Something magical happens in many European cities about a month before Noel. The streets in usually a central part of town transform like Cinderella going to the ball—they get decked out in twinkly fairy lights and festive colors with pops of scarlet, winter greens, and snowy white.
Santa Claus goes by various names in Europe and often makes an appearance, even if it's just on the wares sold at numerous temporary stalls. You'll detect the aroma of warming spices like cinnamon everywhere you walk and hear the sounds of glee from the tops of Ferris wheels.
It's a winter dream, and you may want to visit many of these legendary markets if you love the atmosphere. It's time for you to organize a multi-city trip for a full-throttle Christmas cheer that trickles into the New Year.
Basel's Christmas market is one of the most popular in Europe. There are close to two hundred stores, many of which cater to foodies hankering after wonderfully gooey Swiss raclette and fondue, Basler Läckerli, a type of local gingerbread, waffles, sausages, and hot punch.
Head for Basel's historic city center, and you'll find dozens of wooden chalets trading handmade goods. The Munsterplatz section has an enchanted forest feel with crafty activities for children.
Strasbourg is one of Europe's Christmas capitals., and its pioneering market has grown into a favorite winter stop since 1571, with millions flocking to the city to experience it. You can shop for gorgeous blown glass candle souvenirs and special candies at approximately 300 stores or simply savor the spectacular Alsace setting.
Look out for nutty kugelhopf, foie gras, and an assortment of bredele cookies and cakes from the region.
Vienna's Christmas markets are a tradition that started in 1296. and are as popular as Billy Joel's song named for Austria's famously elegant capital—a hit with crowds with a flair for the dramatic. Vienna will treat your eyes to fairytale-like illuminations and stunning artisanal creations.
Sort your Christmas gifting out with soaps or collectibles available at the Town Hall or Schönbrunn Palace. Or stroll to your heart's content, soaking up the scenery and roasted chestnuts with a steaming cup of hot chocolate before hopping on a reindeer for a ride. If you're in Austria, you might as well head to Salzburg, where The Sound of Music was filmed, and Mozart was born. The mountains are the perfect backdrop to one of the world's oldest Advent markets.
Press play on George Ezra's song Budapest and make your way to Hungary's capital, where you'll hear loads of fellow Americans in the thronging mass.
Get ready for top 5 European Christmas market material. The laser projections on St. Stephen's Basilica are Instagrammable, and the Advent Calendar reveals on Gerbeaud House are another unique touch.
You'll find what's been called the most beautiful Christmas market in Europe in Estonia's capital. But the visuals, including Europe's first Christmas tree that's been inspiring picture-making since 1441, aren't the only attraction.
If you love different kinds of music and dance, this is the city to go to for brass bands, performing troupes, and lots of jingling bells. You can buy cold-weather accessories like wreaths and rugs at relatively affordable prices, sample honey, and feast on moreish cuisine, including sour cabbage (trust us). Check out the mini zoo with little ones or take photos of the snow sculptures. Plus, Helsinki's Christmas market is just two hours away by ferry.
Christmas in picturesque Prague is a no-brainer. Between the castle, Old Town, Charles Bridge, and the department stores, you'll get plenty of retail therapy done, and the ambiance is magnetic.
Of course, you'll have to dress for the cold, but the cozy Christmas markets more than make up for the deep freeze. Shop for jewelry, ceramic mugs, baubles, flatbreads, and trdelník, a hot rolled sugary pastry.
Edinburgh is a city that will etch itself into your memory. It might be the Scottish lilt, bagpipes, and Tartan patterns that do the trick or Edinburgh Castle that looms majestically over pretty Princes Street Gardens.
Or it could have something to do with the tall ride that swings its way over the UK's best Christmas market way down below. Reader, we have been on this 60-ft swing, hurtling towards and away from the Gothic spires of the Scott Monument, and we've never felt more alive. Having said that, the ride did cause a terrifying scare in 2013, so perhaps a visit to the Scottish National Gallery is more your speed. Stay through New Year's for Hogmanay and the ceilidh.
Govone and Asti in the wine region of Piedmont offer visitors one of the most beloved Christmas markets in all of Europe. It might be cloudy with a chance of pizza, but you'll also get all the Santa vibes and meet passionate retailers selling jams, truffles, and other high-quality products.
Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is a carnival-like extravaganza. There's an ice rink, fairground games, North-Pole-themed rides for all ages, a circus, and ice sculptures.
Get a bit drunk and a bit dizzy on the merry-go-round carousel bar, or hit up the Bavarian village thrown in for good measure and classic celebration.
Amsterdam's Christmas market is called Winter Paradise, which should tell you all you need to know about this highlight on the city's calendar.
The largest market in Holland's capital is situated next to the ice rink on Museumplein, so you can get your fix of arts and culture in one convenient location and then hop aboard for a canal cruise that takes in the Light Festival. There are winter sports stations where you can try curling, cross-country skiing, or snow tubing if you haven't before. Indulge in Dutch poffertjes or pancakes or make s'mores before watching live music.
Germany occupies rarified air with at least five world-class Christmas markets dotted throughout the land. Many Christmas markets try to replicate the "Bavarian Village" feel.
Why get a knock-off experience when you can go straight to the source? Munich is the home of Oktoberfest, so you know you're in for an epic time.
You'll know what Scandi chic is all about when you see the Christmas tree at Gothenburg's Market.
Sweden's best amusement park, Liseberg, gets the festive treatment and becomes a fun fest for the whole family. If delicious food and drinks and top-notch entertainment for the kids weren't enough, there's a Swan Lake ballet ice show.
Belgian chocolates are an obvious drawcard at Simon Stevinplein square, but there's a plentiful supply of romance in Bruges too, what with all the vibrant medieval architecture seemingly plucked from storybooks with happy endings. This Flemish city glitters during the annual Winter Glow. You'll be smiling, and your belly will too.
The Plaza Mayor is a must-see on any visit to Madrid. This public square has witnessed bullfights, executions, coronations, and many a fiesta over the centuries—one such fiesta takes place during Christmas.
The Mercado de Navidad dates back to the 19th century, and you can purchase seasonal delicacies, clay Belén, or nativity figurines, toys, and trinkets from the vendors.
Europe loves its Christmas markets, so you'll find one almost everywhere you go on the continent, and most are joyful affairs. Some compete with the events on this list.
Krakow in Poland, for example, has an A-plus Christmas market with more affordable price tags on ornaments, antiques, knits, and so on compared to what you'd find in, say, Austria. Copenhagen, Zagreb, Craiova, Madeira, Metz, and Funchal also deliver in all the ways that count.