Top 25 best Christmas fairs in Europe

Top 25 best Christmas fairs in Europe

Every Russian child knows what a real Christmas mood should be like — thanks to the Soviet cartoon about the Nutcracker and the music of Tchaikovsky. Growing up, we go to the place where this fairy tale comes to life. Where, on New Year’s Eve, you can walk the lightly snow-covered streets without a hat. Where you can smell mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, sausages and gingerbread.

Every year, the European Best Destinations association selects the top of the continent’s best fairs: the most beautiful, the most intense, the most unconventional and the most authentic. To get on this list is an honor and a joy for the city, because it will ensure the flow of tourists for the next few years.

Top 25 Best Christmas Destinations

Europe’s Christmas markets open in November and run either until Christmas Day or January 5—7. I’ll tell you about the 25 best Christmas markets that consistently make the top 25 list. These are both popular destinations and little-known corners of Europe.

Tallinn (Estonia)

Advent in Zagreb has held the top spot for three years in a row, and suddenly, for the 2019/2020 season, the Tallinn Christmas Fair has been declared the best in Europe. It takes place in the historic city center, where medieval buildings have been beautifully preserved.

There are carousels for children and a Santa Claus house that gives out candy for a poem. At the market you can buy handmade products from snacks to winter accessories. The cultural program includes about 3000 performers. What to do on New Year’s Eve and Christmas in Tallinn

  • What to try. Ginger cookies, Christmas roast and mulled wine with different flavors.
  • The dates are November 15, 2019 through January 7, 2020.
  • Website
Christmas in Tallinn
Christmas in Tallinn

Zagreb (Croatia)

The leader of the ranking three years in a row, from 2016 to 2018. The festive spots are scattered around the city center, but the most beautiful ones are easy to miss, so save your location: they are located in the Upper Town (Gradec), near the Church of St. Katerina. Here, on a hill with a panoramic view of the city, there are dozens of photo zones. For the most impressive ones you will have to wait in line. You can brighten the wait with mulled wine and sausages from the pavilions nearby.

Zagreb’s main holiday photo zone — on a hill overlooking the city
There is a funicular that goes up the hill, and there is always a queue for it. It is better to go up on foot.
There is a funicular that goes up the hill, and there is always a queue for it. It is better to go up on foot.
Top 25 best Christmas fairs in Europe

Other Christmas spots in the city:

  • A huge Christmas tree is set up in Ban Josip Jelačić Square. During the Advent season, the fountain on the square is transformed into a large festive wreath with 4 candles: traditionally, one new candle is lit each week.
  • Europe Square (Europski trg) — market on the main square, in the pedestrian zone.
  • Zrinjevac Park is an entire park turned into a Christmas fair: gifts and mulled wine surrounded by illuminated trees.
  • Ice Park on King Tomislav Square — here you can skate and eat not only traditional cevapcici but also modern cuisine.

The entire city center at this time — and Zagreb is not small — turns into one big fair and gastromarket.

  • The dates are November 30, 2019 through January 7, 2020.
  • Website
The whole center is one big photo zone
The whole center is one big photo zone
Try to find this passage: just follow the flow of people
Try to find this passage: just follow the flow of people
The ad that everyone takes pictures of
The ad that everyone takes pictures of
Top 25 best Christmas fairs in Europe

Budapest (Hungary)

The main celebration takes place around St. István’s Basilica (St. Stephen’s Basilica). There are free attractions for all ages: a central ice rink around the Christmas tree (skate rentals and weekend skating lessons for children under 14 are available), charity concerts, flash mobs. On the facade of the basilica there is a light show every day. The fair offers handicrafts and Hungarian and international cuisine.

  • What to try. Traditional multi-layered sweet flódni pie, burgers and fish dishes.
  • The dates are November 22, 2019 through January 1, 2020.
  • Website

Strasbourg (France)

Strasbourg’s Christmas Fair is one of the oldest in the world and one of the most popular. It is always crowded. The Christmas festivities take place in the city center on the «Grande Ile» (Grand Island). The fair includes about 300 illuminated wooden chalets with Alsatian specialties, traditional live music and various activities.

  • What to try? Rooster in wine (Coq au Vin), Fleischschneke meat snails, Kougelhopf muffin, Männele little man buns, schnapps (brandy made from raspberries, mirabelle, prunes or plums, cherries, pears).
  • The dates are November 22 through December 30, 2019.
  • Website

Vienna, Austria

During Advent, there are Christmas markets in all districts of the city, but the main celebration, the «Vienna Magic of Advent», takes place in the Town Hall Square. At the market you can ride the carousel or buy Christmas gifts, Christmas tree decorations, sweets, and hot drinks. Another major fair takes place in front of Schoenbrunn Palace.

  • What to try? Traditional Viennese sausages, Wiener Schnitzel, strudel and the imperial omelette Kaiserschmarrn.
  • The dates are November 16 through December 24, 2019.
  • Website
The fair on Vienna
The fair on Vienna’s Town Hall Square is one of the most crowded in Vienna
Getting through a crowd without pouring mulled wine on anyone is a challenge.
Getting through a crowd without pouring mulled wine on anyone is a challenge.
They’re pouring a big ice rink at the Town Hall
Top 25 best Christmas fairs in Europe
Top 25 best Christmas fairs in Europe

Erfurt (Germany)

This medieval town is one of the best, most beautiful places to celebrate Christmas Eve in Germany.

A huge Christmas tree, a 12-meter tall Christmas pyramid (Weihnachtspyramide) and a hand-carved creche with full-size figures are set up in Erfurt’s Cathedral Square. The market is filled with traditional handmade crafts and ornaments and the food of Thuringia, the eastern part of Germany.

  • What to try? Thuringian sausages and Erfurt schitchen.
  • The dates are November 26 through December 22, 2019.
  • Website

Poznan (Poland)

«Poznanski Bethlehem is Poland’s largest New Year’s Eve market. The Old Market Square and Freedom Square offer Polish delicacies and craft beer, amusement rides and a unique ice sculpture festival in Europe.

  • What to try. Glazed apples, fried cheese, chocolate-covered fruit, zhurek, pierogi and doughnuts with jam, smoked sausages and clouds — thin wafers with religious images. What else to try in Poland
  • The dates are November 16 through December 21, 2019.
  • Website
  • Guide to Poznan

Brussels (Belgium)

The Christmas market in Brussels is the most colorful of all Belgian fairs. The Winter Wonders festival attracts 2.5 million visitors from all over the world, with an ice rink around the Christmas tree, a festive Christmas parade, a traditional Ferris wheel and merry-go-round, and after sunset, a light and music show and video screenings projected onto the facades.

The largest fair in Brussels takes place on St. Catherine’s Square. Other locations include the fair at Carreveld Castle, the indoor fair at Place Flage and the designer fair at Halles Saint-Géry.

Traditional Brussels waffle
Traditional Brussels waffle

Aachen (Germany)

Aachen’s annual Christmas fair is known far beyond the region’s borders. The festivities take place in the squares and streets around the Cathedral and Aachen Town Hall.

  • What to try? Potato fritters, gingerbread, marzipan bread.
  • The dates are November 22 through December 23, 2019.
  • Website

Prague (Czech Republic)

The capital of theCzech Republic is one of the most popular Christmas destinations for tourists from Russia. The main celebration takes place on Old Town Square in the historical center of Prague, surrounded by medieval buildings. Each year the festive decorations have a new theme, but remain based on national Czech traditions. In the center of the market is a Christmas tree more than 20 meters high, decorated with thousands of lights.

  • What to try? Czech Christmas cookies, hot roasted chestnuts, gingerbread cookies or typical grilled blood sausages.
  • The dates are November 30, 2019 through January 6, 2020.
  • Website
  • New Year’s Eve in Prague
Main Christmas Tree of the Czech Republic: Old Town Square, Prague
Main Christmas Tree of the Czech Republic: Old Town Square, Prague
Wenceslas Square Fair
Wenceslas Square Fair
Prague Castle Fair
Prague Castle Fair
Christmas in the center of Prague
Christmas in the center of Prague
The creche in Prague Castle
The creche in Prague Castle

Cluj-Napoca (Romania)

In the heart of mysterious Transylvania, in the town of Cluj-Napoca, a family Christmas party is unfolding. Souvenirs and festive treats can be found near St. Michael’s Church, and an ice rink is being poured around the statue of Matyas Corvinus.

  • The dates are November 22 through December 31, 2019.
  • Website
Christmas market
Christmas market

Montbéliard (France)

During Advent, the town of Montbéliard in eastern France organizes a Christmas market unparalleled in the world: every year the holiday has a «guest» — another European town organizes its own corner. For example, in 2018 the guest of Montbéliard was Andalusia.

The Christmas market in the city center surrounds the Church of St. Martin, the oldest reform church in France (1601). There are 160 stalls selling souvenirs, silk scarves, ceramics, wooden and Christmas tree toys.

The holiday has its roots in the region’s German heritage, Christkindelmarkets — «baby Jesus fairs." Artisans sell authentic arts and crafts, choral songs are sung on stage, and the entire town is filled with festive illumination.

  • What to try? Foie gras, Montbéliard sausage Saucisse de Montbéliard, Christmas chocolate and cookies
  • The dates are November 23 through December 24, 2019.
  • Website
Obligatory program: try mulled wine everywhere and collect a collection of souvenir mugs
Obligatory program: try mulled wine everywhere and collect a collection of souvenir mugs

Metz (France)

Christmas festivities take place in the six main squares of the city: ice skating and carousels, a Christmas pyramid with handmade gifts, the best ginger cookies in the area and Christmas gastronomy, mulled wine and hot chocolate. For New Year’s Eve, the lantern paths (Sentiers des lanternes) decorate Metz.

  • The dates are November 20, 2019 through January 5, 2020.
  • Website

Leipzig (Germany)

One of the largest and oldest in Germany, the Leipzig Christmas Fair — started in 1458. Celebrations take place in six districts of the city and include more than 250 illuminated stalls with souvenirs, culinary products and entertainment. Program of events

The Finnish Village on Augusta Square entices with the aromas of smoked salmon and fruity mulled wine, while the historic Ancient Leipzig Christmas Fair is located on Naschmarkt Square.

  • The dates are November 26 through December 23, 2019.
  • Website
Top 25 best Christmas fairs in Europe

Dresden (Germany)

Dresden’s main Advent site, the famous Striezelmarkt, has been open since 1434. It was once a place for exchanging Christmas stollen (Striezel) and is now one of the most beautiful fairs in Germany.

In total, the New Year’s Eve fair covers eleven markets. Festivities take place in almost all churches and museums, and boats decorated with lights glide down the Elbe. In December, there is a daily parade in honor of Dresden’s main Christmas treat, Stollenfest. In 2019, it will be held on December 7.

Alpine hut-style stalls sell local specialties and traditional handicrafts.

  • What to try. Dresden Fruit Stollen Dresdner Christstollen and Pflaumentoffel are edible human-shaped figures made of prunes.
  • The dates are November 27 through December 24, 2019.
  • Website

Basel (Switzerland)

Switzerland’s largest Christmas market is located in Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz, the center of the illuminated Old Town.

  • What to try? Waffles, Basel Läckerli gingerbread and Swiss raclette.
  • The dates are November 28 through December 23, 2019.
  • Website
These dried citrus arrangements are only sold at Christmas and smell like magic and spices
These dried citrus arrangements are only sold at Christmas and smell like magic and spices

Cologne (Germany)

Celebrations are scattered across several of Cologne’s Christmas sites, but the largest of the markets are concentrated in the city center: in front of Cologne Cathedral — the world’s third largest cathedral, in the old town’s Altstadt, in front of the city hall on the Alter Markt.

A Christmas steam train runs through the city: for 10 euros a day you can ride all day between markets in different neighborhoods, get off and get on again at any stop.

  • What to try. Sausages, potato pancakes, baked apples, cinnamon buns, stollen and local beer — kölsch.
  • The dates are November 25 through December 23, 2019.
  • Website
  • Traveler Ulyana Tagunova was in Cologne for Christmas and tells us what to see: Christmas Cologne
Cologne Christmas train
Cologne Christmas train

Nuremberg (Germany)

The Nuremberg Christmas Fair is one of the oldest and most popular. It was first mentioned in 1628 and dates back to the time of Luther. Traditional chalet houses with wooden stalls covered with red and white cloths are one of the most recognizable «postcard» symbols of European Christmas.

Celebrations traditionally begin on the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent with the appearance of the Christ child on the balcony of Our Lady’s Church.

  • What to try. Gingerbread, mulled wine and rum punch, roasted almonds and the world-famous Nuremberg sausages.
  • The dates are November 28 through December 23, 2019.
  • Website
  • Nuremberg, Munich and other Bavarian fairs in Olesya Grigorieva’s guide: Christmas in Bavaria
You can buy souvenirs and decorations at the Christmas fair
You can buy souvenirs and decorations at the Christmas fair

Amiens (France)

Since 1997, Amiens has been hosting the largest Christmas fair in the north of France, with a string of 130 chalet stalls displaying handmade gifts, Christmas decorations and delicacies for more than 2 km. A light show is projected onto the facade of the Gothic Notre Dame Amiens Cathedral.

  • Dates: from November 23 to December 31, 2019
  • Website

Seville (Spain)

Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world visit the Nervión Christmas market in Velázquez’s small homeland. There is no snow here, instead of Christmas trees there are orange trees, and the town is decorated with poinsettias the color of wine. But there are also Christmas creches and a skating rink made of artificial ice, and the fair offers an abundance of handmade jewelry and culinary specialties of Andalusia.

  • What to try. Turrón (Spanish nougat made from almonds), chocolate-covered figs, Christmas cookies polvoron and mantecado.
  • The dates are December 6, 2019 through January 6, 2020
  • Seville Travel Guide

Chester (UK)

The small but authentic Chester Fair ranks as the UK’s best Christmas market, ahead of Manchester, Bath, London and Birmingham. In the heart of the city center, the festive tree is surrounded by more than 70 traditional wooden cottages — it’s not much, but the Chester Fair is appreciated for its smallness and non-tourism.

  • What to try. Roasted hog, hot chocolate, pancakes and coconut almond cookies.
  • The dates are November 16 through December 22, 2019
  • Website

Manchester (UK)

This is another authentic, but significantly larger (compared to Chester) Christmas market in the UK. The first Christmas market was held in Manchester in just 1999, has steadily grown in size and now attracts over 9 million visitors each year. There are around 300 Christmas stalls in the city center.

The main sites are Manchester Cathedral and Albert Market in front of the Town Hall.

  • The dates are November 8 through December 22, 2019
There are Chinese souvenirs, and there are also small masterpieces of local craftsmen
There are Chinese souvenirs, and there are also small masterpieces of local craftsmen

Colmar (France)

Colmar’s Christmas market is one of the most beautiful and cozy in Europe. It is famous all over the world: against the background of cute and picturesque houses in the style of half-timbered — a French culinary paradise. In 2017 Colmar was ranked 2nd in the ranking of the best fairs in Europe. Advent celebrations take place in 5—6 city markets, each of which is a mini village of Alsatian craftsmen with their unique products.

Every Wednesday and Saturday at 17:00, boats decorated with lights sail along the canals of the «Little Venice» district, where a children’s choir sings Christmas songs. And Alsatian vineyards and wine cellars are preparing special Christmas tours, because you are in one of the oldest wine regions in France.

  • The dates are November 22 through December 29, 2019
  • Website

Rothenburg am Tauber (Germany)

The Christmas fair in the medieval town has been held since the 15th century. The streets and squares around the town hall are lined with garlanded wooden stalls selling «white» mulled wine and roasted almonds, Christmas pastries and souvenirs. Program of events

  • The dates are November 29 through December 23, 2019
  • Website

Bern (Switzerland)

The Christmas markets in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the medieval streets of Bern, are located on Cathedral Square (Münsterplatz), Waisenhausplatz, at the Ogre Fountain (Kindlifresserbrunner) and Barn Square (Kornhausplatz).

The Parliament Square (Bundesplatz) in front of the Swiss parliament turns into a free 600 m2 artificial ice rink. Skates can be rented here.

  • What to try? Cheese fondue, of course.
  • The dates are December 1 through December 24, 2019.
  • Website
WhereDates in 2019
Tallinn (Estonia)November 15, 2019 through January 7, 2020
Zagreb (Croatia)November 30, 2019 through January 7, 2020
Budapest (Hungary)November 22, 2019 through January 1, 2020
Strasbourg (France)November 22 to December 30
Vienna, AustriaNovember 16 through December 24
Erfurt (Germany)November 26 through December 22
Poznan (Poland)November 16 through December 21
Brussels (Belgium)November 29, 2019 through January 5, 2020
Aachen (Germany)November 22 through December 23
Prague (Czech Republic)November 30, 2019 through January 6, 2020
Cluj-Napoca (Romania)November 22 to December 31
Montbéliard (France)November 23 through December 24
Metz (France)November 20, 2019 through January 5, 2020
Leipzig (Germany)November 26 through December 23
Dresden (Germany)November 27 through December 24
Basel (Switzerland)November 28 through December 23
Cologne (Germany)November 25 through December 23
Nuremberg (Germany)November 28 through December 23
Amiens (France)November 23 to December 31
Seville (Spain)December 6, 2019 through January 6, 2020
Chester (UK)November 16 through December 22
Manchester (UK)November 8 through December 22
Colmar (France)November 22 through December 29
Rothenburg am Tauber (Germany)November 29 through December 23
Bern (Switzerland)December 1 to December 24