From angelic Salzburg to glowing Bruges, the best Christmas markets 2023 are dazzling. Alicia Miller picks 10 of the easiest in Europe to visit with kids this year.
Strasbourg is the Capital of Christmas Markets 2023
For the best Christmas markets in Europe with historical pedigree, Germany isn’t your only option. Northern Gallic hub Strasbourg has hosted a festive market for at least 450 years. The city calls itself the ‘Capital of Christmas’ and, despite stiff competition, it has a point. From the skyscraper-tall central tree – at least 30m high, strung with miles of fairy lights and dotted with countless baubles – to 300 stalls, selling handmade crafts, it nails the brief. The fairy tale setting of half-timbered houses and glassy canals is dazzling too. Fuel your family’s exploring with buttery bredele biscuits; a local Christmas favourite.
Dates: from 24 November to 24 December
How to get there: direct UK flights to Strasbourg take from 1 hour, 35 minutes
The angelic advent of Salzburg will captivate your kids
A fabulous Christmas market needs a beautiful backdrop, and Salzburg delivers with its UNESCO-listed old core. Baroque facades, quaint cafes, a medieval castle; it’s all laid out for your brood to discover, alongside the centuries-old advent celebration. Weave between more than 100 stalls at the Christkindlmarkt – set under rows of lights at atmospheric Residenzplatz square – and you’ll discover more than just sweet treats. There are musical performances (this is the home of Mozart, after all), public carolling sessions and seasonal gifts aplenty.
Dates: from 23 November to 1 January
How to get there: direct UK flights to Salzburg from 1 hour, 56 minutes.
Take your pick of the best Christmas markets in Berlin
Berlin doesn’t have a single Christmas market, but many. There are Scandinavian and Japanese markets, eco-friendly markets and craft markets. But if you visit just one, make it Gendarmenmarkt. It’s usually set on the eponymous postcard-perfect square, nestled between two cathedrals and a concert hall, but this year it’s in front of the State Opera on Bebelplatz. Although the atmosphere and shopping will be as incredible as ever with everyone from tailors to woodcarvers selling their wares.
Dates: from 21 November to 31 December
How to get there: direct UK flights to Berlin from 1 hour, 45 minutes
Bathe yourself in the endless sparkle of Bath
For a wow-factor market close to home, Bath is a brilliant bet. Its honeyed Georgian architecture looks even more grand when bathed in the glow of Christmas lights and flanked by more than 150 pretty, festive chalets. But there’s feel-good factor at work here too: the market supports local charities, is free from single-use plastic and champions producers from around the South West. Grab a cupful of something hot and mulled, then fill your bags with locally made candles or jewellery. When tiny bellies start to rumble, a classic hog roast awaits.
Dates: from 23 November to 10 December
How to get there: London to Bath by train, from 1 hour, 20 minutes
Go Gothenburg for Christmas markets and festive funfairs
For a Christmas fair that really puts little’uns first, head to Gothenburg, on Sweden’s west coast. The city’s 1920s amusement grounds, Liseberg, is a paradise of wooden rollercoasters, log flumes and gas-lamp-style lighting that ticks boxes for both thrills and charming retro atmosphere. And every winter its cute main avenue is home to another attraction: a lovely Christmas market. In between browsing the stalls, scented with the aroma of roastings nuts and glögg, you can all visit Santa’s workshop, hit the skating rink or ride the illuminated Ferris wheel.
Need to know: from 18 November to 30 December
How to get there: direct UK flights to Gothenburg from 1 hour, 53 minutes
Sparkling, snowy Vienna is just made for Christmas
From its chocolatey cakes – nibbled in cosy coffee houses – to its festive concerts in elegant churches, Vienna feels made for Christmas. And the vibe goes into overdrive at the city’s main advent market, set in central Rathausplatz square. Strap on your skates for a zip around the ice rinks (there’s even a dedicated children’s one) or discover the themed nativity scene trail. Inside the imposing city hall itself, learn to make candles or Christmas cookies, before catching one of the weekend carolling sessions.
Dates: from 11 November to 26 December
How to get there: direct UK flights to Vienna from 2 hours, 13 minutes.
Come to Cologne for the most fairy tale Christmas markets
Aromas of glühwein, heart-shaped slabs of peppery gingerbread, stalls packed with crafts – cathedral-stuffed Cologne has the full festive roster. But it also has variety; there are seven ‘official’ Christmas markets 2022, plus more alternative options (for example, hipster Ehrenfeld). The finest for sprogs is arguably historic Alter Markt, a light-festooned square in the old town under the banner Heinzels Wintery Fairytale. Spot the ‘brownies’ – traditional elf-like statues – and watch wood carvers and blacksmiths in action. Come hungry, too, because nothing beats devouring the market stalls’ freshly baked strudel or apple pancakes, under gently falling snow.
Dates: from 23 November to 23 December
How to get there: direct UK flights to Cologne from 1 hour, 18 minutes
Capture the glow of beautiful Bruges this Christmas
Why just have one Christmas market when you can have an entire Christmas festival? That’s the thinking in the chocolate-box Belgian city of Bruges, which celebrates its Winter Glow fest with illuminated light trails, pop up bars, a skating rink and hundreds of Christmas trees. In this already photogenic (not to mention friendly and walkable) city, the result is nothing short of magic. Stroll the cobbled streets linking chocolate shops, twinkling carousels and stalls selling Christmas decorations before joining a horse-drawn carriage ride for the full winter wonderland effect.
Dates: from 24 November 2023 to 7 January 2024
How to get there: train from St. Pancras to Bruges, from 3 hours, 30 minutes
Budapest has the coolest Christmas markets in Europe
Cosy meets chill: that’s the essence of a winter visit to Budapest, a great pick if you’ve got teenagers in tow. Take a tour of snow-dusted Buda Castle, then warm up in the steaming outdoor pools of Széchenyi Thermal Bath. When it’s time for the Christmas market shopping, choose between the stalls outside St Stephen’s Basilica, or the main event, a huge spread in grand Vorosmarty Square. Either way, the highlight of your visit is sure to be the kürtőskalács, or chimney cake; a crispy circular pastry, laced with cinnamon.
When to go: from 17 November 2023 to 1 January 2024
How to get there: direct UK flights to Budapest from 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Metz has one of the best Christmas markets in France
Underrated Metz doesn’t make it onto many family bucket lists but there is plenty here to impress, from the epic cathedral to the outpost of Paris’s renowned Centre Pompidou contemporary art museum. It also happens to be one of France’s most dynamic Christmas market destinations. Rather than just stick to the same old clichés, Metz gets innovative, with an illuminated lantern trail in Jardins Boufflers and an igloo village in Place de Chambre. Take it all in, plus the city’s medieval rooftops, from the 60m-high panoramic Ferris wheel in the main square – guaranteed to delight kiddos.
Dates: from 19 November to 23 December
How to get there: train from St. Pancras to Metz, from 4 hours, 51 minutes
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