Twinkling lights, soaring decorated trees, hot mulled wine – these are a few of the things we envision when we think of traditional Christmas markets. Although we see Christmas markets all over the world, Europe is where they all began and arguably where they are done best.
With countless markets throughout the continent, we’ve rounded up a selection of the top 5 European Christmas markets we think you should visit this year, as well as why these 5 are the best. Can’t make it to Europe? Check out our top 5 Christmas Markets in the U.S.
The oldest known Christmas Market in Europe is the Striezelmarkt in Dresden, Germany, which was founded way back in 1434. The Striezelmarkt sets the bar high for all other markets and is still in operation today – they are celebrating their 588th market this year!
While it has evolved beyond recognition (they certainly didn’t have a Ferris wheel or thousands of bright, sparkling lights), the tradition remains the same and has served as an inspiration to Christmas markets around the world.
The heavy hitters aren’t always in the big European cities. While popular destinations such as Munich, Vienna, and Brussels certainly play host to some fantastic Christmas markets, traveling off the beaten path will reward travelers with a more intimate, authentic, and unique experience. And with the current strength of the U.S. dollar, these destinations all make great options for American tourists this year.
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Basel, Switzerland: Best Christmas Trees
Nestled in a beautiful corner of Switzerland on the Rhine River, Basel borders Germany and France making it a city with a unique blend of cultures. Visitors to The Basel Christmas Market are welcomed by hundreds of brightly lit trees lining the streets leading up to the market.
The stunning main Christmas tree soars above the market and is beautifully decorated by Johann Wanner, a local artisan and the world’s largest producer of hand-blown and hand-painted Christmas decorations. Visitors can visit Wanner’s nearby shop and take home a unique ornament to commemorate their travels to Basel.
Salzburg, Austria: Best Christmas Carollers
Best known as the city of Mozart, Salzburg is also home to Josef Mohr, the composer who wrote one of the world’s most famous Christmas carols, Silent Night. The musical traditions of this World Heritage Old Town shine bright at the city’s Chriskindlmarkt, where traditional Christmas singalongs and nightly concerts force Christmas cheer upon anyone within earshot.
Budapest, Hungary: Best Christmas Lights
Advent Feast at the Basilica in Budapest is no stranger to “best of” lists, having won several accolades for its Christmas market in previous years. The shining star of this market is the laser light projections on the Basilica that transform the building into a giant advent calendar where a new window reveals a different painting each day.
Local artisans proudly sell their wares, which are curated by the Association of Hungarian Folk Artists with an eye towards showcasing traditional Hungarian culture to everyone who visits the market.
Strasbourg, France: Most Charming Christmas Market
The self-proclaimed Capital of Christmas, Strasbourg is easily the most charming Christmas market in Europe. Located along the Rhine River near the German border, the Strasbourg Christmas Market dates back to 1570. This beautiful fairy-tale city becomes transformed into a true winter wonderland covered in miles of lights during the festive season.
Visitors can support local artisans who sell their handicrafts at dozens of wooden market stalls and take home authentic gifts of wooden toys, local pottery, and hand-blown glass baubles. No trip to the Strasbourg Christmas Market is complete without trying the traditional foods, including “bredele” (small shaped cookies), “mannele” (brioche shaped like little men), gingerbread, and hot mulled white wine.
Copenhagen, Denmark: Best Market For Fun
The Christmas Market at Tivoli in Copenhagen has something for everyone. Located inside the famous Tivoli Gardens, this market is pure magic. Already a city full of fun, Copenhagen really puts its best foot forward at Tivoli. The whole market is draped in twinkling fairy lights, and the Tivoli Youth Guard plays festive music throughout the park.
Bright Christmas trees take up residence between the old-school amusement rides, and Santa and his reindeer typically make an appearance. The Christmas Market at Tivoli also has several fireworks displays, and vendors sell delicious Christmas cakes and donuts that pair perfectly with a mug of the local glogg.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com