Is that jingle bells we can hear? The British Isles is home to a host of fantastic Christmas markets but if you’re seeking authentic, immersive and colourful Christmas experiences, a European river cruise is a must for the festive period. Here are the 6 best European Christmas markets:
The city that has it all, Amsterdam is magical year-round but even more so at Christmas. The Netherlands’ eclectic capital hosts a number of Christmas markets each year with the most popular being Amsterdam Winter Paradise (with indoor and outdoor ice-skating rinks as well as a Ferris wheel which offers panoramic views of the city), The Royal Christmas Fair (which boasts a 20-metre-high Christmas tree) and the Floating Christmas Market (which is the only Christmas market of its kind in the Netherlands).
Amsterdam’s Christmas markets are perfect for finding unique, authentic gifts. We highly recommend a visit to Museumplein where you’ll find a winter market with lots of festive wares.
What better way to spend the most wonderful time of the year than in Berlin, one of Europe’s most stunning capital city’s? Like Amsterdam, Berlin has a host of Christmas stalls (60 to be precise!) from behind the Alexanderplatz to the Schloss Charlottenburg where the market is held in the grounds of the famous former royal palace.
“Budapest really is one of the most enchanting places I’ve visited in Europe,” says Bejal from travel and lifestyle blog, Be-Lavie. “The city is split between the Danube River with one side being called Buda and the other Pest, where the famous chain bridge crosses. For fabulous views head over to Fisherman’s Bastion to get picture-perfect vistas of the city at day and lit up at night where you can marvel the iconic Hungarian parliament building.
Bejal recommends three different Christmas markets, “Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market is in the heart of the city centre, opposite the world-renowned Gerbeaud Café where you must pop in for some traditional patisserie! This market has been ranked as one of the most beautiful markets in Europe. It’s great for wood carvings and food. St. Stephen Basilica Christmas Market is a must-visit for artisan stalls and gourmet food - there’s even an ice rink. A perfect place to purchase hand-crafted and eco-friendly Christmas tree decorations. Lastly, Town Hall Park Christmas Market is situated in a small park off the town and is perfect if you have children. It’s home to the largest Christmas tree in Budapest!”
Bejal continues, “Budapest truly is an architectural gem with fantastic points of interest as well as a great café culture, art and history scene and excellent foodie options. Do not miss a visit to the Szechenyl Baths, which is over 100 years old. It is said that the warm waters are medicinal and many come from far and wide to bathe here.”
If you’re looking to extend your cruise, Bejal recommends the New York Palace Budapest Hotel, “there are many stunning hotels in which to base yourself in but one of my favourites is the New York Palace Budapest Hotel. This is also where the famous New York Café is. Afternoon tea here is a complete must as you take a seat in the ornate room to tuck into the classics amidst the relaxing live pianist’s notes bouncing off the high baroque ceilings. Truly one of the most memorable moments in the city.”
Cologne’s Christmas markets are as beautiful as they are extensive. Choose from larger markets held in downtown Cologne with live music performances and spectacular skating rinks or smaller markets with local handicrafts and a thriving festive atmosphere.
As you stroll Germany’s 2,000-year-old city the smell of baked apples, gingerbread, cinnamon and mulled wine will surely warm your cockles. You can even look forward to a maritime atmosphere at the Harbour Christmas Market - a beautiful destination to celebrate the festive season.
“Copenhagen is the perfect destination for winter and soaking up the atmosphere at one of the many Christmas markets,” says Jess from travel and lifestyle blog, Enjoy the Adventure. “Nyhavn’s Christmas market is located by the harbour, providing an iconic setting to browse holiday presents. Explore the market to find handmade gifts, cosy hats and accessories. Wander around while enjoying a glass of mulled wine or hot choc and grab some tasty and warming treats from one of the many food vendors. Make sure to bring your camera to get some stunning shots of the market and canal.
See more of Jess’ images on Instagram: @enjoytheadventures
“Whilst in Copenhagen, you have to visit the Tivoli Gardens which are transformed into a magical winter wonderland at Christmas. Each year lighting designers create a new festive facade with thousands of festive lights bringing a warm festive glow to the winter darkness. Pick up some delicious treats such as caramelised almonds, hot dogs or burgers. Browse some of the stalls and souvenir shops to find some cute Christmas gifts. Whilst you are there, you have to try out some of the rides as Tivoli is the second oldest amusement park in the world! I really enjoyed the rollercoaster at Tivoli, it’s 625 metres long and is one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters still in operation. It is also one of only seven tracks in the world to have a driver on board.” Read Jess’ guide to Copenhagen to see why she thinks its the ultimate winter destination.
Prague, Czech Republic
Christmas markets are an important part of the festive magic in the Czech Republic and the markets in Prague are possibly the most impressive in the country. Open from 2nd December to 6th January, you can continue the festivities long after Christmas!
There are plenty of stalls with handmade gifts including lights, wooden toys, ceramics, clothing and puppets/dolls dressed in traditional costumes - you’re bound to find something for your loved ones. Alongside this, exquisite food is available to keep your tummy happy. From large hams roasted on spits to cakes and pastries prepared right in front of you, you most definitely won’t leave hungry.