Is there anything that tops a day spent warming up with spiced wine, tasting the world’s best chocolates and shopping for unique treasures — all while getting your travel fix? Nope. If you’re anything like us, you totes agree that holiday markets have the magic ability to blend all of the BEST things into a single experience that totally makes mourning the end of PSL season a bit less painful. Since Europe has a ton of cheery holiday markets that make choosing which one to visit a bit tricky, we put together a guide to our top six. Scroll on for the market deets, then get to booking that flight for mid-November through December.
One of the oldest markets in all of Europe, the Christkindlmarkt is definitely one for your bucket list. Though a relatively small market with less than 100 vendors, Christkindlmarkt has a totally intimate vibe that’s less chaotic than Vienna’s busy Christmas pavilions. Bonus: It’s set on a baroque stage smack dab in the center of historic Salzburg, surrounded by snow-topped churches and the city’s medieval castle.
When it comes to shopping, bring home furry slippers, warm coats and classic pewter trinkets. Don’t leave without trying the gingerbread, called lebkuchen, or the street roasted nuts.
Rome is the place to celebrate Christmas, being so close to Vatican City, and the city’s holiday markets definitely don’t disappoint. Bustling centers like Piazza Navona become even more of a spectacle with stalls that sell toys, dolls, handmade figures and the traditional “La Befana,” a witch who’s said to bring Italian kids gifts in early January. For a sweet treat while browsing, opt for the peanut brittle. The number of different kinds you’ll find is pretty astounding.
When in Rome, be sure to scope out the nativity scenes, or presepi, around the city. You can catch them at St. Peter’s Basilica, in churches around the city center and at the Spanish Steps.
The city of Dresden lands a top spot on our list for a few reasons. First, the Fruitcake Maiden, or Stollenmädchen, is a must-see holiday celebration that sends a three-plus ton fruitcake (yes, seriously!) through the city’s medieval streets and into the bustling market for everyone to enjoy together. In addition to this amazing parade and community tradition, Dresden boasts a beautiful Christmas pyramid and more than 200 stalls for shopping. Scoop up wooden crafts, art prints or some of Dresden’s well-known ceramics. The standard blue and white hues are sure to match anything you or a lucky gift recipient may have at home.
Copenhagen’s famous amusement park, Tivoli Gardens, are a must-see during any season but feel even more vibrant as home to Denmark’s best-known Christmas market. Equally as impressive as the iced donuts, sweet jam and trinkets to take home (we love the tiny elf figurines!) is the four miles of lights that are hung in holiday patterns as planned by Tiffany’s (yes, the Tiffany’s) head designer.
Can’t get enough of the feel-good holiday vibes? Copenhagen has a second market for shopping near the Insta-famous Nyhavn canal. If nothing else, popping over to see it promises an extra glass of glogg (mulled wine with cinnamon sticks and cloves) and the perfect holiday picture.
Prague knows how to celebrate Christmas, and while the city hosts three large holiday markets, it doesn’t get more romantic than the Christmas market in Prague’s Old Town Square, Staroměstské náměstí. Soak up the Old World charm by strolling through the stalls nestled between the Gothic landmarks Church of Our Lady before Týn and the Astronomical Clock. Keep an eye out for carved wooden toys and marionettes, embroidered lace and Bohemian crystal glassware and ornaments to take home.
Catch one of the daily performances by folk bands and choirs as you sip on some mulled wine or grog (basically the Czech hot toddy). You won’t be able to pass up — and seriously, you shouldn’t — a trdlo, a cinnamon sweet bread treat that you’ll see baking on revolving spools in little snack huts around the market.
The Plaisirs d’Hiver/Winter Pret or Pleasures of Winter Festival may be comparatively new, having been around for less than 15 years, but it’s quickly become a favorite for its one of a kind sound-and-light show, impressive artisan presence and incredible display of beloved Belgian traditions mixed with brand new ones. In addition to the 200+ super shoppable chalets, sugar donuts, fine chocolates and strong beers, you can make memories you’ll cherish forever on the nearby ice skating rink or rom-com worthy glittery Ferris wheel.
Though we bet you’re crazy for all things Belgium, be sure you check out the market that belongs to the Winter Wonders guest of honor. You’ll find a curated collection of traditions from another city, like past invitees Provence or Tallinn.
Have you shopped at a European Christmas market or plan to this year? Show us your pics on Instagram @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)