Visit any European Christmas market, held throughout Europe from late November until December 24, and it’s easy to understand why these seasonal celebrations have remained a beloved tradition for nearly 600 years. According to historians, the first Christmas market was held in Dresden, Germany, in 1434.
The Christmas markets of Germany are probably the most well known, but they are also found in big cities and small villages in several European countries—from France to Austria, and from Sweden to Hungary. Each market is unique, and each reflects the region’s character, but typically, the outdoor events are held in the town’s centrally located main square.
The markets are fun, upbeat affairs, with live musicians or piped-in Christmas carols setting the festive tone with the sounds of the season. Twinkling lights or strung lanterns add to the holiday atmosphere. In tented stalls, artisans sell handcrafted gifts—from wooden toys and glass ornaments, to nutcrackers and woolen goods. There’s no better place to do your holiday shopping than at an authentic Christmas market in Europe.
And it’s not just visitors who flock to Christmas markets; they’re a meeting place and shopping venue for residents, too. Locals congregate at the open-air markets to wish friends a happy holiday and savor seasonal treats, including Glühwein (hot, mulled wine), cider, roasted chestnuts, grilled sausages, candied fruits, baked apples and more.
Visit Many Markets on One Escorted Vacation
On an escorted tour that focuses on the Christmas markets, tour directors who lead the group detail the specialties of each market—one might be world-famous for its Lebkuchen (gingerbread), while another is known for its hand-carved cuckoo clocks. Tour participants typically stay in each European city for one or two nights, traveling between overnights by motorcoach. Usually, some meals, guided sightseeing, hotel accommodations and transportation are included in the cost of the tour.
There are also river-cruise itineraries that highlight the Bavarian markets. On a Christmas market cruise, barges float down the Rhine, Main or Danube, stopping at small ports along the way so cruisers can disembark for their festive holiday shopping at the various open-air markets. On river cruises, accommodations are typically more spacious than those found on ocean cruises. Meals are more casual, too, with no formal dress or set seating required.
AffordableTours.com sells Christmas market river cruises and Christmas market tours from a number of different escorted-travel operators.
Another popular seasonal river-cruise itinerary highlights the tulips that bloom every spring in the Netherlands.