Europe does Christmas markets so well that many of its large markets have a reputation across borders and across oceans drawing international crowds each winter. Just think of Nuremberg in Germany, Strasbourg in France or Edinburgh in Scotland. However, while the big and famous markets are definitely worth visiting, there are also many others that people might not have heard of that are excellent. If you do the walk, chances are you won’t be surrounded by tourists when you enjoy your mulled wine.
Especially in continental Europe, Germany and further east, Christmas markets can be found in all large cities and even in smaller towns. Traditional markets are very important here and are part of the cultural heritage and traditions, offering stalls with traditional food and drinks, local crafts and events to enjoy with the family during the Christmas season.
I have listed some great places to visit during the Christmas season where you can enjoy magnificent Christmas markets in cities or even countries that you may never have thought of visiting before.
1. Krakow, Poland
The city of Krakow, as well as the country of Poland, are two often overlooked destinations worth visiting. I want to mention the Krakow Christmas Market over the markets in Warsaw because these are the least known markets, and the capital is always more likely to receive more visitors than any other city. Located in Rynek Główny, the impressive Main Square, surrounded by beautiful architecture, is the main Christmas market. Not only can you buy many traditional and handmade Christmas nativity scenes and nativity scenes, which originated in Krakow, but you can also try many traditional foods here. From mulled wine to pierogi dumplings, from gorgeous poppy seed cake to borscht soup, you won’t go hungry.
Pro Tip: Get your meat fix before Christmas because in Poland Christmas food is traditionally meat free in remembrance of the animals that were in the manger with baby Jesus.
2. Helsinki, Finland
Finland is always associated with Christmas because of the Santa Claus Village, but few think of Helsinki for a Christmas city break. The Finnish capital is magical at Christmas with twinkling lights everywhere, decorated boats in the harbor and markets around every corner. The largest market is located in the Senate Square in front of the Helsinki Cathedral. Complete with a huge Christmas tree, little stalls selling local crafts, lots of reindeer, moose souvenirs and food with reindeer and moose. It’s worth overcoming any apprehensions because reindeer is a wonderful, low-fat, flavorful, and sustainable meat. There are small stalls along the harbor basin and the nearby historic indoor market is also decorated for Christmas.
Pro Tip: Catch two of my favorite Christmas destinations in one wash by hopping on the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. In just over a couple of hours, you’re there. With a bit of luck, the Baltic is frozen over and offers stunning views.
3. Prague, Czechia
For whatever reason, most people seem to visit Prague in the summer, when it’s too hot and crowded to truly appreciate the city. In winter, yes, you may need to dress a little warmer to enjoy a drink on the terraces, but if you prepare it with a mulled wine or indeed a warm, spiced beer, then you’re a winner. There are many Christmas markets on both sides of the city, but the prettiest is in the Old Town Square, which is festively decorated and lit with a large Christmas tree standing proudly in the center of the square. Also head to Wenceslas Square, where the second largest market in Prague takes place.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to take a quick look at King Wenceslaus riding his horse upside down in the Lucerne Passage, just off the square. This is a fun installation by local artist David Černý.
4. Tbilisi, Georgia
Last year I was in Tbilisi for a little holiday fix and not only is the city simply wonderful, but it also allows you to enjoy Christmas twice over. Georgians celebrate Christmas on January 7, due to the Georgian Orthodox Church, but non-Orthodox celebrate on December 25. The main Christmas market starts on December 25 and stays open until January 14. Therefore, you can easily have Christmas at home. or elsewhere, and then join the Georgian celebrations for an encore. The main Christmas market is set up along the wonderful Rustaveli Avenue, and the sidewalk is filled with lights, stalls, shows and lots of merriment. It is definitely worth visiting.
Pro Tip: Stay at the Tbilisi Marriott Hotel on Rustaveli Avenue to see more decorations. Even if you’re not staying there, be sure to stop by for a hot chocolate.
5. Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn, across the Baltic from Helsinki, is one of my favorite places to visit for a bit of Christmas cheer. The old town is full of messy houses and cobbled streets. It usually snows. Plaza del Ayuntamiento is so picturesque at any time of the year with its unusually simple church, but it is especially picturesque when filled with small chalets. Unlike other Christmas markets in Europe, which open at the end of November and close shortly before or shortly after Christmas, the Tallinn Christmas Market begins on the 25th.theChristmas Day, and lasts until the first week of the New Year, making it perfect for the post-Christmas holidays.
Pro Tip: Buy yourself some of the cute little Christmas gnomes on sale in Tallinn at Christmas. They are noted for their large, round noses and red, pointy hats. They are adorable and always take pride in my house for Christmas.
6. Brno, Czechia
Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic, but it is not on everyone’s radar. Here, however, you will find wonderful old and colorful architecture, cobbled streets and downtown squares embellished with lights and decorations and lined with stalls, chalets and trees. The main square, Freedom Square, not only has the largest Christmas market, but is also the place to see special events, performances, concerts, and a fairground. The Cabbage Market focuses on handmade crafts and traditional local produce, while there’s a life-size nativity scene in Dominican Square, and Moravian Square has a large heated marquee, a twinkling Ferris wheel, and a popular outdoor skating rink. free.
Pro Tip: If you’re an architecture enthusiast, don’t miss a visit to Villa Tugendhat by architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich, just north of the city center.
7. Wroclaw, Poland
Wrocław, which, by the way, is pronounced something like chip vrot, is a city on the banks of the Oder River, in southwestern Poland. Over the centuries, influenced by nearby Czech, German and Polish culture, the Wrocław Christmas Market is a delight and a must-see for Christmas Market enthusiasts. My favorite part in the great market square is the gigantic step pyramid, a replica of the traditional candle-powered revolving carousel pyramids, which most Germans have as part of their inventory of Christmas decorations.
Pro Tip: Try the famous Oscypek, a traditional Wroclaw smoked cheese that you won’t find anywhere else.
8. York, UK
York at Christmas may not be so unfamiliar, but it’s still a city that’s not on the beaten path for winter visits to the UK, with most people enjoying London’s fabulous decorations and lights. I don’t want to discourage anyone from staying in London for Christmas. The lights, especially on Regents Street, are my all time favourite. However, when you’re there, why not jump on the train from King’s Cross? In less than two hours you are in the center of York and you can start to get that real Christmas feeling that is often missing in larger cities. Head for the wooden chalets of St Nicholas Market which line Parliament Street and fill St Sampson’s Square, spilling over into small side alleys. There’s food galore, from hot cinnamon donuts to German sausage, pulled pork with cranberry sauce, and more. It is a feast for both the eyes and the stomach.
Pro Tip: Be sure to stop at Bettys Tea Rooms and grab the cinnamon toast. Pure heaven.
9. Radovljica, Slovenia
In northern Slovenia, in the Julian Alps, Radovljica—small, medieval, and too pretty for words—is lined with buildings dating back to the 16th century, turning into a magical Christmas wonderland in December. Usually covered in a blanket of snow, the celebrations begin on Saint Nicholas weekend, around December 6, with the switching on of the Christmas lights in Linhart Square and the main Christmas stalls in the Radol’ca market. The celebrations last until December 29.
Pro Tip: To get a taste of the true spirit of Christmas, head to the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, which is not only a beautiful Renaissance church, but also a place of pilgrimage and home to the Museum of the Nativity.
For more information on Christmas markets, check out these articles: