Do you smell the gingerbread? Can you taste the mulled wine? Feel the chilly air? The month of December means Christmas Market time in Europe so get your reindeer sweaters ready! Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas, these markets ooze with holiday cheer that will please anyone. Even the Grinch couldn’t resist the sparkling magical villages that are spring up across Europe in December. Here are some of the best Christmas Markets in Europe chosen by fellow travel bloggers who were kind enough to help me with this post.
(cover photo by Helena from Fountain of Travel)
The Frankfurt Christmas Markets are rumored to be the oldest in Germany and really make the city come alive in the lead up to Christmas. They are just the right amount of bustling and appealing to tourist crowds as well as a hot spot for locals to meet for a drink or a bratwurst in the evening. At the stalls you can find all kinds of delicacies typical of Christmas markets such as mulled wine, roasted nuts and lebkuchen (gingerbread). But you’ll also find some Frankfurt specialities like bethmännchen (small biscuits made with marzipan) and hot apple wine.
For souvenir shopping, go during the day when it is less crowded and then return at night for the magic of the lights and to enjoy a warm drink with the locals. The centre piece of the market is a huge Christmas tree next to the town hall and a beautiful old carousel.
Learn more about German Christmas Markets at Travels of a Bookpacker
See more photography from Rohan on Instagram
You would be excused for not making an obvious connection between industrial Manchester and a grand Christmas market. However, this city puts on a huge Christmas market every year which attracts millions of visitors. Manchester was the first Christmas market I ever went to, and there is no shortage of festive cheer across the market’s 10 sites. The epicentre is Albert’s Square where you’ll find rustic wooden stalls and a beer hall, all overlooked by a somewhat intimidating Santa Claus statue. Amidst all the European-style food and decorations, make sure you step into Manchester Town Hall. This is where alternative retailers from Affleck’s Palace set up Christmas shop, perfect if you want a unique Christmas gift.
For me, food is the highlight of a Christmas market and there are some places you have to try here. The Italian sweets stall on Albert Square has incredible cannoli, the garlic mushroom stands dotted around the city provide a filling lunch and the fried potatoes from Albert Square are amazing. Let’s not forget the mulled wine though. The mugs (that change design yearly) can be returned after use, but why not keep them as a Manchester souvenir?
Read more about Manchester at Fountain of Travel
See more photos from Helena on Instagram
What could be a better Christmas market backdrop than Riga’s impressive Art Nouveau architecture? Whilst Riga’s Christmas market is on the smaller side, it more than makes up for it with charm. Striped stalls line the squares and live performances fill the air with Latvian Christmas songs. The market is spread across 3 sites with the centre of activity at Dome Square. Here you’ll find a massive Christmas tree that looks gorgeous lit up against Riga Cathedral in the evenings. It’s said that the tradition of decorating Christmas trees comes from Latvia. Whether true or not, thebeautiful handmade ornaments are hard to resist and make lovely souvenirs.
What I liked most about Riga’s Christmas market was the focus on crafts such as wooden kitchen tools, traditional knitting and glass figurines. The country is famous for amber, so expect to see plenty of craft involving the golden resin. Another local specialty is Black Balsam, a
very strong herbal alcohol often mixed with e.g. blackcurrant juice or coffee. Far from my personal favorite, but it does warm you up as you walk the cold and Christmassy streets of Riga.
Learn more about Riga at Fountain of Travel
If you’re looking for the best city for Christmas Markets, look no further than Cologne, Germany. There are seven major Christmas Markets throughout the city, and all of them are unique and awesome. Our favorite is the one at the Alter Markt, which is just a few minutes from the Cologne Dom. You could easily spend a few hours there as it’s the biggest in the city and has quite a lot to offer. It’s also known as Heinzels Wintermärchen, named after the Heinzelmännchen, fairy tale house elves who once performed all sorts of tasks for the people of Cologne.
Carved wooden elves keep watch over the festivities throughout the market. You’ll find all the typical German Christmas market fare (eg, bratwurst, potato pancakes) but also more interesting treats. Our favorite is a fancied up, Italian-style version of Schupfnudeln (hand-rolled potato dumplings) with arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, and parmesan. When you get to the Heumarkt area, you can also enjoy your Glühwein in alpine huts and – most fun of all – go ice skating at the skating rink! It’s incredibly fun to skate outdoors surrounded by German Christmas market merriment and the beautiful buildings of the Cologne Altstadt.
Learn more about Cologne and the other Christmas markets in the city from Sarah and Justin at Travel Breathe Repeat.
To see more of Sarah’s photography, check her out on Instagram
Where is your favorite Christmas market?