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Magical Christmas markets
Magical Christmas markets

Magical Christmas markets

10 spectacular Christmas markets in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France

Author: Freeontour, Header image: Pixabay

Latest update: 19th October 2023 

Fragrant gingerbread, festive lights, warming punch and mulled wine – we all look forward to the end of the year when cosy Christmas markets open for business again. Freeontour has selected ten spectacular markets where you can experience a magical winter wonderland. Whether cribs with real animals, a journey back to the Middle Ages or chalet stalls in forests, gorges or along the Danube – they all have something amazing to offer!

1. The Magic Forest in Lenzerheide

Snow-topped trees dotted with golden lights and rustic wooden chalet stalls create a Christmas wonderland in the Magic Forest. The many lights illuminating this forest in the Swiss town of Lenzerheide will cast a magical spell over you and all the other visitors.

The Magic Forest is not your ordinary Christmas market. Handicrafts and traditional Swiss cuisine in the market village, light art, performances and concerts make this enchanted forest an unforgettable experience for the whole family. The Lenzerheide Magic Forest is located in the Lenzerheide Squirrel Forest – we recommend sturdy shoes with non-slip winter soles, or, even better, with spikes.

The Lenzerheide Magic Forest will be open from 15th December 2023 to 3rd January 2024 between 5pm and 10.30pm. Tickets should be bought online in advance. 

2. Munich Advent Spectacle medieval market

Traditional Christmas crafts, a range of music and spectacles, mead and punch drank from rustic tankards, savoury delicacies, knights wearing heavy armour, mischievous jugglers, devout damsels and forest elves – a medieval Christmas market couldn't get any more authentic.

The Munich Advent Spectacle takes place on Wittelsbacher Platz, near Odeonsplatz. It shows visitors what the first Christmas markets looked like as this custom goes back to medieval, pre-Christmas markets where the citizens stocked up on all kinds of supplies for the cold winter months.

Craft stalls selling handmade items created by e.g. confectioners, toy makers and basket weavers were introduced in around the 14th century. Small items such as almonds, chestnuts and other nuts were also offered. Over the centuries, these winter markets have developed into the Christmas markets that we know and love today.

The Munich Advent Spectacle will be held on Wittelsbacher Platz in the Maxvorstadt district from 27th November to 23rd December 2023 between 11am and 9pm. 

3. Christmas fun with animals at Gut Aiderbichl

Have you ever been surrounded by pigs, donkeys, cows or ponies while strolling through a Christmas market? If not, then it's high time to visit the Gut Aiderbichl markets.

This German animal sanctuary association gives rescued animals a new home. The three estates in Iffeldorf near Munich, Deggendorf near Passau and Henndorf near Salzburg are beautifully and lovingly decorated for Christmas.

Gut Aiderbichl at Christmas time
Christmas spirit is pre-programmed at Gut Aiderbichl. Photo: Gut Aiderbichl
Gut Aiderbichl at Christmas time
Taking care of the donkeys is a highlight of the pre christmas visit for children. Photo: Gut Aiderbichl
sheep in the snow at Gut Aiderbichl
The sheep are also part of the Christmas happenings at Gut Aiderbichl. Photo: Gut Aiderbichl

Wooden stalls with Christmas handicrafts, festive decorations and winter delicacies will have you feasting and browsing for gifts. A host of lovable four-legged friends are part of this festive event, and it's exciting to see the traditional Christmas cribs with real sheep, oxen and other animals. In any case, the peaceful scenario in the decorated courtyards full of animals looks like one huge Christmas crib.

And this is very much a paradise for children. They can jump around on hay, groom and feed the donkeys and ponies and even visit Father Christmas as well as take part in a guided tour of the farm.

The Christmas markets can be enjoyed from mid/late November to early January, depending on the farm, with the proceeds going to the welfare of the animals.

Dates for 2023/24
Gut Aiderbichl Christmas market in Henndorf: 10th November 2023 to 7th January 2024 (daily)
Gut Aiderbichl Christmas market in Deggendorf: 2nd December 2023 to 7th January 2024 (weekends)
Gut Aiderbichl Christmas market in Iffeldorf: 2nd December 2023 to 7th January 2024 (weekends)

4. The Ravenna Gorge Christmas Village

How about some punch in a gorge under an imposing railway viaduct? You can do that and more at the Ravenna Gorge Christmas village in the Black Forest, Germany, where around 40 merchants present their local products, handicrafts and original gift ideas. A sea of colourful lights creates a cosy and festive atmosphere. You can even take part in a romantic torch-lit walk to the Christmas village.

This unique Christmas market in the Ravenna Gorge will be open from 24th November to 17th December 2023, Friday to Sunday. Tickets for entry to the Christmas village are only available online in advance – and can be purchased here. Fixed time slots will be assigned to avoid overcrowding. 

5. Artistic flair at the Spittelberg Christmas Market in Vienna

If you are looking for original Christmas gifts, then look no further than Spittelberg Christmas market in Vienna where you are bound to find something special. The cobbled streets in the artists' quarter in the 7th district are usually home to roughly 100 stall holders offering unusual handicrafts. In 2023, the Christmas market will be held as an eco-event for the first time and this means: only products that have a good ecological footprint, are fairly traded or produced, local, regional and/or organic, vegetarian or vegan, resource-friendly and sustainable will be offered here.

As always, the festive Christmas decorations make this romantic Biedermeier district even more dazzling, so make sure you come here after sunset to make the most of the atmosphere.

You can stroll through Spittelberg Christmas market from 16th November to 23rd December 2023. It is open daily from 2pm, on weekends and public holidays from 10am.

6. The Floating Christmas Market in Vilshofen an der Donau

The residents of the small village of Vilshofen an der Donau near Passau, Germany, are very proud of their floating Christmas market where the stalls are not only set up along the illuminated river bank, but also on the ship Stadt Linz. Other attractions include the nine-metre-high mulled wine Christmas pyramid, what is probably the world's largest wooden crib and a magnificent Christmas tree decorated with about 4,000 lights and 1,500 baubles. Treat yourself to Lower Bavarian specialities while enjoying the romantic flair along the promenade. You can stroll through Vilshofen Christmas market from 1st December to 17th December 2023, every Friday to Sunday. On Fridays, the ship and stalls open from 2pm to 8pm, on Saturdays and Sundays from 1pm to 8pm. Admission is free. Incidentally, should you happen to be in the region anyway, you could also make a detour to Passau where you will also find some wonderful Christmas markets.

7. Christmas wonderland in Alsace

The picturesque villages in French Alsace are beautiful, whatever the season. But they step up their charm offensive in the run-up to Christmas by setting up their Christmas markets between historical half-timbered houses, thus making the villages look as though they came straight out of a Christmas fairy tale.

Colmar is one such place – its six stunning Christmas markets are the reason why it is sometimes referred to as “Christmas City”. You can stroll from market to market in the tranquil old town, taste Alsatian cuisine and enjoy the magic of Christmas. The Colmar Christmas markets will be open from 23rd November to 29th December 2023. But you can also enjoy a fairy-tale atmosphere at the Christmas market in the smaller, nearby town of Riquewihr as well as in the surrounding villages. If you prefer larger and more grandiose settings, head to the Christmas market in Strasbourg. Alsace is simply full of wonderful Christmas markets!

8. Christmas at Satzvey Castle in the Eifel

No longer an insider's tip, the medieval Christmas market at Satzvey Castle in Mechernich, Germany, can get quite crowded. But don't let this dissuade you as it's still worth a visit, just make sure you get there as early as possible to get a parking space. Large car parks, which can also accommodate motorhomes, will be set up at the village entrances for the duration of the Christmas market.

The Christmas market at the castle takes place from 2nd December to 17th December 2023 every Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon. The likelihood of snow here is quite low, but the atmospheric setting of the castle with the festive lighting, various market stalls, great attention to detail and a medieval nativity play from the Hohenstaufen era more than make up for it. Furthermore, there is a Santa's workshop for children where elves are hard at work helping to make the handicrafts as well as a bakery in the castle. The festive performances in Latin and Middle High German in the Satzvey Castle park are also very popular.

Admission to the Christmas market costs €12 per person when bought in advance and €14.50 at the door. Adolescents aged 12 to 18 and students pay €10 and €12 respectively, whereas it is €8 and €10 for children aged 4 to 12. A family ticket costs €32 in advance and €39 at the door. 

9. Annaberg Christmas Market in the Ore Mountains  

Annaberg Christmas market is often referred to as one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in all of Germany and is practically the hallmark of all that is Christmas in the Ore Mountains. Once a year, the unique carved figures on the pyramid come to life, mingle with the visitors and tell stories of the city, the local mining industry and Christmas.

Typical Ore Mountain products can also be found at the many Christmas stalls from 1st December to 23rd December 2023, such as candle arches, pyramids, nutcrackers, incense smokers, angels and miners, classic folding stars, Annaberg bobbin lace and Annaberg Christmas stollen. Moreover, the market is complemented by other festive "worlds", including the Factory of Dreams, the "Secret Santa City", the miners' nativity at St Mary's mountain church, the Erzhammer Christmas house as well as Advent concerts and nativity reenactments at St Anne's church.

There is free parking at Kätplatz, the central car park (apart from Saturday, 23rd December 2023 when the mountain parade takes place). It will take about ten minutes to walk from there to the Christmas market. A free bus shuttle to Annaberg Christmas market runs during the Advent weekends.

10. Historical Christmas market at Guteneck Castle

Of course, the historical Christmas market at Guteneck Castle near Nabburg in the Upper Palatinate, Germany, will once again attract visitors in 2023. It is a wonderfully unique setting: roughly 120 market stalls lined up along the ascent to the castle are divided into three areas: castle romance, traditional craftsmanship and the Middle Ages.

Stretching over 50,000 m², the Christmas market is open every week from 23rd November to 17th December 2022, Thursday to Sunday (except for 26th November). Admission costs €7 per person on Thursdays and Fridays and €8 at the weekends. Children up to 12 years of age have free entry – as does everyone else who comes to the Christmas market dressed up in medieval clothing.

1,000 parking spaces are available below the castle for a fee of €2. If coming by train or using the Nordgauhalle Nabburg car park, you can take a shuttle bus, which costs €1. 

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