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I have never gotten into as much of a Christmassy mood as I did when visiting these European Christmas markets - picture a light snowfall, steaming mugs of mulled wine, glittering lights, and Christmas decorations by the thousands. You can't get more Christmassy than that! Christmas can be a magical time of year around the world, but Europe seems to take it one notch further. Here are my 5 favourite places to get into the holiday spirit in Europe.

1. Munich, Germany

Munich's Christmas market is absolutely beautiful - set in the city's main square against the backdrop of city hall, you won't find a prettier urban Christmas market location. They say that Germany's Christmas markets are the very best, and Munich did not disappoint!

View of a market stall and Christmas tree against city hall in Munich, Germany
View of buildings against a blue sky in Munich, Germany

Munich can be reached via a quick train from Salzburg (tickets can be booked easily via the Trainline app). Otherwise, it's less than a two hour drive from either Stuttgart or Nuremberg.

To start your visit, walk down Kaufingerstrasse to Marienplatz, taking the time to stop at any stalls that pique your interest along the way. We found a place along Kaufingerstrasse that served rosé and white gluhwein, both uncommon finds! Keep in mind that most stalls will charge you a "pfand" (deposit) of a few euros when you order a beverage, which will be refunded to you upon returning the glasses (or not if you decide to hang onto a few as souvenirs).

Gluhwein stall at the Christmas market in Munich, Germany
Christmas tree against city hall in Munich, Germany
Wooden Christmas market stall with festive greenery in Munich, Germany
Gluhwein stall at the Christmas market in Munich, Germany
Mug of mulled wine in the main square in Munich, Germany

Before you consume too many glasses of gluhwein (!!), make sure to stop head to St. Peter's Church to climb the tower - for only €3 you'll get an amazing view over Marienplatz and the Christmas market.

View of city hall from the church in Munich, Germany

Another Christmas market in Munich worth checking out that's just a quick walk away from Marienplatz is the Christmas Village in the Kaiserhof of the Residenz. This market is set in the courtyard of Munich City Palace, and feels really cozy and magical.

View of the Christmas market stalls at Kaiserhof of the Residenz in Munich, Germany

2. Salzburg, Austria

The home of the Sound of Music puts on some pretty amazing Christmas markets, and its proximity to the mountains will quickly put you in a wintery mood. To get here, you can hop on a train from Munich (between 1.5 hours and 2.5 hours depending on your departure time), or from Innsbruck (just under 2 hours).

View of Salzburg from the water, Austria
Christmas tree with a view of the mountains at Hohensalzburg Forstress in Salzburg, Austria

First up, make your way to Fortress funicular - for 12.90, you'll get a return ticket on the funicular and access to the Hohensalzburg Forstress, which dates back to 1077 and is the biggest fully preserved castle in Central Europe. And the best part of visiting around the holidays is... a little Christmas market pops up in the castle's courtyard! Stop by here for a snack and mulled wine while soaking in castle views.

Christmas market stalls at Hohensalzburg Forstress in Salzburg, Austria
Girl beside a Christmas tree looking out at the mountains at Hohensalzburg Forstress in Salzburg, Austria
Christmas market stall against a blue sky at Hohensalzburg Forstress in Salzburg, Austria
View of the mountains from Hohensalzburg Forstress in Salzburg, Austria
Wooden stall selling bratwurst at the Christmas market at Hohensalzburg Forstress in Salzburg, Austria
Two cups of mulled wine at the fortress in Salzburg, Austria

To keep on with that wintery spirit, grab a taxi over to the Untersbergbahn, a cable car that will bring you to the top of the Untersberg mountain, which straddles the border between Germany and Austria. Otherwise, hop on the #25 bus, a cheaper option to get to the cable car from Salzburg (and more convenient for the return given there are unlikely to be taxis waiting around, especially in winter months). The views from the top are incredible and seeing snow immediately gets me in a Christmassy mood! Side note: I recommend wearing better footwear than I did.

View of a cable car and mountains near Salzburg, Austria
Snowcapped mountains near Salzburg, Austria
Girl in a hat looking out at the mountains near Salzburg, Austria

Once the sun sets, make sure to walk down Getreidegasse to soak in the hustle and bustle of Christmas shoppers and check out the beautiful lights. Next up, head towards the cathedral and the Salzburg Residence for the Salzburger Christkindlmarkt, the city's most popular market. If you're hungry, try raclette, a dish of melted cheese, potatoes and cured meats, washed down with a steamy mug of gluhwein. And make sure to walk around and get some shopping in - this market had the best decorations and Christmas knick knacks (cookie cutters, dog treats, etc.) of all the markets I'd visited.

View of a Christmas tree and string lights at a Christmas market in Salzburg, Austria
Girl in a hat and scarf holding a mug of mulled wine at a Christmas market in Salzburg, Austria
Colourful meringues at a Christmas market in Salzburg, Austria
White and gold ornaments at a Christmas market in Salzburg, Austria
Mug of mulled wine at a Christmas market in Salzburg, Austria
Dozens of colourful nutcrackers at a Christmas market in Salzburg, Austria
Signage for baked goods at the Christmas market in Salzburg, Austria

To end the evening in a cozy Austrian way, head to the Augustiner Bräu brewery to taste local beers in a classic beer hall environment. Maybe not Christmassy per se, but will definitely get you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside :)

Two mugs of beer at the Augustiner Brau brewery in Salzburg, Austria

3. London, United Kingdom

There's a reason why one of the most loved Christmas movies of all time, Love Actually, was set in London. London knows how to do Christmas right - although Germany and France are normally crowned the kings of Christmas, I think London is a pretty strong contender.

View of blue Christmas lights on Oxford Street in London, UK

To get here, grab a flight to one of London's many airports - Heathrow is the most common one for international flights, but you'll find that a lot of low cost fares go to Gatwick or Luton. If you can, snag a flight into London City - it's the closest to London itself so you'll avoid wasting too much time commuting. London is also connected to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam by the EuroStar train - way less of a hassle than flying!

The best thing about London at Christmas? The LIGHT DISPLAYS. They're everywhere and they're absolutely gorgeous. Do not miss checking out the lights at Oxford Street, Regent Street, Carnaby and Covent Garden. Pop by the Ivy restaurant in Covent Garden - they've normally got a pretty cute door display around the holidays as well. Keep an eye out for other special things going on in Covent Garden as well - this area is a hub for brand pop-ups and activations. Last year Tiffany put on an epic winter wonderland pop-up - so picturesque!

View of a large red bow outside the Covent Garden Market in London, UK
View of Christmas trees decorated with neon tubing in London, UK
View of a teal bench, snowy trees and skating rink in Covent Garden, London, UK
View of the underwater themed lights and display on Carnaby Street in London, UK

London is also home to some of the world's most amazing department stores, all of which happen to put on amazing displays around the holidays - stop by Liberty (my favourite) for the picturesque view of the building from the outside, the ornaments (HEAVEN), their annual Christmas display inside and if you're up for it, high tea in their dining room. It's great and surprisingly one of the least expensive ones I've seen in London. Stop by Fortnum & Mason, checking out their holiday cookies and other treats, and last but definitely not least - Harrods.

View of the colourful special display at Liberty department store in London, UK
View of the Christmas trees outside Liberty department store in London, UK
View of the display of Christmas ornaments at Liberty department store in London, UK
View of a Christmas tree decorated with oversized gold ornaments at Fortnum and Mason in London, UK
View of Harrods lit up with Christmas lights in London, UK

Next up, check out the Christmas market on the South Bank. Set against the backdrop of the London Eye, the views from here can't be beat. Grab something to snack on and some mulled cider to keep you warm, and spend some time walking around.

View of Westminster Abbey from the south bank in London, UK
View of the crowds and Christmas lights at the South Bank Christmas market in London, UK

Trying to stay on the north side of the Thames? Swing by the market at Leceister Square instead. There's another market (albeit smaller) at Trafalgar Square as well if you're in the mood to market hop.

View of the sign for Christmas at Leicester Square in London, UK

If you're up for a full fledged meal, you cannot miss an opportunity to dine at 34 Mayfair around the holidays. They deck out their dining space with 14,000 ornaments (!!) and it's absolutely magical. And they have special holiday inspired cocktails - yes please! Make sure to book ahead as it's very popular.

Girl drinking a cocktail surrounded by Christmas ornaments at 34 Mayfair in London, UK
View of the 14,000 ornaments that line the walls and ceiling at the restaurant 34 Mayfair in London, UK

Finally, a staple of London at Christmastime is Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland. Hyde Park turns into a magical Christmas village, featuring a German style beer garden, lots of rides and more. Unfortunately this won't be taking place in 2020 due to COVID-19 (similarly to all the other hopes and dreams I had for this year), but keep this one on your list for 2021.

View of the bright neon lights at the rides at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, London, UK
View of the ferris wheel at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, London, UK

4. Maastricht, Netherlands

Maastricht is located in the southernmost part of the Netherlands, sitting right next to the Belgian border, and is home to one of the best Christmas markets in the country. Plus, the entire city is decorated festively and immerses you in the holiday spirit. Its main Christmas market can be found at Vrijthof square, and is home to a large ferris wheel, dozens of market stalls and a skating rink. In 2020, the market will be open from November 27th through December 29th.

Wooden sign pointing to Santa's world at a Christmas market in Maastricht, Netherlands
View of Christmas lights along a street in Maastricht, Netherlands

Maastricht is a 2h15 minute drive from Amsterdam, or just 1h22 from Brussels. It's also possible to get here by train from Amsterdam, although it'll take you a little longer - you're looking at roughly 3 hours and a half from the Amsterdam central station.

We stayed at the super trendy boutique hotel The Dutch, and just loved it. The décor is on point and fun touches around the room (like these mugs) make it a memorable place to stay.

View of the minimalistic bed at The Dutch hotel in Maastricht, Netherlands
Two coffee mugs that read "saving you from another ordinary night" at The Dutch hotel in Maastricht, Netherlands
View of the sofas, disco ball and bright blue accent wall at the lobby of the Hotel Dutch in Maastricht, Netherlands
Blonde girl in a scarf beside a pink bike in Maastricht, Netherlands

To escape the cold, make sure to stop for lunch at the cozy Café De Knijnspiep for an onion soup and Belgian beers.

Two rustic mugs of beer in Maastricht, Netherlands

For dinner, head to Cafe Sjiek to sample typical Maastricht fare, like zuurvlees (a tangy stew) and bloedworst (blood sausage). It's a popular spot so expect to wait.

At the market itself, take some time to walk around and maybe even hop on a couple of the rides they have set up. Do not miss out on trying poffertjes, tiny pancakes served with a generous heaping of icing sugar.

Poffertjes to-go at the Christmas market in Maastricht, Netherlands
Man in a scarf and hat holding fresh baked poffertjes at the Christmas market in Maastricht, Netherlands

One of the best things about the location of the Maastricht Christmas market is that Vrijthof square (where it's located) is lined with bars and restaurants with inviting terraces. Stop by one to have a nightcap or hot cup of tea and soak in the Christmassy vibes.

Glass of beer and cup of tea set with a view of a ferris wheel at the Christmas market in Maastricht, Netherlands

5. Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg's second largest city is home to a number of Christmas markets, the largest one taking place outside city hall. It's also home to the world's first erotic Christmas market (sounds weird, I know - read on to learn more).

To get to Hamburg, grab at taxi from the Hamburg Airport (roughly a 20 minute drive to the centre). Hamburg is also in proximity to a couple other big European cities - you can hop on a FlixBus from Copenhagen (5.5 hours), or drive from Amsterdam (4.5 hours).

Department store with Christmas lights in Hamburg, Germany

For the aforementioned (very) alternative Christmas market experience, head to the Sankt Pauli district of Hamburg - this area is filled with bars, nightclubs, and the city's red light district... and their x-rated version of a Christmas market fits right in.

View of the entrance of the Santa Pauli Christmas market in St. Pauli, Hamburg, Germany

The mulled wine mugs are a little different than what you'd find at other Christmas markets, the stands sell a variety of "sexy" toys and baked goods, and there's even a tent where strip shows take place. Yup, different than your average Christmas market, but super fun and entertaining.

Crass design of a lady wearing fishnets on a mug of mulled wine at the Christmas market in St. Pauli, Hamburg, Germany
Naughty shaped baked goods at a stall at the Christmas market in St. Pauli, Hamburg, Germany
View of the strip zelt tent at the Christmas market in St. Pauli, Hamburg, Germany

If you're looking for somewhere to stay, the Side Hotel has modern, minimalistic rooms and a great breakfast.

View of a modern room at the Side Hotel in Hamburg, Germany


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