We Visited Some of the Best Christmas Markets in Europe
There are some things Europe just does differently. Okay who are we kidding, they do some things better. And one of those things is Christmas—as in, SHOPPING.
Associate Director of Content
December 6, 2023
For hundred of years, cities across Europe have been hosting the most magical Christmas markets. We’re not talking malls filled with brand names from ginormous companies, oh no. We’re talking the kind of markets that could also double as straight up Harry Potter scenery—charming, outdoor atmospheres in city squares where local vendors and small businesses can sell their goods and spread holiday cheer. Plus, there’s butter beer! Jk, we meant mulled wine. And while some cities in the States have started to their host their own Christmas markets, nothing beats the real deal in Europe. Just think of all the souvenirs and gifts you’ll be able to bring home. No really, think of it.
We chatted with Courtney Finkel, Associate Director of CRM at EF Ultimate Break, and Rome-based EF Ultimate Break Tour Director Dario Calicchia, to get the scoop on the best Christmas markets in Europe and what it’s like to go to one—and why you should book a European Christmas markets tour like, yesterday.
Where are the best Christmas markets in Europe?
You can find amazing traditional Christmas markets in countries from Estonia to France to Austria to Italy. They're all charming and dreamy, but the best country for Christmas markets, according to Dario? Germany, specifically in Cologne, Munich, and Frankfurt. The Christmas market in Frankfurt can be traced back to 1393, making it one of the oldest in Germany. It's definitely one of the most popular, attracting several million visitors each year. Nbd.
Ultimate Break’s Christmas market tour of Germany, Italy & Switzerland makes a two-day stop in Munich. Courtney Finkel has been on the tour and says, “Munich’s celebration of the season is huge.” The city really does go all out for the Christmas season—each year a bunch of markets pop up throughout Munich. “My group and I got to shop at the adorable market stalls run by local vendors and drink buckets of glüwein (red wine’s warm, spiced cousin), all with gorgeous city landmarks as a backdrop,” says Courtney. She even found a market in Munich with what she considers a crucial element: a unique theme. One of the markets goes full-on medieval—all the wine was served in wooden chalices and people were walking around in medieval garb.
The tour actually stops in five countries: in addition to Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, you’ll get a taste of Austria in Salzburg and Innsbruck, and Liechtenstein, too. Courtney stumbled on her favorite Christmas market in Innsbruck: in addition to trinkets, gifts, and traditional food and bevs, the market there featured a brass ensemble performing from a balcony overlooking the market.
Dario, meanwhile, says his other favorite destinations for Christmas markets are Prague and Vienna. EF Ultimate Break’s Budapest, Vienna & Prague Christmas markets tour takes you to Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square in Prague, and to Rathausplaatz in Vienna for some of the most contagious holiday spirit in the world. Really though, it’s impossible not to feel the cheer. And these markets are perfect for Courtney’s favorite part of the whole thing: “Trying the different foods that they serve at the stalls. It’s really high-quality stuff churned out really fast.” The Old Town Square Christmas market in Prague features culinary specialties like trdelník, a traditional sweet pastry, and in Vienna you’ll enjoy lebkuchen, or honey cakes and cookies.
EF Ultimate Break has three different European Christmas market tours for your next cute little holiday adventure. Along with Germany, Italy & Switzerland and Budapest, Vienna & Prague, you can see the best of Dario’s home country of Italy on the Venice, Florence & Rome tour. That means we have ten cities’ worth of Christmas markets covered: Venice, Florence, Rome, Budapest, Prague, Vienna, Munich, Innsbruck, Salzburg, and Lucerne. Would you rather pick up some holiday gifts in one of these storybook cities, or...on Amazon? Tough one.
When do Christmas markets start in Europe?
Christmas markets in Europe usually start opening in late November or early December, with some beginning as early as mid-November. The exact dates vary depending on the city and market, but they often last more than a full month, until Christmas Eve or a few days before Christmas. Sometimes they stay open even longer. “In my country, Italy, Christmas markets end after a specific event that closes all festivities, The Epiphany, on January 6,” says Dario.
Why trust Ultimate Break
Chris Abell is the Associate Director, Content at Ultimate Break. Prior to UB, Chris was Associate Editorial Director at Travel + Leisure, where he tested and reviewed all sorts of travel products, including luggage and packing accessories. He has been to 19 countries and counting.
For this article, Chris interviewed EF Ultimate Break Tour Director Dario Calicchia and Associate Director of CRM, Courtney Finkel. Dario has been leading Ultimate Break tours for over nine years and leads some of Ultimate Break’s Christmas market tours. Courtney, who has shopped and eaten her way through Christmas markets in Italy, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, has been with Ultimate Break since 2022.