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8 Alternatives to Europe’s Most Famous Christmas Markets

Enjoy maximum Yuletide spirit with minimal holiday crowds at these lesser-known Christmas markets across Europe.
Hi, I'm Rebecca!

Rebecca’s first visit to Italy was a coup de foudre and her affection for Il Bel Paese has only grown over almost 30 years of living here, during which time she has mastered the art of navigating the sampietrini cobblestones in heels but has yet to come away from a plate of bucatini all’amatriciana with an unsullied blouse. She covers Italy travel, culture, and cuisine for a number of print and online publications.

One of the highlights of spending winter in Europe is soaking up the Old World atmosphere of the festive Christmas markets that temporarily take over town squares come December. And while there are plenty of famous must-visit markets in the region, the quieter alternatives scattered across northern and central Europe can be equally delightful. Here are eight of the best, home to fairy lights and trimmed trees—as well as unique traditional wares and local holiday treats you won’t find elsewhere.

1. Market Square, Bruges, Belgium

Exterior of markets in Bruges.
Bruges comes into its own over the winter holidays.Bildquelle: kavalenkava / Shutterstock

Charming Bruges is home to not one but two quaint Christmas markets.

Belgium’s capital city of Brussels may be more famous, but medieval Bruges has a Christmas card vibe that can’t be beat. The city doubles down on holiday charm each December with two main markets in the center. Market Square features a festive skating rink surrounded by wooden stalls, while the smaller Simon Stevenplein market—a local favorite—glows beneath a canopy of twinkling lights. Both sell Christmas crafts and seasonal decorations from the last week of November through early January and are an ideal spot to snack on hot Belgian waffles, sweet cuberdons (or neuzekes) candies, and traditional nougat.

2. Zagreb Christmas Market, Zagreb, Croatia

An annual Christmas market in Zagreb, Croatia.
Zagreb is a real-life winter wonderland.Bildquelle: Hrvoje Bakovic / Shutterstock

Swap summer thrills for winter chills at this Croatian Christmas market.

With its spectacular coastline, Croatia is often considered a summer destination. Venture inland to the capital city of Zagreb, however, and you’ll find the perfectly picturesque setting for a classic Christmas market. Part of the city’s annual Zagreb Advent Festival, the market is spread across the Upper and Lower Towns from the end of November through the first week of January. Browse the stalls for vintage treasures and trendy décor as well as more classic Croatian crafts and sweet treats like licitar heart-shaped cookies, paprenjaci gingerbread, and vanilla-infused vanilin kiflice.

3. Hauptplatz, Graz, Austria

People walk through Graz, home to one of Austria's Christmas markets.
Graz is one of Austria's most overlooked Christmas market destinations.Bildquelle: Calin Stan / Shutterstock

Graz is home to a number of Europe's cutest Christmas markets.

While often outshone by Vienna’s sheer starpower, Austria’s second-largest city of Graz is a deserving destination all year round. And the old town is especially captivating during the Christmas season when more than a dozen seasonal markets infuse the squares with holiday cheer. The most popular is in Hauptplatz against the backdrop of the historic city hall and features a classic carousel; meanwhile, the Aufsteirern market on Schlossberg Hill is a perennial favorite for its bird’s-eye view over the city rooftops. Finally, the market in Färberplatz is known for its one-of-a-kind handmade arts and crafts by Austrian and international artisans.

Insider tip: Stay warm while strolling through all three with a steaming cup of classic Glühwein (mulled wine) or try Schilcherglühwein, made with the local Schilcher rosé.

4. Bolzano Christmas Market, Bolzano, Italy

Visitors shop at a Christmas market in Bolzano.
Italy has one of Europe's most underrated Christmas markets.Bildquelle: Antonio Gravante / Shutterstock

The Italian alps make for picture-perfect markets.

When most people think of the Alps, Switzerland and Austria immediately come to mind. But Italy sits just to the south and is marked by soaring peaks and chocolate-box mountain towns along its northern border. Bolzano offers the perfect blend of Alpine and Mediterranean culture, and its annual Christmas market would look at home in any Swiss or Austrian town. Chalet-like huts line Piazza Walther, selling artisan crafts and local specialties such as apple strudel, pretzels, and mulled wine throughout December.

5. Vilnius Christmas Market, Vilnius, Lithuania

A view of a Christmas market in Vilnius.
Vilnius' Christmas markets are spectacular, to say the least.Bildquelle: kavalenkau / Shutterstock

Head to the Baltics for one of Europe's top Christmas markets.

Though Vilnius flies under most travelers’ holiday radar, this Baltic capital offers one of the most festive and authentic Christmas markets on the continent. Wooden chalets and glass igloos selling Lithuanian handicrafts and classic specialties like kūčiukai cookies and kisielius (a warm berry juice drink) are spread across the old town and connected by a Christmas train, lending the entire city center a winter wonderland charm. Downtown Vilnius is also known for its spectacular collection of Christmas trees decorating the main squares and a light show in Cathedral Square each evening between Christmas and New Year’s. The market is typically held from the last week of November to the second weekend in January.

6. Lübeck Christmas Market, Lübeck, Germany

A Christmas market in Lubeck, Germany.
Lübeck has one of Europe's most picturesque Christmas markets.Bildquelle: / Shutterstock

Germany is known for Christmas markets, but this one goes overlooked.

UNESCO–listed Lübeck has a spectacularly preserved medieval cityscape, but this provincial town sitting almost on the shores of the Baltic Sea is far off the tourist track and its delightful Christmas market is virtually unknown outside Germany. The main market stalls are set up around the Church of St. Mary, but there’s also an artisan craft market at the Church of St. Peter and a kid-friendly market along the river bank—all are open from the last week of November until late December. Be sure to sample the local marzipan and gingerbread along with warming market staples such as mulled wine, fried potato cakes, and grilled sausages.

7. Wroclaw Christmas Market, Wroclaw, Poland

A horse passes through a Christmas market in Wroclaw.
Wroclaw has Christmas markets to rival Krakow.Bildquelle: Pani Garmyder / Shutterstock

Poland knows how to serve up Christmas charm and cheer.

With all of the historic charm yet none of the name recognition of Krakow, Wroclaw offers a fairy-tale setting for a truly Old World Christmas market devoid of international crowds. Decorated wooden stands selling gingerbread houses and Polish specialties are set up in Rynek—considered one of the most beautiful market squares in central Europe—as well as Plac Solny, Świdnicka Street, and Olawska Street from late November until New Year’s Eve. Be sure to try oscypek, a local smoked cheese melted and served with cranberry sauce, as well as classics such as Polish sausages and potato pancakes.

8. Svornosti Square Market, Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Visitors shop at a Christmas market in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic.
Cesky Krumlov is perfectly charming at Christmas.Bildquelle: Natalia Deriabina / Shutterstock

The Czech Republic tops many travelers' Christmas list for good reason.

Most winter travelers to the Czech Republic head straight for the blockbuster Christmas markets in Prague. The UNESCO–listed old town of Cesky Krumlov, however, is home to the much smaller Svornosti Square market that delivers the same Yuletide vibe with fewer tourists. Plan an overnight stay in the Old Town and visit the market to enjoy fairy lights, trimmed trees, handmade crafts, and the area’s ornate gingerbread treats. The town is often blanketed in snow in December, so you may even be treated to a Narnia-esque holiday scene from late November to the first week of January.

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