If you are fortunate enough to be stationed in Europe, then the most festive time of the year is rapidly approaching – Christmas Market season! It’s no secret that the winters in Europe can be dark, dreary and damp, but no one seems to mind (or barely notice) during that magical window between mid-November and early January. And let’s be honest, a little “gluhwein” or “vin chaud” makes even the dreariest days more festive!
Whether you’re stationed in Germany, Italy, Belgium or even the U.K., there are so many Christmas markets to choose from that it can be tough to decide which ones are the “must-do’s” and worth traveling to. It was a challenge to narrow it down, but the contributors here at Military Moms Blog have come up with a list of our favorite European Christmas markets:
Cologne (November 25 – December 23, 2019)
Cologne is probably my favorite Christmas market in all of Europe. Set against the backdrop of the Cologne Cathedral, there are 7 markets located throughout the city, each with a different theme (my favorite is the “Angels Market”). You can get around via the “Christmas-Market-Express” or if you’re feeling energetic and need to walk off the bratwurst and kartoffelpuffer, you can make your way by foot. Plan to spend the entire day in Cologne though – not only will you need the entire day to see (and eat!) everything, but also because the market is truly magical at night!
Aachen (November 22 – December 23, 2019)
Aachen is another very popular Christmas market in Germany. Similar to Cologne, the market is situated in the center of the city with the Aachen Cathedral in the background (where the emperor Charlemagne is buried). You can easily spend an entire day strolling through the market and sampling all of the delicious food and drink. Aachen is located near the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands, making it an easy day trip if you are stationed in Belgium. From Ramstein Air Base, make a weekend of it by combining Aachen with Cologne or Maastricht (see below).
Monschau (November 22 – December 22, 2019) Fri-Sat-Sun only; closed November 24
Monschau is a charming village located in Western Germany on the Belgian border. It’s narrow, cobblestone streets and timbered buildings make it an idyllic setting for this small Christmas market. The chalets are filled with delicious food and artisan crafts, and the local shops and restaurants also remain open throughout the Christmas market hours. Be sure to visit the the local mustard shop and the “Christmas House” which features THREE floors of Christmas decorations!
Strasbourg (November 22 – December 30, 2019)
If Cologne is the “mothership” of Christmas markets in Germany, then Strasbourg is the French equivalent. Strasbourg is situated along the border with Germany in the Alsace region of France, which has changed hands between Germany and France several times throughout history. With the strong influences of both German and French cultures, Strasbourg combines the best of both countries making the “Capital of Christmas” a must-visit.
Colmar (November 22 – December 29, 2019)
Also known as Belle’s hometown from the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast, Colmar is literally a “story-book village” made even more magical during the holiday season with six separate markets or “mini villages” located throughout the center of the city. Colmar is just 70km south of Strasbourg, so the two markets combined make a perfect weekend destination from Ramstein, Stuttgart or even Belgium.
Lille (November 22 – December 29, 2019)
If you can’t make it to the Alsace region, then Lille is a great alternative, especially for those stationed in Belgium or the United Kingdom. While it is a smaller version of the Strasbourg market, there is no shortage of French delicacies to sample (hello, Champagne bar!) and the view from the Ferris wheel on the Grand Place cannot be beat! Lille is accessible from both Brussels and London via the Eurostar making it an easy day trip – even from the U.K.!
Brussels (November 29, 2019 – January 5, 2020)
We were stationed near Brussels for three years, and I never tired of seeing the the magnificent Grand Place, but during the Christmas season it is even more breathtaking. One of the largest Christmas markets in Belgium, “Plaisirs d’Hiver” features over 200 chalets with food, drink and artisan crafts … and this is in addition to the myriad of places in Brussels where one can find Belgian chocolate, waffles and beer! Be sure to stick around until the evening when the light show on the Grand Place takes place. Brussels offers more than enough to keep you entertained all day!
Bruges (November 25 – December 31, 2019)
Bruges is stunning, and even more so at Christmas! In the past, this Christmas Market has featured both an ice skating rink on the Grand Place, as well as the Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival located near the Bruges Central Train Station. However, in an effort to make the city more sustainable, the municipal council has decided to replace both of those features this year with more environmentally-friendly alternatives. Stay tuned for what those new activities will be!
Maastricht (November 29 – December 31, 2019)
Located on the River Meuse, Maastricht is one of my favorite cities in Holland. It’s nestled in the narrow point right where Belgium, Germany and Holland come together, making it an easy trip for anyone stationed in the Benelux region. The market is small, but very festive, and there is great shopping throughout the city as well. In addition, there is a covered ice skating rink and a giant Ferris wheel for the kids to enjoy while you sip your gluhwein!
Salzburg (November 21 – December 26, 2019)
Several of our contributors who have been stationed in Northern Italy all agreed that the Salzburg Christmas market is one of their favorites. Located on the banks of the Salzach River at the northern boundary of the Alps, you can imagine how picturesque Salzburg is in the winter!
Vienna (mid-November through Christmas)
The Christmas market in Vienna (or Wein as it is referred to locally) is fairly extensive with the main market located right next to the impressive City Hall building and several others located throughout city, with varying opening dates and times (so be sure to confirm in advance). And the lights throughout Vienna during the holiday season are some of the best we’ve seen. With so many sights to see, Vienna is worth a trip in any season, but why not go at Christmastime and enjoy the holiday festivities, too?
Bolzano (November 28, 2019 – January 6, 2020)
If you are stationed at either Aviano or Vicenza in northern Italy, a trip to Bolzano near the Austrian border should definitely be on your list. Because of its location, Bolzano blends both Italian and Austrian influences into one beautiful market.
Verona (mid-November through Christmas)
Verona’s Nuremberg Christmas Market is modeled after a German Christmas market with wooden houses and more than 80 exhibitors selling handcrafted goods. Readers stationed in Italy have remarked that this market reminded them the most of the German Christmas markets, but, of course, it still has that Italy feel with the Roman Arena in the backdrop and the city’s beautiful architecture on display everywhere you walk. Verona is a city worth making a weekend trip out of regardless of whether you make it during the holiday season.
Canterbury (November 22 – December 24, 2019)
Canterbury is definitely worth a visit during the holiday season! In addition to the market stalls located throughout the city center, you can also visit Santa in the magical grotto. Kids can participate in arts and craft activities before getting some one-on-one time to tell Santa what’s on their wish list.
Although if I’m being honest, I prefer to visit Canterbury during the holidays either on my own or with friends. The Canterbury Cathedral is spectacular and should be on your bucket list if it isn’t already. However, my favorite part of Canterbury is the indoor shopping! When we were stationed in Belgium, it was so difficult to shop for Christmas gifts. There was a language barrier shopping locally, and the element of surprise is pretty much non-existent when you share an Amazon account and an APO address with your spouse! Canterbury gave me the opportunity to shop and actually surprise my family on Christmas morning…and stock up on all sorts of English goodies at the local Sainsbury’s!
So many Christmas markets and so little time! It is impossible to list them all, but we hope you enjoy some of our favorites!
Which ones would you add to this list?