The smell of cinnamon, mulled wine, Christmas music, lights, regional delicacies, handicrafts …

The tradition of Christmas markets comes from Austria and Germany and dates back to the 13th-14th centuries. At that time, they were organized for pragmatic reasons, for the exchange of goods and supplying the population, and with time new goods were added.

Therefore, the German and Austrian ones are the best known and most visited.

But the tradition has also developed elsewhere in Europe, and it is worth thinking about visits and a city-break during this time.

Christmas market in Verona, Italy

Best Christmas Market in Europe plebiscite

Established in 2009, European Best Destinations is an organization promoting culture and tourism in Europe, cooperating with many tourist organizations, but also through various competitions and plebiscites.

Annually, three of these plebiscites are open to the public and the winner is selected by a visitors vote. These are competitions for: The Best Destination of the Year, The Best Ski Resort and The Best Christmas Market.

Let’s take a closer look at these markets.

Of course, the plebiscite is quite subjective, hardly anyone is able to visit all candidate fairs in order to actually choose the best one. The residents may also vote. Nevertheless, it is a great source of information and inspiration for pre-Christmas trips.

In order to avoid any misunderstandings, it is worth mentioning that the competition takes place in December and the fair is awarded the title of the Best for the next year. So Basel, which won in December 2020, was named Best Christmas Market 2021.

In 2021, the 10th edition will take place. The first three competitions were won by Strasbourg, the next three by Zagreb. And these cities, due to the three-time victory, do not start again.

Tallinn won once, and Budapest the following year. In December 2020, Basel was chosen the best fair – although here, due to the pandemic situation, the competition was a bit different.

Christmas markets in Zagreb, Budapest and Tallinn

Exactly, looking at the winners of the previous years, are they cities that immediately come to your mind as a market goal?

Budapest probably the most, but many people are surprised to hear about Zagreb.

Zagreb

Croatia is mainly associated with the coast, but it is a very diverse country and taking into account the historical conditions of this part of the country, it is no longer surprising. In Croatia, smaller fairs (called ‘Advent u …’) are also organized in Rijeka, Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik.

The fair in Zagreb was organized many years ago, but it was very small. In December… 2006 (it is even strange to admit) I was on a monthly scholarship in this city. Some decorations, a few stands. There was also an Advent wreath in the fountain at the monument on the Ban Jelačić Trg (main square).

This wreath has remained until today! But the whole fair has grown significantly, it is actually not just one fair, but a whole festival of fairs, decorations, events, concerts in many places in the city under the name ‘Advent u Zagrebu’.

Photos and the exact program of the event can be viewed here.

This year, Advent in Zagreb will be held on 27.11.2021-07.01.2022.

When it comes to getting there from Poland, the possibilities are quite limited. LOT flies to Zagreb from Warsaw every day. You can also reach Vienna or Budapest and from there travel to Zagreb (about 4-6 hours).

Tallinn

Tallinn won in December 2018. I visited the city during the summer time and I must admit that I was delighted. Medieval old town, streets, colours, something fairy-tale about it. A perfect place indeed to create a festive atmosphere.

There will be a Christmas tree on the main square of the Old Town (a tradition that goes back 580 years).

The fair will be held from November 26, 2021 to January 2, 2022.

When it comes to transport, LOT is flying from Warsaw. From the end of October, Ryanair will fly to Riga from Warsaw and Krakow – and from Riga to Tallinn can be reached by bus (approximately 4 hours).

Budapest

Budapest was announced as the venue with the best fair for 2020, last year it was second.

The dates of the fair this year are November 29, 2021 – January 2, 2022

(although they cannot be found and confirmed on all websites yet. Remember that due to the uncertain situation, it is worth checking and confirming the dates and fact of opening the fair several times).

In Budapest, the pre-Christmas time is spread over several points of the city. The most famous one is called ‘Advent Feast’ at the Basilica (St. Stephen’s).

Another point is the fair at Voromarty Square.

I also know Budapest from summer time, for me it is one of the most beautiful capitals in Europe. And I imagine that it is the perfect place for a winter trip (I hope I will be able to check it this year😉). After the fair, you can, for example, warm up in the thermal baths.

What about the journey?

From Poland LOT flies from Warsaw to Budapest three times a day. From November, Ryanair will fly from Kraków and Poznań.

There is also a direct train. Another option is to travel to Vienna and travel by train or bus.

It’s also pretty easy to get to from other European cities. If you prefer low-cost, look mostly at Wizz Air, Ryanair too.

Other markets on the Christmas markets list

There are 20 cities on the Best Christmas Markets in Europe 2021 competition list.

From Poland, this time it was Poznań (high third place!)

Baths in England and Manchester, which is called the best and biggest fair in Great Britain, as well as Edinburgh, Scotland. Edinburgh is slowly becoming more and more known as a Christmas destination. No wonder, this city is worth visiting in all circumstances, and the lights and the festive atmosphere make it even more magical.

I had the opportunity to visit the markets in Edinburgh and Poznań, you can read more about them in my post here.

The list also includes German and Belgian cities, as well as sunnier cities such as Malaga or Funchal in Madeira. I was also very interested reading about Tbilisi.

You can find the full list with additional descriptions on this page.

At the beginning of December, it will be possible to vote again for the new list of markets, it is worth remembering about it while drinking mulled wine somewhere!