Tourism is a significant factor in how well a city’s economy thrives and a contributor to many countries’ GDP. As winter approaches in the northern hemisphere and a new tourism season begins, Christmas becomes a key factor in driving growth for local services, retail and hospitality. Central to cities’ festive plans are usually their Christmas markets, and some European cities claim to have the biggest.
The city with the largest Christmas markets by visitor numbers is also one of the most famous. Vienna Christkindlmarkt in Rathausplatz square, in front of the Rathaus (city hall), sees around three million visitors every year. It has more than 150 stalls that sell gifts, souvenirs, and typical Viennese food and beverages.
There are half a dozen Christmas markets in the Austrian capital, but the Rathausplatz is the biggest and most popular one. This market includes an advent theme park called Adventzauber, with cultural performances that keep children and families entertained. With a 32,000ft2 ice rink, this Christmas market is full of activities and surprises.
Vienna’s biggest market will open on 19 November until approximately 26 December.
Germany’s oldest market, Striezelmarkt, is situated in Dresden, dating back to 1434. Today, it lasts for a whole month: from 23 November until 24 December.
With over 240 stands, it attracts over 2.5 million visitors each year. The Striezelmarkt owes its name to a traditional German cake (which you can find at the stalls today).
The market’s giant candle pyramid stands at 14m tall, and has even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records, but that is not the only attraction. Dresden’s Christmas market carries special traditions, such as the baking of pflaumentoffel, a historic traditional edible figurine made of dried plums. Every year, dozens of bakers collaborate on the world’s largest stollen, a traditional fruitcake, which is then paraded through the market on a carriage.
With four centuries of history, Strasbourg’s Christmas market – Christkindelsmärik market – will light the city up between late November and Christmas Eve.
The French Christmas capital reserves a special spot for its Christmas market: in Place Broglie and around the cathedral, which is in the main square in Strasbourg, adorned by a large Christmas tree (around 35m) and wooden chalets, With over 300 stalls spread across the city, there are many activities that visitors can experience. Active since 1570, it is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe.
Hot chocolate or mulled wine is widely available to almost two million visitors every year. Furthermore, traditional delights like bredele cakes are up for grabs at the Strasbourg Christmas market, which is characterised by a range of designer woodworkers, ceramicists and carpet weavers.
Budapest Christmas Fair attracts almost 800,000 visitors each year and offers over 100 stalls to choose from.
The capital of Hungary offers half a dozen different Christmas markets, but the biggest remains Budapest Christmas Fair on Vorosmarty Square, characterised by a selection of Christmas lights and ornaments. Starting in mid-November, this market offers its visitors mulled wine and typical Hungarian food, such as goulash in bread bowls, sweet chimney cakes and potato fritters.
Between 1 and 23 December, the exterior of the Gerbeaud building, which houses the market, turns into a virtual giant painting, made of music and light shows. This is only one of the attractions in Budapest’s biggest Christmas market. There are also various music shows played by Hungarian bands and even a marionette theatre.
Active since 1843, Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens has opened its doors to Christmas every year since 1994 from mid-November until early January. It is also one of the world’s oldest amusement parks.
Copenaghen’s most popular Christmas market houses roughly 60 stalls, alongside wooden houses decorated with pine branches and snow-covered trees. More than 15 Christmas trees will be glimmering while the Tivoli Youth Guard can be heard throughout the Gardens.
For the little ones and their families, there will be exciting activities like decorating honey cake hearts between one ride and the other.
[Read more: So what’s the most environmentally friendly way to get rid of your Christmas tree?]