5 European Christmas Markets to Feel Festive AF During Your Winter Wonderland Vacation
From late November until the end of the year, European cities turn the fairytale vibes up to 100 with their bustling Christmas markets. Each city does things a little bit differently, but no matter where you are, it’s impossible not to feel über levels of jolliness and festive joy. We asked a couple of our expert Tour Directors (who run all of our European Christmas itineraries) for their favorite markets across Venice, Prague, Munich and beyond. Plus, the must-try foods and must-buy souvenirs from each!
Simply... having... a European Christmas time 🎶🎵🎶
Consider The Grinch. He’s green, he’s mean, he simply cannot get in the holiday spirit. That is, until he learns how the locals celebrate Christmas and he learns a valuable lesson. Honestly, that whole movie is a waste of time. If Cindy Lou Who had simply encouraged The Grinch to spend five minutes wandering a European Christmas market, it would have been over immediately. Cue his heart growing three sizes, browsing enthusiastically for the best little gift for Max.
Joking aside, if you’re considering spending Christmas in Europe, or really anytime around the holidays—you cannot miss your destination’s Christmas market. It is simply impossible to be at a European Christmas market and not instantly feel those sweet wintry festive feels. There are carnival rides, food, souvenir stands, artisan craft shops, pop-up bars and so much more. Though every city celebrates a little differently, there is a sense of joy, excitement, and community across every European Christmas market.
In an effort to help you plan your European Christmas vacation, we recruited our top elves—uh, I mean Tour Directors—Elo and Ingo to share their thoughts on what makes each Christmas market from Venice to Munich to Prague so special. If you’re looking for the best Christmas markets in Europe, we've got you covered. And if you’re looking for a way to ensure you see all the sights, slurp all the spirits, and stay out of the Krampus’ way—take a look at EF Ultimate Break’s Christmas market trips and New Year's itineraries in Europe. Everything planned. Everything included. Just book, maybe buy an ugly sweater, and go!
Our Christmas market experts
Munich, Germany | © FooTToo/Shutterstock
Munich, Germany: Marienplatz Square Christmas Market
Gotta have that Glühwein
What it’s like: Germans love their Christmas traditions. Let’s get that straight first of all. C’mon, does it get more German than “Kris Kringle”? Tour Director Elo says: “In Munich, the people are just the most down-to-Earth so it is so much fun!” Yes, Christmas is in the air at one of Europe’s best Christmas markets at Marienplatz Square. Those old-school traditional Bavarian vibes permeate the culture here (think: lederhosen and dirndls), and with that comes a strong sense of the entire community coming together to embrace those classically German traditions.
Fellow Tour Director and German local, Ingo, says of this beloved Christmas market: “In the heart of Munich, just in front of the famous Munich town hall and in the middle of the pedestrian zone, wooden huts and stalls are set up to fulfill everything your heart could possible desire. From tasty food over jolly-making drinks to the perfect souvenir and gift to bring home. Christmas music is played as well as live entertainment.”
It's not all fun and games though. Word to those who have misbehaved this year, Elo says: “There is a bit of a spooky, but fascinating tradition—the so-called ‘Krampus Run!’ The Krampus is the scary assistant of the kind, old, lovely St. Nicholas (Santa). Santa turns a blind eye to naughty children, but the Krampus on the other hand is not so easy! He runs around rattling his chain in a terrifying manner. The tradition goes back at least 500 years in the Alpine region.” So be sure to consult your Christmas psychic before journeying to Munich, lest the Krampus catch you 😉.
What to taste: Hope you left enough room after that schnitzel for sausage. Ingo says: “In Germany and Austria, we are very proud of our quality and variety of sausages. One has to taste it for oneself. I recommend my travelers opt for mustard (Senf) instead of ketchup.” And Elo adds: “In Munich, I can NOT get over the variety of sausages available. Go try a sausage. And sauerkraut, my friends. And Glühwein.” What’s Glühwein you may ask? Boy oh boy. It is a German holiday favorite. Spiced, mulled wine, often spiked with rum. A must try, as recommended by every German ever.
What to take home: And speaking of Glühwein, the mug it comes in makes for an excellent souvenir. When you order it, you pay an extra 2 or 3 Euro deposit, which you get back when you return the empty beer stein it comes in. But, as Tour Director Elo points out, “the mugs you get to keep if you don't want the deposit back (totally acceptable there). A mug that you've drank the German mulled wine out of is a sentimental and practical souvenir that brings you back to the market in your mind for many years to come.” For other ideas for loved ones, Tour Director Elo adds: “As a souvenir I would get a traditional German gingerbread heart (‘lebkuchen’) with my family members' names drawn on them that can be eaten or used as ornaments on the Christmas tree. Also, the famous German Christmas angels are so cute. As well as some German traditional Christmas cake called ‘Stollen’ to bring to my family back home (it travels well and you can eat it in months—actually the longer you keep it, the better it gets).”
Venice, Italy | © Franco Amian/Shutterstock
Venice, Italy: Campo Santo Stefano Christmas Market
Chestnuts roasting on an open canal
What it’s like: Ah, Venice: the floating city, situated on over 100 islands between a maze of gorgeous canals. Where do you put a full-fledged giant Christmas market in a place like that? Like always, the Venetians got creative: put the vendors on boats. Tour Director Elo has this to say: “St. Stephens' Square—or Campo Santo Stefano—where the market is held, cannot be compared to anything in this world. Being at the heart of a ‘floating’ city of boats and gondolas surrounded by the blue lagoon and minutes away from the Academy Bridge and the Grand Canal is incredible. Also the smell of the chestnuts and other delicacies is all through the air!”
What to taste: You’re in Italy. You could be filling up on pizza or gnocchi or ravioli or porchetta... but save room for dessert when you’re done carbo-loading (you’re on vacation, enjoy it!). In Venice, being one of Europe’s top Christmas destinations, Elo’s recommendation for a wintry treat is this: “You have to try the candied chestnuts and other traditional delicacies like the star-shaped, powdered-sugar-dusted Christmas bread straight from Verona.” Verona, the hometown of Romeo and Juliet, serves up a dessert as sweet as their most famous resident lovers? Oh, yes, indeed.
What to take home: Venice has been known for being the glasswork capital of Italy—and maybe the world—for over 1,500 years. Not far from the Campo Santo Stefano Christmas Market is the island of Murano: the heart of Venetian glass production. And since it’s the holiday season, Elo recommends catering your souvenir to these facts. “I would definitely get a Christmas tree ornament made of authentic Murano glass, or glass jewelry for gifts for my family.” Imagine that: every time you look at the family Christmas tree, you’re reminded of your epic trip to Venice. Then you’re reminded of us at EF Ultimate Break. Then suddenly you start sweating—you simply need to travel RIGHT THIS MINUTE. You remember our interest-free payment plans and flexible booking and oh my goodness flights are also included in the price you pay and next thing you know, you’re booked on your next trip! Okay, okay, sorry. Let’s get back to Venice. Another festive gift idea from Elo: “If it’s your first time in Venice, I probably would include some Venetian masks—great for glamming up a New Year's party or the upcoming carnival season!”
Featured Trip: Germany, Italy & Switzerland Christmas Markets
10 days. 4 cities.
Highlights: Ice skating, trinkets, and eating your weight in chocolate. Need we say more? Plus, you'll soak up all rich history, must-see attractions, and scenic beauty of three iconic European countries.