It’s the time of year again when people are starting to plan their Christmas market weekend breaks or festive getaways, particularly to the fairytale European Christmas Markets in cities all over the continent.
There are hundreds of opportunities to choose from, whether it’s the classic Christmas food and beverages at German Christmas Markets, the wonderful chocolate on offer at Belgian Christmas Markets or the beautiful festive decor of Christmas markets in France.
But many of the best European Christmas destinations become extremely busy and often have most expensive (Flights to Strasbourg, Berlin or Munich can be two or three times the normal price from the UK).
Over the past two years I have tried to visit some lesser visited (but still easily accessible) European Christmas Markets. I have also done these on a budget, so read on for four of the best alternative Christmas markets to visit which are not in France or Germany.
In the UK? Check out the best UK Christmas Markets to visit.
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Estonia is quickly becoming a popular destination thanks to more budget airlines adding it to their destination list. I flew into Tallinn from London Luton with Wizz Air.
Tallinn is the historic capital city and cultural centre of Estonia, with one of the most beautifully preserved Old Towns in Europe, making it a World Heritage Listed city. It is also sometimes referred to as the Silicon Valley of Europe due to it's technological advances and high number of tech start-ups, Tallinn was even the base for the creation and testing of the first 5G network.
Tallinn is a great destination to visit at any time of year, but if you’re looking for the best things to do in Tallinn in winter, you can read my 48 hour guide to Tallinn here.
Tallinn should definitely be on your list to visit over the festive period because Tallinn Christmas Market has actually been voted the best Christmas Market in Europe 2019 and runs from late November into early January. Flights depart daily from London airports and this is a great place to start if you’re looking to explore Eastern Europe Christmas markets.
Be sure to wrap up warm though, it was -18 celcius when I was there in mid-December, it was extremely cold which meant a lot of cafe hopping! If you’re wondering when does it snow in Tallinn, the winters are below freezing and snowy from December until March, so you’re pretty much guaranteed a fairytale snowy Christmas.
Read my guide to the best places to stay in Tallinn, Estonia.
What to see and do at Tallinn Christmas Market
See the oldest Christmas Tree in Europe
Okay it’s not the oldest actual Christmas Tree, but Tallinn does hold the title of having the first ever tree put on display in Europe in 1441. The Christmas Tree is still placed in the centre of Town Hall Square every year and holds a great significance for Estonians.
The reason I loved Tallinn Christmas Market so much is its layout. The tree sits in the centre with the market stalls spreading out from it, like a big star with a tree in the middle. This makes the market feel very cosy and walkable, with plenty to see on either side.
Warm up with some Glögi or warm cider
Would it be a European Christmas Market without a warming alcoholic drink?! The market in Tallinn actually has alcohol and non-alcoholic versions of this Baltic mulled wine and they also have the best warm cider I’ve ever had.
Grab the best pancakes and coffee in town at Kompressor
With the arctic temperatures when I visited, we were constantly ducking into cafes to escape the cold and snow. Our favourite find was just a short walk from the Town Hall Square on Rataskaevu - the most popular street with locals for bars and restaurants.
Kompressor is not well labelled except a small sign next to the door but it gets extremely popular and there were often queues if we passed by later in the day. They have great coffee and a range of pancakes, both sweet and savoury, the prices are very reasonable and the servings are huge - you won’t need to eat again until dinner time!
See Tallinn Old Town from above
One of my favourite things to do in any city is to see it from above, and there are countless viewpoints all over Tallinn thanks to the largely intact medieval city walls. There are two main viewpoints accessible via Pikk Jalg road and Nunne road not far from the Square.
Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform
Patkuli Viewing Platform
Both are marked on Google Maps and are free to access but do get popular with tour groups so you might have to wait for them to clear out as the spaces are quite small. Alternatively go for sunrise or sunset for incredible rooftop views, sunrise is December is around 9am in Tallinn so it’s definitely possible to visit at sunrise!
Experience Tallinn’s growing restaurant culture
I love finding different places to eat on trips, especially ones that locals like as they’re often cheaper and more authentic. We definitely got both of those things a lot in Tallinn. The hipster Industrial district of Telliskivi is a little out of town but a growing alternative neighbourhood with loads of cool restaurant in bars in converted warehouses and factories. We had an incredible meal at F-Hoone, with loads of veggie options and great local Estonian craft beers.
Try the best gormet cakes and chocolate in Tallinn
Pierre Chocolaterie is in the Master’s Courtyard (labelled on Google Maps). The quirky tucked away corner of Master’s Courtyard is worth visiting itself but the Chocolaterie is incredible, great food and drinks and the quirky interior and mismatched furniture make it a really fun place to take shelter from the cold (again!).
It was actually my dad’s birthday while we were in Tallinn so I came here to buy him a birthday cake and it was a great choice!
Other attractions and photo locations
KGB Museum - one of the most interesting museums I’ve ever visited
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral - a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church and you can go inside too.
St. Mary’s Cathedral - just up the road from Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, you can climb the church tower here for amazing views over the city and the Orthodox Church
St Catherine’s Passage - one of the oldest streets in the city with the historic architecture still in shape. There are lots of lovely local stores, markets and flower shops down here too.
Hellemann Tower and Walkway - This is one of a few entrances onto the Old Town walls and it’s incredible how intact they are! It’s 3 euros to climb up and the views from the top of the city are beautiful. The entrance is right at the end of St. Catherine’s Passage
Viru Varavad (Viru Gate) - the biggest of the old city gates into the Old Town and a great spot for photos.
There is so much to see and do that as I mentioned you could visit any time of year and not get bored, just wrap up warm if you do plan on visiting during the winter months!
Bruges is my go-to European Christmas Market in Belgium and it’s definitely one of the best European cities for Christmas Markets because there is so much to see and do in the city.
How to get to Bruges Christmas Market
I visited Bruges in northwest Belgium two years ago during December. Bruges is easily accessible via several modes of transport but most will involve you arriving in Brussels where there is the international airport and also the Eurostar terminal.
I took a Flixbus from London Victoria to Brussels North station which took approximately 7 hours and cost 20 euros. They also run direct bus services from Bruges to London for a similar price which is how I got home 3 days later.
I did this as I had never visited Brussels before so it gave me the chance to see another Belgian city and the Brussels Christmas market too!
There are 4 trains per hour from Brussel-Centraal station to Bruges. The train number on these routes vary as Bruges is a stop on several longer regional routes. Look for the IC trains on the board or ask a staff member for help.
I did not need to buy a ticket to Bruges in advance, I bought it on the day and took the next available train to Bruges. The journey took just over 1 hour.
When you arrive, the trains station is a little outside of the main town centre in Bruges so prepare for a bit of a walk and wrap up if it’s cold!
What to see and do in Bruges at the Christmas Market
The Christmas Market in Bruges usually runs from the end of November until the end of December. The main market is in the historic market square but you will also find stalls on the surrounding streets on and around Sint Amandsstraat off the market square. This is a pedestrianised area so it gets busy but there’s plenty of space to walk around and explore the stores.
Try Belgian Waffles with Belgian chocolate
There are actually two types of waffle in Belgium, the Brussels waffle is the most well-known with the crispy outside and fluffy inside. The Liege waffle is thicker and has sugar crystals on or inside the batter. The variety of toppings is endless! Even if you don’t fancy chocolate on your waffle, be sure to have a Belgian hot chocolate - best hot chocolate ever!
Enjoy a glass of Glühwein
Similar to the German Glühwein, this warm mulled wine is fruity and warming, perfect to grab a cup and enjoy while you wander around the market.
Go Ice Skating
There is an ice rink in the centre of the market square which runs for the duration of the Christmas market in Bruges. It’s suitable for all ages, with skating aids for younger children. There are also plenty of viewing areas around the outside for parents to watch from and enjoy a drink or food if they don’t fancy skating themselves.
Sample the Belgian beer with a view
If Glühwein isn’t your thing then it’s a good job Belgium is know for its beer! You’ll find endless bars and cafes but my favourite place for a beer in Bruges is 2be/ The Beerwall (marked on Google Maps). This pub and beer shop has a heated outdoor seating area right on the most famous corner of the Dijver river running through Bruges. I also enjoyed a beer cafe called ‘t Brugs Beertje and I was told great things about the Bruges Beer Experience too, although I didn’t have time to do this while I was here.
Climb the Belfry of Bruges for amazing views over the market
The Belfry of Bruges is the 13th Century tower in the main square and you can climb it! Go early as a queue starts to form in the afternoon and last entry is 1 hour before closing. Also be prepared, there are 366 steps up the 83-metre high tower and unfortunately there is no lift so it is not accessible for those who are less able or with a disability.
If you’re looking for vantage points, this has got to be one of the best for any European Christmas market!
Visit a Christmas shop
There are countless souvenir shops in the area but the Christmas shops are sure to make you feel festive! They are filled with ornaments, souvenirs, decorations for your tree, your door or anywhere else in your house and make great Christmas gifts for others or a souvenir to take home! Prices range from a couple of euros to hundreds for more ornate gifts. My favourite shop is Käthe Wohlfahrt on Breidelstraat off the main square.
Take a boat tour through Bruges
Regularly departing from the tour stop next to Huidenvettersplein, there are boat tours along the river and they offer a great way to see this historic town from the water. I prefer to explore by foot, particularly with the beautiful buildings and architecture to see in Bruges, but if it’s cold or if you have children, this is a much more accessible way to see a lot of the city.
Enjoy authentic Belgian food
There are countless food stalls at the Bruges Christmas market, but just in case you get sick of the sugar and want a nice warm meal indoors, I can really recommend Bistro Den Amand not far from the market square. Their food was so tasty and the service was great too.
Photography locations in Bruges
If you’re looking for great photos for you or for Instagram then of course there are endless Christmas market shots to be found during the festive period. Here is a list of photography/Instagram locations I enjoyed around the city too and all can be found marked on Google Maps:
From the top of the Belfry
The house rows along the river by Meestraat Bridge
The view of Jan van Eyckplein from Koningstraat Bridge
The view of the river from the boat tours start point (marked on Google Maps)
The street view down Mariastraat looking at the Gruuthuse Hof building
Salzburg is the fourth largest city in Austria and located right near the German border. Although Salzburg is relatively well-known, it doesn’t seem to be as popular in the colder months but it’s my favourite city in Austria and one of the best Christmas markets in Austria. There is so much history and culture to see, you need a long weekend to see it all and explore the Christmas Markets.
If you visit Salzburg I do recommend buying the Salzburg Card, this is a discount card valid for either 24, 48 or 72 hours and includes one-time free entry to all city museums and attractions, free travel on all public transport in the city and discount on tickets for local cultural events and entertainment. The best part is that December is classed as the off-season so prices are cheaper:
26 euros for 24 hours
34 euros for 48 hours
39 euros for 72 hours
What to see and do in Salzburg at the Christmas Markets
Salzburg by far has the biggest Market out of all of the European Christmas markets on this list. The market runs from the end of November to end of December and is spread across 3 of the cities main squares - Domplatz, Residenzplatz and Mozartplatz at the foot of the dominating Hohensalzburg fortress, making it one of the biggest and best Christmas markets in Austria.
Watch the live music performances
In the city of Mozart of course there is plenty of musical entertainment! There are brass bands, choirs in front of the cathedral in Domplatz, opera singers, acoustic performances and more taking place across the markets and there is a stage and ice rink area in Mozartplatz which has entertainment most nights.
Watch a traditional nativity performance
There are frequent performances in the Residenzplatz, check the listings daily for performances. This is a great activity for families or kids to enjoy.
Try all the incredible baked goods
From gingerbread creations to baked apple pastries, there are some incredible food options in Salzburg and if you have sweet tooth this is definitely the Christmas market for you. Even if you aren’t a sugar fan, there are tasty roasted nuts, hog roast and some great street food carts in Residenzplatz.
Enjoy the Austrian drink selection and evening atmosphere
If you’re over 18 and enjoy alcohol, then the beverage scene at Salzburg market is the one for you. In the evening the bar area in Residenzplatz comes alive with all the different festive drinks carts, there’s German and Austrian beers, gluwhein, mulled cider or punsch - a spiced fruit juice made with liquor.
See the market from above
The Salzburg Residence used to be a palace but it’s now a museum and art gallery with works from Rembrandt and incredible ornate decor. The entrance is the west side of Residenzplatz and the ticket is free if you have the Salzburg Card I mentioned earlier.
On the second floor there is a balcony which joins the palace museum to the Salzburg Cathedral. This balcony is on top of the archway between Residenzplatz and Domplatz and has some incredible views over the Christmas market.
Check out my blog post for more information and 10 of the best viewpoints in Salzburg.
Photography locations in Salzburg
The view down Getreidegasse towards St. Blasius Church
There are plenty of Christmas market and festive photos to be had but stand on the opposite side of Domplatz to capture the cathedral in the background
The main Christmas tree is in Residenzplatz, you can see this from the Salzburg Residence balcony I mentioned previously
Head up to the Fortress Hohensalzburg for epic views not just across the city but also the surrounding Alps and valley.
There are 10 great viewpoints in the city that I loved and you can read about how to reach them all in detail in my post - The Best Viewpoints in Salzburg.
One of the most picturesque and most photographed places in Austria and probably in Europe, it’s no surprise the Hallstatt area is UNESCO World Heritage listed. You’ve probably seen photos of this charming Austrian village perched on the hillside along the shore of Lake Hallstatter See.
While this town’s existence is no secret and the 800,000 tourists that visit it each year hardly makes this an ‘alternative’ destination, Hallstatt is on this list because the Hallstatt Christmas Market only runs for TWO DAYS every year.
Usually in the first or second weekend of December, Hallstatt Christmas Market is like no other European Christmas Market I’ve experienced. This really is an event by the locals, for the locals, everyone knows everyone, families and friends gather and share the products, food and drink between their stores, welcoming in the tourists too and offering plenty of samples and easy-going conversation.
Although Hallstatt is busy all year around, if you’re looking for a more unique, personal and cosy European Christmas experience, I cannot recommend Hallstatt Christmas Market enough.
How to get to Hallstatt, Austria
I actually visited Hallstatt on a long weekend, the same weekend that I travelled to Salzburg. And although it’s a long day, it is possible to visit Hallstatt as a day trip.
You can read my detailed guide on How to Get to Hallstatt here, as there are several options to suit every traveller and every budget.
What to see and do in Hallstatt at the Christmas Market
The Hallstatt Christmas Market is confined to the Market Square, so there is still plenty of the town to see.
Purchase local products
Often at Christmas Markets you see a lot of the same or similar ornaments or souvenirs. I loved Hallstatt because it is so far from the nearest big city, everything there is a lot more unique and often locally produced. So if you’re looking for a unique gift to take home, you’ll probably find that here.
Try some local pastries
Kaiserschmarrn is a traditional Austrian-Bavarian desert, it’s like shredded pancakes but thicker and with fruit jam, chocolate or cream toppings. I also had a great funnel cake in Hallstatt filled with cream.
Enjoy the classic view of the town
There is a famous view of Hallstatt, so famous that it’s even marked on Google Maps. So if you’re wondering how to find the famous Hallstatt viewpoint, just search for ‘Classic Village Viewpoint’ in Google Maps. There is also a view from the other side of the town which I love and that’s from the Hallstatt Lahn Ferry Terminal and Bus Stop.
Explore the town by foot
Hallstatt is a pedestrianised town and exploring by foot is easy and the best way to see this unique place. Allow plenty of time to explore, you could easily spend two days exploring all the lanes and alleyways around the town. There are plenty of steep streets to climb so make sure you bring your walking shoes.
Take the Salzburgbahn Mountain Cable Car
There is a famous salt mine which can be visited in Hallstatt, it includes a museum, salt-lake boat ride and a funicular cable car trip to the top of the mountain. If you are short on time, you can just buy a funicular cable car pass up to the Skywalk World Heritage Viewpoint above Hallstatt.
Salt Mine and Funicular ticket - 34 euros for adults, 17 euros for children
Funicular ticket only - 18 euros for adults, 9 euros for children
There are family and concession tickets available - check their website.
Photography locations in Hallstatt
Hallstatt is so picturesque, you will have your phone or camera in your hand permanently. There are some of my favourite locations besides those already mentioned.
The Ossuary - because Hallstatt is so small in area but the population continues to grow, the graveyard has become full. After a certain number of years the bones are removed and stored in the Ossuary.
The steps down to the town from the Short Term Parking (above the village, marked on Maps) offer a beautiful alternative view of Hallstatt.
If you take the Funicular, be sure to snap some photos on the Skywalk. This observation deck sticks out from the side of the mountain and offers incredible views over the lake and surrounding mountains.
The path up to the Pfarrkirche Mariä Himmelfahrt Catholic Church also has beautiful views over the rooftops.
If you continue upwards on the path on the north side of the church (behind the Ossuary) there is a hike along a stone path above the town. If you have time I really recommend doing this walk, it’s fairly short and there are views of the mountain-side waterfall.
I hope you find this guide useful for picking which European Christmas market to visit this year. Let me know in the comments!
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