Best Christmas Markets and Events to Visit in Europe in 2021
If you’re planning a pre-Christmas city break in Europe, why not combine sightseeing with a little Christmas shopping and seasonal entertainment?
Christmas markets pop up in most European cities, and the key to their popularity is the magical atmosphere. Located in cobbled squares in the shadow of historic cathedrals, cities such as Florence, Strasbourg, and Tallinn host traditional markets evoking an air of nostalgia and goodwill. Couples stroll by arm-in-arm and families browse the laden stalls of delightful goods on offer. Carol singers and live music transform mundane shopping into a relaxed and memorable experience– unlike stressed Christmas shopping elsewhere!
If you haven’t visited a Christmas Market, you’re in for an enchanting experience. Small wooden chalets traditionally house each individual stall. They are laden with handmade toys, cookies, decorations, wreaths, candles, and even hand-carved nativity sets. These markets are a great place to find stocking stuffers and unique personalized gifts. Lit with strings of bright Christmas lights and clustered around a decorated fir tree, it’s a timeless scene.
The first Christmas Markets began over 600 years ago in Germany. The “weihnachtsmarkts” were an extension of the weekly markets and were an opportunity for locals to stock up on seasonal produce for the long winter months ahead. December markets evolved into Christmas markets, selling wooden carved toys, crib scenes, and festive foods.
Enjoy foodie Christmas traditions Europe-style!
Each European country has its own traditional Christmas food and traditions and Christmas Markets are just the place to find them. In Germany and Poland, the aroma of sizzling bratwurst, roasted chestnuts, and warm gingerbread are sure to tempt you to sample the traditional foods on offer.
Germany is home to lebkuchen, a type of gingerbread cookie and each city seems to have its own special variation. Frankfurt has Brenton honey cookies and delicious Bethmanchen cookies made from marzipan and almonds. Stalls sell “gluhwein”, hot mulled wine seasoned with cloves and cinnamon sticks, to provide a warming glow. You’ll also find gluhwein stands dotted around ice-flooded fields where skaters take to the ice.
The Covid pandemic led to most Christmas markets in Europe being canceled in 2020, but at the time of writing the following cities are going ahead with their Christmas markets in 2021. We’ve also found some other seasonal events to make your European Christmas trip extra special.
Basel Christmas Market, Switzerland
If you’re heading to Switzerland this year for skiing and winter sports, don’t miss the incredible Basel Christmas Market which is already in full swing. It’s hard to beat the beautiful setting of Switzerland in winter and it creates an amazing atmosphere for the Christmas Markets. You’ll need to present your ID and proof of vaccination to join in the fun.
Basel Christmas Market has over 200 stalls in two locations: on Munsterplatz and Barfusserplatz. It’s the place to source exquisite Christmas decorations, hand-made candles, and spices, all beautifully presented.
Families should head to Munsterplatz and join in the activities such as a star workshop, candle decorating, icing gingerbread cookies, and riding the festive train. Toot toot!
Strasbourg Christmas Market, France
Dating back to 1570, Strasbourg’s black-and-white architecture is straight from the pages of a fairytale at any time of year. When decorated with huge ornaments, wreaths, Christmas trees, strings of colored lights, and a light dusting of snow, it’s absolutely captivating.
Expect to do quite a bit of walking as the market is spread over 10 locations within the UNESCO Heritage-listed Grand Île. Running from late November to December 30, 2021, this market is already in full swing for shoppers, who must wear masks. It normally attracts over 2 million shoppers, but this year is a good time to visit when crowds are likely to be reduced.
When shopping is done, head to Place Klebe which has an ice skating rink in front of the huge Christmas tree.
Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin, Germany
Although many German cities have canceled their Christmas markets, Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt, will be celebrating as usual. This is one of the oldest marketplaces in Berlin. They have massive open-air market festivities and evening concerts in the city. In fact, the market is already underway and will run until December 31st. However, there are some safety restrictions in place including mandatory masks and proof of vaccination.
Brussels Winter Wonders, Belgium
Brussels Winter Wonderland is hosting its fabulous Winter Wonders Festival again in 2021. This extravaganza takes over many public spaces around the city. There’s ice skating, a sound-and-light show, fairground rides, and an enormous Christmas tree.
There’s also a traditional Christmas Market in 200 chalets where you can browse for gifts, sip steamy gluhwein or Belgian beer, and snack on freshly cooked waffles. The event runs until January 2, 2022.
St Lucia Feast Day, Barcelona, Spain
Each December, Barcelona celebrates the Fira de Santa Llúcia (St Lucia Feast Day) with a 4-week festival and fair from November 26 to December 23. Celebrations of this religious festival include a parade, storytelling, and other family activities along with food stalls. One special highlight is the caga tio, a giant pinata-style Christmas log. When beaten with a stick, it breaks open with candy and gifts for children.
Held in front of the Cathedral, St Lucia Market is divided into four different sections. One sells nativity figures and religious decorations for Christmas; another focuses on plants and Christmas trees, both real and artificial. There’s a crafts section with many beautiful hand-painted pots, jugs, and plates along with handmade jewelry. The final section, Sinbombes, specializes in all types of musical instruments. It’s quite an education as you browse!
Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark
Tivoli Gardens is one of Denmark’s most popular attractions (along with the original Legoland!) This fun-filled amusement park is truly enchanting in December when it hosts the annual “Christmas in Tivoli” event. The beautiful gardens are decorated with 500,000 twinkling lights. There’s a fair with rides and jolly music from a Pixie Band.
Denmark also celebrates St Lucia Day with a candlelit procession through the gardens on December 13. Over Christmas (Dec 25 and 26) and New Year’s Day, the event includes fireworks. It’s already started, so best make travel plans fast!
Wherever you plan to spend Christmas, we hope you have a wonderful time with family and friends. Happy Holidays!
Why don’t you check out our blog on Christmas food traditions?
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