The annual Christmas markets have already been going on for a couple of weeks, and there remains not quite another two weeks before they end. In any case, such events are truly magical during the winter season, with plenty of gingerbread, gifts, and glühwein to boot. Should one be in Europe around the holiday season, a visit to the hundreds of Christmas markets is worthwhile.
At least growing up in the US, I remember not having any sort of market festivity around Christmastime. I liken it to the idea that it’s just not a part of American culture, and seeing dozens of Christmas markets while in Europe was a new and wondrous experience for me. From the Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany to the marchés de Noël in France, I took in the good tidings and good cheer while stationed abroad during winter.
My winters spent in Europe have inspired me to dedicate a post to my favorite Christmas markets I’ve been to. Granted, they’ve only been limited to Germany, France, and little of Switzerland, so I can’t vouch for those in other European countries. All the same, I’ll share with you the ones that have left a notable impression on me, with warm memories to reflect on as I prepare for the holiday season this year. Enjoy!
My Favorite Christmas Markets in Europe
1. Frankfurt, Germany.
The Christmas markets in Frankfurt might not be the first ones which come to mind, especially compared with the famous ones in Nuremberg or Munich. However, I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed them. The one in Römerberg was stunning, with its reconstructed half-timbered houses and carousel brightly-lit after sundown. Paired with a comforting glass of glühwein rot and good company, I left Frankfurt with positive impressions of the city and a great start to the holidays.
2. Aachen, Germany.
I’m a little biased, because my good German friend is from here. All the same, it’s a very charming place (called “Aix-la-Chapelle” in French) has a notable Christmas market, and it’s a convenient ride from France or Belgium for a day in the center. Aachen was packed with holiday-goers when I went, but I think it made for a vibrant, festive cheer. I enjoyed wandering from stall to stall, tasting local snacks available during wintertime, e.g. sweet Aachener printen (gingerbread) and massive Reibekuchen (potato fritters).
3. Nuremberg, Germany.
Nuremberg’s Christmas market is the biggest and baddest of them all in Europe, attracting two million visitors each year. Considering its status, it’s necessary that I include it on this list. I didn’t enjoy just how mad everything was went I arrived into town during the very first day that markets opened, but I think it’s one of the prettiest. Plenty of beautiful, handcraft ornaments by the Frauenkirche, along with terraced views of the madness from above. It’s festivity times 100, and a worthwhile time.
4. Strasbourg, France.
If Nuremberg has the most-famous Christmas markets in Germany, Strasbourg’s is the most-famous in France. I’ve visited the Alsatian city twice, both during Christmas market season. The views of angel lights and ornaments leading to the city’s cathedral are incredibly atmospheric, and you can bounce from place to place to enjoy the various food choices (I once saw reindeer meat sold at a Finnish-themed stall!). The markets are lovely, and the extra touch of Alsatian charm makes it all the more wonderful to see.
5. Colmar, France.
Just next door to Strasbourg is the cute city of Colmar. I actually found Colmar’s Christmas markets to be even more festive than Strasbourg’s, perhaps due its smaller size. That said, the stalls– food and souvenirs alike– are compact, which means a dense environment filled with color and lights at every turn, i.e. a dizzying sight to see. The stalls along the canals offer that distinctive vibe to the center, and it was perfect seeing Colmar bursting with holiday cheer.
6. Lyon, France.
Granted, the Christmas markets in Lyon aren’t very big, limited to one at Place Carnot. I’d visited it about three times when I lived in France, and it wasn’t until my most-recent visit in 2018 that I began to actually enjoy it. What really made my last time notable there was the Canadian stall, where they sold poutine! I got a bison poutine, and it was heaven. Cheesy, meaty, and hearty, it filled my stomach and soul, and that was when I fell in love with Lyon just a little bit more.
7. Bamberg, Germany.
It was snowing like crazy when I visited Bamberg for a day trip. Aside from checking out its Altes Rathaus and Neue Residenz, I made a stop at its Christmas markets, particularly the one at Maximiliansplatz. While I don’t remember Bamberg’s being as picturesque as Nuremberg’s, I remember enjoying their food. I had a hearty bowl of spätzle, along with a strong apfel glühwein (apple-flavored mulled wine). The meal was towards the end of my visit, and it was a great way to finish it off before I had to hit the road once more.
…and those are my favorite Christmas markets in Europe! Of course, there are plenty that still bear honorable mentions (including, but not limited to, Rouen’s in France, Basel’s in Switzerland, etc.), but in any case, it’s without a doubt that Christmas markets in Europe are taken very seriously. They’re centuries worth of tradition commemorated through merry celebration, of the winter season and all that it brings to the end of the year.
What are your favorite Christmas markets? And what do you like about them? Let me know!