For 2017/2018, we again reached out to dozens of expats around the world, and everyone turns out to have some valuable tips about the worthy Christmas markets we left off this year’s first list.
Last year, Mark Wojcik, who has experienced all the most celebrated markets in Europe, weighed in with several markets we’d missed.
This year, Alex Wellman in Estonia pinged us to say say nice try, but you forgot Tallinn, which has a great market. Alex’s timing was great: The market started yesterday, 17 November.
Tallinn claims its Christmas market dates back to 1441 when the first Christmas tree was displayed, making it older than Nuremberg or Munich. Though that’s the claim by every Christmas market these days. One thing is for certain: With Tallinn the most northerly capital in the Baltics (by a lot!), you’ve got a pretty darn good chance of experiencing a White Christmas here in this ancient city.
Where Tallinn really differs from other Christmas markets is that it features performances by folk singers and others. Lots and lots of performances. For 2017/18, about 1,700 artists are scheduled on the Town Hall Square stage: folk dance groups Sõleke and Viisuveeretajad, folk dance groups of Märt Agu Tallinn Dance Academy, the nine-time winner of school dance competitions Carolina dance studio, the winner of Estonian Golden Cup and high awards on European and World Championships Free Flow dance club, according to the website.
Keeping with its reputation as a tech leader, Tallinn just replaced the old glarey lights in its Christmas market with 40,000 LED bulbs on the Town Hall Square to give this Christmas market a warmer glow.
Now THAT is attention to detail.
The Tallinn Christmas Market runs from now through 6 January
It’s open every day 10:00 – 19:00
Hot Christmas drinks till 23:00
Each Friday, there’s a Christmas program/performance from 17:00 – 19:00
On Saturdays and Sundays 12:00 – 14:00
On our Facebook page, Conrad Kellett voted for Zagreb as did Luka Oreśković. And we see why.
Zagreb is, like all of Croatia, beautiful and inviting. But this Christmas market gets accolades year after year as Europe’s most beautiful. The tourism promotion site Best European Destinations named Zagreb as Europe’s most beautiful every year since 2015, though the post doesn’t exactly say why. But a number of other travel sites concur.
Unlike other Christmas markets, the Zagreb version only dates back to 2002. But it has grown in popularity to the point the market is one of the top draws in a country full of attractions, with about 71,000 visits and 124,000 overnight hotel stays, according to the Zagreb Tourist Board.
That many people couldn’t be wrong ….
The Zagreb Christmas Market runs from 2 December to 7 January
Here’s the opening day schedule of events:
17:00 Lighting of the candle at the Manduševac Fountain in Ban Jelačić Square
18:00 The opening of the Ice Park
19:00 The opening of Fuliranje – Life is a Circus
19:50 Lighting of the Christmas lights at Advent at Zrinjevac
21:00 Snow at the Christmas Fairytale in the Ban Jelačić Square
There are Advent events spread out all over the city including at an ice skating rink and at museums. Each appears to have its own schedule. See the details here.
(Editor’s note: The Riga Christmas market website takes forever to load, but is pretty good once you have it open.)
Somehow, we left Riga off our first list despite the fact we have family connections there. Shame on us.
We got this from Laura Stein:
Greetings from Amsterdam,
I saw your list with Christmas markets in different European cities. Definitely check out Riga, capital of Latvia, which probably is also home for the first Christmas tree. There are three Christmas markets in the old town, but I love Riga Central market – it is really great for shopping seasonal food. It is also a place to be for music lovers.
Thank you, Laura, for suggesting a city that has one of the coolest Christmas traditions, which started with a black cat and a cold little girl names Lena.
The Old Town Christmas Market in the city center includes Doma laukums and Līvu laukums squares, as well as in Esplenāde Park (which includes a “village” of live rabbits). On Saturdays, head across the Daugava River to the Kalnciema kvartāls market.
The Old Town Christmas Market runs from 1 December to 7 January.
The lighting of the Christmas tree and official opening of the market is 3 December at 17:00.
Work Days – 10:00 to 20:00
Fridays, Saturdays – 10:00 to 22:00
Sundays – 10:00 to 20:00
24 December – 10:00 – 18:00
New Year’s Night – 10:00 -02:00
A note: Each year, the market raises money for a foundation, Palidzesim.lv, that funds social-inclusion measures for children and young people with special needs.
The Best of Europe courtesy our longtime expat friends
• MARK WOJCIK, WHO’S LIVED IN GERMANY FOR MORE THAN A DECADE:
Running tours all over Europe for Americans stationed here in Germany, I learned a few things.
What they like that I don’t like.
What I like that they don’t like.
I’ll start off with what I like. (It’s a shorter list.)
I enjoy the smaller local weekend-only village Christmas markets. The food is fresher, the crowds are smaller and there is normally parking close by or the market is just off a quick walk from the Hauptbahnhof.
Now I do enjoy the quaint city Christmas markets that offer something “odd” or are held in something unique.
There is the Valkenburg Christmas Market in the Netherlands, which is held in the caves under the city. Pricey.
Another one is Traben-Trarbach, Germany on the Mosel River. What I love about Traben-Trarbach is it’s held in the old wine caves under the city. It’s not a big market, however. Take a walk across the bridge and watch the city lights change colors, mirrored in the Mosel River. Nothing short of breath taking.
For the rest of the markets, these I found to be big hits among (military) family members visiting and those stationed here (short-timers who need to take it all in within a 24-month time frame):
•Köln (Cologne) – A huge market and normally riot police are everywhere. A big plus here is the ice skating village and the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) and a Dunkin Donuts (great now I’m jonesing for Boston Cream-filled donuts).
• Nuremberg – The apex of German Christmas Markets, to me is way too touristy. Every third booth is the same stuff. However it’s the World Renowned Christmas Market.
• Rothenburg ob der Tauber – I like this one, because I know a little place that only locals go or I head over to the Medieval Crime Museum and I hang out while my group is doing touristy stuff.
• Strasbourg – I love this one because it’s German with a French flare. The food is outstanding and the Dom is breathtaking.
• Metz – Lace up your hiking boots and head out. This one is spread throughout the whole city. Just remember to pace yourself and go slow. And every time we go it’s the coldest day recorded.
• RITA STEPHENS, WHO’S LIVED IN GERMANY, TURKEY AND DENMARK:
In Germany, I liked St. Wendel (Dec 9-17).
Kaiserslautern was OK, Heidelberg, and Bernkastel-Kues (Mosel).
In France, both the Strasbourg (Nov 24-Dec 30) and Metz (Nov 18-Dec 30) were amazing!
In the Netherlands, I have been to some small ones around the big swim hall in Eindhoven and we made a special trip to Valkenburg. The Valkenburg market was amazing since it and the bar/bistros were located in the caves.
However, the items for sale were very, very disappointing. Cheap crappy stuff you could get anywhere.
There was some good local food items though. I was bummed but I loved the venue!!!
(Read Rita’s post from on her bike-and-boat vacation in the Netherlands here.)
• BOSTON NATIVE KARA CRAVEN, WHOSE FAMILY HAS LIVED IN SOUTHWESTERN GERMANY FOR 16 YEARS:
Our favorites… Dusseldorf/Cologne (lots of little markets spread around), Heidelberg, Trier, Nordlingen (city with the entire wall in place – medieval market, not so many tourists), Zweibrucken (near us and awesome Dornfelder gluhwein), Augsburg (HUGE, too many people but really cool “live” advent calendar with angels singing).
Most of the big ones are too busy for us…
• JOE GOLDSTONE, WHO LIVES IN FRANKFURT:
Try Rüdesheim, Mainz and Wiesbaden to the west or Heidelberg to the south, which all bring a lot more genuine cute with less tourists, or make the trip east to Nuremberg for some legitimate Nürnberger Lebkuchen.
Or for double the fun, go to Regensburg which has TWO Christmas markets, one of which IS IN A CASTLE!!!
Grab food and Glühwein on Friedrich-Stoltze Platz. And there is a Nürnberger Lebkuchen shop on Liebfrauenstrasse which sells Gingerbread in cute cans. With Nuremberg on them.
New Christmas Markets for 2017
• Dusseldorf (coming soon)
• Cologne (coming soon)
• Hasselt, Belgium – Now through 7 January
Okay, we went last weekend, and this is a whole new Christmas Market experience … and not a great one for adults. But for kids, Hasselt is just the ticket. It is, in fact, more of a winter fair, complete with an ice-skating rink, food and midway rides including the Wild Mouse. That’s right, Christmas … and the Wild Mouse, all at one big event.
The Hasselt market is not in the lovely town center, surrounded by upscale restaurants and boutiques. Instead, it’s in an open lot on the north end of the Centrum.
This really is more of a kid-focused event, though there are lots of booths and temporary stores, with leather goods a big favorite. So, to recap, you can to the Hasselt market, ride the Wild Mouse and buy a pair of leather pants.
Maybe not for everybody.
• Magical Maastricht – Now through 1 January
We finally made it to Maastrict, and Willeke van Doorne is right. This is one of the Netherlands’ best Christmas markets. First of all, it’s in a quaint corner of Maastricht, Vrijthof Square, surrounded by cafes and restaurants and close to the city’s main shopping district. So, you can get some Christmas shopping done before or after the market. Second, it has a skating rink, a Ferris wheel and lots and lots of snacks and beer, so it’s a full day out.
Finally, Maastricht actually has some quality Christmas goods for sale instead of the usual trash and trinkets. (See photo above.) Two thumbs up!
• Ghent, Belgium (coming soon)
• Brugges (coming soon)
• Brussels (coming soon)
•’s-Hertogenbosch (coming soon)