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Best Christmas markets in Europe for a family-friendly festive break

Twinkling lights, mulled wine, carousels, festive shows and magical Santa appearances await at these family-friendly Christmas markets in Europe.

By Kim Gregory | Last updated Nov 9, 2022

Christmas market in Cologne

Celebrate the most wonderful time of the year in full festive style on a family city break to the best European Christmas markets, where cosy wooden huts sell toys, crafts and sweet treats; the smell of mulled wine and the sound of carollers fills the air; and Santa is on-hand to make believers of us all.

Family-friendly fun awaits at each of these Mumsnetter-recommended markets, whether you’re riding the miniature train between Cologne’s sparkled-up squares, watching your kids’ eyes light up like a Christmas tree at Copenhagen’s illuminations shows or letting adventurous young ones whizz down toboggan runs in Berlin. Yes, it might well be cold, expensive and crowded (thermal base layers and midweek/daytime visits can help to combat this) but you’ll make unique, magical family memories to last way beyond December.

What are the best European Christmas markets for families?

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1. Cologne, Germany

Cologne lit up at night time

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"We have done Cologne with a 2 year old. On most of the markets, there is a small carousel or two and the stall holders were mostly friendly to the DC, offering them biscuit samples. Lots of toy stalls and shops with Christmas displays that appealed to the DC. We stayed in the Novotel which was family-friendly, would recommend" - recommended by Mumsnet user, Summergarden

"We had a lovely time in Cologne with 2 little ones. Lots of markets, a little road train to take you between them, the Lindt chocolate museum and the zoo. Flight from the UK was short too" - recommended by Mumsnet user, FlagDay

There’s a reason why Cologne is one of the most well-known Christmas market destinations. Traditional markets spread out across the city, each with a different theme. You’ll get all the usual treats plus a huge range of child-friendly delights like the Christmas Market Express train to carry you between markets. Magical must-sees include the picturesque, angel-themed Markt der Engel and Cologne Harbour Christmas Market at the Chocolate Museum (you’re welcome).

If you've time, combine Cologne with train trips to other nearby German markets, like the one in Aachen, which stretches out through the pretty squares and lanes around the cathedral and town hall. Don't miss tucking into freshly baked local goodies like Aachener Printen.

2. Edinburgh, Scotland

A carousel lit up at night, at Edinburgh's Christmas market

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"I would recommend Edinburgh market - beautiful and festive with lots to see and do in the old town. Easily accessible by train with everything in walking distance" - recommended by Mumsnet user, MrsPworkingmummy

"We go to Edinburgh with our 2 every year. Alongside the typical market stalls they have plenty for the children: rides, Christmas tree maze and of course Santa. We did the illuminated trail through the botanical gardens last year" - recommended by Mumsnet user, SleepyPaws

With a historic and characterful backdrop, Edinburgh’s Christmas Market and Winter Festival are extra magical. Plus, you can travel to the city by train for a comfortable family-friendly arrival. Charming huts sell the usual festive goodies and gifts (think hot chocolate, tree decorations and warming waffles) plus you may see fun Scottish twists, like mulled Irn Bru. There are usually projections and performances by local carol singers, and there’s a Ferris wheel and an ice rink. For a fun alternative, book Santa’s Grotto at Edinburgh Zoo (zoo tickets not included) and spend the day animal-spotting too.

3. Berlin, Germany

Christmas market from above in a Berlin square

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"We went to Berlin when DS3 was 8 months old and our older 2 were 5 and 8. It was brilliant! The markets were cold but fantastic and so child-friendly. They got very packed in the evenings so we tried to hit them in the early evening and daytime. Berlin was a lovely city to wander around too" - recommended by Mumsnet user, dinkystinky

Berlin’s city-wide Christmas markets fill the streets with festive cheer. Some markets are specifically designed for families, like ‘Family Wonderland’, which features rides galore. And some markets have special children’s sections or days. Teens will love the toboggan run with disco lights at Winterwelt and there’s a firework display at Winterzauber (it’s worth checking dates before booking a trip).

Head to the market by City Hall to ride the giant Ferris wheel (hello, twinkly views), skate the ice rink and - ready your nostalgic hearts - see Santa fly through the sky in his sleigh! That’s sure to keep the magic alive for a few more years.

4. Brussels, Belgium

A square in Brussels with a Christmas tree, all lit up

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"We go every year to the Brussels one. It’s gorgeous and dd loves the roundabouts, big wheel and ice rink. The downside with dcs is that it gets absolutely packed! It was fine when she was in the buggy, but nowadays I have a big fear of losing her in the crowd. If you stay in Brussels it is easy to get to Bruges and Ghent or Leuven to see those markets too. They are all very pretty towns" - recommended by Mumsnet user, Portofino

Christmas is a time to indulge and where better to do so than the land of Belgian chocolate and waffles? Brussels’ Winter Wonders promises over 200 chalet stalls stacked with sweet goodies to satisfy little elves, and Belgian beer for those on the naughty list. Ride the Ferris wheel, hit the ice rink and don’t miss the spectacular light and sound show at the Grand-Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll also want to see the giant Christmas tree here. There’s a two-hour direct Eurostar train from London to Brussels. We can taste that chocolate now…

5. Vienna, Austria

Vienna Christmas market in the snow

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"Definitely Vienna. Loads of markets with decent crafty things to buy, good food and lovely things to see" - recommended by Mumsnet user, Jaxhog

"I've taken dd to Vienna for the Christmas markets, it was lovely" - recommended by Mumsnet user, Romeiswheretheheartis

Markets in Vienna are set in spectacular surroundings. There are several markets across the city but a particular highlight is the one by City Hall. The magnificent building glows as bright as the square’s iconic Christmas tree and inside there’s a children’s area for festive crafts. Need presents to take home? Shop handcrafted gifts at Christmas Village Belvedere Palace as you admire the grand architecture all aglow. You might even get a sprinkling of snow if you’re lucky.

6. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen Christmas market with lights and revellers

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"We went to Copenhagen with DS1 when he was about 4 months old. It was awesome! Tivoli Gardens is really Christmassy" - recommended by Mumsnet user, Boosiehs

"For me it’d be Copenhagen, 100%! I’d make sure to go to Tivoli and enjoy the wonderful lights/displays, market, rides, restaurants and its totally unique atmosphere" - recommended by Mumsnet user, NiqueNique

Out of Copenhagen’s excellent Christmas markets, the one at Tivoli Gardens is the cherry on top of the Christmas pudding. Tivoli is said to be one of the world’s oldest amusement parks, meaning there’s lots of rides for the kids, including a wooden roller coaster and a Ferris wheel. Gorge on honey cake hearts (and cinnamon-infused mulled wine for the grown-ups) as you watch the marching Tivoli Youth Guard band drum up a festive atmosphere. Stick around for the exciting illuminations show. We recommend booking tickets to the market in advance. For something more relaxed, visit the Hans Christian Anderson Christmas Market where stalls are named after the author’s fairy tales and kids can ride a carousel and meet Santa.

7. Bruges, Belgium

Line of classic Bruges buildings with Christmas decorations

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"I really enjoyed Bruges - which is a great place to take the DCs. They normally have ice skating and everything chocolate!" - recommended by Mumsnet user, oneteen 

Beautiful Bruges has a glow up at Christmas - literally, as their festive event is called ‘Winter Glow’. See the Medieval city twinkle with seasonal decs that add to the fairy tale feel. Two Christmas markets - in Grote Markt and Simon Stevinplein - put on the usual stalls plus there’s an ice rink and a winter bar. The light experience trail is a fun family activity: follow a route to see glowing installations across the city. Bruges’ Winter Glow runs into the new year (this time, 8th Jan 2023) so you can make the most of the school hols. Not a fan of flying with kids? Take the Eurostar train from London, changing at Brussels - where you could perhaps stop to visit another market.

8. York, England

Stalls at York Christmas market

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"York is not huge but the market is very sweet and it’s a beautiful place. We spent a day and a half there (with a 1yo so were a bit limited) and that was just enough to enjoy the market" - recommended by Mumsnet user, craftymum01

York transforms when December draws in. Restaurants, shops and attractions are all kitted out in festive cheer from window displays to above-the-street illuminations, as part of York Christmas Festival. The Saint Nicholas Fair sees local traders selling artisan products from snug alpine chalets along Parliament Street and St Sampson’s Square. This year (2022), there’s also ‘The Winter Hütte” Swiss dining experience from a Michelin-starred chef - book ahead if you’re feeling fancy. Check out York’s events calendar for family fun like Christmas chocolate bar making, a festive walking tour or York Minster Carol Concerts.

9. Colmar, France

Canal in Colmar with typical, colourful buildings

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"We went to Colmar when DC1 was a toddler and it was beautiful" - recommended by Mumsnet user, karmakameleon

Fairytales come to life in Colmar, a town in France’s Alsace region famous for its colourful, half-timbered houses that look straight from the pages of a storybook - especially at Christmas time, when the picturesque old town is adorned with sparkle and decs galore. Listen to children’s choirs as they sail by on lit-up canal boats, visit the giant postbox with Santa’s letter and, if it all gets just a little too twee, hit the Christmas wine cellar. We love that Colmar has a dedicated children’s market in the area of Petite Venise (Little Venice) with toy stalls, gingerbread, a carousel and a special Nativity scene.

10. Prague, Czech Republic

Famous Prague architecture with Christmas tree beside

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"I've been to Prague at Xmas time. Absolutely magical! Would recommend" - recommended y Mumsnet user, Norugratsatall

"Prague. We spent Christmas there. Magical, just magical!" - recommended by Mumsnet user, BrightBlueFlamingo

Prague’s biggest Christmas market is in the Old Town Square and is open throughout December. Browse the sparkling stalls and stop for unique food and festive bevs like smoked meat dumplings, and ‘trdelnik’, grilled pastry topped with sugar and sometimes filled with chocolate sauce. You won’t find the kids a better gift than that! The square’s impressively tall Christmas tree has a lighting ceremony every evening that you won’t want to miss; it features live music and carol singers too. There are other magical markets in the city as well, including at Prague Castle.

Are Christmas markets good to visit with kids?

Christmas markets could be a highlight of your family’s festive season thanks to twinkling towns, sweet treats, Santa visits, rides, shows and more. With that often comes crowds, cold temperatures and paying over-the-odds for hot chocolate. So do your research on each one to make sure it’s worth it. Before you go, check out our guides to holidaying with teens, babies and toddlers and family packing.

Which city has the biggest Christmas market?

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to this question but from our list, the biggest markets are in Vienna, Cologne, Berlin and Copenhagen. If you want to visit several in one trip, we recommend choosing Germany and taking trains between several markets.

Which city has the best Christmas market in the UK?

Mumsnetters recommended Edinburgh, which has an edge thanks to local performances and shows; and York, which benefits from a great events calendar and decorations throughout the city. Both have historic backdrops and you can reach them by train.

What’s the best Christmas market to travel to with kids?

We hope our list inspires a festive trip. Each of these recommended best Christmas markets in Europe has family-friendly elements, from Cologne’s miniature train to Bruges’ light experience trail. Check out the country’s official tourist board website for more details (especially as some dates can change each year) then pick your fave according to taste. You might also like our guide to the best European city breaks for families.

How we chose our recommendations

First we consulted our Mumsnet forums, relying on the views and opinions of real parents who have visited these Christmas markets in previous years. We then researched each one online on trusted websites including official tourism sites, other travel publications and blogs. Then, we used the research to create our shortlist of the best European Christmas markets to inspire your festive trip.

Why you should trust us

We work hard to provide unbiased, independent advice you can trust. We do sometimes earn revenue through affiliate (click to-buy) links in our articles. This helps us fund more helpful articles like this one.