Christmas Markets throughout Europe have long topped travelers’ bucket lists — and for good reason. What better way to get into the holiday spirit than in a Medieval village dedicated entirely to all things wintry and festive and magical? Lasting from the end of November through early January, there’s no shortage of markets to choose from, but, after careful consideration, we’ve selected the very best for your December travels. From the Swiss Alps to the Canary Islands, read on for the top ten Christmas markets to visit this winter.
1. Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany
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Experience Bavarian traditions and the Christmas spirit in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Regensburg, home to one of the most idyllic Christmas Markets in the world. Thousands of tourists flock to Germany to experience the festivities at the Thurn und Taxis Castle, where traditional craftsmen showcase their skills in the castle’s garden (only open to the public for the Christmas Market). Dine at the market in Regensburg, and book a stay at Hotel Luis in Landshuter Strasse. Lunch at the Muk Röhrl, the oldest inn in the world, and opt for a coffee break at the cozy shop of Claudia Flügel-Eber during your stay.
2. Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland
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Did you know that Santa is Finnish? When I visited Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, I was utterly transported by the whimsy and imagination of the enterprise — and I was visiting in March, when there were still nine months to go until Santa’s annual flight. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Santa Claus Village is even more festive than usual, with market stalls adorning the whimsical Christmas mecca in Finland. Another plus to visiting in the wintertime? The chance to catch the Northern Lights — a magnificent lightshow in the sky that only enhances the magic of the season.
3. Nördlingen, Bavaria, Germany
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Take a stroll along the Romantic Road for the Christmas Market in Nördlingen. The Romantic Road (or Romantische Straße) is a picturesque 217-mile stretch based on an old Roman route, connecting medieval villages from Bavaria to Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany. The charming Nördlingen Christmas Market is (unsurprisingly) romantic, and also offers guests the opportunity to learn more about the historic city, and sample its award-winning cuisine. Reserve a table at Meyers Keller to sample the innovative stylings of star chef Jockl Kaiser — and remember to order a local beer, as well. You are in Germany, after all.
4. Mount Pilatus, Lucerne, Switzerland
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Head to the Alps to experience the highest Christmas Market in Europe at Mount Pilatus in Lucerne, Switzerland. Ride the steepest cogwheel railway in the world up to the mountaintop Christmas Market and peruse the charming scene festooned with string lights and festive ornaments — a cup of mulled wine is recommended, not only to enhance Christmas cheer but to keep you warm at 2000 meters. The panoramic views alone are worth the visit, but visitors also have the opportunity to purchase traditional crafts and gifts. Sporty travelers should also take advantage of their Alpine surroundings and spend some time skiing and snowboarding, as well — the best of all possible (wintry) worlds, indeed.
5. Sonthofen, Allgäu, Germany
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If you like to add a little spookiness to the sentimentality of the season — or if The Nightmare Before Christmas is your favorite holiday film — then book a flight to Bavaria to experience the traditional Klausen parade. Though not quite a Christmas Market, exactly, it’s certainly one of the most historic, and unique, Christmas celebrations in the world. The Bavarian custom of “Klausentreiben” is over 1,000 years old and dates back to Celtic customs in the region. Every December, monstrous, horned figures covered in fur run through the streets of Germany’s southernmost town to chase away evil spirits. For a less frightening, but equally stimulating, nightcap, local hops at Hirschbräu brewery and experience the Allgairian slow food movement at Uli Brandl’s shandwerk craft + beer.
6. New York, New York, USA
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Not every famous Christmas Market is located in Europe — in fact, many exist across the United States and beyond. Still, the first Christmas Market was established in Germany in the Middle Ages, so it takes quite a spectacular scene to divert our attention across the Atlantic. And yet, the holiday season in New York City is a must-visit — and the Union Square Holiday Market is among the best in the country. Head to New York to experience the city at its most enchanting — from decorated shop fronts on the Upper East Side to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, there’s no better time to visit the city that never sleeps.
7. Munich, Bavaria, Germany
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The historic Christmas Market in Munich was first held in 1310, and the festivities have only grown larger and more perfected in the ensuing 700 years. The Munich Christmas Market ("Münchner Christkindlmarkt") features a variety of markets for visitors to peruse. The most famous, and most traditional, market is held amidst the neo-Gothic town hall of Marienplatz, offering an array of old Bavarian crafts and displaying traditional customs. The Viktualienmarkt food market also reinvents itself during Christmastime, with mulled wines, festive treats, and a nativity scene set in a beer garden. Speaking of which, you can visit the world’s largest nativity scene collection in the Bavarian National Museum — another unique way for Bavarian travelers to get into the Christmas spirit.
8. Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
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We’re heading to Spain for our next option, where you don’t need to arrive by December 25th to partake in the best of the action. On Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, an annual Three Kings Parade (Los Reyes Magos) is held on the 6th of January to celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Man. The tradition is that Los Reyes Magos bring candies and gifts for Spanish children, who visit families overnight on January 5th. The next day is a public holiday in which families enjoy a festive feast as well as a massive parade: Expect camels, floats, dancers, musicians, and (of course) markets. Though the celebration occurs across major cities in Spain, the festivities in Tenerife are particularly magical — and the most wonderful excuse to visit the gorgeous Canary Islands.
9. Valkenburg, South Holland, Netherlands
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We already covered the highest Christmas Market in Europe (in Mount Pilatus, Switzerland), and now we’re moving on to the lowest — and by low we mean subterranean. The largest underground Christmas Market in all of Europe can be found in the Netherlands. The city of Valkenburg, in South Holland, transforms its legendary caves into a winter wonderland filled with nativity scenes, Christmas trees, market stalls, and endless decorations. If you’re looking for a holiday experience that is as decadent as it is unique, look no further than Valkenburg.
10. Dresden, Saxony, Germany
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Last but most certainly not least, we are returning to Germany for the longest-running Christmas Market on the planet, in Dresden, also known as “Striezelmarkt." Millions of tourists from all over the globe flock to Saxony for the twinkling lights, gingerbread, mulled wine, and contagious holiday cheer on display at Altmarkt Square. So, go ahead and book your trip now. Consider it an early Christmas present to yourself — trust us, you deserve it. And this holiday season, we urge you to remember the popular phrase: Travel is the only thing you spend money on that actually makes you richer. Happy travels!