virtuoso communities A Comprehensive Guide to Europe’s Best Christmas Markets

A Comprehensive Guide to Europe’s Best Christmas Markets

Get ready for a hot cup of mulled wine – or two – at these amazing Christmas markets.
Get ready for a hot cup of mulled wine – or two – at these amazing Christmas markets.
Photo by Getty Images
Get ready for some glühwein: These holiday wonderlands are a staple on dozens of November and December river-cruise voyages.

When it comes to reveling in the holiday spirit, Europe’s storied Christmas markets know how to celebrate the season. The festive wonderlands – all located in popular port stops on Virtuoso Voyages cruises along the Danube and Rhine rivers – are decked out in holiday decor and brim with stalls selling regional treats and handmade gifts. Some even feature concerts and carnival rides. Dozens of these beloved hubs of holiday cheer – typically open from late November through late December – make their homes in some of the continent’s most charming and historic cities, which makes for fun, post-shopping exploration beyond the markets’ confines. Here, four markets to add to your nice list.   

Marché de Noël de Strasbourg, France

The self-proclaimed "Capital of Christmas," Strasbourg is home to the oldest, largest, and most famous Christmas market in France. With its origins dating to 1570, Marché de Noël celebrates the Alsace region’s German and French heritage with music, traditional food (think gingerbread-like bredele cake), drink (glühwein, or mulled wine), and handmade gifts, ornaments, and toys. Visitors can eat, drink, and shop their way through the market’s 300 stalls; stroll along streets lined with houses and churches covered in thousands of twinkling lights; take in a Christmas concert; and marvel at the Great Christmas Tree in the Place Kléber. Don’t leave without picking up a gift bearing a stork, a cherished symbol of the city.     

Viennese Dream Christmas Market, Austria

Austria's capital city plays hosts to a handful of Christmas markets each year, but perhaps none more iconic than this one, which takes place on the square outside Vienna’s nineteenth-century, Gothic-style City Hall. As the sounds of carols and choir music – and the aromas of glühwein, waffles, and sizzling sausages – swirl through the air, visitors can shop for gifts at the market’s 150 stalls, snack on roasted chestnuts, and take a spin around its ice rink. Inside City Hall, kids can learn to make everything from candles to Christmas cookies.

The Viennese Dream Christmas Market will return to Vienna in mid-November.
The Viennese Dream Christmas Market will return to Vienna in mid-November.
Photo by Getty Images

Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, Germany

Each year in Nuremberg’s old town, on the Friday before Advent begins, a cosplay Nuremberg Christkind (Christ child) appears on the balcony of the Church of Our Lady to officially kick off the holiday season, along with the city’s 400-year-old Christkindlesmarkt. One of the largest and most popular in Europe with roughly 2 million visitors annually, Nuremberg’s Christmas market features concerts, handcrafted gifts (popular zwetschgenmännle, figurines made from prunes, have been sold here for decades), a carousel, and a steam train for kids. Must-try treats include Nuremberg sausages tucked inside chewy rolls, and lebkuchen, or gingerbread. Climb the stairs to the top of the church for a postcard-worthy view of the festivities.   

 Budapest Basilica Christmas Market, Hungary

One of Hungary's largest churches, St. Stephen’s Basilica, is also the backdrop for one of the country’s most popular Christmas markets, which was founded in 2011 by the Association of Hungarian Folk Artists and features gifts handmade by its members. Market highlights include daily laser-light projections on the basilica’s facade, an ice-skating rink, folk dancing shows (on Fridays and Saturdays), and – of course – food, including warm chestnuts, savory sausages, and kurtos kalacs (a hollow funnel cake that looks like a chimney).

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