December in Europe means two things: Mulled wine and atmospheric Christmas markets. At times it feels as if every city is in competition and planning some celebration, market, or festivities to beat their neighbours. If you find yourself close to these cities this December, pop your head in to one of these famous European Christmas markets:
1. Hamburg, Germany
While often overshadowed by its ever-popular neighbor Berlin, Hamburg more than holds its weight as a fascinating international city at any time of the year. Each year this historic port city throws one of the most diverse and best Christmas markets in all of Europe – you can expect a wide range of local delicacies, including chocolates and cakes, as well as leather goods, ornaments, and other items that will last a little longer.
Dates: November 21 – December 23
2. Innsbruck, Austria
Innsbruck is a charming destination at any time of the year, but there’s something special about this Alpine city when Christmas approaches. There are at least six markets throughout the city, each with its own flair and specialty. You’ll find traditional toys, intricate ornaments and plenty of gingerbread goods on sale, as well as live music performances in the city center.
Dates: November 15 – January 6
3. Strasbourg, France
Strasbourg has a reputation as one of Europe’s most charming cities, and perhaps unsurprisingly, their Christmas market receives acclaim as one of the continent’s best. The market dates back to the mid-1500s, and as such culture and traditions still reign supreme. The city is divided up into several villages with individual themes, but for most people, the focus is on getting their hands on bredele biscuits – delicious delicacies that come in numerous shapes, sizes and flavors.
Dates: November 25 – December 31
4. Vienna, Austria
Vienna’s charm and beauty serves as the perfect backdrop for Christmas festivities, and the city does not disappoint when it comes to its annual Christmas market. The tradition of Christmas markets in Vienna dates back to the 13th century, and these days you’ll find no fewer than 11 throughout the city. Aside from the usual trinkets, food, and festivities, you’ll also find popular carousel rides in the beautiful Rathauspark.
Dates: November 18 – January 8th
5. Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm’s current Christmas market may be relatively new compared to others across the continent (at only 100 years old), but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. It takes place in front of Nobel Museum and has a strong focus on arts and crafts – you can pick up a range of gifts, trinkets and ornaments from the numerous stalls. There is also no shortage of food and drink, with plenty of mulled wine, ginger biscuits and saffron buns to go around.
Dates: November 23 – December 23
6. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest in the winter has a certain magical feel to it, and the Christmas market that takes place in St. Stephen’s Square adds to the festive spirit. There you’ll find a range of traditional food and drink, including mulled wine and cinnamon cakes, as well as typical Hungarian clothing and jewelry.
Dates: November 10 – January 6
7. Bruges, Belgium
Bruges’ Market Square plays host to the city’s annual Christmas market, and you couldn’t wish for a more atmospheric destination. There are dozens of stalls set up around the square, peddling a range of wares, including wooden toys, jewelry, hats and scarves. Of course, being Belgium, there’s also no shortage of chocolates available.
Dates: November 18 – January 1
8. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague may feel like a fairytale city on pretty much any day of the year, but throw its annual Christmas market into the mix, and you’ve got the very definition of festive spirit. Each year the Old Town Square transforms into a fascinating hub of Christmas activity, complete with nativity scenes, choirs, and dozens of stalls selling traditional goods. You can also go hungry and thirsty, because food and drink stalls fill any gaps.
Dates: December 3 – January 4
9. Cologne, Germany
Cologne is home to one of the world’s most impressive cathedrals, and as such the city’s Christmas markets have had to step up to the plate. There are seven popular markets throughout Cologne each year, each with its own focus and specialty, ranging from old toys to traditional food and drink.
Dates: November 21 – December 23
10. Lille, France
While Christmas is an enjoyable affair in most French cities, there’s something special about Lille’s annual Christmas market. Unsurprisingly, the focus at this market is on gourmet food and drink – you’ll find delectable sweet and savory food to pair with the perfect cup of mulled wine. The stalls in Place Rihour cater for your traditional Christmas needs, but if you’re looking for something a little more upmarket, turn your attention to the numerous boutiques nearby.
Dates: November 18 – December 30
Originally written for Eurail.com