Imagine the smell of roasted almonds, a cup of hot mulled wine to warm your palms, the taste of sweet, spicy lebkuchen, the sound of a choir singing Christmas carols fills the crisp winter air and medieval, cobblestone streets are aglow under glittering holiday lights.
It's almost the holiday season in Europe, and that means Christmas markets - traditional festivals that date back to the middle ages of Germany. Now popular all over Europe, they attract thousands of visitors every year with their lovingly decorated trees, chalets selling handcrafted gifts, delicious food, rides, ice-skating, music and entertainment.
The oldest of these Christkindlmarkts in Europe go back more than 700 years, others were established just 20-30 years ago. They're all magical and beautiful to behold. European Best Destinations, a Brussels-based travel organization that promotes tourism in Europe, gathered over 200,000 votes from 131 countries asking people for their favorite markets. Here are the must-see Christmas markets of Europe.
Dates: Dec. 1, 2018 - Jan. 6, 2019
This lesser-known Christmas market tops the list as one of the best in Europe. At its center is the Gothic, twin-spired Zagreb Cathedral, above, and 13th-century St. Mark's Church. During the holiday season, the huge main square sparkles brightly with music and concerts on an open-air stage, food marquees and children's entertainment. There's a huge Christmas tree, the fountain is transformed into a light display and there is a cozy, heated, covered conservatory serving food and drinks.
Zagreb's Christmas stalls offer souvenirs and Christmas decorations, winter specialities including strukle, (a warm baked pastry dish with soft cheese) mulled wine, hot chocolate and Christmas cookies. Lanterns light up the avenues of trees and the old music pavilion in Zrinjevac Park looks like a little glittering palace.
Dates: Nov. 23 - Dec. 30, 2018
Colmar combines all the ingredients of a dream destination: culture, relaxation, great food, wines, traditions and architecture. Its Christmas markets are world-famous.
Photo: cge2010 / Shutterstock
Colmar's six Christmas markets fill a labyrinth of small streets lined with centuries-old half-timbered houses. The historic setting is made even more magical by the festive lights.
Dates: Nov. 17 - Dec. 24, 2018
Vienna is one of the best destinations in the world to celebrate Christmas. The entire city turns into a big, magical and unique Christmas market. The event dates back to the Middle Ages when, in 1298, Albrecht I granted Vienna's citizens the privilege of holding a December Market or Krippenmarkt. The Viennese Dream Christmas Market in front of the City Hall, above, is one of the highlights.
Vienna has several markets. The Christmas Village Maria-Theresien Platz market has festively decorated market stalls and a vast array of culinary delights.
Dates: Nov. 27, 2018 - Jan. 2, 2019
Budapest's Advent Feast at the Basilica is a favorite Christmas market, not just in Hungary, but all of Europe. It blends old European traditions with modern elements such as flash mobs and a light show on the facade of St. Stephens Basilica that spectators can view with 3-D glasses.
Budapest's markets feature beautiful quality handcrafts and Hungarian delicacies such as chimney cakes, sweet cylindrical pastries rolled in sugar, then grilled and topped with chocolate, cinnamon, or other tasty garnishes. The markets here attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
Photo: Annto / Shutterstock
Dates: Nov. 23 - Dec. 30, 2018
Strasbourg is a must for Christmas lovers. The markets here are some of the oldest and most beautiful. With more than 300 chalets of gifts, crafts and food specialties garlanded with lights, the Alsatian capital becomes an enchanting experience.
Strasbourg sits on the border of Germany, blending German and French influences of culture and architecture. Gingerbread houses - the edible kind - originated in Germany during the 16th century.
Dates: Nov. 24 - Dec. 24, 2018
The Chateau Montbeliard, above, is a castle dating back to medieval times that overlooks the town of Montbeliard. During the Advent, the town is lit by 65,000 lights burning in the winter sky, arranged in arches and pyramids, like enormous multi-coloured canopies.
The Montbeliard Christmas market is an age-old tradition. Over 150 craftsmen come from the Franche-Comte region and other parts of France, offering a large selection of arts and crafts and food specialities. There is also an ice-skating rink and street entertainment.
Photo: Arnaud 25/Wikipedia
Dates: Nov. 23 - Dec. 23, 2018
Aachen offers a traditional and gourmet Christmas market in a family atmosphere. Located on the border of Belgium and the Netherlands, Aachen is at a crossroads of European culture.
Every year before Christmas, the squares and streets around the cathedral and the Aachen Town Hall are transformed into a paradise of lights and colors, festive sounds and seductive smells.
Dates: Nov. 22 - Dec. 23, 2018
The quaint Christmas market can be found on Barfusserplatz and Munsterplatz, right in the centre of Basel and at the heart of the festively decorated Old Town. Above, dolls and toys on display in the toy museum.
Photo: Pierre-Olivier / Shutterstock
Basel's magnificent Christmas tree on the Munsterplatz is decorated with ornaments by the well-known decorator Johann Wanner. Over 180 traders and artisans offer their goods for sale in small, rustic wooden chalets at this market.
Dates: Nov. 18 - Dec. 30, 2018
One of the most beautiful Christmas markets in France is in Metz. See the ice sculptures at the Frozen Fairyland, then warm up cold hands with a hot mulled wine or apple juice. Above, the Christmas Ferris wheel in front of the cathedral of Metz.
The Metz markets fill the city's six main squares with hand-crafted gifts and traditional treats. Above, Santa Claus (and helpers) ride through town on motorcycles.
Photo: Elena Dijour / Shutterstock
Dates: Nov. 24, 2018, - Jan. 6, 2019
A Christmas tree has been set up in Tallinn's Town Hall Square since 1441, according to Estonia's tourist site. At the Tallinn market, merchants offer Estonian cuisine ranging from black pudding and sour cabbage to gingerbread and hot Christmas drinks.
Children will enjoy the fairy-tale magic of the Tallinn market, as well as the carousel, Christmas train, and, of course, Santa Claus.
Dates: Nov. 30, 2018 - Jan. 6, 2019
The Brussels Winter Wonders event takes place before and during the Christmas holidays, at the Grand-Place in Brussels and around the Bourse, the Place de la Monnaie, the Place Sainte-Catherine and the Marche aux Poissons. Above, the Grand Place.
The Brussels market has over 200 chalets, a Ferris wheel and other rides, an ice-skating rink, a Christmas tree and a sound and light show on the Grand-Place.
Photo: Cristian Puscasu / Shutterstock
Dates: Dec. 1, 2018 - Jan. 6, 2019
Already a stunningly beautiful city, at Christmastime Prague becomes magical with its elegant old houses, palaces, towers, cobblestoned streets and baroque squares garnished in holiday lights and colors. Pictured is the old square and Tyn Church.
The unique atmosphere of the Prague's medieval center makes the markets at the Old Town Square a popular tourist attraction.
Dates: Nov. 9 - Dec. 22, 2018
The U.K.'s first Christmas market began in Manchester in 1999, and has been growing ever since, attracting more than 9 million visitors a year. Above, a food stall at the Christmas Market near the Town Hall in Albert Square in Manchester.
Photo: Steve Allen / Shutterstock
At the Manchester market, nearly 300 beautifully crafted stalls offer food, drinks, Yuletide gifts, jewelry, clothes and toys.
Dates: Nov. 26 - Dec. 23, 2018
The aroma of baked apples, cinnamon biscuits and mulled wine waft through the alleys of Cologne this time of year. It is one of Germany's most popular Christmas destinations. Cologne has several markets through out the city.
The Christmas markets in Cologne open their gates on the last Monday before Advent. To learn more, visit the city's tourist site.
Photo: VanderWolf Images / Shutterstock
Dates: Nov. 23 - Dec. 31, 2018
In Amiens, you'll find the best craftsmen, the most beautiful attractions, magnificent decorations and high-quality street performances. Wander past 130 chalets of goods that stretch for over a mile.
Dates: Nov. 28 - Dec. 24, 2018
Dresden has 11 different Christmas markets. Striezelmarkt, Germany's oldest Christmas market, is a bustling marketplace with traditional Saxon treats in the heart of the baroque city. Christmas tales also come to life in the city's theaters, museums host special exhibits and boats sparkling with lights glide along the Elbe.
Dates: Nov. 30 - Dec. 24, 2018
The Nuremberg Christkind appears on the balcony of the Church of Our Lady on the Friday before the first Sunday in Advent to kick off the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt. Above, vendors sell sweets and typical lebkuchen in the Nuremberg Christmas market.
Photo: Salvador Aznar / Shutterstock
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Dates: Nov. 30 - Dec. 23 2018
The medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber has been holding this market since since the 15th century. The town turns into a fairytale winter wonderland during the Advent. The highlight of the market is the appearance of the figure of the "Rothenburger Reiterle" at the opening ceremony. The figure was once believed to be an envoy from another world that floated through the ether with the souls of the deceased at winter time. Today, it is considered a friendly carrier of good news.
Dates: Dec. 1 - Dec. 24, 2018
Bern's Christmas market is held in the city's medieval Old City streets, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are actually several Christmas markets in Bern where you can enjoy the lights, drink Gluhwein and discover holiday arts and crafts.
Above, a café in the Old City Christmas market.
Photo: Heracles Kritikos / Shutterstock
Dates: Nov. 27 - Dec. 23, 2018
Leipzig Christmas market dates all the way back to 1458. With more than 250 twinkling stalls it is not only one of the oldest but also one of the largest Christmas markets in Germany.
Photo: klom / Shutterstock