Although the best Christmas markets in Europe are outside of the UK, you’ll be surprised by the choices you’ll find only one or two hours away. Since there are many different categories that define what qualifies as a good market, we focused our attention on where the best varieties of delicious meals and drinks can be found.
Let’s start with an obvious one: the German markets. The Weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas markets in English, originate from Germany but have expanded throughout Europe and later worldwide. The first markets started in the late Middle Ages and always start the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Meaning you’ve only got two weeks to plan your trips! Or start saving up for next year.
The best markets in Germany are in Cologne, Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin, and Munich (the biggest cities in the country). But you’ll also find endearing and smaller markets in towns or suburbs. The gastronomic specialties are numerous, including the beloved bratwurst and Krakauer, but you should try the unique German Christmas foods as well, such as the Reibekuchen with applesauce (potato pancakes), mulled wine, roasted almonds, and glazed apples which we love. Other than tasty foods, Germans tend to celebrate Christmas in the best way you can imagine. You’ll find last-minute handmade presents for your family, hats and scarves in either fur or cashmere, but most importantly, you get to walk around and soak up the lively and traditional atmosphere.
Another great, yet close destination to London is Strasbourg or Colmar, in France. Christmas markets in France have only emerged about 20 years ago, but are on the rise. Although the Parisian market on the Champs-Élysées is now canceled, we promise you’ll have the best time as you visit France’s northern state of Alsace.
The proximity to the German border is obvious, especially when looking at the influence of the Germanic culture. This is even more noticeable when we look at the way they celebrate Christmas, and probably the reason why these two markets are number two on our list. Similarly to the German markets, you’ll find a lot of little shops and crafted wooden objects, but the food is not exactly the same. Alsace is mostly known for its delicious wines, but also for foie gras, baeckaoffe (a potato cooked with three different meats) choucroute, Kugelhopf (a cherry cake) and the Munster cheese. But also French specialties such as crêpes, waffles, and cheese fondue… All of these are only a few examples of what you can stumble upon, but we also recommend the cinnamon hot wine without batting an eye (it could be even better than the German one).
Next, we’re taking you to the other side of Europe, to Zagreb in Croatia. Although this might be surprising to some, Croatia’s Christmas market was voted the third best market in Europe, three years in a row. The capital city has outdone itself in the last few years, making it hard to find more than a few streets that are not completely decorated in Christmas lights.
Although this market is less impressive on the food side of things, it’s without a doubt one of the prettiest Christmas markets in Europe. You’ll find ice skating, dancing, live open-air concerts and parties at night. It’s like the city itself celebrates the festivities, beyond the walls of the market. As for food, the market offers typical German foods but also some of their own traditional dishes such as meats and sausages. One of our favorite things are their delicious sweets, such as the fritule, which is fried dough with raisins and fruit brandy or medenjaci, which are honey cookies.
If you’re eager to have a white Christmas, we recommend jetting off to Sweden. Stockholm is a must if you’re looking to indulge in a Scandinavian Christmas experience and taste their traditional meatballs and cider.
The Swedes have their own name for mulled wine called glögg, which is more or less the same recipe as the German or British one, and definitely worth a try. You’ll also find surprisingly cooked meats at the market such as smoked reindeer and elk, which are both rich meats served in most Nordic countries during the winter. These traditional dry meats come from the Sami, the indigenous Finno-Ugric people who inhabit the far Northern Scandinavian states. However, we’re not forgetting about their traditional potato dish, the Jansson’s temptation, lutfisk (preserved cod) and their famous gingerbread.
Although the traditions and ideas of Christmas markets are quite similar in most countries (we also love our own Winter Wonderland), traveling to discover different cultures during Christmas time is a unique experience.
What are you most in the mood for? Will it be some tasty potato pancakes, or some traditional Swedish glögg?
Also in the Christmas spirit? Find out here about the oddest yet most interesting traditions around the world.