Here are 10 of the most beautiful Christmas fairs in Europe
Christmas in Europe is a magical time. Decorated Christmas trees appear on main squares, the streets are lit up with lights, music plays and the air is filled with the dizzying aromas of mulled wine, fresh pastries and spit roasted meat. And then there are the fairs, which make it nearly impossible to leave empty-handed and with a full purse. Here are 10 Christmas fairs worth going to at least once!
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1. Prague, Czech Republic
The capital’s most famous fair is located on Old Town Square, next to the Town Hall, where the Astronomical Clock Orloj has recently returned after renovations. It’s bustling and crowded, the country’s main Christmas tree shines with lights, and in the evenings there are concerts and theatrical performances. Numerous food stands offer the scent of grilled meat, sausages, trdelník (a traditional sweet pastry), mulled wine, grog, and mead, while souvenir stands sell marionettes, Bohemian glassware, paintings, and Christmas decorations. We recommend you to look at the last ones: among the faceless rubbish you can find decent handmade pieces, which you can’t be ashamed to bring as a present to your family. Or for yourself ;).
Please note that on the evening of December 24, most stalls are closed, and the queues are forming in front of the rest. Between money and the opportunity to celebrate Christmas with the family Czechs definitely choose the second one. But the fair is the last to close, keeping tourists happy until early January.
Nov. 27 to Jan. 6, 2022, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (food tents open until midnight).
Alternative: If you don’t like crowds, look for fairs “for your own.” You don’t have to go far from the city center: look for them on Mira square (11-20-24 December 2021) or at the metro station Anděl (11-24-23 December 2021). These places are less crowded, the atmosphere is more soulful, the food tastes better and the prices are lower than on Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square.
2. Vienna, Austria
The biggest fair is at Friedrich-Schmidt-Platz, in front of the Town Hall. This year there will be 152 tents with sweets, food, drinks and souvenirs as well as a 3000 m² ice skating rink (buy tickets online to save 10% off the regular price and you won’t have to wait in line to get in).
For parents with children planned master classes on Christmas baking, decorating toys, weaving “dream catcher” and making Christmas decorations. They will take place in the Vienna City Hall, cost €2-4, and there is no need to register in advance.
Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, carol singers from various countries will entertain fair visitors, who can listen for free. Be sure to try the famous Viennese sausages, mulled wine (here it sounds different – gluhwein) or punch. The hot drinks are poured not only in disposable dishes, but also in souvenir cups, which for €4-5 can be kept as a keepsake.
11/16 through 12/26/18, Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. On December 7, the fair will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., December 24 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and December 25 and 26 from 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Alternative: from 11/23 to 12/26/18 in the palace complex Belvedere (Prinz Eugen-Straße 27) will be “village of craftsmen” where you can buy handmade goods and traditional delicacies.
3. Nuremberg, Germany
The Christkindlesmarkt, held in the Hauptmarkt square next to the Church of St. Sebaldus and the Town Hall, is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe (first mentioned in 1628). Its symbol is the infant Christ (Christkind), a charming creature with white curls, dressed in gold. The performer is chosen from among the young women of the town every 2 years and opens the fair on the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent.
When you’re hungry, go in search of Nuremberg sausages. They’re made with ground pork and marjoram, served 6, 8, 10 or 12 at a time with horseradish or mustard, or put 3 of each in notched buns (this dish is called Drei im Weggla or “Three in a Bun”). The recipe and format of these miniature (7-9 centimeters, 20-25 grams) sausages is unchanged since 1497!
Another local specialty is the gingerbread Lebkuchen, which has been baked here for more than 600 years. Every year about 70 million of them are sold in Nuremberg. If you get cold, you can warm yourself with mulled wine, which you can also pour into a souvenir mug (its design changes every year). Statistically, 80% of mugs visitors take away with them.
There will be a children’s fair on Hans-Sachs-Platz, where kids will be offered a merry-go-round, a tram and a talk with the Christmas Angel, master-classes on baking gingerbread (€3), decorating candles or glassware (€2), making Christmas cards and gifts (from €1), sand-colored art (€5). You can also send a letter to relatives, visit St. Nicholas and warm up in a free playroom from Bruder.
11/30 to 12/24/18, 10:00 am to 9:00 pm. On December 24, the fair will be open until 2 p.m.
Alternative: The flip side of Christkindlesmarkt’s popularity is the crowds; about 2 million people visit it each year. Escape the influx of tourists to one of the neighboring small towns: Bamberg, Erlangen or Forheim.
4. 4. Budapest, Hungary
The oldest fair in Budapest is located on Vörösmarty square. This is a gourmet’s paradise and you can hardly go hungry. Gourmands will love the cinnamon pastry Kurtoskalacs, similar to Czech trdelnick, meat-eaters will appreciate the sausages or goulash in bread, and for a light snack you can enjoy potato dumplings dodolle, langos or roasted chestnuts. You won’t do without the traditional mulled wine.
In the evenings you can enjoy a light show on the Gerbeaud Café facade and free concerts of folk, jazz, indie, blues and pop music.
9/11 through 12/29/18, Sunday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Food tents will be open until January 1.
Alternative: on the square in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica fair will be open from 11/23/18 to 1/1/19, Monday to Thursday from 10:00 to 21:00, Friday to Sunday from 10:00 to 22:00. Here you can buy souvenirs made by Hungarian craftsmen, to ride on the skating rink, and every hour from 16:30 to 22:00 every day to see how the facade of the basilica is projected video, this year for the first time in 3D.
5. Helsinki, Finland
The St. Tuomas Christmas Fair in the center of the capital, on Senate Square, is an integral part of Pikkuioulu, the “little Christmas.” In 2015, it made the Huffington Post’s list of the world’s top 15.
It’s a paradise for lovers of stylish items, with 120 stalls selling ornaments, housewares, toys, garlands and more. A vintage carousel is set up in the center section of the fair, delighting visitors of all ages.
At the fair you can meet Joelupukki, the Finnish “Christmas grandfather”, buy a reindeer sweater for yourself or your loved ones and warm yourself with a spicy tea or glög (which is the equivalent of mulled wine, which is sometimes added to the strength of vodka or madera). When you get hungry, stop by one of the stalls to buy sausage or yolutortta, a pastry made of puff pastry and jam.
Nov. 1 through 12/22/18, Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Alternative: from November 26 to the end of December you can visit the fair in the medieval town of Porvoo, located a half-hour drive from Helsinki. Merchants in period costumes offer the work of local craftsmen, residents go skiing and traditional sledding, small houses are decorated for Christmas…Walking through the narrow streets, you’ll be transported back in time, a break from the noise and crowds.
6. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen’s number one Christmas fair is located in Tivoli Gardens (Vesterbrogade 3), the third most visited amusement park in Europe. On Advent days, the historic park is filled with wooden decorated houses, Santa’s reindeer (he himself will also stop by for the festivities), snow-covered trees and illuminated by the lights of the garlands. There are many cafes, both indoor and outdoor (they usually have heaters and plaids for guests).
The wine-based warming drink here is called glög, glögg, or glück. It’s based on red wine with raisins, cinnamon, almonds, cloves, and some schnapps or aquavit. If you prefer beer, look for Christmas beers, which Tuborg and other producers start brewing as early as November.
Those with a sweet tooth will appreciate the traditional Æbleskiver, a kind of sugar-coated doughnut that’s often served with jam. The fair also sells rye bread sandwiches with pickled herring Smørrebrød, sandwiches with roasted duck meat, roasted chestnuts and almonds.
There is a fee to enter the park (120 DKK=€16). Before Christmas, it’s best to buy tickets online in advance to avoid the queues.
17.11 to 31.12.18, Sunday to Thursday 11:00 to 23:00, Friday and Saturday 11:00 to 24:00.
Alternatively, from December 8 to 20, you can visit the fair in Christiania, a partially self-governing “state within a state.” In addition to the atmosphere of the area itself, the event is interesting to buy handmade souvenirs, including costume jewelry, mirrors, candle holders, Christmas tree ornaments, clothing, leather goods and other interesting items. The fair is held in the Grey Hall (Refshalevej 2).
7. Tallinn, Estonia
The fair is held at City Hall Square (Raekoja plats), where since 1441 the main Christmas tree of the country. The wooden houses sell handmade souvenirs, sheepskin handicrafts, local honey, mulled wine and hot spiced beer. If you get hungry, try the blood sausage “verivorst” also called “black pudding”, sauerkraut, and for dessert, gingerbread.
The program includes entertainment for adults and children: carousel rides, concerts with the participation of Estonian and foreign performers on weekends and the opportunity to visit the home of Estonian Santa Claus (called Jõuluvana here), where every young guest will receive a gift from the hands of the living symbol of Christmas.
11/16/18 through 7/1/19, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Drinks sold Sunday through Thursday until 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. The accompanying program is Friday from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Alternative: On December 15, there will be a Christmas fair for children ages 3 to 5 in the village of Vanamõisa near Tallinn. A holiday show program, crafts workshops, steam train rides and animal interaction, and, weather permitting, snow-town building, sleigh rides, skiing and ice skating are planned. Admission is €8 for an adult and €24 for a family ticket.
8. Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm’s main Christmas fair operates on Stortorget Square in the Gamla Stan district, a few steps from the Royal Palace. In the houses under the red roofs that surround the Christmas tree, there are works of Swedish craftsmen, such as hand-painted Christmas tree ornaments, angels and straw gnomes. You can also buy pottery, jewelry, spices, soap, clothes, cheeses and other delicacies. Food and drink stalls sell waffles, gingerbread, and hot chocolate, and those who don’t like sweets can order sausages or venison. Glög, the Scandinavian counterpart to the much-loved mulled wine, is also present, of course, as well as hot beer with spices.
11/24 to 12/23/18, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Alternative: from 11/24 to 12/16/18, on Saturdays and Sundays, the open-air museum Skansen (Djurgårdsslätten 49-51) will also host a Christmas fair. Since 1903 there are decorated houses, bonfires, concerts and workshops with folk craftsmen. Numerous stalls sell sausages, cheeses, jams, marmalades, candy, baked goods, spices, Christmas decorations, children’s books and handmade souvenirs. Entrance fee: 125 SEK (€12) for adults, 60 SEK (€6) for children 4-15 years old.
9. Bolzano, Italy
One of the most beautiful and visited fairs in Italy is held in the capital of South Tyrol since 1990. The rules of participation are strict: in the 80 stalls in Piazza Walther only local products can be sold: wooden toys, crocheted clothes, Christmas decorations, musical instruments, decorated candles. You can also see artisans at work, ride a carousel, wagon or mini train, and visit a puppet theater.
Refreshments are offered at one of the three gastronomic stands, with pancakes, strudel with different fillings, fruitcake with candied fruits “Zelten”, mulled wine “Vin Brulè” or apple juice.
11/22/18 through 6/1/19 from 10 a.m. (12 p.m.) to 7 p.m. (9 p.m.).
Alternatively, there are equally colourful Christmas markets in the nearby towns of Merano (22.11.18-6.01.19) and Lagundo (23.11.18-1.01.19), which can be easily reached from Bolzano by car.
10. Strasbourg, France
The capital of Alsace has hosted a Christmas fair since 1570, the oldest in France and one of the largest in Europe. For more than a month, the city is transformed into the setting of a Christmas movie: everything around is shining and sparkling, traditional songs can be heard in the streets, the air smells of mulled wine, chocolate, pastries and apples in caramel. In the central square of Place Kléber they put up a Christmas tree, a symbol of the holiday.
Around 300 wooden houses with food, drinks and souvenirs are set up in ten town squares before Christmas (Place Broglie has the most). You’ll find Christmas tree decorations, crockery, toys, towels and tablecloths with traditional patterns, garlands, and much more.
11/23/18 through 12/30/18, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. On Fridays the kiosks will be open until 21:00, and on Saturdays until 22:00.
Alternative: in addition to the traditional Christmas market, there are several themed markets: the Marché des Saveurs Alsaciennes (“fragrances of Alsace”) at Place des Meuniers, Comptoir des Rois Mages (“market of the Magi”) at Place Benjamin-Zix, the Marché des Bredle (selling traditional Alsace cakes Bredeli) at Place d’Austerlitz. You can also visit fairs in Colmar, Mulhouse, villages of Kaysersberg, Ribeauville, Wesserling, Riquewihr.