My family is from the Alsace region of France and the towns Colmar and Strasbourg are known as two of the best Christmas Markets in all of Europe. I have spent years telling myself that I had to go and I finally did and let me tell you, if I could recommend one travel tip to you, it is to go to the Christmas Markets! It is hands down one of my favorite trips I have ever taken. Ever. So, let me give you a guide to the best Christmas Markets in Europe. (that I have seen so far…)
When we decided to go, we knew we wanted to visit Colmar and Strasbourg, France, but we also wanted to visit as many other places as possible. So we decided to tackle 7 countries in just less than two weeks. Sound crazy? It probably was, but we had the absolute best time traveling from country to country seeing all the Christmas decorations and markets! While there are countless Christmas Markets around Europe and I have not seen them all, I got a pretty good taste of some of the best!
Zurich was not high on our list and, in my opinion, there are many better cities in Switzerland than Zurich, but we flew into Zurich because of the killer flight deals! Tickets were around $500 per person out of JFK or 35,000 miles. When I fly to Europe, I rarely ever take a direct trip from Atlanta because I can save 50% or more on flights if I book from a different city. More on that another time.
We loved walking through the city during the day. It was very overcast, but it was still so pretty. The first thing I noticed is that most restaurants have outdoor seating open with blankets even though it was very cold. I noticed this all over Europe and I think it is the coolest thing ever! We stayed at a very cute boutique hotel right by everything we wanted to see including the Christmas Market. There are so many to choose from and I almost always use Booking.com to book hotel rooms. I find that I get the best prices and the best properties with this site. They also give you good deals after you book a certain number of nights. You can find a list of hotels in this area here.
Zurich’s Christmas Market was our first one and it totally surprised me. I actually really loved it and recommend it to others as it is a great starting point! Do note that Switzerland is very, very expensive. Our two most expensive (and least favorite) meals were in Zurich.
We left Zurich and took a train north to Colmar, France. I love this little town so much and it reminded me of being there with my family when I was younger. Quick side note – my grandmother’s mother was born in Alsace when it was a German territory and my grandfather (grandmother’s husband) was born in Alsace after it became a French territory. The history of this back and forth is pretty interesting and I think that it is cool my family is a part of that!
If you are looking for a town that feels like it is right out of a story book, looks like a Hallmark Christmas movie, or looks like a real life gingerbread house town, Colmar is your town. It looks just like the little town in Beauty and the Beast with character over every square inch. It is literally everything I could ask for to get me in the Christmas spirit. Every single building, window, street, etc. is decorated perfectly and will have you singing Christmas tunes in your head! As you can see from the photos, this place is an absolute Christmas dream! Make sure this is on your list if you plan to visit Europe for the Christmas Markets. I guarantee you will be so very thankful!
After we visited Colmar, we took the train north for about 25 minutes and stopped in Strasbourg. Strasbourg, France is know as the Capital de Noël (The Capital of Christmas) and has been holding “Christkindelsmärik” around the area of the Cathedral since around 1570 making it one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe. It is also one of the most famous Christmas Markets in Europe, bringing over 2 million visitors a year during the 38 days time frame. Security is very, very tight. They check your bags and baggage when you cross over the river into the older part of town where all the Christmas Markets are located. And, yes, I said “markets” as there are over 10 around the city and over 300 stalls! It’s HUGE!
Strasbourg is very near and dear to my heart because of my family roots, but this place, along with Colmar, is an absolute must on the Christmas Market route! Every corner will take your breath away. When we turned the corner and saw the Cathédral Notre-Dame I had tears fill my eyes for the 3rd time on this trip. I was so overwhelmed with its beauty with all the holiday decor surround it. This picture does it no justice!
Make sure to visit the square with the huge Christmas tree! You can even ice skate near this area as well. I could not find a good picture of the tree in my photos, so sharing with you one from one of my favorite bloggers, @heleneinbetween!
As there are over 300 stalls all over the city, you will have no problem finding souvenirs and all kinds of Christmas goodies. Make sure to drink the mulled wine and grab a souvenir cup!
Paris is my favorite city in the world. I love it so insanely much and I am sure you will see blog posts all over my site for years to come. This trip was a little bit different because we visited right in the middle of the “Yellow Vests” protests as they were getting very large. The story is interesting and we were a little nervous, but I will share that with you another time! Paris is, of course, beautifully decorated as you would imagine. So many stores and streets are so elegantly decorated that it fits the Paris vibe perfectly.
Paris does have several Christmas markets around town, but the one I found a little fascinating was the La Magie de Noël (The Magic of Christmas) in Tuileries Garden next to the Louvre. It is said to be a smaller version of the one that used to line the Champs-Élysées, once the largest and most famous Marché de Noël in Paris before a dispute between its owner and the Mayor of Paris shut it down.
What is so fun and different about this Christmas Market is that it is like a carnival, too! You will find lots of French treats and goodies as well as mulled wine of course, but you will also see carnival rides, carnival games, and an ice skating rink.
Overall I thought it was cool and unique compared to all the other Christmas markets. I will say that one of my favorite places within this market was the Champagne Igloo… If you have never been to Paris, please go and please talk to me before you do! No matter the time of year, it is amazing.
Prague, Czech Republic
You guys…. PRAGUE!!! Prague really surprised me. I had never been before and was hesitant to add it to our trip, but I always heard great things about this city, so we went for it and, oh my gosh, I am so glad we did. This city is so cute and the people are so friendly. And one of the best parts? It is CHEAP to travel, stay, and eat here. Our beautiful two bedroom Airbnb was incredible with hand-carved wood ceilings and it was only… $76 a night!!! Go check out my story highlights on Instagram for a video tour!
The biggest market is held in Old Town Square and is one of the prettiest parts of the city. Make sure to go to the top of the tower to look down into the square where the big Christmas market is held. It is an incredible view!
The stalls are similar to what you see in other cities, but they are all so great. I got the cutest hand carved magnet from one of the stalls and it is on my refrigerator will all the others!
There is so much to do in this cute town other than the Christmas market as well. The John Lennon Wall and the Astronomical Clock did not disappoint! I adored this town and I will definitely return one day.
Everything about this city is fantastic. It’s affordable, beautiful, has great food, and it is very easy to get around the city due to their fantastic public transportation. We took their subway system and their buses around the entire city as it was easy to navigate. The architecture is grandiose, but elegant. Every building is unique and beautiful. We spent two nights and three days in this city and it was not long enough. I definitely plan on coming back here very soon!
Munich was a fun little Christmas Market! We rented a car for our last 4 days in Europe and drove up to Munich after visiting the Neuschwanstein Castle. It was snowing when we got there so they would not let us up to the top. I was so sad! This castle is the one that Disney based Sleeping Beauty’s castle design on and I wanted to see it up close! Although we didn’t get to the top, she was still pretty from below.
So back to Munich… One thing I distinctly remember about the Christmas Market in Munich is that we were desperately searching for one of those massive pretzels to take a picture with, but we could not find one! I seriously searched the entire market. This was also our first encounter with paid public bathrooms. We were dying and had to come up with a few euros just to use a facility. This is pretty common around Europe, but we were well over a week into our trip before experiencing this!
The big Munich Christmas Market surround the large cathedral and the square. I found some delicious apple cider, or Apfelwein, here as I was wanting a little change from all the mulled wine. Trying to figure out what all the German signs said at the stalls was quite the challenge and hilarious. I swear most of their words are 15 letters or more. Google translator was definitely a lifesaver for us in Germany. Munich also had my favorite souvenir cup as it was in the shape of a boot!
Oh, Innsbruck, you beautiful, beautiful city. You can’t get much better than a really cute Christmas Market with the Austrian Alps in the background. We LOVED this city, too. It was our last Christmas Market stop on our journey and it did not disappoint. We all wanted to stay many more days and were so sad to leave.
The main street ends with a glorious Christmas Tree in the center and of course, the beautiful mountains are right behind it!
We took the trip up to the top and as you can imagine, the views were insane. Half way up there was a little tiny Christmas market to stop and get a few gifts and, of course, mulled wine.
We spent our second to last night in Innsbruck soaking up the beautiful views and enjoying an incredible dinner at a lovely restaurant, Piano Bar. If you are in the city, I highly recommend it. It was one of our favorite meals while on our trip.
The last 24 hours in Europe were spent driving through Austria and Liechtenstein and back into Zurich for our last night. Liechtenstein is a tiny little country (4th smallest in Europe and 6th smallest independent nation in the world) and you can get from one side to the other in less than 30 minutes as it is only 62 square miles. Liechtenstein is very interesting because it is one of the only two double landlocked countries in the world and has no military. There are lots of cool facts about this country and I encourage you to go read about it. You can also drive right up to the driveway entrance to the palace where there are no guards. Crime is basically no existent in the country. We did not see a Christmas Market here, but we drove through and made a quick stop at the palace driveway.
This trip was definitely one of the best trips I have ever taken in my life. I plan on going back again next year for the holidays to explore more Christmas Markets with my family and Trey and will try to find new ones to explore while adding in some of these favorites along the way.