European Christmas Markets
There’s nothing quite like Christmas in Europe.
From glittering lights reflected on cobblestone streets to wooden chalets and snow-covered cathedrals, there’s nothing quite like Christmas in Europe.
Here are some of the most unforgettable European Christmas markets, as chosen by RACQ Publishing journalists.
Town Hall Square Christmas Market, Tallinn
In 1441, Tallinn debuted one of the first Christmas trees in the world and the Estonian capital has embraced Christmas ever since. Each December, Tallinn’s picturesque Town Hall Square is transformed into a winter wonderland of snow-covered wooden market stalls, an ice-skating rink and guest appearance by Santa and real reindeer.
You won’t find the crowds that plague some of Europe’s well-known Christmas markets and, if you’re feeling the cold, you can pop in to one of the many pubs and cafes that line Tallinn’s cobble-stoned streets for a $3 beer or hot chocolate.
Eat: Try beaver jerky, blood sausage and Vana Tallinn Glögi, a red wine and rum-based hot drink.
Buy: Estonia is known for its love of cats so pick up one of the many cat-themed Christmas decoration or a pair of hand-felted slippers.
Tate Modern Christmas Market, London
Nestled between the banks of the Thames and London’s Tate Modern Gallery is a small but cosy Christmas market serving up mulled wine and sugary festive treats. It’s also family-friendly, offering rides for the little ones along with hot chocolate and alcohol-free eggnog.
For those keen on a mulled wine-fuelled adventure afterwards, the markets are within walking distance of St Paul’s Cathedral and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Eat: Marzipan lumps.
Buy: Traditional wooden children’s toys.
Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi
Ask any Finn and they’ll tell you that Santa Claus, known as Joulupukki, lives in Rovaniemi in Northern Finland – it’s even been known as the Official Hometown of Santa Claus since 2010. If you can brave the bone-chilling -30OC you may even be able to meet Santa in person at Santa Claus Village.
Once you’ve told Santa what you want for Christmas, enjoy a glass of glögi (spiced mulled wine) and shop for traditional decorations and hand-carved souvenirs in the heated main pavilion before taking a ride on snowmobiles or a reindeer-pulled sleigh.
Eat: Reindeer meatballs and Christmas pastries.
Buy: A photo with the ‘real’ Santa or a Joulu Tonttu (Christmas gnome).
Schonbrunn Christmas Market, Vienna
One of the best things about the beautiful Schonbrunn Christmas markets are that they’re open on 25 December, giving travellers an unforgettable way to spend Christmas Day.
The other is that the Schonbrunn markets are located on the forecourt of the elegant 1441-room Schonbrunn Palace which is also open to the public during the day.
Once the Habsburg family’s summer palace, it now plays host to stalls full of gingerbread eggnog bottles, melted cheese on bread and inventive potato dishes each Christmas time.
Buy: Gingerbread eggnog.
Red Square Christmas Market, Moscow
While there are only about 20 stalls at the Christmas markets in Moscow’s Red Square, backdrop of St Basil’s Basilica and the imposing brick red walls of the Kremlin ensure it’s a must-see for any visitor to Moscow in December and January.
The market is centred around Moscow’s largest ice-skating rink with rides and amusements for the whole family.
Stock up on hand-crafted matryoshka dolls and other Khokhloma-painted wooden toys, souvenirs and decorate your own gingerbread men.
Russians celebrate Orthodox Christmas on 7 January and the markets run until late January, so you have a few extra weeks to celebrate Christmas.
Eat: Pelmeni dumplings, blini pancakes with caviar and borscht soup.
Buy: Matryoshka nesting dolls, St Basil’s Basilica tree decorations.
Old Town Square Christmas Market, Prague
Beneath Prague’s Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square is one of the Czech Republic’s best Christmas markets.
With a real fir tree called the Prague Christmas Tree by locals, the markets are a foodie’s heaven. Eat your weight in gnocchi, ham and mead then enjoy the charming, medieval cobblestone alleys around the square or take a stroll across Charles’ Bridge to St Stephens’ Cathedral.
Eat: Old Prague ham.
Buy: Handmade jewellery (Prague is famous for its blood red garnets).
Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market, Berlin
Germans take Christmas very seriously and the Gendarmenmarkt markets are no exception.
Wander alleys of stalls full of handcrafted Christmas ornaments but make sure to stick to the designated path or you may find yourself getting dirty looks from the locals.
After stocking up on Christmas decorations, you can soak up the Christmas atmosphere while enjoying spiralled potato skewers and bratwursts covered in sauerkraut and onions.
The markets also happen to be between the Romanesque Franzosischer Dom and Deutscher Dom which are lit up every night to add to the festive glow.
Eat: Kartoffelspiralen, also known as potato spirals.
Buy: Handmade Christmas ornaments.