Christmas is a holiday that is celebrated in vastly different ways around the world. In Europe it draws heavily from tradition and culture, with festivities similar now to what they would have been like decades or even hundreds of years ago. The cold dark winters blanket much of the continent in snow and hearty stews, candlelit dinners and cosy setups around the fireplace bring people together indoors. There are few reasons to venture outside in a European winter but one of the exceptions people seem to agree on universally is to go to the Christmas markets. In this article I’ll uncover the top 3 European cities for Christmas markets in 2019.
#1 BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
Budapest is the capital of Hungary and actually comprises what used to be separate cities: Buda, Pest and Obuda. The tumultuous history of the region is reflected in the city's varying architecture by a combination of many different cultural icons. Most renowned for its thermal baths, many tourists are unaware of the city's spectacular Christmas markets. Like elsewhere on the continent you will find hundreds of stalls selling hand-crafted ornaments and souvenirs, free concerts and performances as well as ample options for food and drink. The most famous Hungarian delicacy is Chimney cake which can be found pretty much everywhere across the city year round.
OUR PICK: Advent Bazilika (St Stephens Basilica Christmas Market)
Location: St. Stephen's Square
Open: From November 22nd to January 1st
Set around the St Stephen's Square with 160 vendors and the largest church in Hungary as a backdrop, the Advent Bazilika is a truly remarkable place to spend an evening and was recently voted the best Christmas market in Europe 2020. In addition to the market stalls, visitors will be treated to Christmas laser projections on the basilica itself and weekend folk dancing shows. Although smaller than Hungary’s oldest market held in Vorosmarty Square, the market in St Stephens’ square is often regarded as more beautiful. This is in a large part due to the ice-skating rink which boarders the glistening central Christmas tree and the aforementioned light show which can be viewed traditionally or in 3D, with glasses easily purchased at any vendor in the market. If all that wasn’t enough, Advent Bazilika is one of Europes most sustainable markets, with eco-friendly cutlery and tableware provided by vendors.
#2) PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
Prague is an old city with a rich and diverse culture, topping many lists as one of the best places to spend Christmas. Unlike many other European cities whose markets close before or around Christmas, Prague’s continue well into January giving tourists ample time to enjoy the festivities. Famous for its souvenirs (ceramics, jewellery, ornaments, dolls dressed in traditional Czech costumes and more) visitors will feel like they are in a fairy-tale, surrounded by centuries old gothic architecture. Popular food you will find across the city’s markets include large spit roasted hams (Pražská Šunka), barbecued sausages (klobása) and delicious smoked meat dumplings (knedlíky plněné uzeným masem). For those with a sweet tooth keep an eye out for sweet dumplings (sladké knedlíky), pancakes and hot sugar coated pastries (trdelník). If you need something to warm the soul try one of the Czech Republics famous beers, honey wine (Medovina) or Grog which is a mixture of rum, water, lemon and sugar. Besides mouth-watering delicacies, the city is renowned for its open-air concerts and nativity scenes.
OUR PICK: Old Town Square Market
Location: Old Town
Open: November 30th to January 6th
The magical Old Town is the most popular Christmas market in Prague and we can see why. Only 5 minutes from the Wenceslas markets, you will find all the aforementioned mentioned food, drinks, hand make souvenirs and much more. This year the theme of the market will be ‘Angels at Christmas', with the massive 22m Spruce tree in the markets centre decorated with beautiful ornaments, red balls, stars and gingerbread. Sheep, goats and a donkey eagerly await the attention of your little ones and offer a great distraction if your wanting to browse the stalls. If you find yourself in the city just before Christmas day be sure to take part in the Czech tradition of eating carp soup on the 24th, there is nothing quite like it! For a full program, including the lighting of the Christmas tree, check out this link.
#3 BERLIN, GERMANY
With historic monuments, leafy parks and one of the best nightlife scenes in the world, Berlin is a capital city with it all. The buzzing city centre is adorned with around 80 Christmas markets so you will have to be quite selective with how you spend your time. Unlike the more traditional Christmas markets listed in this article, many of Berlin's markets interweave tradition with modernity. As a result, you will be able to find similar hand-crafted ornaments, foods and beverages as elsewhere in Germany but also the option to ride Europe’s largest toboggan and then enjoy music from a live DJ during an après ski party. It should be noted that many of Berlin’s smaller markets are only open for a few days so its definitely worth doing your research before making the trip.