The Best Christmas Markets in the World*

Best Christmas market Vienna hearts
As some of you may know, I spent most of December criss-crossing along the former Iron Curtain between Istanbul and Berlin as part of a project I called the #IronRoute. You can read the first few posts about it over here and the rest are still in the pipeline.

Travel by train through Europe in December also carries with it another special treat – a chance to thoroughly inspect the Christmas Markets of central and eastern Europe. After only a few photos on Flickr and updates on Facebook, that rascal Andy of 501Places dubbed the trip the gluhwein way.

So, to celebrate gingerbread, gluhwein and twinkling bright lights, I bring you this post: the Best Christmas Markets in the World. (Only, it’s not really the whole world. Just the countries between Turkey and Germany. But let’s face it, that wouldn’t make such a good title…)

To spice up the Season of Goodwill even more, I’ve designed specific categories for each Christmas Market so that everyone’s a winner. So, grab a glass of gluhwein yourself and make yourself comfortable. Drumroll please….

The Best Christmas Markets in the World – More or Less

Best Christmas Market Berlin Stars

The Most Organised Christmas Market

The Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin wins this prize outright by being the only Christmas Market I found that had an organised ticket booth with queues and formal entrance procedures. The market itself dazzled, set between floodlit buildings and accompanied by accomplished – and organised – musicians.

Best Christmas Market Trieste

The Sparsest Christmas Market

Trieste, in northern Italy, really excelled itself with Christmas minimalism this year. Take one vast, imposing, floodlit square, insert one Christmas tree and…Er, that’s about it. Compare and contrast with…

Best Christmas Lights Ljubljana

The Most Extravagant Christmas Market

Why let something stay in darkness when you can throw Christmas lights all over it? I love the approach that Slovenia took with their Christmas lights in Ljubljana…the more, the merrier I say!

Best Christmas Market Prague

The Most Christmassy Christmas Market

Prague wins easily by placing its Christmas Market on the aptly named Wenceslas Square. It also throws in a mention of the nativity, snugly hid among the gingerbread and wine…

Best Christmas Market Vienna

The Chic-est Christmas Market

Vienna did so well here I’m going to push the boat out and upload another photo. Glimmering away in the shadows of the Rathaus, this Christmas Market was one of the largest and most popular I saw. The weather was biting at the time as well, with sleet, high winds and the kind of low temperatures that make Spaniards shiver at the thought of them. And STILL it was popular. Impressive.

BEst Christmas Markets Vienna

Best Christmas Markets Budapest Couples

The Cutest Christmas Market

With these dough couples plus embroidered hearts, lace-trimmed blouses and scented sachets, Budapest’s Christmas Market wins the cutest prize…It also scoops up…

Best Christmas Market Budapest Food

The Best Food at a Christmas Market

From stir fry to sauerkraut, cinnamon cabbage to cinnamon cookies, mulled wine to roasted Romanian pastries, this Christmas Market in Budapest had the most on offer by far…

What’s the best Christmas Market you’ve ever seen?

A Christmassy Disclosure: I travelled from Istanbul to Berlin thanks to a Global Pass from InterRail. InterRail itself had nothing to do with the granting of these Christmas Market Prizes…

UPDATE! The lovely Yvonne from Just Travelous tells me that the sweet-looking hearts at the top of the post actually have words that may make your grandmother blush…Oops! Ah well, they look sweet enough…;)

ANOTHER UPDATE: Interested in Christmas Markets in Western Europe? Check out this series from Follow Ben and Jenna.

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35 Responses to The Best Christmas Markets in the World*

  1. dtravelsround December 23, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    I want to go to the one in Prague … although they all seem very magical!

    • Abi December 28, 2011 at 7:30 am #

      The Christmas Market in Prague was a little on the small side…but central Prague is so picturesque it almost doesn’t need a market of its own.

      • 61goingon16 November 7, 2013 at 7:42 am #

        Hi. I would love to go this year. Can you give some advice for a solo traveler who wants to see prague! budapest and vienna markets

  2. Ayngelina December 24, 2011 at 11:42 pm #

    Wow I have never been to a Christmas market, maybe because I always like to be home.

    • Abi December 26, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

      Do they not have Christmas Markets in Canada, then? If not, what a shame…

  3. Stephanie - The Travel Chica December 25, 2011 at 2:55 am #

    I am not surprised that Germany has the most organized Christmas market. Would love to go someday.

    • Abi December 26, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

      They also have the wildest messages on gingerbread hearts…;)

  4. Camels & Chocolate December 26, 2011 at 4:03 am #

    Christmas markets were, hands down, my favorite part about living in Europe–we just don’t have anything remotely comparable here in the US. I think the best ones I ever experiences were in Bruges, Vienna and Budapest.

    • Abi December 26, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

      Really? Nothing similar in the US? Missing a trick there I think…They’re lovely. I shall have to check out the Christmas Market in Bruges…Just to be thorough. You know how it is…

  5. Abby December 26, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    So funny about the hearts! My mom did a similar tour this year, and I can’t wait to look at her photos. She started in Prague, included at least three in Austria, including Vienna, and finished in Budapest. Such a wonderful way to get in the holiday spirit!

    • Abi December 26, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

      I know, right? I only know a little German and it certainly doesn’t include words like that! I love Christmas Markets. Never tire of them…

  6. Eurotrip Tips December 28, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    Inspiring! I remember visiting Edinburgh’s Christmas Market in 2008 and absolutely loved it. Kind of sad that I went back to Canada before the market season!

    • Abi December 30, 2011 at 7:36 am #

      Haven’t made it to Edinburgh’s Christmas Market but have heard only good things about it…Sounds like there’s a niche for exporting Christmas Markets to Canada!

  7. Jenna December 29, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    I just finished a series on my favorite Christmas markets after being on a sort of Christmas market frenzy this year – but went west instead of east. I was in Copenhagen and Edinburgh (and Innsbruck last year – that one is nice!), but my favorites were all in Germany. My top favorite? Bad Wimpfen – a medieval walled city that practically nobody but locals has heard about!

    • Abi December 30, 2011 at 7:37 am #

      Bad Wimpfen?! That’s a great sounding name…We should put our posts together for a Christmas extravaganza…

  8. Linda February 28, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    Most Christmas markets start in November, so plenty of time to get a few in and still be at home for Christmas. But another one to consider is Salzburg – Christmas 365 days of the year!

    • Abi October 13, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

      Ooh, yes, I’ve heard about that! I love Christmas Markets so much, I’d probably still enjoy it in August.

  9. Connie Brentford August 13, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    Beautiful photos! Thanks so much for this post.
    I’ve heard from a German friend that the Nuremberg Christmas Market is one of the best in Germany. I’ve only been to Frankfurt and Cologne markets so far but our nomadic lifestyle has us in Europe this Christmas so Vienna is on the radar.

    • Abi October 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

      Ooh yes, make time for Vienna. Their Christmas market is in a stunning location.

  10. Lohd October 2, 2012 at 3:58 am #

    Budapest, yes yes yes! All the markets look so good, but the only place on the list I’ve been to thus far is the one at Budapest. I was there last year December for a business trip-cum-staycation at Fraser Residence Budapest. The serviced residence was just off Corvin Street, not exactly a market, but a really chic hangout with so many festivities going on. I will probably be in Berlin in a few months, will visit the Gendarmenmarkt then.

    • Abi December 5, 2012 at 10:58 am #

      Enjoy the market scene in Berlin. There are several but the Gendarmenmarkt is the grandest.

  11. Jaysen November 5, 2012 at 5:09 am #

    I’ve been a Christmas market nut since I lived in Berlin 20 years ago. I was surprised that the market in Strasbourg (France) and that the huge market in Munich (Germany) did not make your list. Almost every bridge, lightpost and window is decorated in Strasbourg, not to mention the cathedral area. Munich’s market is so big it’s like a workout just walking around.

    Germany’s markets win the contest hands-down, but the food at the Budapest (Hungary) Christmas market was off-the-charts yummy – which is easy to say since I don’t like German food. I plan on hitting all of Italy’s Christmas markets next year!

    • Abi December 5, 2012 at 11:01 am #

      Well, I certainly agree with you about the quality of the German markets. The reason West Germany and France didn’t make this list is all due to the reason given by the asterisk! These were the best along the route from Istanbul to Berlin. This year, however, I’m heading west and have just visited the Christmas Market in Munich: absolutely fantastic.

      http://www.insidethetravellab.com/the-best-christmas-market-in-the-world/

      If you get the chance, catch the Christmas Market at Verona too. Small but chic – the backdrop of the city makes it really stand out.

      Happy Christmas Market hunting!

  12. Natalie T. November 13, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    I’ve never been to a European Christmas market but it would be nice to visit one. We actually have one in Toronto, inspired by the ones in Europe, in our very own Distillery District. Excited to check it out this year!

    • Abi December 5, 2012 at 11:02 am #

      Now I know what the Distillery District looks like, I imagine it would make for a spectacular Christmas Market. Let us know how things work out…

  13. Gayla November 30, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Christmas Markets are like Winter Magic! I’ve only been to ones in France, Germany and now my current ‘hometown’ of Venlo, NL, and no one does weihnachstmärkte quite like the Germans. I dream of visiting others across Europe. Your list gives me a few to start with. Thanks!

    • Abi December 5, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      Happy gluhwein hunting! I’d also recommend the Christmas Market in Salzburg. Excellent hand made crafts and Salzburg is so Christmassy picturesque…

  14. Marian December 3, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    The magic of Christmas at a Christmas Market? How about Schloss Emmeran, one of the most fairytale like I know, the one in Dresden ( a beautifull city as well and really a Cristmas treat) and off course the several beautifull Markets in the whole of Bavaria………..def. winter pre-Christmas wonderland!!

    • Abi December 5, 2012 at 11:06 am #

      Having just come from Munich, I have to agree. Absolutely stunning. I haven’t been to Dresden yet. Perhaps northwest Germany will be on my Market hunting trip for next year…I hear so many good things about it.

      • Marian December 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

        If you send me an email to the listed adress I will send you a list and some inside information as well. Got my hands on a huge pile of information and pictures………But Schloss Emmeran is the most wonderfull of all. The Castle is so beautifull and can be visited as well. Got pictures from Last year, a dream I tell you.

        • Abi January 11, 2013 at 1:26 am #

          Pff…Couldn’t fit it onto the itinerary for this year. Munich only in Germany. NEXT year?!

          • Marian January 11, 2013 at 10:59 am #

            Next year??…..well how about a Christmas market round Trip in Franconia??Starting at NĂĽrnberg (has an international Airport!!) with a short south trip to Schloss Emmeran than to Bamberg and Coburg more North and I can assure you the visits to Lauscha were many glassblowers show you the magic of creating the most fantastic Victorianstyle glassfigures for your tree!! Here is the centre of traditional Christmas tree decoration.

            By the way did you know Queen Victoria was the first to bring the tradition of the Christmas tree to England. She loved the Christmas tradition of her Husbands Family (which was also her mothers Family) and she wanted a tree and the decoration from Coburgs Schloss Ehrenburg.
            These decorations are still made in the surrounding area here. (and most of them open all year)

            If you want magic……….I got it here all around me and it is the most wonderfull time of the year, with all Castles being luminous Christmas highlights.

  15. Rachel Jones December 26, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    yeah Prague, I couldn’t agree more about this post. It is by far the most extravagant when it comes to celebrating Christmas.

    • Abi January 11, 2013 at 1:27 am #

      Mmm…I think I need to “update” my opinion after this year’s research. Munich’s Christmas Market was absolutely huge!

  16. Ally October 3, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    I leave Berlin the day before the markets start :( – would love to see them one year. The Slovenia markets look spectacular! I’m also a bit of a foodie so Budapest looks very appealing – spoiled for choice!! Will need plently of spends!

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