The five best Christmas markets to visit by rail in Europe
Mulled wine, al fresco ice skating and chalets selling woolly socks can only mean one thing: Christmas markets are back.
Christmas just isn’t the same without visiting a festive market, fragrant with sweet spices and alive with the chatter of friends and families. This winter, after a difficult two years of winter travel, we’re rediscovering their magic — and the romance of rail — across Europe. Discover a handful of the continent's best, each one less than five hours away from London terminals by train.
1. Edinburgh, Scotland
The Mound, Princes Street and Princes Street Gardens, 18 November 2022-3 January 2023
Edinburgh’s festive market beat 65 others in 2021 to the title of Europe’s Best Christmas Market — trouncing Manchester and Prague because of its popularity on Instagram, length of days and the average nightly price of a three- and four-star hotel in the city. Missed it? Then visit in 2022, which promises to be even bigger. Stalls return to The Mound, Princes Street and Princes Street Gardens, and there are plans for a Scottish market on Castle Street and an artisan market on High Street and West Parliament Square. A new illuminated Spectacle of Light trail will weave through West Princes Street Garden, near Santa’s Grotto. Take a spin on the Ferris wheel then warm up over a wild game burger, mulled Irn-Bru or dram of whisky. Slàinte mhath.
How to get there: direct trains from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh take four hours, 20 minutes.
2. Paris, France
Tuileries Garden, 20 November 2022-2 January 2023 (TBC)
The scent of roasted chestnuts mingled with onion soup fills the air at La Magie de Noël (‘The Magic of Christmas’) in Tuileries Garden, the largest of Paris’s 20-or-so festive markets. Stretching from Place de la Concorde on the lawn’s western side to Rue des Pyramides near the Louvre, it was first held here in 2018. Children will delight in taking the Santa Train, teens can whizz about in bumper cars, while all ages will enjoy the Ferris wheel, which offers views of the capital’s largest Christmas tree, a 500sq metre ice rink and the Eiffel Tower. Once you’ve experienced the rides, explore the 100-plus chalets selling mostly French crafts and produce such as cheese, chocolate and mulled wine, then end your night in a Champagne igloo.
How to get there: direct Eurostar trains from London St Pancras International to Paris take from two hours, 16 minutes
3. Cologne, Germany
Around Cologne Cathedral, Rudolfplatz, Alter Markt and Heumarkt, 21 November 2022-23 December 2022
Germany is king of the Christmas markets, and Cologne alone has several. The biggest, outside its gothic cathedral, is home to 150 stalls set beneath a canopy of fairy lights. Shop for snow globes and erzgebirge wooden toys and observe artisans painting glass and ceramics to the soundtrack of carols. Two streets south, on Alter Markt and Heumarkt, woodcarvers and metalworkers produce stocking fillers at Heinzels Winter’s Fairytale, a collection of 100 half-timbered huts straight from Hansel and Gretel set around an outdoor rink. At Nicholas Village, on Rudolfplatz, meanwhile, the scent of riebekuchen (grated potato and onion patties with applesauce) hangs in the air. Browse pop-up timbered houses selling handmade soap, watch pyrography demonstrations and look out for a roaming Saint Nicholas.
How to get there: Eurostar trains from London St Pancras International to Cologne take from four hours, 23 minutes, changing in Brussels.
4. Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Ice*Village, Museumplein, 14-26 December 2022
Amsterdam Winter Paradise, RAI Amsterdam, 19 December 2022-3 January 2023 (TBC)
Feel the warmth of a hot chocolate as you huddle around a fire pit at Ice*Village in Museumplein. Once you’ve warmed up, order poffertjes (mini pancakes) and peruse chalets selling handmade wreaths and baubles. From 12 November to 5 February, you can also skate on an outdoor rink in front of the Rijksmuseum, which is illuminated with fairy lights. The rest of the city glows just as bright, thanks to the annual Amsterdam Light Festival. Explore its trail of 30 sculptures en route to Amsterdam Winter Paradise, at RAI Amsterdam, which is set to be transformed into an Alpine village with snowball fights, tubing and cross-country skiing between Christmas trees. Can’t feel your fingers anymore? Then toast marshmallows as you snack on spiced biscuits.
How to get there: direct Eurostar trains from London St Pancras International to Amsterdam Central take four hours.
5. Brussels, Belgium
Grand Place and around, 25 November 2022-1 January 2023
Brussels’ central square transforms into a kaleidoscope each winter as a 360-degree light and sound spectacle illuminates the Grand Place and its 18-metre-tall spruce and nativity scene. Now in its 21st year, Plaisirs d’hiver takes place in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, with 225 cabins winding through Place du Musées, Marché aux Poissons, Place Sainte Catherine and Place de la Bourse. Browse stalls selling knitted woollen socks, fire-smoked salmon, fondue and waffles, then wobble your way around the 800sq metre ice rink in Place De Brouckère, which is sheltered by a transparent roof. In previous years, brass bands, choirs, jugglers and stilt walkers have created a festival vibe, so order a glass of genever, or Dutch gin, and make merry.
How to get there: direct Eurostar trains from London St Pancras International to Brussels-Midi take from one hour, 56 minutes.
Subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Follow us on social media