Hi everyone and Welcome back to the European Travel Section of The Code of Style Magazine., and my guide to the Best Christmas Markets. As soon as Summer is over and the leaves start to fall and the evenings start to draw in, my thoughts immediately turn to Christmas.
Christmas in Europe is a time for magical fairy lights, mulled wine, delicious pastries, midnight masses in gothic churches, Christmas wishlists, candle-lit evenings spent with family and friends, and of course – Christmas markets.
If you haven’t yet experienced a European Christmas market, you really should add one to your bucket-list.
Most markets start on the Friday before Advent (4 weeks before Christmas) and run through to December 24th, although some keep on until Epiphany (January 6th).
Typically, a Christmas market consists of a series of beautiful wooden chalets that are centred around the square before the cathedral. You will find a selection of handmade Christmas items, woollen sweaters, Christmas decorations, candles and jewellery, as well as an enticing array of food (typical to the region) and steaming hot mulled wine.
The general atmosphere appeals to all your senses with the beautiful twinkling lights, the seductive smell and enticing taste of the delicious cooking, the sound of Christmas music and the feel of the different handmade gifts.
There are so many markets to choose from across Europe, (in France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the United Kingdom……), you are sure to find one that fits your requirements.
Here are my top 5 Christmas Markets, but wherever you go, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
Aachen Christmas Market, Germany
22 November to 23 December 2019
Aachen is regularly listed as one of the top Christmas Markets in Europe and its ease of access for travellers from France, Belgium and the UK make it a must visit destination, as the 1,5 million visitors who come to the Aachen Christmas market each year will testify.
Aachen is a really pretty destination, and for approximately four weeks before Christmas, the squares and lanes around the Cathedral and town hall are transformed into a beautiful Christmas village, with sparkling lights, traditional cooking and the scent of mulled wine (called Glühwein, which literally translates to ‘glow-wine’, because of how you feel after you’ve been drinking tiny mugs outside in the cold December air)
Don’t forget to try the ‘Aachener Printen’ (a sort of spicy gingerbread)
Where to Stay
Pullman Aachen Quellenhof
The Pullman Aachen Quellenhof is about half a mile from the Christmas markets with very easy access to the motorway.
This hotel in Aachen features elegant rooms, a spa area with a swimming pool and on-site parking. It is connected to the Eurogress congress centre, 1 km from Aachen’s town hall.
It boasts a wide range of facilities for its guests, such as a spa, a fitness center, an indoor pool and even a hair salon. So, if you’re exhausted after wandering around the Christmas markets and you want to escape the hustle and bustle for a while, then this is the perfect place for you!
Mercure Aachen Am Dom
If you prefer to be more central, and within walking distance of the Christmas markets, this 3-star hotel is in the historic centre of Aachen, just 200 m from the Cathedral and market stands.
The Mercure Aachen Dom offers a 24-hour reception, air-conditioned rooms and an underground car park, which is quite handy as parking in the historic centre is difficult.
A full breakfast buffet is served each morning in the spacious breakfast room or on the terrace. Drinks and snacks are served in the cool Klenkes bar with its stone-design walls, and there is a wide variety of restaurants within walking distance.
Vienna Christmas Market, Austria
16 November to 24 December 2019
There can be no better place to get into the Christmas spirit than at the Christmas markets in Vienna. This Christmas tradition dates back to the Middle Ages when in 1298 Albrecht I granted Vienna’s citizens the privilege of holding a December Market or “Krippenmarkt”.
Nowadays, over 20 official Advent Markets sell a vast array of seasonal gifts and mouth-watering treats, and from mid-November to Christmas, Vienna’s prettiest squares transform into magical Christmas markets.
One of the most well-known of the Christmas Markets is the traditional “Vienna Magic of Advent“, which turns the City Hall Square into a shining fairytale land, with enticing sweets, warm drinks and an array of tree decorations and Christmas crafts. There is also a Christmas craft workshop for kids inside the City Hall, an ice-skating rink and a carousel.
Not far from here is the Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz, located between the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art, with over 70 stands offering traditional handicrafts and original gift ideas .
Another ‘not to be missed’ Christmas market is in front of Schönbrunn Palace, where the imperial backdrop, combined with the tempting aroma of Christmas baking and mulled wine makes for a truly magical atmosphere.
Many of the Christmas markets translate seamlessly into a New Year Village after Christmas, and did I mention that Vienna is also a magical place to spend New Year’s Eve?
You can find out more about what to see and do in Vienna here.
Where to Stay
The Hotel Bristol Vienna, which opened in 1892, provides a truly luxurious Viennese experience, in the heart of the city adjacent to the Vienna State Opera and in close proximity to all major sights.
The Bristol is a living example of Viennese charm and personalized service. The Bristol Lounge Restaurant offers all day dining, serving Austrian delicacies and international cuisine, and enchants guests with its stylish elegance and tasteful decor.
Guests can unwind in Vienna’s first American bar, The Bristol Bar where cocktails according to themes such as the opera, music, and wine are served.
150 exclusive rooms and 24 unique suites feel like turn-of-the-century apartments and offer spectacular views of the city. Room service is available around the clock and complimentary mineral water is waiting for all guests upon arrival. There is a business centre on the 5th floor, equipped with computers and printers and a 24 hour gym is at guests’ disposal.
The delicious food, nice staff, comfortable rooms, and good location make the Hotel Bristol one of the best choices for staying in Vienna.
The Grand Ferdinand Hotel
The Grand Ferdinand is the only Austrian-run hotel on the Ringstraße. The hotel’s motto is “A hotel that celebrates tradition by moving forward, not by looking back”
The hotel, which opened in autumn 2015, is owned by the Weitzer family. In 2003, Florian Weitzer took over the reigns of the family business and a 100 year legacy. He had wanted to add a glamorous hotel to Vienna’s scene for a long time: and he draws on the Ringstraße’s heyday to revive Viennese elegance at the Grand Ferdinand, combining the elegance of the past with the best modern amenities.
The hotel has 186 rooms in 5 categories, with the jewel in the crown being the 100 m2 Grande Suite,with views which extend all the way to the giant Ferris wheel in Vienna’s Prater park. The Grande Suite costs from 1000 EUR upwards per night, but Florian Weitzer wanted to make the Grand Ferdinand experience accessible to those with a smaller budget, too, and bunk beds are available in an elegant eight-bed room for a reasonable EUR 30 a night (they can be booked through Airbnb)
There are also three restaurants; Meissl & Schadn, serving traditional Viennese cuisine, the Gulasch & Söhne, featuring snacks and small dishes, and the Grand Étage, which is reserved for hotel guests and club members.
Guests of Grand Ferdinand Vienna benefit from a fitness centre, a rooftop pool, a 24-hour reception, and a gift shop.
Hotel Imperial, Vienna
The 5-star hotel Imperial is also on the Ringstraße, and it was inaugurated in 1873 by Emperor Francis Joseph, as the Palais Württemberg. The fact that it was initially constructed as a Palace is evident in the architecture: no two rooms are alike and almost half of the 138 rooms are suites.
The decor is as luxurious as you would expect with silk wall coverings, antique furnishings, chandeliers and heavy brocade drapes. Bathrobes and slippers are provided in the marble bathrooms.
The hotel also has a gourmet restaurant (Opus), and a café (Café Imperial), as well as bar, providing a wide range of cocktails and live piano music. There is also a 24 hour rooftop fitness centre and a sauna.
If you are in the mood to blow the budget or you are travelling as a group, the ultimate splurge is one of the Royal Suites, where you can enjoy the use of three bedrooms, an open bar, a personal butler, and a limousine to whisk you to and from the airport.
Budapest Christmas Market, Hungary
23 November 2019 to 6 January 2020
From November 23 until the beginning of January, come and discover this enchanted city-center Christmas celebration, ‘the Advent Feast at the Basilica’, rich with Central European holiday traditions.
The Budapest Advent and Christmas Fair on Vörösmarty Square, in front of the Cathedral, is ranked as one of the top 10 most beautiful markets in Europe.
You will discover a range of Hungarian hand-crafted products, delightful gift items, delicious Hungarian and international food such as the favourite ‘flódni,’ the ‘Hungaricum’ chimney cake, mouth-watering burgers and a range of fish dishes, served in eco-friendly cups and plates to preserve the environment.
There is also a light show, projected onto the facade of St Stephen’s Basilica, several times during the evening; and if you’re lucky, you may just run into Santa Claus himself browsing one of the Christmas stands.
Free attractions are also available for all ages – including ice skating in a central rink that surrounds a towering Christmas tree.
Where to Stay
Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest
The Kempinski Hotel is located in Downtown Budapest, just a short walk away from the Danube River and all of the city’s main attractions. It is just 700m to the Christmas markets in front of the Basilica.
This luxury hotel comprises 351 elegant rooms, including 35 suites, with spacious bathrooms and free Wi-Fi. The grand deluxe rooms and suites have recently been refurbished by British designer Alex Kravetz, and the suites feature some of the original artwork from the Corvinus Collection of Hungarian contemporary art.
If you’re feeling worn out after wandering around the Christmas Markets, you can treat yourself to a massage in the Spa or simply relax in the, Finnish and bio saunas, steam room, tepidarium or the indoor pool.
If you’re too exhausted to venture out, the hotel features two restaurants, two bars a coffee house and a deli: (ÉS Bisztró, Nobu, Blue Fox The Bar, The Living Room and ÉS Deli), or you can opt for the 24 hour in-room dining.
The Hilton Budapest
The Hilton Budapest is on the Buda side of the city, in the Castle district, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s next to Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. It’s just a quick walk to Buda Castle, Budapest Historical Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery, and a 15 minute walk across the famous Chain Bridge to Pest’s city center.
This is a large hotel with more than 300 rooms, including suites, most of which have spectacular views over the Danube. There is a 24 hour fitness centre and guests can also enjoy a sauna or a massage. There is a Bistro/ Grill, serving traditional Hungarian food and a Lobby Café and Bar.
The Buda area is very crowded with tourists during the day, but it is very quiet (and safe) in the evening, and is a great area to escape the hussle and bussle and just relax at the end of a busy day!
Strasbourg Christmas Market, France
22 November to 30 December 2019
The Strasbourg Christmas Market is one of the oldest in Europe (it dates back to 1570), and takes place in the heart of the Grand Île, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Come and marvel at all the twinkling fairy lights along the Rhine river, and at the Great Christmas Tree in the Place Kléber, which towers 30m above the town.
The Christmas market has successfully managed to preserve the spirit of the festive season, and you will be entranced by the city’s warm atmosphere and the crafts, Christmas decorations and gifts on display at the 300 wooden chalets set up in the city’s historic centre.
You will find traditional wooden toys and blown glass candles, and the delicious aromas and mouth-watering bredele (traditional small cookies) will tempt your taste buds, and of course, you will be able to partake of the traditional mulled wine.
Where to Stay
Mercure City Centre
The Mercure City Centre is, as its name suggests, right in the City Centre and just a few minutes from Place Kleber, the Cathedral and the picturesque district of Strasbourg ‘Petite France’.
Our room was very spacious and comfortable and all the staff were very friendly and helpful.
It is linked to the neighbouring sister ‘Sofitel’ hotel, by a courtyard bar (which you can see in the photo below, taken from our room), and you can also walk through to the Sofitel lobby, bar and restaurant by an indoor passage, which is very practical in the rain or the cold!
The breakfast room, situated on the 7th floor is bright and airy and has a great view over the town. In Summer, there is outdoor seating on the terrace.
The Hilton Strasbourg is located to the north of the city center, near the European Parliament. However there is a tram about 0.3 miles away to get to the town centre.
It is a 4 star hotel, and is perfectly located to visit the Palais de la Musique and Congress, as well as the nearby Palais Rohan. It offers 245 guest rooms with either a view of the Parliament or the Cathedral. Some of them also have direct access to the executive lounge. 24 hour room service is available and guests have free access to the fitness room and sauna in the well-being centre.
There is a Brasserie, serving seasonal cuisine and Alsatian dishes, and a bar which proposes several types of cocktails.
Aparthotel Adagio Access Strasbourg Petite France
If you fancy a bit more independence then these self-catering apartments could be for you!
The Adagio Access Strasbourg Petite France is just 2 minutes’ walk from Strasbourg’s old town, and 1.5 kms from the Cathedral.
This 3-star holiday residence offers studios and 2-room apartment, all of which are furnished and equipped with a kitchen. There is a 24 hour reception, free Wifi access and an onsite car park.
This is a good budget option if you don’t require hotel facilities.
Brussels Christmas Market, Belgium
30 November 2019 to 7 January 2020
The Brussels Christmas market, known as ‘Winter Wonders’, is the most popular of the Belgium Christmas markets, with approximately 2.5 million visitors from all over the world.
“Winter Wonders” is the unmissable end-of-year event in Brussels with its magical lights, fun activities, interesting gift ideas, delicious food and warming drinks. The majority of the Christmas market is centred around the Grand Place, where you will find the majestic tree, a magnificent sound and light show, a life-sized manger and a host of Christmas market stalls to tempt your tastebuds and your purse!
You will also find market stalls around the Bourse, the Place de la Monnaie (where you will also find the skating rink), the Place Sainte-Catherine and the ‘Marché aux Poissons’, selling an array of treasures to appeal to all tastes and all ages.
Once you’ve exhausted the shopping and eating possibilities (or possibly before) you can take advantage of the various fairground attractions (Ferris wheel, merry-go-rounds,…), and the light and festive parades and concerts.
Where to Stay
Hotel Novotel Brussels Off Grand Place
The Novotel is perfectly located, just 170m from the Grand Place in the historic heart of Brussels. This family friendly 4-star hotel is a great base to explore the Christmas markets and it is also just 200m from the Beer Museum!
It offers en-suite rooms, decorated with light-wood furnishings and with satellite TV, tea and coffee making facilities, a work desk and a sofa.
At the Gourmet Bar guests can enjoy simple international cuisine in a casual setting. The bar serves a selection of cocktails, local Belgian beers and fine wines.
This hotel features bicycle rental, a small fitness centre and a spacious street terrace.
Hilton Brussels City *
This centrally located hotel is just 250m from the Rue Neuve shopping area and just opposite the Metro station.
The rooms and suites are equipped with cable TV, WiFi, a mini fridge, free tea/coffee making facilities and an MP3 player. They also feature an en-suite bathroom and a large work station.
The ‘Bien Belge Living Lounge’ serves traditional Belgian specialities and a selection of Belgian beers or fine wines . There is also a “Grab-and Go” station in the lobby with various snacks and drinks.
After a busy day at the Christmas markets or a long journey, you can relax and rejuvenate in the Scandinavian Wellness and Health Club, which includes a sauna and a hammam. You can also work out in the 24-hour fitness centre.*
*The hotel is currently being remodelled and the Wellness and Health Club is temporarily closed. Please check if it has reopened before booking.
I hope you have found this helpful, and wherever you decide to go, I hope you have a truly magical experience. I’m Julia, the Senior Editor of European Travel and I can’t wait to share some more travel inspiration with you again soon! In the meantime, you can find detailed posts on Vienna and Budapest on my blog and follow along on Instagram. Don’t forget to check out all the other fabulous posts by the other Editors and follow The Code of Style on Instagram.