Christmas is a tradition celebrated all over Europe, and some cities do it better than others. Your family’s favorite winter memories might include breathtaking ice sculpture competitions and visiting Santa and his elves.
Yuletide festivals in Europe date back to the 1200s, when Christmas markets were some of the most celebrated affairs across the continent. The tradition of these Christmas markets, fairs, and festivals continue today. Here are a few of our favorites.
Christkindlesmarkt, Nuremburg Christmas Market
This grand festival attracts more than 2 million patrons annually who travel from nearly every continent to shop this Christmas market. There are nearly 200 wooden stalls that are set up on the streets of Nuremburg on the Friday before the first Sunday of the advent – just as they would have been in the early days of the market in Germany around 1628, with more modern conveniences, of course.
The vendors sell traditional food, such as sausages, bratwurst, sauerkraut, gingerbread, and mulled wines and cider. There are also many other booths that sell Christmas decorations and other handmade items for your home.
This market is open in December from 10 a.m.-9 p.m., and on Christmas Eve from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., which is the last day it is open.
Prague Christmas Markets, Czech Republic
The Czech Republic takes celebrating Christmas very seriously and turns more than one town square in Prague into a celebration that lasts more than a month. The Prague Christmas Markets open in late November and close a few days into the new year.
Besides brightly colored huts covered in lights and trees and decorated with bright ornaments and icicles, there are food making demonstrations, petting zoos set up for children, dance performances, singers, and many other festivities. Not only are the Prague Christmas Markets great to visit, but there are always many other places where entertainment in the spirit of Christmas can be found in the area, such as opera and ballet performances and sightseeing tours.
Visit the Prague Christmas Markets Website for opening times (as they are subject to change daily), vendors, attractions, and shops.
Christmas Markets of Kent, England
If you are a real Christmas junkie and live in Kent, or plan to spend your holiday there, you will be pleased to know that Kent is full of Christmas fairs and markets. This region has so many Christmas markets scattered about the various towns that you could probably drive about every weekend and find a new one to enjoy. These markets are sometimes much shorter than the great festivals in Prague and Germany. But they are just as special and often take place on the grounds of or nearby historic castles and landmarks.
- Rochester Christmas Market: Overlooking Rochester Castle, this market runs the first two weeks of December, beginning on the day after Thanksgiving. The square is set up as a Bavarian village, and visitors can meet characters from the Dickens Festival on certain weekends. Crafts and local foods can be found at the market.
- Faversham Christmas Market: This is the oldest Christmas market in Kent with some of the best produce and finest antiques. There is live music at this festival that takes place on the 11th and 18th of December.
- Leeds Castle Festival: Taking place on the Cedar Lawn of Leeds Castle, this is a great choice for families because it features lots of vendors with toys, gifts, and household Christmas decorations. This festival is open every weekend in December until Christmas.
- Tenterden Market: High Street is decked out in Christmas splendor and lined with street food, carolers, vendors, and shops participating in window contests. The spirit of Christmas is very much alive for this one-day Christmas Market event.
- Whitestable Castle Christmas Food Festival: Food is how many people celebrate the holidays, and Whitestable Castle does food better than most. Santa is also present for craft and toy building workshops. Plus, there’s live music, a visit to the grotto, and lots of food and drinks on this one-day festival.
Christmas in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen
If you live in Copenhagen, Denmark, you probably grew up going to the Tivoli Gardens for Christmas celebrations. And you probably plan to take your own children there year after year, as well. The entire garden is decorated for the season with lights, and the lake is illuminated to create a winter wonderland with a light show that can be experienced from the amusement park’s roller coasters.
Vendors are invited to set up stalls to sell Christmas wares, decorations, foods, and handmade items. There are 60 vendors total with rides and games that are part of Tivoli remaining open and restaurants serving food.
L’Arche de Noël à la Défense, Paris, France
L’Arche de Noel is the largest Christmas Market in Paris with more than 300 vendors selling food, toys, decorations, handmade gifts, and more. Set in the heart of the Parisian business district, the village is open from December 1 through 27 and features live food demonstrations, music, and lots of lights. It extends over three municipalities to incorporate local artwork and fountains. Some of the best chefs in Paris showcase their food and wine at this event. The festival is open to the public and free of charge.
Winter Wonders, Brussels, Belgium
This event attracts people from all over the globe with five weeks of festivities that fully immerse visitors in the Christmas spirit and atmosphere. There is an ice skating rink set up in the middle of the markets, an enormously tall Christmas tree, shops decorated from floor to rooftops in lights and spruce, a Christmas parade with impossibly large floats, Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds for the children, and many other family friendly activities. Also, many vendors sell traditional Christmas treats, foods, and wares.
If you live in or are going to visit Europe this winter, make sure to stop by some of these fairs and markets for some fun and food. Which market is on your To Do list?