Santa shops here: 10 of Europe’s coolest Christmas markets

Eerie caves, gorges and open-air theatres set the scene for this year’s festive shopping sprees, with plenty of ethical stocking fillers up for grabs

Zrinjevac Park, Zagreb

Zrinjevac Park in Zagreb becomes a Christmas wonderland, with lanterns lighting up the avenues of trees and a pretty market with wooden huts selling gifts made by local artists, and festive food and drink (try baked štrukli, pastries with soft cheese). Festivities take place across the whole city as part of Zagreb Advent, which runs for six weeks. In Ban Josip Jelačić Square there’s a huge Christmas tree, with live music, ice rinks and stalls at parks and squares across town.
26 Nov-7 Jan,

Valkenburg Christmas market, the Netherlands

Cave market at Valkenburg
Cave market at Valkenburg Photograph: Jean-Pierre Geusens /Visit Zuid-Limburg

The entrance to this Christmas market is at the foot of Cauberg Hill, with stalls above ground and in the eerie caves of Valkenburg. Up top, the market is quite traditional, with vendors selling the usual ornaments and trinkets, but beneath it lies Europe’s largest underground Christmas market, in the marl tunnels of the Gemeentegrot quarry. There are brightly lit Christmas figurines to guide you, and a digital app to help shoppers navigate the labyrinth of Christmas cheer in this 18th-century underground quarry turned art gallery. Tickets must be bought in advance.
18 Nov-8 Jan

Ravenna Gorge Christmas market, Black Forest, Germany

Christmas market in the Ravenna Gorge viaduct
Christmas market in the Ravenna Gorge viaduct Photograph: Michael Arndt/Hochschwarzwald Tourismus

Nuremberg and Dresden have traditional, large-scale Christmas markets, but for quality not quantity try Ravenna Gorge Christmas market in southwestern Germany. Many Christmas markets are upping their green credentials this year (the energy crisis is even forcing organisers to dim the lights) and this is one of the most eco-friendly. In a gorge under a 40-metre-highrailway viaduct, more than 40 wooden chalets sell locally made products such as lambswool knits and hand-carved wooden masks. Visitors must buy tickets online and a shuttle bus runs from Hinterzarten or Himmelreich train station.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, 25 Nov-18 Dec

Paris night market, Paris, France

The Paris night market has more than 80 independent vendors.
The Paris night market has more than 80 independent vendors. Photograph: Bruno Levy

There are plenty of unusual Christmas markets in Paris, from the Station F Christmas Market, which celebrates start-ups to one focused on Latin American artisans. The Paris night market emphasises ethical consumption and local creators. It’s at Cité Fertile behind La Grande Halle, and inspired by night markets in Asia, with more than 80 independent vendors selling products with a social-environmental slant, such as Sable Vert’s jewellery, made from washed-up sea glass. Organic Christmas nibbles and drinks are served at stalls like Calyce Cider Bar, and music is provided by local DJs and musicians – no carol singers here.
17-18 December, but may be extended

Münsterhof Christmas market, Zurich, Switzerland

There are Christmas markets dotted across Zurich, with Bellevue market perhaps the most popular, for food stalls (run by city chefs) and hip designer fare. However, the one to check out this year is at Münsterhof – the newest addition, with the slogan “From Zurich for Zurich”, where all the vendors are from the canton. Enjoy mulled wine from a local winery and buy socks from local designers, or edible souvenirs like Tsüri sauces for stocking fillers.
24 Nov-24 Dec

Vilnius Uptown Christmas market, Lithuania

Vilnius Christmas Tree
Vilnius Christmas Tree Photograph: Saulius Ziura/PR

Christmas markets are relatively new to Vilnius, with many of them popping up in the past decade, awith freshly roasted acorn coffee instead of mulled wine. Most are modern in their offerings and decor – look for contemporary twists on traditional Christmas decorations and festivities across town. Uptown Christmas market at the Loftas Art Centre is the place to find trendy jackets, chunky jewellery and an open gallery celebrating the city’s young artists. For feelgood festive vibes head to the International Christmas Charity Bazaar, which sells gifts that support various non-profits and is on Cathedral Square, home to the city’s largest Christmas tree (one of the most impressive in Europe).
Charity Bazaar 3 Dec; Uptown Christmas Market, 21-23 Dec

Liseberg Christmas market, Gothenburg, Sweden

Liseberg Christmas market
In the world’s most sustainable city. Photograph: Goran Assner/Imagebank Sweden

Gothenburg’s Liseberg Gardens hosts art events throughout the year, but the most fun (particularly for kids) is the Christmas market held in the Liseberg theme park, which becomes a winter wonderland for December. There’s an ice-skating rink, Santa’s Village with elf workshops, market stalls and restaurant serving traditional Swedish Christmas fare. Gothenburg has been ranked as the world’s most sustainable city for the sixth year running, so it’s not surprising the 5 million Christmas lights that illuminate the park are powered by Liseberg’s very own wind turbine.
19 Nov-30 Dec, 2022

Berner Sternenmarkt, Berne, Switzerland

Start your Christmas market pilgrimage at the historic hotel Schweizerhof Bern for a very European Christmas activity, enjoying oysters and champagne in the festively decorated Jack’s Brasserie before heading over to Berne’s coolest Christmas market. Berner Sternenmarkt offers panoramic views of Switzerland’s capital city and 80 curated stalls, which change weekly throughout December, selling anything from Swiss-made soap dispensers and scented candles from the village of Mürren to edible treats that benefit communities in Tanzania and Bali.
24 Nov-30 Dec

Fulpmes Christmas market, Stubai Valley, Austria

Fulpmes Christmas market
Fulpmes Christmas market Photograph: Benedikt Pfurtscheller

Fulpmes in the Stubai Valley – where snowboarders go off-piste on the Stubai Glacier – is home to a cute Christmas market with its own open-air theatre. Regional products on offer include kiachl, a sweet and salty dish made with marmalade and sauerkraut, eaten only at Christmas. But the highlight is the open-air theatre, Theater in der staden Zeit, where families gather by candlelight to enjoy the Krampus, a folk tale of a half-goat, half-demon monster who punishes naughty children at Christmas.
2, 3, 8, 9, 10 Dec

Fira de Santa Llúcia, Barcelona, Spain

Fira de Santa Llúcia is a traditional Catalan Christmas market with all the trimmings, held on Cathedral Square, with 20 illuminated Christmas trees, nativity scenes and stalls selling festive sweets and decorations. Dating back to 1786, it’s a jolly affair, with families gathering to listen to traditional music and sample Christmas food, including escudella, a special festive soup. A highlight for children is a giant log, Caga Tió (translated as the “pooping log”), which is filled with nougat and other sweets – and then eventually smashed to smithereens by sugar-hungry kids.
25 Nov-23 Dec

Michelle Tchea

The GuardianTramp

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