Europe's Best Christmas Festivals

Europe's festive Christmas markets date back to the 13th century and cities all over the continent carry on the tradition during the Advent season. Small villages of wooden stalls are constructed in town squares, peddling classic Christmas décor and signature snacks like warm mulled wine, sausage and plenty of sweet treats. Get in the holiday spirit at these great European Christmas markets.

Nuremberg Christmas Market

Nuremberg's Christkindlesmarkt
Thomas Langer, Getty Images

Despite its nickname -- the "Little Town from Wood and Cloth" -- Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg is a grand and festive affair that beckons nearly 2 million visitors from around the world. The 180-plus wooden stalls sell traditional food and Christmas decorations like ornaments, tree toppers and food galore including Nuremberg roast sausages and mulled wine. Nuremberg’s trademark souvenir doubles as a snack in the form of Nuremberg Plum People, miniature figures made from prunes. And just to keep things tasteful and not tacky, the stall holders are awarded prizes for the most beautiful and tasteful stall design.

Cologne Christmas Market

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With 7 separate Christmas markets, and 2 million annual visitors, Cologne is the king of Europe’s Christmas festivals. About 160 wooden stalls surround the town’s landmark cathedral while a few blocks away in front of the Old Town Hall, the Alter Markt caters to wee ones with toy stands, puppet shows and Santa’s grotto. Bring your walking shoes and sip some mulled wine while you navigate land and sea--there’s even a floating Christmas market on a boat in the Old Quarter.

Salzburg Christmas Market

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The hills of Salzburg are alive with Christmas music during the festive holiday season at the Hohensalzburg fortress and around the Cathedral. This musical town, the birthplace of Mozart and setting for The Sound of Music, celebrates the season with plenty of music, including the Turmblasen wind instrument Saturday concerts at Residenz Square and choirs singing carols with the Advent Singing program. The Hellbrunn market celebrates “The Magic of Advent” with a giant Advent calendar, holiday shopping and sled rides led by actual reindeer, just not the red-nosed kind.

Dresden Christmas Market

Europe Christmas festivals - Dresden

The Christmas market in Dresden, called the Striezelmarkt, has been a holiday tradition since 1434, making it Germany’s oldest Christmas fair. There is shopping galore, with holiday decorations, toys and unique handicrafts in the city’s historic district. But many come simply to indulge in a sweet piece of Dresden Christstollen, or German Christmas cake, and check out the market’s over-sized spectacles -- the world’s tallest Christmas pyramid and biggest nutcracker.

Prague Christmas Market

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Prague is alight with a cheery holiday glow as the annual Christmas market enlivens the city’s squares from late November through the first days of the new year. The hub of activity can be found at Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square where wooden stalls bring handmade goods and tasty food to the masses. Don’t miss the Bohemian crystal, wooden toys and delicate egg ornaments to decorate your tree and the traditional food like sausage, warm wine and cold Czech beer.

Tivoli Gardens

Europe Christmas festivals - Tivoli Gardens
Thomas Rousing, flickr

Copenhagen hosts a Christmas market with a twist at the city’s famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park. For a small admission fee, Christmas in Tivoli offers the classic market experience against the backdrop of the amusement rides like swings and carousels and entertainment from the elvish-clad Tivoli Boys Guards Christmas Band. Over in Pixie Ville, the youngest visitors can visit with Rudolph and watch the mechanical elves at work making toys and preparing for the holidays.

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