Christmas is already around the corner. You may be in denial because snow has yet to arrive, but fall is behind us, and it’s high time to start planning your holiday travels. Between the mulled wine, carols, and delicious sweet treats, organizing a trip to a Christkindelsmärik in Europe is a surefire way to head straight into the holiday season. So, this year, plan for a perfectly wintry holiday experience at one of the seven best Christmas markets in Europe.
1. Leipzig, Germany
Dating back to 1458, Leipzig’s Christmas market is one of the oldest in Germany, as well as one of the largest with more than 250 stalls — including a medieval market, one of the main attractions — are spread across six locations in the historical city center.
The magic of a Leipzig Christmas is found in the simple pleasures, like nibbling on local pulsnitz gingerbread as traditional trombonists perform their nightly routine on the balcony of the Old Town Hall. Don’t leave without finding a feuerzangenbowle stand; the traditional German alcoholic drink involves setting a rum-soaked sugarloaf on fire and allowing it to drip into mulled wine. Leipzig’s market takes place from November 23 until December 23, 2021.
2. Kaysersberg, France
The Kaysersberg Christmas market festivities take place along the town’s historic ramparts — including a watchtower that was once part of the Château de Kaysersberg. Craftsmen’s wooden chalets at the market include wooden toys, pottery, and Christmas decorations produced from blown glass, wood, fabrics, and other artisan specialties. Save room for must-try Christmas treats like bredeles (a traditional biscuit from the area made with almonds, nuts, anise, chocolate or vanilla), kougelhopfs, hot chocolate, and mulled wine. The Alastian town of Kaysersberg, fully decked out in lights, wreaths, and pine garlands hosts the Christmas market every weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) from 26 November to 19 December 2021.
3. Vienna, Austria
Shop for handcrafted goods between visits to hot punch and chestnut stands at the Viennese Christmas markets — and make sure to indulge in freshly baked vanillekipferl, a nutty, buttery, crescent-shaped traditional biscuit dusted with vanilla sugar. Vienna’s Christmas market tradition dates back to 1298 when Albrecht I granted citizens the right to hold a Krippenmarkt, or December market. Today, over 20 official Christmas villages are held all across Vienna. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, you can also listen to international choirs caroling at City Hall. This year, all Viennese Christmas markets are expected to open on December 13, 2021.
4. Montreux, Switzerland
Switzerland’s Montreux Noël takes place along the shores of Lake Geneva, with live music, light shows, and 150 illuminated chalet stalls creating a warm ambiance for visitors as they stroll and enjoy the ritzy resort town in the wintertime. Look out for Santa Claus on his flying sleigh between Hunter’s Place and Place du Marché every day at 5 PM, 6 PM, and 7 PM (Saturdays at 4 PM), and don’t miss the chance to try a cup of logger’s tea from The Logger’s Cabin located in front of the train station or fondue-based specialties from Chalet Heidi. Montreux Noël will take place from November 19 to December 24, 2021.
5. Strasbourg, France
For a true holiday extravaganza, head to the oldest Christmas market in France (and one of the oldest in all of Europe), sometimes referred to as “the capital of Christmas.” The Strasbourg Christmas market dates all the way back to 1570, and this year’s market is scheduled for November 26 through December 26. Located in the Grande-Île, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Strasbourg’s Christmas market is made up of 300 stalls spread throughout the historic city center. Much of it takes place near the Cathédral Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, an intricate 15th-century, gothic-style cathedral. The fragrance of mulled wine and fresh spiced pastries like kougelhopf brioches and pain d’épice drift through the cold streets, enticing visitors to indulge.
6. Vilnius, Lithuania
Complete with one of the most dazzling Christmas trees in the world, Vilnius doesn’t hold back for the holidays. The famous 88-foot tree, bedazzled in over 1.2 mile of lighting, 3,000 artificial branches, and 46 mirrors is a truly dazzling Yuletide experience set in Cathedral Square, in Old Town Vilnius. Surrounding the tree is the Christmas Village and its medley of Christmas market stalls, making it a one-stop shop for the holidays. Other attractions for visitors include the Vilnius Christmas Train, coming from Kaunas and Klaipėda, and the 3D projection of a Christmas fairytale on the Cathedral. The Vilnius Christmas market is open from November 27, 2021 to January 9, 2022.
7. Colmar, France
Each of the six mini villages making up La Magie de Noël à Colmar, which takes place from November 26 to December 23, has distinct charms. Colmar’s Christmas market is comprised of 180 stalls spread throughout Old Colmar, providing a fairytale setting for all your sugarplum dreams. This French town shares a border with Germany and Switzerland, and the Alsace influence is most evident in the market’s gourmet goodies: Expect to find local producers selling everything from foie gras (duck or goose liver) to cheese, meats, honey, gingerbread, cakes, and more.
A version of this article was previously published on September 16, 2019, and was updated on December 1, 2021, with more information.