Wherever you travel on the European continent in December, from France and Germany to Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, holiday markets are a wonderful way to celebrate the Christmas season while getting a taste for European history and culture.
Europe’s Christmas markets are a feast for the senses, places to find traditional food and handicrafts, festive choirs and carolers and dazzling displays of light, set against the backdrop of beautiful and historic city squares.
Christmas Markets in Budapest
In Budapest, the most famous and popular Christmas market is held through Jan. 6 in Vorosmarty Square, at the end of one of the Hungarian capital’s main shopping areas.
Visitors will find the air filled with the smell of honey cookies and mulled wine as they browse the wooden stalls. Entertainment includes choir concerts and folklore performances.
Another market, in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica, features an ice skating rink.
Christmas Markets in Germany
Munich has more than a dozen Christmas markets but the biggest is held on the Marienplatz, or St. Mary’s Square, through Dec. 24. Shop for wooden mangers, carved nutcrackers, handmade candles and other crafts while filling up on sausage, gingerbread cookies and roasted chestnuts.
Advent music is performed every evening from the balcony of the Town Hall and a huge Christmas tree covered in lights towers over the market stalls.
Czech Republic Christmas Markets
In Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, the main Christmas markets are held through Jan. 6 in two spots about five minutes apart, Old Town and Wenceslas Squares.
In Old Town Square, centuries-old buildings surround the market stalls. A giant Christmas tree decorated with hundreds of lights is lit up each evening and school choirs and carolers perform.
The Wenceslas Square market takes place in the shadow of the grand Czech National Museum.
Vienna’s Christmas market has been a tradition in Austria since the Middle Ages. It takes place in front of its ornate Rathaus (City Hall) through Dec. 24, featuring choirs from around the world and activities for all ages.
Also in Austria, Salzburg’s Christmas market, on Cathedral Square, runs through Dec. 26. Choirs and brass bands provide music.
On the four Saturdays before Christmas, the “Christkind,” the traditional bearers of gifts, walk through the market dressed in white-and-gold robes.
In the French city of Strasbourg, the Christmas market takes place against the backdrop of its Gothic cathedral, and spills out into the streets and squares off of the city center.
Several hundred stalls sell gifts, ornaments and food of the Alsatian region, including mulled wine and doughnuts. This year, the culture of Portugal will be celebrated at the market, which runs through Dec. 24.
Best Christmas Markets in Europe
If you’re looking for an innovative new way to experience many of these markets, a river cruise is an easy and relaxing means to sample the great variety among Europe’s Christmas markets. Smaller boats used on river cruises are able to get close to city centers, making it easy to stroll to the markets. For example, a cruise along the Danube takes travelers to Vienna and Budapest. Or take a trip along the Rhine that stops in Strasbourg.