Nothing quite gets the family in the festive spirit like a traditional Christmas market. With unique gifts, delicious food and drink and colourful decorations, a trip to a market can be the perfect way to make memories with children. We’ve hand-picked the best of Europe’s Christmas markets so that you and your family can kick off the holiday season in style.
Attracting 1.5 million visitors from Germany and abroad, Aachen Christmas market runs through late November up until Christmas Eve. As if taken from a scene in a snow globe, an illuminated carousel provides entertainment for young visitors while parents sip on hot spiced ‘Apfelwein’ and tuck into giant pretzels, freshly baked sticky buns and stollen. Children will love the strings of fairy lights, huge light-up toys and the magnificent sight of Aachen Town Hall. Pick up gifts of marzipan sweets, wooden toys and handmade cards from the jolly stall owners.
Voted Europe’s #1 Christmas market several times over, the capital of Croatia celebrates Advent in a big way. From 2nd December to 18th January the streets are filled with singing and dancing. The Jelačić square features a giant snow globe, a festive tram for Santa to ride on and elves and fairies in abundance. A cultural entertainment programme, “Fooling around on the Funicular” takes visitors back to the 1950s with retro music and entertainment as well as delicious traditional food and drink. Buy the kids a bag of hot ‘Fritule’ doughnuts sprinkled with icing sugar and soak in the festive atmosphere.
Already famed for its beer gardens and shopping, Munich is the perfect place to host the hustle and bustle of the Christmas market. Set in the heart of the city stretching from the Marienplatz to the old town hall, the market retains its traditional Bavarian character with its handmade items. From tankards of golden beer to hand painted glass baubles, visitors will be able to take home pieces of Bavaria with them to enhance their festive season. The scent of herb liqueurs and hot baked apples wafts through the crowds; visitors with an appetite can try fresh chestnuts, sweet stollen and German chocolate cake.
Step into a scene from a Christmas card with a visit to this quaint market in Austria’s state of Tyrol. Medieval houses surround the area and the delicate glass-blown ornaments that decorate the stalls are a throwback to the traditional craftsmanship of Austria. Help yourselves to slabs of sticky gingerbread or hot doughnuts, ‘kiachln’, served with sweet cranberry sauce. As the sun sets a brass band plays carols from the 500 year old Golden Roof, and characters from fairy tales can be seen peeping from windows. For the more adventurous visitors, a ride up the Nordkette mountain to Hungerburg on the funicular railway offers a different perspective of the town, with the market stalls shrinking to a twinkling toy village.
With a backdrop of the Eiffel Tower creating a romantic atmosphere, visit the Alsatian market in Paris for a stylish Christmas event. Foodies will love the free tasting of the province’s finest produce including artisan chocolate and of course plenty of wine. Christmas theatre performances are sure to entertain the little ones and animated storytelling will captivate visitors of all ages. When you’ve finished soaking up the atmosphere, head to the Louvre or Eiffel Tower for a cultural Christmas experience to remember.
Children can get involved in creating their own handmade food and drink gifts in Vienna’s ‘Rathaus’ (town hall). The windows of the iconic building are decorated as a giant advent calendar and open up throughout December, and several huge Christmas trees are lavishly decorated with candy canes and other Austrian ornaments. There are several small markets around the city with a main hub near the Rathaus, holding over 200 stalls selling refreshments and seasonal gifts. There are also two outdoor ice rinks and a Children’s World with carousel, a ‘reindeer train’ and light installations that tell child-friendly stories of Christmastime.
Fragrant garlands are strewn around the town for the Christmas market, with 81 rustic wooden chalets creating a festive village for guests to enjoy. Choose from hand-carved wooden nativity sets, artisan soaps, speciality chocolates and other thoughtful gifts as you stroll underneath the fairy lights. International sellers from Russia, Poland and even Canada create a unique market that has something for everyone. Kids will love the ferris wheel centerpiece and the illuminated 18-metre Christmas tree. With nearly 4000 shops to peruse, once the market is finished your family will still have plenty of places to explore.
The Strasbourg Christmas market is one of the oldest and largest in Europe. With 300 stalls offering locally produced good from Alsace, visitors are sure to find the ideal gifts for friends and family. Traditional craftsmen put on displays of their skills and sell their handmade carvings and other goods; local bakers and winemakers bring their finest produce and there are even 100 charities who turn up to contribute to the joyful and giving spirit of Christmas. There is a strong focus on responsible consumerism with exhibits from local artists and ethically produced goods from local shopkeepers.
Fira de Santa is Barcelona’s most well-known Christmas market, with wreaths of mistletoe and holly strung up as decorations. Notorious for its novel addition to the Christmas story, Barcelona’s nativity scene features a bizarre guest; a man known as the ‘Caganer’ with his trousers down appearing to, ahem, add to the mess of the stable. More traditional decor includes a ‘Tió’ log with a smiling face carved into it that is an important part of a Catalan Christmas. Instead of mulled wine or hot Apfelwein the Spaniards enjoy glasses of cava or sherry brandy to get into the festive spirit. Take a stroll down to the beach to unwind after soaking in the market atmosphere.