A Guide to Exploring the BEST Christmas Markets in Europe

Growing up in Australia, Christmas wasn’t spent roasting chestnuts on a crackling fire. In fact, the only thing that ever roasted during the holiday season was my pasty skin in the hot December sun. After twenty-two years of dreaming about experiencing Christmas in winter, it’s finally happening… I’m in Europe for Christmas! Of course, I couldn’t come all the way over to the other side of the world without experiencing one of the best parts of the holiday season- European Christmas Markets! So, with the limited time I had to spare before Christmas, I set out on a mission to visit as many Christmas Markets as I possibly could before December 25th.

Guide to planning a trip to Europe’s Best Christmas Markets

Given this little trip was a last minute decision, I wanted to make my Christmas expedition as spontaneous as possible whilst fitting in as many markets as I could! To do so, I used the Skyscanner app to more or less determine my itinerary for me, based off the cheapest flights available from my location.  I’ve been using Skyscanner for the past four years of my travels, it is easily my most-used travel app. It seems to be the best free flight comparison app in terms of user-friendliness and features.

These are the steps I took to plan the trip:

  1. I made a shortlist of all of your recommendations for the best Christmas markets around Europe.
  2. I opened the Skyscanner app, popped in where I was flying from (London) and the date I wanted to fly.
  3. Instead of typing in a specific destination, I typed in ‘everywhere‘. A list of cities then popped up with my cheapest flight options for that date. From this list, I looked for destinations that matched up with my Christmas market shortlist. Five minutes later, I had my first flight booked to Copenhagen!

For the next week, I repeated this process with each new place I arrived in. In the end, I had managed to explore Christmas markets in four different cities, with all the flights costing me under $200! Now, here is what I found on my Christmas Market exploration…


COPENHAGEN’S BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS

The Danish are masters of a lot of things. Design, pastry, being ridiculously good-looking. Stay in Copenhagen for a few days in December and you’ll quickly learn that Christmas is yet ANOTHER thing they’ve mastered. Stroll (or more fittingly, cycle) through the city and you’ll stumble upon quaint little Christmas markets everywhere you go. Here, you’ll find crowds of locals huddled around cups of Glögg (mulled wine) and hot cocoa (with a sneaky dash of baileys), seemingly uninhibited by the near-freezing weather.

Nyhavn Christmas Markets

11th November- 23rd December

Make sure you head to the iconic Nyhavn and wander along the colourful harbor, which come Christmas time, is strung with fairy lights and dotted with small wooden huts selling warm drinks, delicious Christmas foods and lots of handmade knickknacks.

Kongens Nytorv Markets

18th November – 22th December

Situated in the heart of Copenhagen in a classy shopping area near Strøget, these markets are filled with charming stalls selling Christmas gifts and decorations. The surrounding hotels and stores have been magnificently decorated, making the perfect backdrop to these charming markets. Whilst you are here, make sure you try æbleskiver, a traditional Danish Christmas treat. Despite the literal translation being ‘apple slices’ in Danish , these little pancake balls don’t actually contain apple, and are instead served with a dusting of icing sugar and jam.

Tivoli Gardens

19th November – 31st Decemeber

The highlight of Copenhagen’s christmas market festivities occur at the Tivoli, Europe’s oldest working theme park, which transforms into the most magical Christmas dreamland I’ve ever encountered. Come Christmas time, this already charming theme park goes above and beyond with the festive spirit. The place is decorated with millions of dazzling fairylights, fake snow, ginormous Christmas trees, and elaborate structures. Of course, delightfully quaint Christmas markets are also scattered throughout the grounds. Although it does cost a steep 110-120 DK to get into Tivoli Gardens (not including rides), it is the most iconic place to visit at Christmas time in Copenhagen, and is worth checking out.

Where to stay:

Andersen Boutique Hotels

With bright, hip decor, super friendly staff and a free wine hour every night, the Andersen Hotel is a far cry from a generic hotel experience. Rooms are spacious and well-equipped, and the hotel offers a great buffet breakfast every morning full of fresh, healthy food (I particularly enjoyed the  DIY muesli bar).

Located a two-minute walk from the main Copenhagen station and a five minute walk from the Tivoli, the Andersen Hotel makes a great base for exploring the city’s festivities. The only slight downside to the location is the fact the hotel is actually located in the red light district. Having said this, Copenhagen’s red light district is meant to be one of the safest in the world, so the area doesn’t feel dangerous or seedy. Just prepare yourself to walk past the odd erotic shop or strip club to get the hotel.

SEE ALSO: My recipe for blueberry cream cheese danishes


BRUSSELS’ BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS

They love their beer, they love their waffles, and it turns out Belgians also love getting into the Christmas festivities. Almost every city in Belgium hosts it’s own Christmas Markets, many with magnificent backdrops of Brabantine Gothic architecture. With such a selection of markets dotted around the country, it’s difficult to decide which ones to visit! Luckily, Belgium is small country, so even if you base yourself in Brussels, the Christmas Markets in other cities are just a short train ride away.

Brussels Winter Wonders

25th November- 1st January

Come nightfall, if you walk into Brussels Grand-Place, you may be surprised with what you find.  The UNESCO heritage site comes alive in a sound and light show that illuminates the opulent buildings with over 1600 colorful LED lights accompanied by the upbeat tunes of global DJ’s.  Take a walk around the square and you’ll find quaint Christmas markets linking the surrounding streets.  You’ll find all the classic trinkets on sale at these markets, and of course lots of handmade Belgium chocolate, wine gummies, and other such treats. Just a word of warning- don’t visit these markets on a diet. You’ll find everyone is walking around with cones filled with frites and mayonnaise or waffles piled high with strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.  Of course, all this is washed down with a bottle of local brew.

Brugge Christmas Markets

25th November- 1st January

Known as the fairy-tale medieval town, Brugge transcends picturesque. With its cobbled lanes, quaint canals and soaring towers, it’s no wonder it attracts tourists by the masses. Come Christmas time, when Brugge’s main square fills with cosy market stalls, colorful Christmas trees and an ice rink, there is no way to describe the atmosphere other than magical.  The best part is you can catch a one-hour train from Brussels to Brugge, so it makes an easy day trip even if you don’t want to spend the night.

Where to Stay:

NH Collection Hotel Grand Sablon

Modern and sophisticated, the NH Collection Hotel Grand Sablon  is just a short 10-minute stroll away from Grand Place, the center of the Brussel’s Christmas action. Grand Sablon is a gorgeous part of town, featuring a towering cathedral and lots of cozy restaurants and shops. My hotel room was on the small side and was also quite dark, however I did book one of the cheapest rooms available and so I imagine there are other bigger and brighter rooms available. On the positive, the bed was large and comfy, and the bathroom was super chic and well-equipped with amenities.

SEE ALSO: My recipe for Belgian Liege Waffles


COLOGNE’S BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS

You may have heard it before- the Germans take Christmas very seriously. But it takes a trip to Cologne to see the full extent of this Christmas obsession. If it’s any indication of their festive spirit, Cologne has not just one, but SEVEN Christmas markets scattered around the city, and each is themed completely different. There is a floating market, a fairytale-like market of Angels, even a dedicated market for the LBGT community (which may not be the quaintest of the bunch, but hey, you’ve got to admire the diversity)! German markets are a sensory overload to say the least, which makes choosing what to eat a particularly difficult affair. One of the most popular dishes sold at the markets is Kartoffelpuffer, which are fried potato pancakes, traditionally served with applesauce. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you’ll find plenty of other treats like crepes, waffles and apple strudel loaded with warm vanilla custard on offer throughout the markets.

Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market

21st November – 23rd December

The highlight of Cologne’s Christmas market show lies in front of the Dom, the gigantic Gothic cathedral that seems to overshadow the whole city.  A giant Christmas tree acts as the centerpiece for a blanket of  twinkling lights that cover the markets proximity. At the center of the square, you’ll find everyone huddled up, sipping Gluhwein and hot chocolate with a cheeky dash of liquor from adorable mugs. Most other countries seem to serve their hot beverages out of cheap styrofoam cups, but there is really something to be said for wrapping your hands around a proper mug (particularly when each market has its own design). You simply pay a deposit for the mug when you order your drink (normally 2.5 euros) and when you return it, collect your money (or you can keep it as a souvenir should you choose!).

Heinzelmännchen Market on Alter Market

21st November- 23rd December

Located in Cologne’s old town, in front of the town hall, lies arguable the most attractive Christmas market in the city. This is a favorite among children, particularly as it is centered around the “heinzelmännchen” or house gnomes, whom you’ll find hiding all throughout the markets. The space evokes all sorts of nostalgia with it’s cozy wooden booths selling treats and trinkets, an enchanting carousel and the smell of baked apples wafting through the air. Another highlight of the market its spectacular ice rink, which certainly draws in the crowds.

Angel Market on Neumarkt

21st November – 23rd December

Covered in a sea of magical twinkling fairy lights, the Angel Market is the oldest of the Christmas markets in Cologne and is enchanting in every sense of the word. A favourite amongst the children, there are ladies dressed up as angels who frolic through the alleys and scatter fairy dust throughout the evenings. Once a week, Santa even makes a grand entrance on Neumarkt on horseback!

Where to stay:

Dorint Hotel am Heumarkt Köln

The Dorint Hotel is smack bang in the middle of three of the different Christmas markets, making it a great base to stay during during Cologne’s festivities. What the hotel seemingly lacks in character, it makes up for in other ways. Rooms are big, spacious and come equipped with an expansive range of amenities, the hotel offers nice views over the dom from many rooms, and the buffet breakfast is really quite impressive.


LONDON’S BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS

Come December, London is brimming with Christmas spirit. Oxford street is transformed with spectacular throngs of fairy lights and decorations, an ice skating ring appears outside of the Tower of London and Southbank comes alive with stalls selling mulled wine and street food. However, the star on top of the London Christmas tree shines in Hyde Park, where Winter Wonderland opens up and draws in crowds by the masses.  There is so much to see and do in London during Christmas time… The difficult part is deciding where to begin!

Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park

November 18th-2nd January

Come to Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park and you’ll find something to fulfill just about everyone’s Christmas dreams. There are the ice bars offering festive cocktails and Bavarian beer halls for the adults. There are hundreds of rides and fun activities for the kids (and the kids at heart), including a ice skating rink, giant Ferris wheel and magical ice kingdom. There are markets selling artisan goods for the shoppers and stalls with tasty treats like crepes smothered in nutella, hot apple cider and roasted chestnuts for the food-lovers.

Where to stay:

Shangri La The Shard

If you want to plan a special Christmas treat for a loved one, a stay at London’s Shangri La could be a pretty special gift to give. Located inside The Shard, this luxurious five-star hotel easily has the most spectacular view of ANY hotel in London.

Staying at this property has been on my bucket list for a very long time and the experience did not disappoint in the slightest.  In fact, when I was shown into my room and the blinds began rolling up, I almost shed a tear- the view was that beautiful. It also helped that I arrived at sunset on a perfectly clear day. I mean, when does that EVER happen in London? It only got better as I walked in the bathroom and lay my eyes on the best bathtub I’d ever seen. I’m sure you can guess where I spent the next hour.

As you would expect from a property of this calibre, the hotel is oozing with sophistication at every corner, and the service is outstanding. However, all of this obviously comes with a hefty price tag. If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to an overnight stay, you could always consider booking an afternoon tea at TĪNG, the Shangri La’s restaurant/ lounge. That way, you can still soak in the amazing view whilst sipping on a glass of bubbles and indulging in the expansive array of sweet treats on offer.


If this has inspired you to plan your own spontaneous adventure this holiday season, be sure to download and try out the Skyscanner App on iOS or Android, or use the Skyscanner flight search below to look for cheap flights. I’d also love to hear about the BEST Christmas markets you’ve visited so I can start planning for next year!

A big thanks to Skyscanner for being apart of my Christmas adventure! Yes, this trip was sponsored, but as always, all opinions remain my own. 

Watch the full video from my adventures here:

For more Christmas travel, read these next:

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A guide to the best Christmas markets in Europe!
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HEY THERE, I'M NICOLA!

I am on a mission to discover the BEST destinations & dishes from around the world. Whether it’s hopping on a plane or into the kitchen, come join the adventure!

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