Christmas markets are wrapped up in the experience of spending the festive season in Europe. Many people agree that when it comes to a quintessential white Christmas, they’re the cherry on top of the Christmas cake (or the star atop the Christmas tree!).
Steeped in tradition, shimmering with lights, and overflowing with gifts and Christmas cheer, these markets are the best place to soak up the yuletide vibes. The only problem is that thousands of them are scattered across the continent (over 2,500 in Germany alone!). So, which ones deserve a place on your travel wish list? GILTEDGE has got you covered.
Grab your mittens, practice your carols, and dive into our top five picks for Europe’s unmissable Christmas markets.
Valkenburg, Netherlands: An Underground Christmas Fantasy
Dates: 17 November 2023 until 7 January 2024
What to expect: Tucked away in the winding corridors of the Velvet Cave – an enchanting network of passages beneath a 12th-century castle ruin, the Valkenburg Market is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Stalls decorated with festive garlands and twinkling lights line the labyrinthine corridors, selling everything from handcrafted decorations to Dutch seasonal delicacies.
What makes it stand out: It’s one of the few Christmas markets set in an underground cavern. The caves are dimly lit with soft, glowing lights, creating an intimate, cosy atmosphere perfect for kindling the holiday spirit.
Unmissable experience/activity: The Valkenburg Christmas Parade draws thousands of spectators every year. Twice a week for the duration of the festive season, the streets come alive with beautifully illuminated floats and costumed performers dancing through the crisp winter night.
Other reasons to visit Valkenburg: Valkenburg boasts a rich history, and many attractions. From the towering castle ruins to the Roman Catacombs and the relaxing spa at Thermae 2000, there’s something for everyone.
Brussels, Belgium: A Symphony of Sound and Light
Dates: 24 November until 31 December 2023
What to expect: As the festive season descends on Brussels, the Marché aux Poissons transforms into ‘Brussels Winter Wonders’, the largest Christmas market in the city featuring over 200 wooden huts. Here, you can browse a wide range of gifts, artisanal crafts, and Christmas treats while sipping mulled wine.
What makes it stand out: The dazzling 360° light and sound show at the Grand-Place is a must-see with the 2023 theme ‘A great musical exploration around the world’. The beautiful square, a UNESCO World Heritage site, comes alive with thousands of twinkling lights synchronised with festive season music, creating an unforgettable spectacle.
Unmissable experience/activity: Take a ride on the giant Ferris wheel for an unbeatable view of Brussels draped in its festive finery.
Other reasons to visit Brussels: Brussels boast world-class museums, stunning architecture, and delicious gastronomic delights. Don’t forget to indulge in traditional Belgian waffles and chocolates!
Edinburgh, Scotland: A Festive Wonderland
Dates: 24 November 2023 until 1 January 2024
What to expect: With the iconic Edinburgh Castle providing a dramatic backdrop, the Christmas Market offers an over-the-top festive shopping experience. Located in the East Princes Street Gardens, the market is packed with stalls showcasing a range of artisanal crafts and traditional food and drink.
What makes it stand out: Edinburgh’s Christmas market shines through its wide array of festive offerings and location. Set in lush greenery with a view of the castle, it’s a perfect blend of natural beauty and historic grandeur.
Unmissable experience/activity: For an adrenaline-filled adventure, try the 200ft (60m) StarFlyer carnival ride. As you ascend above the market, you’ll be treated to a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the city dressed in festive lights.
Other reasons to visit Edinburgh: The city has an interesting history with iconic landmarks like the Royal Mile through the Old Town, Holyrood Palace, and of course, the magnificent Edinburgh Castle, making it worth visiting, irrespective of the season.
Trier, Germany: A Christmas Steep in History
Dates: 24 November until 22 December 2023
What to expect: This is a picture-perfect Christmas Market, nestled in the city’s medieval Main Market Square and a delight for history buffs and Christmas lovers alike. Boasting around 95 beautifully decorated booths, this market is a treasure trove of traditional German crafts, spices, toys, candles, delightful Christmas decorations, and a smorgasbord of German treats.
What makes it stand out: With the historic Trier Cathedral as its backdrop, this market stands out for its rich history and variety of traditional, handcrafted items. There’s a sense of stepping back in time as you wander from stall to stall under the Christmas lights.
Unmissable experience/activity: No visit to this market would be complete without sampling a mug of spiced Glühwein – warm, mulled wine traditionally enjoyed during the festive season. Every year, the Glühwein mugs feature a new design, making them a perfect keepsake of your visit.
Other reasons to visit Trier: Founded in 16 BC, Trier is Germany’s oldest city, home to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the imperial bathhouses. This makes it a fascinating destination for history lovers. It’s also a shopper’s paradise – head to downtown Trier and explore the pedestrian streets boasting a variety of shops, restaurants and cafés.
Montbéliard, France: A Fairytale Christmas
Dates: 25 November until 24 December 2023
What to expect: The charming town of Montbéliard hosts an annual Christmas market that perfectly captures the spirit of the season. Over 170 stalls offering an assortment of artisanal crafts and local foods are dotted between the town’s beautifully illuminated buildings.
What makes it stand out: Only crafters approved by the Franche-Comté Craftsmen’s Guild are allowed to sell their products at the market, so quality is guaranteed!
Unmissable experience/activity: Make sure you try the traditional Montbéliard sausage, best enjoyed in a warm bun with a dollop of mustard and then take a leisurely stroll around the Parc de l’Hotel de Ville, bathed in festive lights.
Other reasons to visit Montbéliard: Known as a town of art and history, a visit to the museum of Castle of the Dukes of Württemberg is highly recommended. Built on a ridge and once a fortress, it dates back to the 13th century.
Ready for a magical festive season escape? Team GILTEDGE is here to help you plan it down to every last detail. We’ll handpick festive markets and other seasonal activities tailored to your preferences, travel party, and budget.
Contact us today to chat with one of our travel experts.