Europe is the home of Christmas markets. Vienna’s was the first in 1298; while Germany’s famous Christkindlmarkts began in 1384. Naturally, you can now find the world’s best in cities like Dresden, Nuremberg, and Prague. They boast Christmas markets across multiple locations, thousands of twinkling lights and festive events from late November to early January, making Europe the perfect place to spend your holiday season.
But for a truly authentic experience, you should head off the beaten track to Europe’s smaller cities. These alternative Christmas destinations have stalls, lights and treat to rival the bigger cities, but with fewer crowds and in settings reminiscent of the Christmas market’s medieval origins. With a Eurail Global Pass you don’t have to choose just 1 destination: Start in a festive hub like Nuremberg, then hop aboard a train and discover any (or all) of these 7 alternative Christmas markets.
Rothenburgob der Tauber, Germany
November 29 to December 23, 2019
When you’ve had your fill of lebkuchen gingerbread at Nuremberg’s 400-year-old Christkindlesmarkt, head west to Rothenburgob der Tauber. The medieval city’s Reiterlesmarkt is even older than Nuremberg’s and its location between half-timbered houses and narrow streets will make you feel like you’ve stepped back to the 15th century.
The highlight is the horseback arrival of the mystical “Rothenburg Rider” who opens the market in November. Make sure to try schneeballen (snowball) pastries and white mulled wine, which are regional specialities.
Getting there by rail: Rothenburg is just 1 hour away from Nuremberg by regional train.
November 22 to December 29, 2019
Not far from France’s oldest Christmas market in Strasbourg, you can find Colmar with its La Magie de Noël events. It is half-timbered houses and cobbled streets are as magical as in Rothenburg, but with a French Alsatian flair. You can visit its 6 Christmas markets, including one especially for children and another dedicated to food!
Colmar is extra special because of its Little Venice canal district, where boats of children’s Christmas choirs float by on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the festive period.
Getting there by rail: Take a regional train from Strasbourg and be there in 30 minutes. Colmar is also a few kilometres from Germany and 2 hours by train from Zurich.
ČeskýKrumlov, Czech Republic
November 29, 2019, to January 6, 2020
After visiting the busy Advent Market of Prague, take a day trip (or longer) to the enchanting medieval town of ČeskýKrumlov. Its wholesome Christmas celebrations bring together the whole community, with Czech carol singing, “musical gifts” given by the town’s musicians and a live nativity scene featuring real farm animals. Even the bears of ČeskýKrumlov castle are included, with Bear’s Christmas on Christmas Eve, when children can feed them with sweet treats (under supervision!)
Events centre around the Old Bohemian Market on Svornosti Square, where you can try honey wine and cinnamon that and buy Czech trinkets at lower prices than in Prague.
Getting there by rail: Take a 3-hour express train from Prague.
November 22 to December 31, 2019
In Kraków, you can enjoy a Christmas market in Europe’s largest market square (and Europe has many of those!) But Wrocław is Poland’s more unique Christmas destination, with a distinct fairy-tale theme. The Market Square and PlacSolnysquare are transformed with lights of all colours and stalls selling sweet halva and chocolate gingerbread.
The highlight is the BajkowyLasek, Fairytale Copse, with animatronic characters acting out classic stories and a three-level fairy-tale house, with an observation deck and real fire!
Getting there by rail: You can reach Wrocław in 3 1/2 hours from Kraków on an intercity train.
November 15, 2019 to January 3, 2020
The Târgul de Crăciun din Sibiu, or Christmas Fair in Sibiu, is geographically quite far from the major festive hubs but draws its inspiration from Vienna’s Christmas markets. It was opened in 2007 by the Austrian Embassy of Romania in collaboration with the local council and has grown every year since. The fair looks like a traditional Christkindlesmarkt, but with a stunning backdrop of the Transylvanian mountains.
This year in Piata Mare (Grand Square), you can find a skating rink, amusement park, and hand-carved nativity scene. Plus, festive projections light up the facades of the surrounding Baroque buildings!
Getting there by rail: Sibiu is a bit further off the beaten track than our other markets. But you can reach it in 6 hours from Bucharest. Alternatively, take a night train from Budapest.
November 29, 2019 to January 5, 2020
The capital of Slovenia’s Festive Fair features market stalls lining the romantic Ljubjanica River. You can buy locally made winter clothing or drink medica, a warm honey schnapps special to Slovenia.
The highlight is undoubtedly Ljubljana’s thousands of Christmas lights. Designed by local artist ZmagoModic, the lights look like stars and galaxies floating in the sky. The big switch-on event will be November 29 in Prešeren Square. When you tire of festive cheer, take a train north to the Triglav National Park to experience Slovenia’s thriving ski-scene.
Getting there by rail: Ljubljana is about 6 hours by train from Vienna or 5 hours from Venice.
November 30, 2019, to January 7, 2020
Croatia is a popular summer destination, but its capital Zagreb is a hidden Christmas gem. Advent in Zagreb has been voted the “best Christmas market destination” and it's not hard to see why, with festive activities to be found in almost every square, park and hidden corner of this small city.
The main market is held in Ban Josip Jelačić Square (the main square), alongside a stage which hosts regular live performances. Strossmayer Promenade teems with hip stalls, while King Tomislav Square becomes Ice Park with an enormous ice-rink and ice ballets. Even the Grič Tunnel gets an icy makeover.
Getting there by rail: Zagreb is just 2 hours 15 mins from Ljubljana by EuroCity train....