber for the Christmas markets or not, between Käthe Wohlfahrt and the Christmas museum, this medieval village can feel like Christmas all year round. The entire town seems to celebrate the advent season with daily concerts, presentations by local bakers and chocolate makers, and various tours through the city and its landmarks. Day trippers fill the cobblestoned streets throughout the day, so I recommended booking at least a night or two in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. You’ll have the locals and the Christmas markets all to yourselves in the evenings.
Bonus: Take advantage of the area’s wine tasting and send a few bottles home. You can find beautiful wine glasses at the Christmas market to finish off the perfect Christmas gift.
We didn’t expect to find a Christmas market in Tuscany, but a late lunch reservation forced us to wander the hilly streets of Montepulciano. As we emerged onto the Piazza Grande, Feliz Navidad blasted through the air. Hosting a nativity scene, Santa’s workshop, and an ice rink, Montepulciano’s Christmas village is perfect for and everyone. A stroll up to the fortress reveals a Christmas food fair with plenty of vendors, tables, and places to play. With local meats, cheeses, and plenty of handmade gifts, the Montepulciano Christmas market is a delicious stop on any Italian itinerary.
Bonus: This market stays open until the Epiphany on January 6, so you can start in the north and make your way south for more holiday cheer after Christmas.