This holiday season, book up a winter escape to channel your inner Santa Clause at one of Europe’s magical markets. Soak up the atmosphere – the delicious aroma of a steaming hot toddy; the laughter of rosy-cheeked revellers in the beer tent; the twinkling lights adorning stalls full of your family’s soon-to-be-bought Christmas gifts. If Europe’s lavish Christmas markets don’t get you into the swing of the festive period, nothing will. 

From Austria to Germany to France, we’ve chosen three seasonal spectaculars that are sure to light up your winter holiday. 

Vienna
Smell the sweet scent of roasting chestnuts at Vienna’s market. Credit: Picfair.

Relish the festivities at Vienna’s historic market

Not many traditions from 1298 are still with us, but Vienna’s age-old market has stood the test of time. Back then, it was a much smaller affair – nothing like the cheerful, bustling event which fills the city today from November 11 until Boxing Day. The Viennese Christmas Market in front of City Hall bathes the surrounding area in light, and there’s a sprawling array of 151 different stalls to check out.

Vendors infuse the air with the sweet scents of roasting chestnuts and vanillekipferl biscuits, while international choirs perform rousing carols every Friday to Sunday. There’s a decent chance of snowfall, too, so wintry flurries are likely to add to the festive atmosphere. Download the Viennese Christmas Dream app to make navigation a breeze, or do it the old-fashioned way and get happily lost wending your way through the crowds.

Munich
Be dazzled by Munich’s twinkling Christmas lights. Credit: Picfair.

Munich brings out the Romantic side of Bavaria

Munich doesn’t just have a busy Christmas market; it becomes a Christmas market. The whole city kicks into overdrive during the festive season, brimming with Yuletide spirit. Locals and tourists alike spend hours at the traditional market on Marienplatz, sipping punchy herb liqueurs and nibbling on stollen while they explore the stalls. Handcrafted glass baubles, soft sheepskin jackets and carved wooden figurines all feature in abundance, but the most awe-inspiring attraction is the magnificent fir tree at the centre of the market; it stands at 80 feet and is laden with 3,000 twinkling lights.

A few streets away, the Kripperlmarkt continues Germany’s long tradition of manger art’, selling collectable cribs and figures. A special Christmas post office in the Town Hall dishes out festive postmarks, and the Rindermarkt Square of Stars’ sparkles with a galaxy of fairy lights. Come to Munich any time between November 27 and December 24 to see more than 160 stalls in all their glory at the main market, and countless more besides.

Strasbourg2
Get ready for a full calendar of events at Strasbourg’s Christmas market. Credit: Getty Images.

Sing the praises of Strasbourg’s market

Strasbourg is known as the Capital of Christmas’ and it clearly takes this accolade seriously; the city’s Christkindelsmärik has two consecutive wins for the Best Christmas Market in Europe’ in 2014 and 2015. Three hundred miniature Alpine chalets take up residence at 12 different sites across the city, producing delights like mulled Alsace white wine and artisan-made Christmas decorations. Aromas of smoke and cinnamon hang in the air, and churches are decked out with hundreds of candles flickering against the cold. Come by from November 24 till December 24 to see the merriment in full swing.

Make a stop in La Petite France’, where the stores specialise in handmade Christmas decorations and a gingerbread bakery produces sweet treats all day long. Pick up some three-meat baeckeoffe stew or choucroute garnie (pickled cabbage dressed with charcuterie) to munch on while you browse. To spread the goodwill, drop by the Village of Sharing at the foot of the grand Christmas tree, which showcases charities and non-profits. Above all, Strasbourg instills Christmas spirit through its extensive calendar of events – over five hundred different activities are scheduled for the month-long festival, be they concerts, exhibitions, workshops or entertainment.

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