by Stacey Cutten @ Stacey Explores
Given that this year we are all sadly missing our dose of Christmas festivities, I wanted to take a little time to reflect on all of European Christmas markets I have visited – so next year you can visit the best ones! I am yet to visit any German Christmas markets, so I have potentially am yet to experience the best myself. However, this task was so much tougher than I thought it would be! Do you disagree with any of my reviews? I would love to see your thoughts below in the comments!
6. Brno, Czech Republic
We visited between Christmas and New Year in 2019, and in hindsight maybe this market was a omen of 2020! Perhaps that’s a little harsh, but the market sadly seemed to be packing up by time we arrived late on 28th December – so we didn’t get to see it in it’s prime, and in truth it was a little dull.
Of the stalls that were left, they mostly consisted of mystery meat & mulled wine. The strange mystery meat matched the strange monument in the centre of the square, which interestingly enough, is actually an astronomical clock?!
Unfortunately, when the Christmas market has been exhausted, there isn’t much else to see in Brno. You can visit the catacombs and tower at the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul, but you will have to pre-book onto a tour. The city however, does has convenient train links to Vienna, Bratislava & Prague, so it is certainly worth stopping by or using as a central base to visit other major European cities. You can check out more on our trip to Brno here.
5. Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
I recall Luxembourg having a cute little market with Nutcracker style attractions and a great number of shops. Unfortunately though (unless you love shopping), it lacked a “wow” factor; which is why it finds itself so far down my list. A great benefit of travelling around Luxembourg is that all of the public transport is free. Although – be warned – on the flip side of that, if you stay out late and miss the last bus across town, taxis are VERY expensive. Honestly, that is one of the only things I can really remember about Luxembourg… expensive taxis.
4. Tallinn Old Town, Estonia
Tallinn was the first Christmas market I had visited outside of the UK and it did impress me. The Christmas market setting seems to suit the medieval old town, with cosy fire-lit restaurants presenting sword fighting, a lot of alcohol and also, the colder Baltic weather. Similarly to Brno, we visited in between Christmas & New Year, except we were instead presented with a market in full force. This was back in winter 2015 and we specifically has picked Tallinn because it’s famous for it’s market staying strong through to the New Year.
Tallinn does full further down my list that I wanted to place it, though. If this was simply a competition of Christmas markets, then it ticks most boxes. However, the Old Town & market felt like a false façade once you left the realms of the Old Town. The TV Tower is worth a visit, but please steer clear of Tallinn Zoo – we had to leave after a short visit because we were too upset with the mistreatment of animals there.
Also, be wary before visiting – Estonia has never received much of an English influence and hence, there is not much reason for many to speak English! I’m not ignorant and don’t expect everyone to speak English, but there are serious language barriers that aren’t similarly experienced in most European countries. To add to this, many restaurants seem to present “Russian meat” as a dish, and to this day I’m still not quite sure what is meant by that.
3. Vienna, Austria
Vienna was a pleasant surprise. We visited on the 27th December and the Christmas market in the Museumsquartier was still running strong! The food was probably the best of the Christmas markets I have visited, since traditional Austrian cuisine perfectly fit with the market setting. I also appreciated the low waste efforts: for hot drinks you had to put a 4€ deposit on a festive mug, which could be returned when you were finished.
Vienna is also a fantastic spot for finding other things to do, and has a historic LGBTQ+ culture. You can check out the other things we did with our time in Vienna here.
I really wanted to place Vienna first in my list. The only thing that bought it further down in the ranks was that it was just plonked in the centre of a city – without too much thought to setting aside from the wood cabin market stalls. It misses the natural appeal of being in a Old Town like Tallinn, but doesn’t make an effort to recoup some of that atmosphere.
2. Strasbourg, France
That old town/traditional setting that I just mentioned was lacking in Vienna… yeah, well I think Strasbourg stole it! Strasbourg is home an array of absolutely beautiful medieval architecture and hence, the Christmas markets are perfectly consumed by their environment and there is a seamless integration between market & city.
I suppose the downside is, the markets are SO famous that they are very busy and they somewhat don’t live up to the “perfect” image. Perhaps my expectations were set too high! I also didn’t find that there wasn’t much to do in Strasbourg outside of the Christmas market, unless you like shopping!
1. London, England
Ah, London! In all honesty, I didn’t want to put London first, because it inevitably feels biased. Maybe I am only placing it first because a Christmassy London feels most familiar to me and therefore hits the spot? Who knows. It’s also awkward that I don’t have any photos of Christmas in London… Oops!
In my opinion, I think Winter Wonderland makes the most effort of the markets I’ve visited – it certainly doesn’t pull any punches. In doing this, you receive the correct setting for a Christmas market, but then also have London to explore within arms reach… and London at Christmas certainly doesn’t hold back either! There’s just something unbeatable about the double decker red buses and the lights on Oxford Street.
The only things that let down London’s markets are firstly the cost, and secondly how busy it can get. If you have the opportunity, I would recommend visiting in the daytime on a school day. For those visiting from outside of the UK, school holiday generally fall between 20th December and the 4th January. Also, there in an abundance of activities to partake in at Winter Wonderland (Hyde Park), but make sure you book online to secure your place before your visit!
In the absence of my own photos, I’ll sign off by directing you to one of my favourite Instagram accounts: @lukepilky_locations.