From some of the largest Christmas markets in Europe to some of the most unusual, we look at the charming, the quirky, and the lesser-known places to explore this festive season
The German-style Christmas market is now a mainstay of towns and cities across Europe: the wooden chalet stalls selling local wares, the mulled wine and sweet treats, the tree, the lights and the general feeling of wellbeing. Here, we look at some markets across Europe that you might not be aware of.
Dates: November 18 — December 24, 2022
There’s not just one Christmas market in the city, either; almost every public space has something happening in it. The Hauptplatz, the Main Square, houses the traditional wooden chalets selling handicrafts, food and hot drinks, and is home to a huge Christmas tree. Eisernes Tor’s stalls are run by charitable organizations, with all proceeds going to a range of aid projects. Kleine Neutorgasse hosts a market specifically for kids, and the Aufsteirern market on the Schlossberg hill gives wonderful views over the twinkling lights of the city below.
All this comes with a large dollop of local cheer, as Graz isn’t a particularly touristy city anyway. With people generally heading to Vienna (or maybe Salzburg) for their Austrian Christmas experience, you can rest assured you’re getting the genuine article.
Dates: November 21 — December 23, 2022
Similarly, there’s a lot of variety dotted around the streets of Cologne in winter. Markt der Engel is the centerpiece, with a huge number of stalls beneath thousands of fairy lights suspended in the trees. Another takes place beneath the mighty loom of the famous cathedral, and Nicklausdorf is a children’s village, telling the story of the real St. Nicholas.
For other, quirkier views on what a Christmas market can bring, there’s even a market dedicated to Germany’s maritime history on the banks of the Rhine, complete with pirates, seafood, and actors dressed as buccaneers telling you about all things seaworthy. The bonus here is that, if you get a bit chilly from the wind coming off the river, you can duck into the nearby chocolate museum instead.
Dates: November 26 — December 24, 2022
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Maybe not a place you’ve heard of, Montbéliard is in the east of France, around 13 kilometers from the Swiss border. Along with the neighboring commune of Sochaux, it’s the home of Peugeot cars, but its main glory is the number of 16th- and 17th-century buildings, as well as the 10th-century castle, perched slightly awkwardly atop a rock and home to the regional museum of history and archaeology.
The Christmas market is one of the most popular in France. An institution for almost 40 years, it means a town of only around 25,000 people gets an influx of almost 400,000 across the Advent period. One of the main attractions is the artful lighting, 115,000 bulbs illuminating the windows, doorways and porticoes between the Temple Saint-Martin (the main hub of the market) and the railway station. Indeed, by TGV you can get from Paris to Montbéliard in just over two hours, so it’s easy to visit from pretty much anywhere in Europe.
Dates: December 12, 2022 — January 6, 2023
Generally a bit overlooked as a destination for travelers to Spain, possibly because it’s inland and almost all visitors to the country would like a beach of some kind (unless you’re going to Madrid of course), Zaragoza is rightly, almost pugnaciously proud of its slight otherness.
The city centers around the Plaza del Pilar and the hulking basilica of the same name. The streets and alleys that wind off it genuinely merit the adjective ‘labyrinthine’, and it’s through these streets that you’ll find nativity sculptures and scenes from the Christmas story, all of them life-sized! There are between 50 and 60 figures, some hidden, some front and center, but add this to the carnival atmosphere with parades, concerts and parties, and it’s generally agreed that Zaragoza puts on one of the best Christmas markets in Spain.
Dates: November 24 — December 11, 2022
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Bath is a beautiful city whatever time of year you visit, with buildings dating from Roman times through to the sweeping Georgian crescents straight out of a Jane Austen novel. It’s also a popular place for independent shops and cafes, its compact center built of elegant but warm-colored sandstone.
The city’s Christmas market is a reflection of all of this. With over 170 chalets selling everything from candles to cheese to homeware to jewelry, all of it locally made, you’ll be sure to find something you like, either as a present or a souvenir. The market also raises a lot of money for local charities, as well as offering pop-up stalls — small hand carts that traders can use to try the market out if they can’t afford to run a stall for the duration. Add this to their sustainability pledge and you’ve got a market that’s both wonderfully traditional and pleasingly modern.
Dates: November 20, 2022 — January 6, 2023
Any town that’s known as the Città del Natale — Christmas Town — is probably a decent bet for a good Christmas market. Around an hour from Verona and a couple of hours from Venice, it’s a fairly easy place to get to, but without the massive crowds and inflated prices of markets in bigger cities. It’s also in a beautiful location, up in the Dolomite mountains, meaning you’re likely to be able to wander around in a seasonal dusting of snow.
The market is mainly based around Piazza di Fiera and Piazza Cesare Battisti at the two ends of the Old Town. Stroll between them through the clay-roofed streets, stopping for the occasional hot chocolate or coffee, or maybe something sweet to eat? This part of the world has a notable Germanic influence, so how about some apple strudel or a slice of Sachertorte? Delicious.
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