As temperatures drop and days get shorter, cities and towns across Europe are stringing outdoor lights and erecting wooden stalls to prepare city centers and squares for the arrival of winter markets. The markets attract locals and tourists alike who are free to explore clusters of charming booths filled with arts and crafts, glittering decorations and culinary delights. Hilton has hotels on the doorstep of some of Europe’s best winter markets, allowing travelers to easily gain authentic experiences that can enrich their travels.
The tradition of winter markets dates back to the late Middle Ages, spanning many parts of Europe from Germany to France and Switzerland, but the markets have gained international appeal thanks to the growing ease and popularity of global travel. Historically, the markets traveled from city to city, providing residents a chance to stock up on seasonal food and supplies for the colder months. Over time, they’ve evolved into the elaborate winter markets they are today, drawing tourists by plane, train, automobile and boat, especially during the holiday season. They are also sometimes part of market-hopping tours travelers combine to create a vacation with a one-stop-shop cultural experience. These markets generally open in mid-to-late November and stay open through the holiday season, closing at the end of December or early January.
To provide a guide, we have selected top-notch winter markets across Europe, including several with holiday themes, along with recommendations for nearby hotels that travelers can retire to after a long day of shopping and sampling local delicacies.
Among our list are traditional favorites in places such as Germany and Hungary, and others in more unusual market destinations like Spain and Italy.
Tallinn is home to one of the most renowned Christmas markets in Europe. The Tallinn Christmas Market is situated in the heart of Tallinn’s Old Town, which boasts a towering Christmas tree and 500-year-old buildings decorated for the holidays. It’s a festive atmosphere where Santa Claus is on site for younger visitors, and there are plenty of kiosks selling cozy sweaters, wooden handicrafts, traditional sour cabbage and warm gingerbread. Set in the heart of Estonia’s capital city, Hilton Tallinn Park is located on the eastern side of quiet Politseiaed Park (Police Garden Park). Guests can take in wonderful views of the harbor and the enchanting Old Town from the hotel, and they’re an easy walk of less than a mile to Old Town, where shops, restaurants and the charming Tallinn Christmas Market await.
Photo: Hilton Tallinn Park
Budapest is home to the Christmas Market on Vorosmarty Square, the oldest and largest Christmas market in this capital city. Located in the courtyard outside St. Stephen’s Basilica, guests can take in the iconic church before exploring the unique market stalls selling wooden crafts alongside savory fish and Hungarian chimney cake — a hollow cinnamon-sugar pastry. Travelers can also enjoy free late-afternoon concerts as they sip on mulled wine at this nostalgic Christmas market. Hilton Garden Inn Budapest City Centre is centrally located near the Christmas Market on Vorosmarty Square and near Andrassy Avenue, with high-end shops, restaurants, cafes and major attractions nearby, including the Hungarian State Opera House, St. Stephen's Basilica, Hungarian Parliament and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge that crosses the River Danube.
Photo: Hilton Garden Inn Budapest City Centre
London has many holiday markets to get in the season’s spirit, but the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is our top choice. The market offers everything from the UK’s largest open-air ice rink to quaint holiday market stalls selling traditional crafts. It also has a large variety of dining and bar options, including a Bavarian village complete with a beer hall and an ice bar, where everything is made of ice. A mile away from the famous winter wonderland is the Conrad London St. James, which sits on the doorsteps of Westminster, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. The hotel is in the heart of the city and offers easy access to some of London’s most iconic sights, including other holiday markets across the city such as the Southbank Centre Winter Market and the Leicester Square Christmas Market.
Photo: Conrad London St. James
Head to Barcelona for a milder holiday experience on the Mediterranean Sea. La Fira de Santa Llúcia, the oldest Christmas Market in Barcelona dating back to the 18th century, is in the charming Gothic quarter and shares a square with the staggering Barcelona Cathedral. Instead of the traditional glühwein (mulled wine), sip on Spanish cava while perusing the craft stalls selling glass figurines, ornaments and musical instruments. Stay at the centrally located boutique hotel, Alexandra Barcelona Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, which is an easy 20-minute walk (about a mile) from the quarter. In addition to the holiday market, the adjoining neighborhood, Eixample, is home to other popular attractions, such as La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous Roman Catholic minor basilica, and the Passeig de Gràcia, which is an avenue lined with shops, restaurants and some of the city’s most well-known architecture.
Photo: Alexandra Barcelona Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton
Beautiful architecture of the New Church (also called the German Cathedral) and French Cathedral surround this classic holiday market in Berlin. While exploring, guests can sample white-chocolate milk, local sausages, fried apples and cheese from around the world. Visitors can shop for handmade goods, including artwork, wood carvings and clothing. Hilton Berlin is the perfect jumping-off point to the holiday cheer. Located in Berlin’s historic Gendarmenmarkt square, the hotel is steps away from the market — Berlin’s most famous — and other sites like the French and German Cathedrals and Konzerthaus (Concert House) Berlin.
Photo: Hilton Berlin
The traditional Christmas Market at East Princes Street Gardens in the heart of the city offers a unique shopping experience for every visitor, with a fair that boasts crafters, artists, gift shops and gastronomic surprises. A light snowfall turns this marketplace into a magical holiday experience. Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian is located at the west end of Princes Street, just a short walk from the holiday market. The hotel is also centrally located near some of Edinburgh’s most iconic attractions, including Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, a thoroughfare lined with eclectic shops, restaurants and attractions.
Photo: Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian
This winter, the RAI Amsterdam, a large convention center, will be transformed into a winter wonderland both inside and out. Visitors can skate under a blanket of lights, enjoy the sights from a Ferris wheel and experience go-karting on real ice. They can warm up for a bit inside and then try cross-country skiing, curling on the ice rink or roasting marshmallows over an open fire. Hampton by Hilton Amsterdam Centre East is about 4 miles from the magic at The Ultimate Winter Experience and is close to the tram, where guests have easy access to the city center and the main Central Station.
Photo: Hampton by Hilton Amsterdam Centre East
Traditions abound at the Prague Christmas Market in the Old Town Square. Visitors are treated to a winter wonderland complete with caroling, local food and drinks, as well as top-notch shopping. With mulled wine in hand, travelers can shop for gingerbread, glassware, wooden toys and tree decorations. For those looking for an alternative to mulled wine, Czech beer pairs well with other traditional market foods like spit-roasted ham, barbequed sausages and salty potato pancakes. Situated at the gates of Old Town, the newly renovated Hilton Prague Old Town offers travelers the perfect launch point to the Christmas market in the Old Town Square. After a day of exploring the markets and the winding streets of Prague, visitors can find a sophisticated retreat from the busy streets. When up for more exploring, sites like Wenceslas Square, a main city square, and Charles Bridge, the historic bridge that crosses the Vltava River, are just a 10-minute walk away.
Photo: Hilton Prague Old Town