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Travel tips

Looking for the best Christmas markets in Europe? Visit these 10 cities to make the most of your holidays

Jun 20, 2023 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Taking a tour of Europe in November or December brings a unique experience that can’t be replicated at any other time of the year: the Christmas market. These aren’t just festive places to shop for beautiful souvenirs or holiday presents. They’re often historic, weeks-long events that highlight the best of a destination’s holiday traditions. Whether you want to savor mulled wine, listen to festive music, or see some seasonal art, Christmas markets are a major part of European culture that can’t be missed.

When do Christmas markets start in Europe?

When planning a trip to experience Europe’s best Christmas markets, knowing when they start and for how long they’ll run is an important detail. However, exact dates vary not only by destination but also from year to year. Most markets usually start in mid-November and run up until Christmas. There are also locations that stage theirs the week between Christmas and new year and beyond, too.

lights in the shape of a Christmas tree hanging above vendor stands at a Christmas market

Where are the best Christmas markets in Europe?

You can visit Christmas markets all over Europe, but some of the most historic ones can be found in countries like Germany, Poland, and Austria. While it’s difficult to know exactly where and when Christmas markets originated (some say Vienna in the 13th century), German cities like Dresden can claim the longest-running Christmas markets that are still operating today.

Christmas markets are now a global phenomenon that can be experienced in most major cities around the world, from New York to Shanghai. But there’s nothing like going to where they started. So, here are our picks for 10 of the best Christmas markets in Europe to visit in 2023.

a collage of a traveler holding up a pretzel, wearing black gloves and a red jacket and a women bundled in winter clothes, smiling, standing below hanging stockings

1. Dresden, Germany

When it comes to the best Christmas markets in Europe, there’s no better place to start than in Germany, home to some of the oldest and most picturesque markets in the world. The Christmas market in Dresden—called the Striezelmarkt, which will run from November 29–December 24, 2023—was founded in 1434 as a one-day event. Today, it’s an enormous European Christmas market spectacle, home to about 240 vendors selling everything from holiday-themed ceramics to piping-hot pretzels. 

On our 12-day Christmas Markets of Historic Germany tour, our two-day stop in Dresden includes a guided visit to the iconic Striezelmarkt. You’ll get to sample mulled wine and some local pastries before exploring everything else the market has to offer. Don’t miss the 46-foot-high Ore Mountain step pyramid, which might just be the world’s largest walk-in candle arch. If you need a souvenir idea, pick up a traditional Pflaumentoffel, a figurine of a man made of prunes. And if you’re eager to get a birds-eye view of all it, hop on the Ferris wheel!

Visit the Christmas markets on tour

a group of female travelers, all bundled in winter clothes, smiling as they cheers their red, stocking shaped mugs

2. Berlin, Germany

Think solo travel during the holidays doesn’t make sense? There are so many reasons why a solo Christmas market trip with us is a great idea, especially if Berlin is on the itinerary. A city of its size offers a lot—Berlin is nine times larger than Paris, after all. There’s great food, world-class museums, unbelievable history, and fantastic shopping. And if you’re traveling for Christmas markets, prepare to be amazed.

While Dresden is famous for the Striezelmarkt, Berlin is home to countless European Christmas markets: We could devote a full week to visiting them on our Germany tours and barely scratch the surface. For instance, Spandau’s market has a Renaissance fair, while Berlin City Hall’s has an ice rink. Go to the one in Alexanderplatz if you’d prefer more of a party atmosphere. And if you’re looking for something unexpected, there are international markets in Berlin, too, from British and Norwegian Christmas markets to a Japanese Christmas market.

There truly is something for everyone, and you can visit the Berlin Christmas market that suits your interest during your free afternoon on our 12-day Christmas Markets of Historic Germany tour.

Explore our Christmas markets trips

a collage of a crowded Christmas market and two female travelers smiling as they shop

3. Munich, Germany

Munich’s Marienplatz has been the city’s central square since 1158, and it’s where you’ll find Munich’s most important Christmas market from November 27–December 24, 2023: Christkindlmarkt am Marienplatz. There are countless markets all over town, including one at the airport, but this is the one travelers come for. The way the Christmas lights brighten up the plaza against the backdrop of age-old Gothic architecture is a sight to behold, and there’s even a massive Christmas tree (yes, it’s a real tree). While Marienplatz is the heart of the market, the 100-plus vendors and stalls spill out onto the surrounding streets, including the Rathaus courtyard.

On our 14-day Christmas Markets of Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour, one afternoon will be dedicated to exploring this market. But the best time to visit this (and any) market is at night when all the lights are sparkling. Grab a boot-shaped mug of mulled wine and stick around—and hang onto that mug as a fun memento from your trip. Take it from traveler Amanda: “The Christmas markets are a fun place to people-watch while drinking Glühwein and eating bratwurst,” she said. “Be sure to save plenty of room in your luggage for all the souvenirs you’ll purchase.”

Browse our Christmas Markets Tours

4. Bamberg, Germany

The Bavarian city of Bamberg, a featured stop on some of our favorite Germany tours, is home to less than 80,000 inhabitants. It’s beautifully laid out over seven hills—and that picturesque location means that when it comes to traveling for the best Christmas markets in Europe, it doesn’t disappoint.

During the holiday season, Bamberg will stage its Christmas market from November 28–December 23, 2023. The Old Town will be perfumed with grilled bratwurst, freshly baked lebkuchen (honey cookies), and, of course, spiced mulled wine. Bamberg is also known for its nativity scenes so don’t forget to visit the massive one at the market, made of Franconian half-timber. The scene itself changes as the season progresses. One look at this romantic setup, and you’ll know why we make sure to include Bamberg on our 12-day Christmas Markets of Historic Germany itinerary.

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a women peering through a store window at the displayed packaged items

5. Heidelberg, Germany

Wondering what else to do in Europe’s Christmas markets other than mine their countless stalls for treats and trinkets? The great thing about the best Christmas markets in Europe is that they’re usually full of holiday fun for the whole family. In Heidelberg, home to Europe’s most famous universities, visiting the Christmas market from November 27–December 22, 2023 is also a great way to explore the Old Town. (The stalls run from one end of it to the other.)

On our 14-day Christmas Markets of Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour, you get plenty of time to explore the market on your own. You may want to skate on one of the most beautiful ice rinks in Europe with a view of the 13th-century castle ruins right on Karlsplatz. It’s a great way to add a cultural component to your market visit.

See our Christmas markets trips

6. Vienna, Austria

Some historical texts state that the first-ever Christmas market in the world took place in the Austrian capital of Vienna. True or not, a Christmas market trip to this imperial city remains a special one. Like Berlin, Vienna is home to countless markets, each with their own allure. That’s why on our 11-day Christmas Markets of Budapest, Vienna & Prague tour, you’ll get to spend three nights in the Austrian capital. The first two nights, your Tour Director will complement sightseeing with guided visits to two different Christmas markets. You’ll have the entire third day free for personal exploration, which you could use to discover more of the city’s sparkling events.

Maybe you’ll consider the Viennese Dream Christmas Market, held from November 11–December 26, 2023 in front of the City Hall. It’s one of Vienna’s most beloved markets. Families usually head inside City Hall so that kids can take lessons on how to make Christmas cookies or candles. Another fabulous market to visit on your tour of Austria is the one built right outside Belvedere Palace, one of the city’s emblematic attractions.

“I was overwhelmed with the ‘Christmas card’ look of the markets and the cities we visited,” said traveler Liz. “It was especially perfect when it snowed in Austria! The best visit was to the market in the evening when the lights came on.”

Explore our Christmas Markets Tours

a collage of people bundled in winter clothing, strolling under Christmas garlands and lights and an image of a wreath decorated with gold bows and bells

7. Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg might be most famous for its ties to the Hollywood film The Sound of Music (many of the scenes are filmed here), but did you know that its Christmas market is one of the oldest in the world? It was likely first held in the late 15th century. The most modern iteration, called Salzburg Christkindlmarkt, has been held in that same spot in the shadow of the imposing cathedral since 1974. It offers a lot of the same features as many other markets: mulled wine, 100-plus vendors selling giftable local items, and lots of tasty treats.

However, what makes this one of the best European Christmas markets are the live events, including weekly live music and religious processions. On Tuesday evenings, the public can even join the choir for a holiday sing-along. So if you’re looking for something unique to do at Europe’s Christmas markets, add a festive karaoke session to your list!

Because it runs from November 23, 2023– January 1, 2024, Salzburg’s Christmas market becomes a New Year’s Eve market, when the cozy wintertime atmosphere is amped up under the glow of fireworks. On our 14-day Christmas Markets of Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour, your two days in Salzburg will combine exploring iconic Sound of Music filming sites with an evening out in the Christkindlmarkt.

Find your next trip for the holidays

a collage of a crowd of people, in winter gear, standing behind a wooden barrier looking up and a close up image of small red ornaments and bows hanging on a Christmas tree

8. Kraków, Poland

If you love Europe’s Christmas markets—and have always wanted to take a tour of Poland—you’ll be happy to know that Kraków’s usually runs from late November all the way through to January 6. During this stretch, which ends with the Epiphany festival, Rynek Glowny (the Old Town’s massive central square) is transformed into a festive playground uniquely characterized by rows and rows of wooden stalls. Many of them sell local handicrafts, from pottery to embroidered textiles. All of it will make for fantastic souvenirs or last-minute holiday gifts.

“The Christmas markets were awesome, selling Eastern European food, mulled wine, and all kinds of handmade crafts and Christmas decorations,” said traveler Peggy. “Not only that, but we went to castles and visited historic museums!”

On our 15-day Christmas Markets of Eastern Europe tour you’ll have an entire afternoon and evening free to explore as you wish. It’s the perfect time to dig into Polish culinary specialties at the Christmas market, whether you’re interested in grilled kielbasa, a hefty portion of pierogies, or oscypek—a smoked sheep’s milk cheese from the Tatra mountains.

Give the gift of a Christmas market trip

Christmas lights draped above a circular ice rink, surrounded by colorful townhomes in Warsaw, Poland's Old Town Square

9. Warsaw, Poland

In the Polish capital of Warsaw, the Christmas market at Old Town Market Square may not be as big as what you’ll find in Vienna or Dresden, but it still offers up all the European charm you might expect. The Old Town location, with its cobblestone streets, historic architecture, and sparkling holiday lights, will see to that.

There’s a good amount of free time in Warsaw during our 15-day Christmas Markets of Eastern Europe tour. Because the market there isn’t as big, you can partner an afternoon perusing its bustling stalls with ice skating and people-watching without feeling rushed. And like in Kraków, Warsaw’s Christmas market is a fantastic place to sample Polish cuisine like cabbage rolls stuffed with mushrooms and makowiec, a local poppyseed cake.

Start planning your next holiday trip

Decorative Christmas lights hanging above vendor stands as shoppers stroll around at the Central Market Hall in Budapest, Hungry

10. Budapest, Hungary

One of our favorite cities in Europe, Budapest has it all: gorgeous architecture, romantic riverside ambience, tons of history, historic bathhouse culture, and much more. And like the other big cities on this list, Budapest stages multiple European Christmas markets. That means on our Christmas Markets of Budapest, Vienna & Prague tour, you can spend your three nights in Budapest visiting more than one.

The most popular Christmas market in Budapest, however, is the one located in Vörösmarty Square. This offers a multi-sensory experience: sparkling Christmas lights, excited chatter from visitors, and the seductive aroma of the traditional Chimney cake, which is a cinnamon-y confection you simply must try. There’s also usually a stage for a calendar of shows, from traditional musical concerts to folklore performances.

Another market you can visit during your free time on one of our Hungary tours is located in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. Launched in 2011, this brightly lit market is one of the newest Christmas markets in Europe. It offers a similar experience to the one in Vörösmarty Square, but St. Stephen’s Basilica Christmas market is built around a central skating rink. Is there anything more charming during the holidays than ice skating?

Ready to celebrate the best Christmas ever? Shop our Christmas Market Tours today!

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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