November and December are fantastic months to visit Europe and experience its magical Christmas markets. Soak up the festive atmosphere as you listen to traditional carols, pick up beautiful traditional handicrafts, and enjoy speciality foods and drinks as you wind through stalls surrounded by miles of twinkling fairy lights.
The most popular Christmas markets outside Germany and Austria are in the other central European cities of Prague, Budapest and Strasbourg, but there are now important Christmas markets taking place all over Europe, from Russia to Spain and the UK to Italy.
Legend has it that Christmas markets originated in the middle ages in Germany and Austria. Indeed, many of the largest and best-loved are still found in these countries. In many towns, the start of advent (the four week period leading up to Christmas) is marked by the opening of the ‘Christkindlmarkt’, which in German means ‘Christ child market’. The ‘Christkind’ is a sprite-like character who brings presents at Christmas, much like Santa Claus in the UK and US, and is usually played by a local child, dressed in an angelic costume and accompanied by angels in white. The ‘Christkind’ and her entourage might visit the Christmas Market every evening, as might other characters from central European mythology such as the ‘Krampus’, a demon who accompanies Santa Claus punishing naughty children.
European Christmas markets take place during late November and throughout December all the way up until Christmas Eve. The size of the events varies wildly, as does what's offered at the market stalls. Traditionally, you'll find decorations, local specialities to eat and drink, handicrafts, toys and nick-nacks. In some cities, different markets sell a variety of wares and are quite distinct in character. The more traditional markets sell local crafts and decorations accompanied by the sound of carols while more modern ones feature fun fairs and rides with a soundtrack of modern dance music!
Whatever your preference, there are few more evocative and romantic European experiences than enjoying chestnuts and mulled wine in a beautiful historic town square, with snow on the medieval buildings and seasonal goodwill in the air.
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Christmas Markets in Vienna
Best for: Culture
The Christmas Markets in Vienna truly are an age-old tradition. The forerunners of the present-day events date back to the Middle Ages when in 1298 Albrecht I granted Vienna's citizens the privilege of holding a December Market or "Krippenmarkt".
Christmas Markets in Prague - Scott Dunn Suggests
Prague, Czech Republic
Best for: Rail
The perfect way to get into the festive spirit! Browse the brightly lit wooden huts with a cup of svarené víno and a hot sugar coated cake, and marvel at the traditional handicrafts and array of Christmas tree ornaments.