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Every year, Europe’s Christmas markets light up historic town squares and castle courtyards from Denmark south to Spain. You’ll find traditional hand-made folk art crafts and home-baked goods, along with holiday performers in traditional handmade costumes, even Medieval dress. It’s an ideal chance to re-visit favorite cities or discover new ones, and combine the holiday experience with sightseeing, concerts and, of course, shopping.

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The largest and most popular Christmas Markets are here, where entire cities are transformed into festivals of twinkling lights, holiday music and vendors in folk costume. Best of all, the markets are easily accessible by train via a EurailPass and Deutsche Bahn.


As the ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal family, the 11th-century Hohenzollern Castle 30 miles from Stuttgart looks like a fairytale castle at any time of year, and Hechingen‘s Royal Christmas Market brings that fairytale to life. Stalls offer mulled wine and roasted chestnuts along with exquisite handmade crafts worthy of royal approval, from one-of-a-kind jewelry and toys to elegant knitwear. Be sure to visit the dazzling Treasure Room to droolover serious bling that includes gold and jewel-encrusted 19th-century royal crowns.


Ludwigsburg | Photo courtesy of @annkathrin138


Also a day-trip from Stuttgart is the Ludwigsburg market, in the courtyard and gardens of one of the largest Baroque castles in Europe. Allow enough time to visit the Ceramic Museum here, with treasures from the porcelain factories of Meissen, Berlin and Vienna.

<imgclass=”wp-image-51218″ src=”” alt=”Munich ” width=”700″ height=”578″ /> Munich


Christmas Markets began several of hundred years before the city’s famous sprawling and boisterous Oktoberfest. Ever since 1642, Munich‘s holiday festival is headquartered in Marienplatz, in the shadow of the signature twin-towered Frauenkirche and Glockenspiel. In addition to traditional Bavarian wood carvings, glassware from the Bavarian Forest and cuckoo clocks from Black Forest, holiday treats include Lebkuchen, which are round frosted gingerbread cookies. There are more foods and holidayflowers and wreaths at the Viktualienmarkt, the year-round farmers’ market a few blocks away. More than a dozen other, smaller markets are sprinkled throughout the city, including one with an ice skating rink at Munich’s international airport, which also houses its own brewery.




North of Munich along the Romantic Road, charming Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the best preserved Medieval cities in Europe. Although it’s Christmas year-round at the town’s German Christmas Museum and shop, the annual Reiterlesmarkt adds a definite Medieval vibe. Before or after shopping, walk around the town wall—it runs for about 2 miles—and recover your energy at one of the Schneeball shops. This is a local favorite, made from strips of dough wrapped into a ball, fried and covered with sugar or chocolate.


This is an off-the-beaten-track city worth the trip any time, especially at the holidays. On Mannheim‘s Friedrichsplatz, with its landmark Water Tower, explore hundreds of beautifully-decorated wooden stalls with hand-knitted woolen items, hand-blown glass tree decorations and hand-carved wooden nativity scenes. At the Kapuzinerplanken Christmas Market, more than 80 international exhibitors display traditional handicrafts and collectible artworks. Traditional temptations at both include Stollen, a sweet bread with raisins and candied fruit, sizzling sausages and mulled wine. Allow time to visit the royal castle, too, and a performance by the Mannheim Music School Orchestra, which Mozart attended.




Houses dating from the 15th to 17th centuries provide a magical backdrop for the holiday markets in Bern. Münsterplatz is devoted mainly to arts and crafts, and a few minutes’ walk brings you to Waisenhausplatz for breads, cookies and other holiday fare. Warm up from the outdoor shopping by taking a break at Klötzlikeller or the Kornhauskeller, one of several 350-year-old restaurants in the Old Town.


Just two hours from Lucerne, Montreux‘s Marche de Noel takes place in front of the 12-century Castle of Chillon, which inspired Lord Byron and Victor Hugo. The Golden Pass scenic train links Lucerne and Montreaux, through spectacular Alpine scenery, and Swissrail also brings you up to Roche-de-Naye, for its panoramic views and a visit with Santa. Leave time to visit the new Chaplin’s World Museum in Vevey, devoted to the film legend.

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The capital of classical music has three large Christmas markets, in front of city hall, at the baroque Belvedere Palace, and at Maria-Theresien Platz, with caroling and candle-making programs in addition to the handicrafts.


In Mozart’s hometown, the market is at the foot of the hilltop castle made famous in the movie The Sound of Music.


Perhaps most traditional is the Altstadt Christmas Market in Innsbruck, in front of the famous Golden Roof landmark, a building built for Emperor Maximilian in 1500 that features a gorgeous copper tiled roof. The historic old city is decorated by glittering Swarovski crystal trees. Swarovski’s headquarters are in nearby Wattens,where you can visit Swarovski Crystal World and walk through a crystal kaleidoscope.



Copenhagen Market

Copenhagen Market


While Christmas Markets in other countries end on December 25th or 26th, at Copenhagen’s famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park the twinkling lights and gift stallscontinue through New Year’s Eve and the annual Fireworks Festival. Live reindeer add to the Nordic feel.




The popular St. Nicholas Fair in York now includes Made in Yorkshire Festive Fayre at the medieval Guildhall and the Festive Market at historic Barley Hall.

Bath | Flickr CC: Ruth Johnston

Bath | Flickr CC: Ruth Johnston


The Bath Christmas Market is a British take on the traditional German Christmas markets, showcasing crafts and produce from southwest England, in traditional wooden stalls throughout Bath’s central streets and squares.



Fira de Santa Llucia | Flickr CC: Jesús Corrius

Fira de Santa Llucia | Flickr CC: Jesús Corrius


The iconic Barcelona Cathedral is a backdrop to the Fira de Santa Llucia Christmas Market on the Plaza de la Seu. Head for the Artesania section, more popular with locals than tourists, for traditional handicrafts. The Fira de Nadal outside the Sagrada Familia is a bit smaller, and therefore not as crowded.

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Tagged: Christmas Travel Ideas, Europe

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Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn is an NYC-based travel writer who would rather ride a chairlift, river raft or zipline than the subway. She's a regular contributor to major publications, including airline inflights, and has written more than a dozen travel guidebooks. Evelyn's website is

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