Three Terrific Christmas Markets

A highlight in Europe this time of year is the cheerful (sometimes even magical) Christmas markets. I adore browsing through the arts and crafts for sale, and trying some of the hearty seasonal street food. And then there’s mulled wine.

Here are three of my favourite Christmas markets:

Elegant and child-friendly Vienna

Christmas markets

I’m very fond of Vienna, and during Advent, the city really comes alive. On Graben street, I amble past market stalls and Christmas trees from Wienerwald, with a blue, made-for-the-occasion Christkindlmarkt mug of Glühwein in hand. Just to keep warm, you understand.

Advent in Vienna

Huge bells of warm light are suspended above elegant baroque buildings and magnificent gilded statues. The effect is simply stunning! It might as well be 1911. Or 1811. Or even 1781. That’s when Wolfgang Amadeus walked along this street to his home at No. 17, passing the markets on his way. Today, no 17 is home to law offices, a book publisher, a fashion house – and my favourite Vienna guest house, Pension Nossek. After 9 pm, you have to lock yourself in. I adore opening the huge wooden doors with my own key. But I digress.

Christkindlmarkt, Rathausplatz, Vienna

Christmas Market, City Hall, Vienna

At the Christkindlmarkt in front of City Hall, everything is for sale: Christmas tree ornaments, candles, toys and handicrafts, as well as breads and cakes, sausages, more Glühwein and Christmas punch in a variety of flavours. It’s a world of bright, strong, happy colours.

Christkindlmarkt by City Hall, Vienna

Christkindlmarkt, City Hall, Vienna

Christmas Market, City Hall, Vienna

Inside City Hall is the Christkindls Werkstatt, workshops where 80 000 children stop by to make all kinds of wonderful Christmas presents.

Christkindl Werkstatt, Vienna

World-famous Viennese waltz composer, Johann Strauss, looks pensive on a pedestal. Is he thinking of the Christmas markets of his day; about how little things have changed, perhaps? Vienna’s Christmas markets have existed for hundreds of years.

More on Vienna’s wonderful Christmas markets here.

Cheap and cheerful Bratislava

Bratislava Christmas market

Less than an hour from Vienna is the Slovakian capital. Even on an overcast, cold and foggy day, Bratislava shows heaps of spirit. The Christmas market is on Hlavne Namestie, the main square in the pretty Old Town. Hats, scarves, handbags, toys, lollipops, porcelain, oils and spices are for sale – all at very affordable prices.

Bratislava Christmas market

Bratislava Christmas market

There’s a great emphasis on food and drink in Bratislava. The beer/wine/grog tents remind me of Oktoberfest in Bavaria; everyone is in a good mood. I go for lokse, potato pancakes, filled with poppy-seed. And sweet honey-wine. Perfect on a cold winter day.

Mysterious medieval Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Tallinn

Christmas markets in east and central Europe have been around for centuries. Not this one. In fact, the Jouluturg on Tallinn’s Raekoja Plats (Raekoja Square) is barely out of its teens. During the Soviet era, Santa Claus was banned. As soon as Estonia gained independence in 1991, the city organized its first Christmas market.

15th century pharmacy, Raekoja Square, Tallinn

The market may be relatively new, but Tallinn is a medieval city. Raekoja Square is very romantic, surrounded by Hanseatic buildings, including a pharmacy from 1422, still in operation.

Woolens for sale in Tallinn

The main items on the market are Estonian arts and crafts, hand-made sweaters, long-tailed hats, mittens, scarves, socks and other colourful woollens.

Woolens for sale in Tallinn

Can’t make it to Tallinn before Christmas? No worries, the Christmas Markets remain until 8 January. And the lovely woollens are for sale outdoors for much of the winter. (These photos are from late January; sadly I didn’t have a camera along last time I visited Tallinn in December – but you get the idea.)

Woolens for sale in Tallinn

There’s something so delightfully pagan about Tallinn. Fitting then, that the citizens of the then-named city of Reval danced around the first Christmas tree in recorded history. The year was 1441 and Estonia was part of the German region Livonia.

The Devil's room, Tallinn

Up a street from Raekoja Square is 700-year-old cobbled Rataskaevu, the spookiest street in town. As you pass no 16, look up. Notice the bricked up window with painted-on curtains? In the 15th century, this was an inn. Rumour has it the devil got married and had the wedding reception here.

Where is your favourite Christmas market?

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  1. trvl8edintern 20 November 2011 at 2338 - Reply

    This is amazing. I loook forward to Christmas all year round! I am going to go to the USA for some Christmas spirit this year but I’m really happy to know all the good markets and decorations are here in Europe 🙂

  2. Lisa 21 November 2011 at 0020 - Reply

    One of the items on my travel wish list is a visit to a European Christmas market. Vienna is the one that I would most like to see.

  3. Andrea 21 November 2011 at 1011 - Reply

    Fantastic! We’re heading back to Vienna tomorrow and hopefully theirs is all set up and ready for us =)

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 21 November 2011 at 1222 - Reply

      @Andrea – They just opened last weekend, so you’re in luck. Apart from the one by City Hall, there’s also one out at Schönbrunn Palace (childhood home of the unfortunate Marie Antoinette). The one at Spittelberg is usually very charming, too – in narrow Biedermeier lanes rather than on a huge market square. Have fun 🙂

  4. Turkey's For Life 21 November 2011 at 1232 - Reply

    Ahh, Christmas markets. Just the best. Love your photos. This is one of the only things we miss about being in Turkey. Manchester has a large European Christmas market every year. We used to love going up there after work for a bratwurst and a cup of mulled wine.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 21 November 2011 at 1538 - Reply

      @Julia – Thanks! You know, I’ve never really thought of the UK as a Christmas market-kind of place, but lately I’ve heard heaps about them. I imagine the one in Manchester must be lively 🙂

  5. JoAnna 21 November 2011 at 1635 - Reply

    I would absolutely LOVE to go to the Christmas markets some day! It’s something I’ve always heard about and seen pictures of, but have never done. Something tells me it would be awesomely overwhelming to the senses!

  6. Barry 21 November 2011 at 1736 - Reply

    Wonderful pictures. I sense the joy of the holiday season here. It is a welcome positive influence in more difficult times. There is little more joyful than the faces of small children. Thanks for sharing. Enjoy a wonderful holiday season. Snow punctuated by bright-coloured, shiny objects.

  7. Anne-Sophie Redisch 21 November 2011 at 1928 - Reply

    @Trvl8edIntern, Lisa, JoAnna, Barry – thanks for reading 🙂

  8. Mikko 21 November 2011 at 2013 - Reply

    I have visited Christmas Markets in Germany (Mainz, Mannheim, Köln) and in Tallinn. I enjoyed all of them. By the way, there are two different Christmas Markets in Tallinn!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 November 2011 at 0745 - Reply

      @Mikko – Thanks for reading 🙂 Just did a quick search and it looks like the Christmas Market have moved from Raekoja Plats to the Rotermannn Quarter this year. Is there another market as well? Tallinn is by far my fave Baltic capital. Thinking of taking my 10-year-old over for a weekend before Christmas. Do you have any snow yet?

  9. ItalianNotes 22 November 2011 at 0835 - Reply

    What lovely evocative photos. I feel the Christmas spirit stirring. In Copenhagen the most popular Christmas market is on Christiania,where you can find some really nice, alternative presents.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 November 2011 at 1214 - Reply

      @ItalianNotes – Really? I’ve been too focussed on Tivoli’s Christmas market; I see (must be the kids… ) and have never even considered there could be others in Copenhagen. Christmas market in Christiania sounds wonderfully quirky and definitely alternative. Next time…

  10. jade 22 November 2011 at 2129 - Reply

    Fun! London doesn’t have the best, but some of their markets are really great too. Would love to visit Copenhagen at some point too.

  11. Andrew Graeme Gould 22 November 2011 at 2355 - Reply

    These markets are shown so nicely here in this selection of shots. I just love markets to wander through and photograph in. I’m sorry, I haven’t ever been to a Christmas market, so I can’t answer that. What i can say about markets in general is that the best and most interersting food one I’ve been to is Adelaide’s Central Market, in Australia.

  12. Christy @ Technosyncratic 24 November 2011 at 0423 - Reply

    I’ve never actually been to a Christmas Market, but it sounds like fun. I think I’m always just trying to avoid places where it’s cold during the winter, so I’m never in the right place at the right time!

    If there’s a lot of Glühwein, though…. 😉

  13. Michael Figueiredo 24 November 2011 at 0429 - Reply

    I love Christmas markets! I really wish we had them in California. My favorites are in Munich, Germany and Salzburg, Austria. There’s nothing like bundling up against the cold and sipping a hot Himbeergeist (raspberry brandy). 🙂

  14. jenjenk 24 November 2011 at 0434 - Reply

    First off, adorable kids cooking!!! I’d love to visit a christmas market in germany…pick up a few ornaments…although the one in vienna looks spectacular!

  15. Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 November 2011 at 0837 - Reply

    @Jade – Ah yes, London. I do like strolling through Covent Garden in December, very lively with impromptu opera singers and interesting things all around.

    @Andrew – Do they have Christmas markets in Australia at all, I wonder? Difficult to imagine a Christmas market at the height of summer – but it would be interesting to see.

    @Christy – You would probably like Christmas markets downunder then 🙂

    @Michael – Oh yes, I had forgotten about Himbeergeist. Nom nom!

    @Jen – They really were adorable the lot of them. All wrapped up in what they were doing and making all kinds of wonderful Christmas presents.

  16. Heather on her travels 24 November 2011 at 0925 - Reply

    Loved Tallinn’s old town when I was there a few years ago – so many artistic things to enjoy

  17. Denise 24 November 2011 at 1122 - Reply

    I’m heading to Vienna this Christmas, but I have to add Budapest and Zurich to your list. Zurich is such an underrated city, but its Christmas market is stunning, located in the mainstation where a giant, cystal-decorated Christams tree is set up each year.

  18. Emilia 24 November 2011 at 1223 - Reply

    I have been to some of the Christmas markets of Vienna one year, and I must say that it was truly wonderful, it had so much Christmas spirit, it was cozy and warm despite of the cold weather. Of course punch made “our suffer” easier. 😛

  19. Anji 24 November 2011 at 1656 - Reply

    Lovely photos! Christmas is such a wonderful time of the year! Everyone just seems to be happy and excited! And Christmas markets just add dto the spirit! They’re so traditional and festive! Barcelona too has a nice Christmas market! 🙂

  20. Muza-chan 24 November 2011 at 1741 - Reply

    Lovely photos, I love Christmas decorations 🙂

  21. Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 November 2011 at 1922 - Reply

    @Heather – I really like Tallinn as well, it’s one of my fave eastern European cities.

    @Denise – Two more great cities with so much history. I haven’t been to Christmas markets in either of them, but I can imagine …

    @Emilia – Nothing like a nice warm Weihnachtspunsch to keep the cold at bay.

    @Anji – Thanks. Barcelona, hm… haven’t thought of Christmas markets in that part of Europe. But why not? Very artistic and colourful, I should imagine.

    @Muza-chan – Thank you.

  22. Laurel 24 November 2011 at 1932 - Reply

    I love Christmas markets as well, but haven’t been to any of these. I’ve heard from several people that the one in Vienna is perhaps the nicest in all of Europe.

  23. Leigh 24 November 2011 at 2005 - Reply

    Love the look of the Bratislava market and my God those women look cold in Tallinn.
    I remember markets in Switzerland when I lived there a zillion years ago and loved the unique items at good prices I could find. You can really pick up great items that give you a sense of the culture.

  24. Nancie 25 November 2011 at 1205 - Reply

    Lovely tour Sophie. Having spent much of the past 11 years here in Asia I seldom get chance to experience a Christmas market anymore. My home city Halifax has some nice markets this time of year. They generally sell local artisans crafts, and like the European markets there’s lots of food and drink.

    Now I’m homesick for a Christmas market!

  25. Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 November 2011 at 1433 - Reply

    @Laurel – Vienna has so many different types of Christmas markets – from the large one at Rathausplatz to the narrow cobbled streets at Spittelberg.

    @Leigh – Yes, you really can. I’ve found some very unusual gifts at Christmas markets.

    @Nancie – Yes, Halifax has the right atmosphere for a Christmas market, I imagine. Snow, cold, n edge-of-the-world feeling…

  26. Tracy Burns 25 November 2011 at 1450 - Reply

    We’re spending this winter in the UK and eastern Europe. I’m so looking forward to taking the kids to the Christmas markets. We were there ten years ago and saw some small German town ones, the larger ones in Berlin (-2 and freezing while drinking warmed wine … there are worst places the be!) and Edinburgh. The ones in Edinburgh weren’t large but the setting was superb.

  27. Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 November 2011 at 1646 - Reply

    @Tracy – Edinburgh would be a very cool setting, with all that spooky history as a backdrop. Up by the castle, perhaps?

  28. Angela 25 November 2011 at 1922 - Reply

    Wonderful pictures, as a proper fan of local markets I would go crazy in those!

  29. Ana (Ana Travels) 25 November 2011 at 2005 - Reply

    They’re all so beautiful. I’d love to take a stroll and do some damage to my bank account!

  30. Anne-Sophie Redisch 25 November 2011 at 2300 - Reply

    @Angela and Ana – Thanks 🙂

  31. Tom 26 November 2011 at 0414 - Reply

    Love this! I had no idea there were so many wonderful Christmas markets outside of Germany! Now I feel like bedecking myself in tinsel and going out caroling all day tra la la la la la la la la!

  32. Zablon Mukuba 26 November 2011 at 0919 - Reply

    I wish i was near any of those markets, they have great stuff.

  33. Cheryl 26 November 2011 at 2041 - Reply

    Lovely! I’ve been to the ones in Bratislava and Vienna! Beautiful aren’t they? Really love your post this week. 🙂

  34. Ryan 26 November 2011 at 2201 - Reply

    We do have a Christmas market in Edinburgh but nothing to rival these fantastic ones, I’m actually looking forward to Christmas this year!! There must be something wrong.

  35. Anne-Sophie Redisch 27 November 2011 at 1257 - Reply

    @Tom – Well, Germany does have some wonderfully atmospheric centuries-old Christmas markets, but so does Vienna and many other countries.

    @Zablon – Heaps of good finds all round.

    @Cheryl – They really are. Thanks!

    @Ryan – I’m curious to see the one in Edinburgh.

  36. Stephanie - The Travel Chica 27 November 2011 at 1417 - Reply

    Love the lights in the second photo!

  37. Randy 27 November 2011 at 2135 - Reply

    We love Christmas markets too. Unfortunately, we missed Vienna’s by a few weeks; though, we did see the city prepping the huge bells. It’s great to finally see a picture of them all lit up.

  38. Ric 28 November 2011 at 1701 - Reply

    Vienna, Vienna… I’m heading there this Christmas. I’m really hyped up especially with this pictures.

  39. Jen Laceda 29 November 2011 at 0419 - Reply

    I love Christmas markets, but had never been to ones in Europe! I heard the markets in Vienna, Brussels, Prague, and Berlin are excellent ones, though!

  40. Anne-Sophie Redisch 30 November 2011 at 1304 - Reply

    @Stephanie, Randy, Ric and Jen – Thanks for reading 🙂

  41. Tina 30 November 2011 at 1457 - Reply

    Love these pictures. So bright and colorful and attractive.

  42. Diane Dalgleish 6 December 2011 at 1225 - Reply

    With a nip in the air those warm, knitted jumpers, hat, scarves & socks in Tallinn market look just the thing. Travelling along the Danube last year Budapest’s Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market was my favourite – very lively with wholesome traditional craft gifts.

  43. Anne-Sophie Redisch 6 December 2011 at 2358 - Reply

    @Tina – Thank you very much!

    @Diane – The Budapest market sounds wonderful. Next year…

  44. Ryan 14 December 2011 at 1421 - Reply

    I love xmas markets infact I recently visited our local German one in Edinburgh to sample their delights.

  45. Anne-Sophie Redisch 14 December 2011 at 2303 - Reply

    @Ryan – I was in Edinburgh in October. Imagine the weather is much the same now, just a wee bit colder, perhaps?. A Christmas market there would be very atmospheric.

  46. Katia 17 December 2011 at 0221 - Reply

    I lived in London and Paris for many years so I had a chance to view some of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Western Europe. I have a soft spot for the traditional ones held in German Bavaria or even the atmospheric one of Nuremberg. They are still very much traditional while a lot of other markets have been invaded by soul-less commercial goods. I recently discovered the Columbia Road Christmas market in London. It is not traditional per say but has this community, highly creative urbanites twist to it.

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  47. Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 December 2011 at 0500 - Reply

    @Katia – Yes, I like the ones in the German-speaking part of the world, too. Feels like being in a fairy-tale.

  48. Journey of a Jungle Girl 17 December 2011 at 0533 - Reply

    Beautiful Photos Sophie! That totally makes me want to go visit some Christmas markets in Europe! I love the feeling the photos evoke -and no big corporations taking over! Wasn’t it quite cold though?

  49. Anne-Sophie Redisch 17 December 2011 at 2346 - Reply

    @Jungle Girl – Thanks! Yes, quite chilly. All the better to enjoy the glühwein 🙂

  50. Natacha 19 December 2011 at 1556 - Reply

    Love your christmassy pictures of Tallinn! I was there recently (September) and it is just stunning. I wrote a blog post about Tallinn below my morocco one here –! It’s just the kind of place I want to see with snow as you did 🙂

  51. Anne-Sophie Redisch 20 December 2011 at 1457 - Reply

    @Natacha – So incredibly pretty, Tallinn in winter.

  52. Poppy 19 January 2012 at 0234 - Reply

    I am just planning some travel for next decemeber and this is helping a lot, we had a german themed christmas market in Leeds (UK) last year and it was great, it made me want to visit more.

  53. Kate 10 October 2012 at 1252 - Reply

    My favourite one is Cologne, for so many reasons, but I’ll try to narrow it down. 🙂

    There’s a really small market on a river boat, focusing on antiques and other second-hand stuff. It doesn’t really have that Christmas market atmosphere but I am so glad I went there. Sitting there waiting for me was a set of wooden decorations that I thought I’d never have. My Mum has an identical set and I’ve always loved them, but thought I’d never get hold of my own. They’re really old and we didn’t even know where they came from.

    But as it turns out, they came from Germany. 🙂 I paid far more than what they were worth, not to mention snaffling them out from under the nose of someone else who wanted them badly too, but I have no regrets. They’ll be treasured with me.

    It’ll take something spectacular to knock Cologne off the top spot for me. I’ve been to Prague and the setting is absolutely beautiful and I’m led to believe that the Christmas markets in Vienna have that beautiful “step back in time” kind of feel too. I want to see any and every Christmas market I can possibly get to, but Cologne’s always going to have a special place in my heart.

  54. travel 9 November 2012 at 1107 - Reply

    think that is the best article thet i have read

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 November 2012 at 1303 - Reply

      Thank you.

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