Jingle all the Way: The Big Fat Christmas Market Guide

Hear that? It’s the distant sound of sleighs bells.

 

In cities all across Europe, tinsel is being unravelled and snow globes are being polished in preparation for this year’s Christmas market season.

 

So you don’t miss out on any of that Glögg-based action, we’ve got a round-up of the best places in Europe to get your festive on… 

Edinburgh

It doesn’t get much more Christmassy than tartan, shortbread and whiskey.

 

Fill up on all three at Edinburgh’s Christmas market which takes place in Harry Potter-esque surroundings, just below the iconic Mound.

 

Knick-knack laden stalls run the length of East Princes Street Gardens as far as the Scott Monument. And the festivities don’t end there.

 

Zig-zag your way around the ice-rink, ride the helter skelter or get a birdseye view of the twinkling lights from the top of the big wheel.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

Head to Princes Street and check out the window displays and ginormous Christmas tree at the historic Jenners department store.

 

You’ll also find all the leading high street stores along this street where you can cross just about anything else off your Christmas list. 

Amsterdam

Amsterdam pulls out all the stops when it comes to spreading festive cheer.

 

From old-school Dickensian markets that hark back to the Victorian era to hip food festivals inside former factory buildings, there’s a Christmas market for every type of Christmas shopper.

 

Most of the markets take place in the centre, but if you venture a little further you’ll find plenty more glitter and baubles in Haarlem, Lelystad and Keukenhof.

 

To experience a real-life winter wonderland, make your way over to the ice-rinks on Leidesplein and Museumplein where there’s a village of wooden chalets waiting to serve you hearty festive food and hand-warming drinks.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

The pedestrianised Kalverstraat cuts right through the city centre and is home to two large shopping malls, Kalvertoren and Magna Plaza and several big department stores including Bonneterie and V&D.

 

Amsterdam local Bart Van Poll recommends Haarlemmerstraat as a good street for shopping, with cool designer shops, small specialty shops, a few international chains and lots of stops for good coffee in between. 

Strasbourg

Not only does Strasbourg’s market consistently top lists of Europe’s best Christmas destinations, but it’s also one of the oldest in Europe.

 

It’s said to date back to around 1570, when it was known as “Christkindelsmärik” (market of the infant Jesus).

 

Browse the fairy-lit stalls in and around place Broglie, rue de la Comédie, place de la Cathédrale and rue des Hallebardes.

 

Keep cosy with cups of vin chaud (mulled wine) while you stock up on traditional santons (clay figurines), wooden toys and gourmet treats.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

Two major department stores – Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are both within a short walk from place Kléber.

 

Strasbourg local Julien Renouef recommends La Place des Halles et Rivétoile, a huge shopping mall with plenty of clothing stores and places to eat.

 

He also suggests taking the tram to the Rivétoile neighbourhood on the docks, where you’ll find many more stores and restaurants. 

Brussels

Stalls filled with swirling snow-globes, scented candles and mouth-watering chocolates stretch on for two whole kilometres in Brussels. The atmosphere all around the market is just as amazing.

 

Once you’ve got your shopping done and dusted, check out the famous light and sound show, cheer on the traditional Christmas Parade or get your skates on and take to the ice.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

Rue Neuve is one of the longest shopping streets in the city and is home to high-street favourites. Stock up on glossy boxes of pralines and truffles for your nearest and dearest at chocolate shops such as Neuhaus on the Grand Place and Galler, just off the square at Rue au Beurre. 

Cologne

With over 160 fairy-lit wooden huts and one colossal Christmas tree (the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland area, no less) Cologne is a Christmas destination to be reckoned with.

 

Its angelic carol singers, Glühwein (mulled wine) and roasted chestnuts will leave you with a warm, fuzzy glow, while the cute puppet theatre and traditional Santa’s grotto would melt even the grinchiest of hearts.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

Running between Hohe Straße and Neumarkt, Schildergasse is the city’s main shopping street and is home to just about every leading retailer in Europe.

 

On Breite Straße in the centre, you’ll come across independent stores as well as shopping malls such as DuMont-Carré and Opernpassage. For hip local design and unusual finds head to Ehrenstraße or the Belgian Quarter. 

Prague

Prague’s Christmas markets are a feast for both the eyes and the belly.

 

Prepare to indulge in traditional barbecued sausages, Trdelník pastries, mulled wine and hot chocolate, before falling for the charms of wooden huts dotted throughout the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square.

 

Stock-up on beautifully crafted gifts including embroidered lace, wooden toys, Christmas tree decorations and cute traditionally-dressed dolls.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

For even more shopping options, cross over to the city’s New Town. On Václavské námesti (Wenceslas Square) and the pedestrianised Na Příkopě. Here you’ll find a wide selection of clothing and gift stores. 

Berlin

They don’t call Berlin the capital of Christmas markets for nothing.

 

One of the best markets is located at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church where over 170 twinkling, tinsel clad stalls will seduce you with their unique decorations, ornaments, toys and handmade crafts.

 

Stave off the cold with warm fruity ciders, traditional glazed fruit and sausages straight from the grill.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

Kurfürstendamm, and the department store known as KaDeWe, is heaven for shopaholics, while high-end and high-street shops flank Schlosstrasse (also home to the Berlin Boulevard shopping centre).

 

Hackescher Markt is great for unusual gifts. For a good selection of independent stores, head to Oranienstrasse and Bergmannstrasse. 

Copenhagen

Where better to experience a fairy-tale Christmas than in the land of Hans Christian Andersen – Copenhagen.

 

Soak up the magical atmosphere at the city’s Tivoli Gardens. Wander the stalls, sip Glögg (spicy red wine) and treat yourself to a traditional Aebleskiver (apple slice).

 

If you’re travelling with the little ones, don’t miss the chance to meet Santa at Tivoli’s ‘Land of Elves’.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

Copenhagen is home to Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping street, Strøget, where you’ll find most major high-street brands as well as historic department stores such as, Illum, and Amager Torv.

 

At Kongens Nytorv, check out Scandinavia’s largest department store, Magasin du Nord. For something a bit more unique, Copenhagen local, Rebecca Thandi Normanrecommends the Værnedamsvej area. 

Budapest

Alongside over 100 twinkling huts on Vörösmarty Square, Budapest comes to life with Christmas concerts, festive laser shows, ballet performances and a glittering ice-rink.

 

Fill up on Kürtőskalács – sweet, spiral-shaped pastries, roasted meats, fried sausages, freshly baked strudels and roasted chestnuts while you shop the stalls.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

Head to the Pest side of the city for the best choice of shops and boutiques.

 

Váci Street (Váci utca), is Budapest’s main shopping street and runs from Vörösmarty Square to Vámház körút (Central Market Hall. Here you’ll encounter big-name brands as well as a good selection of restaurants and cafés.

 

If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, hotfoot it to WestEnd City Center, central Europe’s largest shopping mall. 

Bruges

Just a short hop from Brussels by train or car, indulge your inner Hansel or Gretel with a trip to Bruges’ Christmas market.

 

The story-book surroundings of this UNESCO World Heritage site make this city a magical place to visit at any time of the year, but the city turns things up a notch over the festive period.

 

Experience the warm glow of fairy-lights in the Gothic centre, take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage or sip hot chocolate as you browse the colourful stalls.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

For fashion boutiques and big name brands, check out the streets  between ‘t Zand and Markt Square.

 

If you’re in search of fancier gifts, you’ll find artisan chocolate shops scattered throughout Steenstraat, Geld Montstraat and Jakobstraat. 

Krakow

Go and see the Krakow’s Rynek Glowny come alive with thousands of lights this Christmas.

 

Eat your fill of hearty Polish food and mulled wine, buy some charming handmade decorations and enjoy wrapping up against the wintry Polish weather.

 

What is really interesting about this market is Krakow’s Szopki – intricate, handmade, multi-coloured glittery ‘Christmas Cribs’ on display.

 

On the first Thursday of December, Christmas gets serious when the crib-makers gather to find out who wins the great Krakow crib-off.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

Check out Kazimerz and the open air markets – particularly Plac Targowy. Pick up typical souvenirs at the Cloth Hall in the centre of the main square including glasswork, lace, amber, wood carvings, local sweets and stuffed dragons.

 

Krakow local Gabriela Francuzrecommends Galeria Kazimierz and Galeria Krakowska for anything you can’t find at the markets.

Munich

Munich’s Christmas market tradition can be traced back to the Nicholas Market which first took place at the city’s Frauenkirche in 1642.

 

Look forward to tucking into tasty treats such as Lebkuchen (traditional gingerbread) and grilled bratwurst and picking up hand-crafted souvenirs including Cristmas tree baubles and wooden and ceramic nativity figurines.

 

The gay Christmas Market on Stephansplatz is a fun recent addition –  pink Christmas trees and drag-queen carol singers are the order of the day here.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

The area between Marienplatz and Karlplatz is the heart of shopping in Munich. Here you’ll find the best choice of shops, from luxury brands to high-street labels.

 

One of Munich’s newest shopping centres, called Fünf Höfe (Five Courts) is located just off Odeonsplatz. For traditional Munich souvenirs such as beersteins and Bavarian teddy bears, head to Orlandostraße and the streets surrounding the Hofbräuhaus. 

Gothenburg

We know this Christmas market is in an amusement park, and we know what you’re thinking – but really, this is a lot more than a few shoddy ring toss stalls with a bit of tinsel on. No, in Gothenburg they don’t mess about.

 

The Liseburg amusement park is turned into a proper, bona fide, sparkling, captivating, magical winter wonderland every November. Over five million fairy lights adorn the trees that are happily growing throughout the park.

 

There are fire pits, actual roaming reindeer, an ice rink, and all the hot Glögg you can drink.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

Avenyn is Gothenburg’s main shopping thoroughfare. You’ll also find Swedish and international brands at the Nordstan shopping centre, as well as the Nordiska Kompaniet (NK) department store.

 

For quirky vintage buys, check out the The Haga district. Pick up up Swedish handicrafts as well crafts made by the indigenous Sami people of Swedish Lapland in the shops of Victoriapassagen.

Nuremberg

Just a 90-minute drive from Munich, Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is one of the oldest and largest of Germany’s Christmas markets.

 

It’s known as ‘the little town of wood and cloth’ (awww!) and pops up its stalls the day before advent begins. Fairy-lights fill the Nuremberg night, along with the sweet smell of mulled wine, roasted nuts and Nuremberg’s famous gingerbread.

 

There’s even a special ‘Kinderweihnacht’ area for kids, with carousels, a steam train, and stalls where they can make their own gingerbread men, candles and more.

 

Where else should I shop in the city?

 

Michael, a Ryanair customer, suggests the following: “The most popular shopping districts are in the inner city the Karolinenstraße, Breite Gasse and Königsstraße.

 

"If you are looking for smaller shops, better go to the district of 'Gostenhof'. Creative people, little shops.” 

 

- Fiona Hilliard