Christmas is almost here! Festive lights adorn store fronts, the smell of roasted Heisse Marroni (hot chestnuts) permeate the air and best of all…little Christmas market stalls selling everything from baked goods and Glühwein (mulled wine) to arts and crafts like knit scarves and wooden toys suddenly pop up all over town. Some markets even have live nativity scenes complete with farm animals displayed for visitors.

December is the most festive time of year in Europe and Christmas markets play a significant role in its transformation. Here are some we’ve visited in Europe and loved! Note that some markets may change locations year to year. Mike and I visited these in 2013 & 2014.

Germany

Cologne

Cologne is one of the most popular destinations for Christmas markets. This city hosts 7 different markets, each of them with a unique atmosphere and theme. If you make it to one German city for the Christmas markets, Cologne is highly recommended. Check here for the full guide and map.

Angel's Market

At the Angels Christmas Market, my favorite market in Cologne with its unique starry sky

Angel's Christmas Market

Cologne Christmas Market

The Cathedral Christmas Market is a main attraction, with over 150 pavilions situated around the city’s stunning landmark.

Cologne

Home of the Elves Market – with ice skating rink, hidden alleyways and gnomes!

Frankfurt

The Christmas market in Frankfurt is also a good size and ranks high in popularity.

Frankfurt market

The Frankfurt Christmas Market in the city center

Frankfurt market

Frankfurt

The Frankfurt Christmas Market: photo source frankfurt-tourismus.de

Wiesbaden

Just 40 kilometers west of Frankfurt is the beautiful city of Wiesbaden. The market here is in the center of town, amidst the impressive cathedral, the Marktkirche and the town hall Hessischer Landtag.

Wiesbaden market

The Wiesbaden Christmas Market, by the impressive cathedral Marktkirche

Wiesbaden Market

Keeping warm and sipping Glühwein at the market

All sorts of goodies and crafts!

Wiesbaden market 5

Wiesbaden market 4

 

Idstein

Just a 20 minute drive north of Wiesbaden is the charming pocket-sized medieval village of Idstein. I was pleasantly surprised by the beautifully vibrant timber-framed houses and the 12th century castle that still dominates the old town. Among my favorite if you get a chance to stop by! This market was only open on one weekend in December so make sure you check the dates in advance as it varies each year.

Idstein market

The Christmas Market at the colorful village of Idstein is a highlight!

Idstein market 2

Idstein market

The Idstein Market is particularly great for kids, with lots of activities and rides

Castle

The 12th century castle overlooks the old town in Edstein

IMG_2752

 

The Netherlands

Amsterdam

In the city center of Amsterdam, located at either end of the Leidsestraat, both Leidseplein and Koningsplein are home to Christmas markets. The ice skating rink at the Leidseplein makes for a good spot to stop and take a break from the shopping madness 🙂 As a bonus, the Bloemenmarkt or Flower Market sells Christmas trees, a perfect place to pick up your living room addition.

Amsterdam 2

 

Amsterdam market

Amsterdam Christmas market photo source: newyearseveblog.com

Leiden

Only 40 kilometers southwest of Amsterdam, Leiden is like a little sister to the city that needs no introduction. Though the market here is on a smaller scale, it’s unique because the market is located right on the river Nieuwe Rijn, over temporary scaffolding. Because of this, it’s known as the floating market.

Leiden view

View of the Leiden Christmas markets from above

Leiden Leiden 2

 

France

Strasbourg

Known for the oldest Christmas market in Europe with a tradition that began in 1570, Strasbourg is sometimes called the capital of Christmas. With over 300 stalls over 11 sites, it is indeed something to marvel at. The best thing about this market is all the French baked goodies – beignets, bundt cakes and an endless selection of Christmas cookies! There is also a Christmas tree at the Place Kléber and a skating rink on Place du Château.

Strasbourg

Christmas goodies like jelly-filled beignets, bundt cakes and cookies fill the aisles

Strasbourg 2

Dunkin keeps his eyes out for goodies dropped on the ground 🙂

Belgium

Bruges

Bruges is one of my favorite little cities in Europe and the Christmas market is no exception. Though the market here is small compared to the others mentioned on this post, it is located in the main square of the city center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A gorgeous backdrop for Christmas, even without the markets!

Bruges

The Bruges Christmas Market, located in the city center by the beautiful Provinciaal Hof (Province Court) building

In addition to the Christmas Market, many of the buildings around the city center are adorned in festive decor.

Bruges (2)Bruges 3

 

Switzerland

Zurich

Christmas markets literally scatter every little neighborhood in Zurich. The most impressive one however, is at the Zurich Hauptbahnhof, the main train station. With over 150 stalls, it makes for one of the largest indoor Christmas markets in Europe. Every year, the Swarovski Christmas tree takes center stage in the station, the most festive and glamorous tree in the city. 🙂

Swarovski tree

The Swarovski Christmas Tree makes an appearance every year, draped in crystals and bling

Zurich HB

The Zurich Christmas Market in the Hauptbahnhof is one of the largest indoor markets in Europe

Zurich HB 2

Zurich - wooden toys

Wooden toys are popular in Swiss markets

Fondue

And of course, what’s a Swiss Christmas market without Fondue? 🙂

Christmas is a magical time of year in Europe for adults and kids alike. Despite the freezing temperatures, it’s a great time to visit and enjoy all the festivities (and eat all the goodies)!