All photos included in this article are courtesy of Ryan Tingle Photography.
Some of the best Christmas markets in Europe can be found off the beaten path of major cities. Shop local goods and experience authentic interactions under twinkling holiday lights at these hidden gem Christmas markets.
When you plan a winter holiday, I bet Estonia is one of the last places you would think to visit. Although, however cold it may be, the capital city, Tallinn, should be near the top of your list. This old, historical and medieval town is surely an attraction any time of the year but especially during the holiday season. The streets light up while the surrounding colorful buildings and watch towers only add to the charming atmosphere, setting the scene for one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Although it may seem too far east or north for most to travel to, the location is an easy flight from just about anywhere in central Europe. The country rests in a post-Soviet society; however, its inhabitants are proud of their culture with a positive outlook of life and into the future. The close proximity to Finland adds a Scandinavian vibe to the tiny Baltic country.
Food & Drink
The food is exuberant and rich in Estonian culture while the beer will surprise any foodie with nothing but positive reviews/experiences. There aren’t a wide range of options in terms of food among the Christmas Market in Tallinn, but each offer is bursting with flavor. There is only one small section of the market dedicated to food, while the rest of the area is loaded with hot wine and souvenirs. The food corner is home to potatoes, meats, sauerkraut and some of the best smoked salmon you will ever eat. The meats are local and you can find some unique varieties such as bear or reindeer from certain stalls. The salmon is fresh and full of a smoky flavor that goes perfect with a plate of hot and delicious sauerkraut. The potatoes and kraut are cooked to perfection as they are placed onto a huge ceramic plate and cauldron while being sautéed next to one another. Whatever you order, it will be heavy in flavor and help warm you up on a chilly, Estonian day.
If the food isn’t enough to thaw you out, grab some glögg, or hot wine. A glögg stall isn’t hard to find, as the center of the market is dedicated to them. You can find a glögg stand open as early as 9am as the drinking starts at first light. Can’t blame them, it’s one of the best ways to stay warm. While many other markets only offer one type of glögg, Tallinn offers a few different flavors ranging from fruits to spices as well as a specialty glögg that contains the famous Estonian liqueur, Vana Tallinn. This quickly ups the alcohol content which is nothing more than additional help for your warmth…
Europe’s Oldest Christmas Tree
The tree in the center of Tallinn’s Town Hall Square is one of the prettiest throughout Europe as well as the oldest, dating back to 1441. It is located directly in the center of the Town Hall Square, surrounded by picturesque buildings, beautiful from every angle. The huge tree commands the scene during the day and sparkles at night, but wake up a little bit earlier to visit at sunrise when no one else is around. Castles, Vikings, watch towers, food, beer, hot wine, cold weather, Santas and an extremely old Christmas Tree tradition await.
It’s kind of difficult to find anything that takes away from Tallinn being one of the best Christmas Markets in Europe. Everywhere you walk, you find Christmas spirit as well as a view into something you had not yet seen. This town is a good place to visit anytime of the year, but when Christmas rolls around, Estonians just do it right.
When is the Tallinn Christmas Market?
November 25, 2022 – January 8, 2023
Most people may think that the most colorful towns in Europe sit along the Mediterranean coast, but that isn’t necessarily the case. On the southwestern border of Poland, one of Europe’s best destinations sits quietly, drenched in colorful pastels. Always a good place to visit any time of the year, the Polish city of Wrocław shines brightest during the holiday season.
The market itself is huge, one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe, and stretches across both sides of the Market Square. There are so many vendors and stalls lined up this time of year that the market itself extends down two more streets, Oławska and Świdnicka.
A smaller market takes place a few steps away in the Salt Square, Plac Solny. Yet another extremely colorful square, here you will mostly find food and a gigantic bar serving some of the best hot wine around.
While visiting any Polish city, it is impossible to not enjoy some pierogi. These boiled, fried or sautéed dumplings are filled with meats, cheeses, vegetables, sauces, sweets and just about anything else you can think of. Pierogi SCREAMS Polish as they are not only the most famous food from Poland but one of the more popular dishes in eastern Europe. There is something truly special about enjoying pierogi in the cold streets of Poland during the holiday season.
If you need a tiny break from the decorations, you can experience one of Wrocław’s best attractions: gnome hunting. Yes, you heard that right, Wrocław is full of small bronze gnomes scattered all over the city. There are currently 163 of them, but that number is growing as people can’t get enough of them. Many of them are hard to find and you really need to be on the lookout as they seemingly pop out of nowhere. They can be found at street corners, benches, lamp posts, fire hydrants, rooftops and even in different stores and restaurants. One of the best ways to explore Wrocław is by walking each and every street looking for these cute, funny and cool statues.
The colorful and unique buildings of Wroclaw only add to an already incredible winter fairytale scene. There are positive vibes in the air amongst the delicious smells of popular Polish cuisine and mulled wine. The countless decorations illuminating the pastel town day and night, combined with some gnome hunting, create one of the best winter market scenes across all of Europe.
When is Wroclaw’s Christmas Market?
November 18, 2022 to December 31, 2022
While Germany is probably best known for its beer, castles and Oktoberfest traditions, Christmas Markets aren’t far behind on that list. While planning a winter holiday in Europe, it is highly unlikely that a visit to at least one German town isn’t a top priority on your list of things to do. Famous markets in bigger cities like Berlin, Munich, Dresden and Hamburg spread across the country during the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, but Nürnberg, also known as Nuremberg, is perhaps the best.
Residing in Germany’s largest region of Bavaria, Nürnberg is the second largest city behind much more crowded Munich. Don’t miss out on exploring the entire town as you will find castles, colorful houses, quiet streets and extraordinary views of medieval architecture.
As Germany is popular for its meats, Nürnberg is home to the Nürnberger Bratwurst, a much smaller creation of the traditional sausage. These “finger sausages” can be found just about everywhere throughout the city and are a great snack. Whereas a traditional bratwurst is much bigger and typically eaten as a full meal, a small order of Nürnberger’s is the perfect amount to pop into your mouth before heading to the next vendor and ordering more. The flavor is different from other German sausages as they’re seasoned with fresh marjoram. They are typically grilled over an open fire and accompanied by sauerkraut, potato salad, horseradish, and a Franconian beer. This one-of-a-kind sausage is so important that it is protected under EU law, stating the it can only be produced in Nuremberg.
The Christmas scenery is spread throughout the city, but the main display is located in the center of Nürnberg’s old town at Nürnberger Hauptmarkt. Here you will find an abundant amount of vendors, selling various German gifts and cuisine. This market is open throughout the year, selling items based upon season. Christkindlesmarkt, also called Weihnachtsmarkt, is the main event during Christmas time. The stalls sit below the beautiful Gothic facade of the Frauenkirche, a church dating back to the 14th century.
Located a few blocks away from the Weihnachtsmarkt is my personal favorite market in the city, maybe all of Europe, the Sister Cities Market. If you’re looking for a little break from the traditional German market scene, then this is the place to be. The Gothic styled St. Sebald Sebalduskirche plays host to this international market, presenting stalls from each of Nürnberg’s sister cities. In just a few steps you can visit the likes of Italy for some Tuscan mulled wine before visiting Nicaragua for a fresh brewed coffee. Each of the international stalls is run by local inhabitants from the country. This allows visitors the opportunity to experience different cultures in one destination. It is not difficult to spend hours here, trying delicacies from various countries while searching for the perfect souvenir to take home. Your international adventure will include: Antalya (Turkey), Atlanta (USA), Kharkiv (Ukraine), Gera (Thuringia), Glasgow (Scotland), Kavala (Greece), Krakow (Poland), Nice (France), Prague (Czech Republic), San Carlos (Nicaragua), Shenzhen (China), Skopje (Macedonia) and the French region of Limousin as well as the partner communities Bar (Montenegro), Brasov/Kronstadt (Romania), Kalkudah (Sri Lanka), Klausen+Montan (Italy) and Verona (Italy).
Germany is probably the most famous country overall for holiday markets, but it often becomes very overcrowded in the more popular areas. Nuremberg offers the perfect combination of German culture, incredibly tasty local cuisine, and an authentic, less-busy experience at one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
When is the Nuremberg Christmas Market?
November 25, 2022 – December 24, 2022
Out of these four cities, Montepulciano, Italy, is definitely the lesser known, unless you’re a wine lover. This tiny, rustic town in the southern part of Tuscany in the Val d’Orcia region is most famous for its wine production of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a wine once produced to serve royalty. The tranquil, cobblestone streets and hilltop views of Tuscany makes Montepulciano one of the most beautiful villages in the world.
The vast majority of people that visit Montepulciano every year are there to experience some different wineries like the famous Palazzo Contucci, but the Christmas Market is an extremely pleasant surprise. Immersed in a fairytale setting, the tiny market makes up for its size with incredible quality of products and stunning scenery. It’s kind of hard to visit this market without inhaling different kinds of cheeses, cured meats and delicious hot wine. The main market is located in the Piazza Grande and presents a beautiful Christmas themed scene of small wooden stalls. It’s a perfect spot for anyone looking for some nice gifts, specifically wine and Italian food products.
Tuscany is of course most famous for its incredible and elegant wine production, therefore you can expect some of the best mulled wine in Europe. A warm chianti, heated up with some fresh cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, all spice and dried fruit pairs perfectly with a chunk of aged pecorino di pienza. The hot wine really hits the spot on a chilly Tuscan evening.
Things to Do in Tuscany
When you’re not spending the entire day in Montepulciano drowning yourself in local wines, devouring regional and authentic dishes like pappardelle al cinghiale, or cutting into large blocks of cheese, make sure to explore the rest of the area and its Christmas displays. Montepulciano is located conveniently close to other Tuscan towns like Pienza, Monticchiello and Montalcino (famous for its Brunello di Montalcino wine, known by many as the best wine in Italy). If you’re looking for a bigger city escape, you can reach Perugia or Florence by bus or car within an hour and a half.
If you’re searching for a quiet and romantic getaway in a fairytale setting for your Christmas Market adventure, Montepulciano should be at the top of your list. There aren’t many better places to sit back and relax with some excellent food and wine and the unforgettable atmosphere of one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.