8 Alternatives to Europe’s Most Famous Christmas Markets
One of the highlights of spending winter in Europe is soaking up the Old World atmosphere of the festive Christmas markets that temporarily take over town squares come December. And while there are plenty of famous must-visit markets in the region, the quieter alternatives scattered across northern and central Europe can be equally delightful. Home to fairy lights and trimmed trees—as well as unique traditional wares and local holiday treats you won’t find elsewhere—here are eight of the best.
Belgium’s capital city of Brussels may be more famous, but medieval Bruges has a Christmas card vibe that can’t be beat. The city doubles down on holiday charm each December with two main markets in the center. Market Square features a festive skating rink surrounded by wooden stalls, while the smaller Simon Stevenplein market—a local favorite—glows beneath a canopy of twinkling lights. Both sell Christmas crafts and seasonal decorations from the last week of November through early January and are an ideal spot to snack on hot Belgian waffles, sweet cuberdons (or neuzekes) candies, and traditional nougat.
With its spectacular coastline, Croatia is often considered a summer destination. Venture inland to the capital city of Zagreb, however, and you’ll find the perfectly picturesque setting for a classic Christmas market. Part of the city’s annual Zagreb Advent Festival, the market is spread across the Upper and Lower Towns from the end of November through the first week of January. Browse the stalls for vintage treasures and trendy décor as well as more classic Croatian crafts and sweet treats like licitar heart-shaped cookies, paprenjaci gingerbread, and vanilla-infused vanilin kiflice.
Often outshone by Vienna’s sheer starpower, Austria’s second-largest city of Graz is a deserving destination all year round. And the old town is especially captivating during the Christmas season when more than a dozen seasonal markets infuse the squares with holiday cheer. The most popular is in Hauptplatz against the backdrop of the historic city hall and features a classic carousel; meanwhile, the Aufsteirern market on Schlossberg Hill is a perennial favorite for its bird’s-eye view over the city rooftops. Finally, the market in Färberplatz is known for its one-of-a-kind handmade arts and crafts by Austrian and international artisans.
Insider tip: Stay warm while strolling through all three with a steaming cup of classic Glühwein (mulled wine) or try Schilcherglühwein, made with the local Schilcher rosé.
When most people think of the Alps, Switzerland and Austria immediately come to mind. But Italy sits just to the south and is marked by soaring peaks and chocolate-box mountain towns along its northern border. Bolzano offers the perfect blend of Alpine and Mediterranean culture, and its annual Christmas market would look at home in any Swiss or Austrian town. Chalet-like huts line Piazza Walther, selling artisan crafts and local specialties such as apple strudel, pretzels, and mulled wine throughout December.
Though Vilnius flies under most travelers’ holiday radar, this Baltic capital offers one of the most festive and authentic Christmas markets on the continent. Wooden chalets and glass igloos selling Lithuanian handicrafts and classic specialties like kūčiukai cookies and kisielius (a warm berry juice drink) are spread across the old town and connected by a Christmas train, lending the entire city center a winter wonderland charm. Downtown Vilnius is also known for its spectacular collection of Christmas trees decorating the main squares and a light show in Cathedral Square each evening between Christmas and New Year’s. The market is typically held from the last week of November to the second weekend in January.
UNESCO-listed Lübeck has a spectacularly preserved medieval cityscape, but this provincial town sitting almost on the shores of the Baltic Sea is far off the tourist track and its delightful Christmas market is virtually unknown outside Germany. The main market stalls are set up around the Church of St. Mary, but there’s also an artisan craft market at the Church of St. Peter and a kid-friendly market along the river bank—all are open from the last week of November until December 30. Be sure to sample the local marzipan and gingerbread along with warming market staples such as mulled wine, fried potato cakes, and grilled sausages.
With all of the historic charm yet none of the name recognition of Krakow, Wroclaw offers a fairytale setting for a truly Old World Christmas market devoid of international crowds. Decorated wooden stands selling gingerbread houses and Polish specialties are set up in Rynek—considered one of the most beautiful market squares in central Europe—as well as Plac Solny, Świdnicka Street, and Olawska Street from late November until New Year’s Eve. Be sure to try oscypek, a local smoked cheese melted and served with cranberry sauce, as well as classics such as Polish sausages and potato pancakes.
Most winter travelers to the Czech Republic head straight for the blockbuster Christmas markets in Prague. The UNESCO-listed old town of Cesky Krumlov, however, is home to the much smaller Svornosti Square market that delivers the same Yuletide vibe with fewer tourists. Plan an overnight stay in the Old Town and visit the market to enjoy fairy lights, trimmed trees, handmade crafts, and the area’s ornate gingerbread treats. The town is often blanketed in snow in December, so you may even be treated to a Narnia-esque holiday scene from late November to the first week of January.