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Christmas Markets to visit in Europe

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Christmas markets are very much a European tradition – though the idea is being copied to some degree these days in cities and towns the length and breadth of the UK. When it comes to history, though, Europe definitely has it.

The first of its kind was held way back in the Middle Ages, with Vienna’s December Market first recorded in 1298, according to an article in the Guardian newspaper last November.

It was not long before the tradition of open-air markets with a Christmas theme spread north to Germany – which saw the first Christkindlmarkt in 1384. By the 16th century, the custom had taken firm roots as the practice of exchanging gifts at Christmastime began to spread. The Christmas market then became a place not just for the trade in food, but also seasonal decorations, crafts and treats – often with singing and dancing also taking place.

So, with that rich history of tradition and celebration in place, where are the best Christmas markets to visit in Europe today?

Vienna, Austria

You might want to start where it all began, in Austria.

The Christmas market in Vienna’s central Rathausplatz is the biggest in the country and attracts some 3.5 million visitors a year, says Wandering Bird.

Along with hundreds of stalls, there is also an ice-skating rink, a fairground and a big wheel. It’s open from the 16th of November until Christmas Eve.

Salzburg, Austria

Since it’s located in the northern Alps, you have a pretty good chance of enjoying a classic white Christmas at the market here in Salzburg.

The city offers several different markets – all set against the stunning background of the mountains – and the largest is in Cathedral Square. Here you can also listen to its choir singing Christmas carols and really steep yourself in the seasonal spirit.

The market in Cathedral Square opens from the 21st of November until the 26th of December advises the Evening Standard newspaper.

Berlin, Germany

The German capital also boasts multiple Christmas markets – no fewer than 60 at the last count.

Probably the most impressive is the Weihnachtszeit, near Alexander Platz, which opens out onto the beautiful Charlottenburg Palace.

If you are pressed for time this Christmas, British Airways offer a short 2-night break with hotel and flights direct to Berlin during the opening times for the main Christmas market from the 25th of November until the 26th of December.

Munich, Germany

The southern German Bavarian capital of Munich has a culture and lifestyle that is distinct from the rest of the country – and that goes for its Christmas markets too.

Wittlesbacherplatz is the place to come for a genuine blast from the Middle Ages, with stallholders and revellers in traditional costume passing around goblets of Feuerzangebowle (traditional mead).

There are 25 other markets to choose from dotted around this exciting city, and they are all likely to hand you a cup of Gluhwein (mulled wine) – so you might want to choose carefully just how many of them you visit.

Tallinn, Estonia

The capital of the Baltic state of Estonia is well worth a detour from the more well-trodden paths across Europe.

Indeed, it has been voted the Best Christmas Market in Europe by visitors to the website European Best Destinations. Tallinn retains a cosiness among European cities, and its medieval architecture comes into renewed life thanks to its Christmas market. It’s an especially long-running market, open from the 15th of November until the 7th of January.

From handicrafts to warming Christmas roasts, you are likely to be spellbound by the whole experience – and you can even take the kids to visit Santa Claus.

Budapest, Hungary

The Christmas market in the central district has everything you'd expect of this European destination – but with the added delights for food-lovers from anywhere.

The staple, of course, is the Hungarian dish of goulash – a stew designed to warm the parts that very few others can reach. The dish often comes served in a clever container of bread, so you can even eat the bowl once you’re done.

This year, the market is open from the 8th of November until the 1st of January.

Krakow, Poland

Given its central European location, the Christmas market in Krakow is practically guaranteed to come with its winter fall of snow.

Take in the glistening whiteness of it all from the city’s central square, Rynek Glowny, where you can listen to Christmas carols and join in the festive activities while wandering around the many market stalls.

The city’s Tourist Board has announced that this year’s market opens on the 29th of November and lasts until the 26th of December.

Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Travel to the heart of Transylvania for a Christmas market that is certain to bring something different to your seasonal travels.

Off the beaten track it may be, but it caters for everything the whole family can enjoy in a warm atmosphere sure to conjure up fond memories for many years to come.

It’s open from the 22nd of November until the 31st of December.

The data and information cited in this article are correct at the time of writing.

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