7 Alternative Christmas Markets by Train
Europe is the home of Christmas markets. Vienna’s was the first in 1298, while Germany’s famous Christkindlmarkts began in 1384. Naturally, you can now find the world’s best in cities like Dresden, Nuremberg and Prague. They boast Christmas markets across multiple locations, thousands of twinkling lights and festive events from late November to early January, making Europe the perfect place to spend your holiday season.
But for a truly authentic experience you should head off the beaten track to Europe’s smaller cities. These alternative Christmas destinations have stalls, lights and treats to rival the bigger cities, but with less crowds and in settings reminiscent of the Christmas market’s medieval origins. With a Eurail Global Pass you don’t have to choose just 1 destination: start in a festive hub like Nuremberg, then hop aboard a train and discover any (or all) of these 7 alternative Christmas markets.
1. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
November 29 to December 23 2019
When you’ve had your fill of lebkuchen gingerbread at Nuremberg’s 400 year old Christkindlesmarkt, head west to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The medieval city’s Reiterlesmarkt is even older than Nuremberg’s and its location between half-timbered houses and narrow streets will make you feel like you’ve stepped back to the 15th century.
The highlight is the horseback arrival of the mystical “Rothenburg Rider” who opens the market in November. Make sure to try schneeballen (snowball) pastries and white mulled wine, which are regional specialties.
Getting there by rail: Rothenburg is just 1 hour away from Nuremberg by regional train.
2. Colmar, France
November 22 to December 29 2019
Not far from France’s oldest Christmas market in Strasbourg, you can find Colmar with its La Magie de Noël events. It’s half-timbered houses and cobbled streets are as magical as in Rothenburg, but with a French Alsatian flair. You can visit its 6 Christmas markets, including one especially for children and another dedicated to food!
Colmar is extra special because of its Little Venice canal district, where boats of children’s Christmas choirs float by on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the festive period.
Getting there by rail: Take a regional train from Strasbourg and be there in 30 minutes. Colmar is also a few kilometers from Germany and 2 hours by train from Zurich.
3. Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
November 29 2019 to January 6 2020
After visiting the busy Advent Market of Prague, take a day trip (or longer) to the enchanting medieval town of Český Krumlov. Its wholesome Christmas celebrations bring together the whole community, with Czech carol singing, “musical gifts” given by the town’s musicians and a live nativity scene featuring real farm animals. Even the bears of Český Krumlov castle are included, with Bear’s Christmas on Christmas Eve, when children can feed them with sweet treats (under supervision!)
Events center around the Old Bohemian Market on Svornosti Square, where you can try honey wine and cinnamon trdelnik and buy Czech trinkets at lower prices than in Prague.
Getting there by rail: Take a 3 hour express train from Prague.
4. Wrocław, Poland
November 22 to December 31 2019
In Kraków you can enjoy a Christmas market in Europe’s largest market square (and Europe has many of those!) But Wrocław is Poland’s more unique Christmas destination, with a distinct fairy-tale theme. The Market Square and Plac Solny square are transformed with lights of all colors and stalls selling sweet halva and chocolate gingerbread.
The highlight is the Bajkowy Lasek, Fairytale Copse, with animatronic characters acting out classic stories and a three-level fairy-tale house, with an observation deck and real fire!
Getting there by rail: You can reach Wrocław in 3 1/2 hours from Kraków on an Intercity train.
5. Sibiu, Romania
November 15 2019 to January 3 2020
The Târgul de Crăciun din Sibiu, or Christmas Fair in Sibiu, is geographically quite far from the major festive hubs, but draws its inspiration from Vienna’s Christmas markets. It was opened in 2007 by the Austrian Embassy of Romania in collaboration with the local council and has grown every year since. The fair looks like a traditional Christkindlesmarkt, but with a stunning backdrop of Transylvanian mountains.
This year in Piata Mare (Grand Square), you can find a skating rink, amusement park and hand-carved nativity scene. Plus, festive projections light up the facades of the surrounding Baroque buildings!
Getting there by rail: Sibiu is a bit further off the beaten track than our other markets. But you can reach it in 6 hours from Bucharest. Alternatively take a night train from Budapest.
6. Ljubljana, Slovenia
November 29 2019 to January 5 2020
The capital of Slovenia’s Festive Fair features market stalls lining the romantic Ljubjanica River. You can buy locally made winter clothing or drink medica, a warm honey schnapps special to Slovenia.
The highlight is undoubtedly Ljubljana’s thousands of Christmas lights. Designed by local artist Zmago Modic, the lights look like stars and galaxies floating in the sky. The big switch-on event will be November 29 in Prešeren Square. When you tire of festive cheer, take a train north to the Triglav National Park to experience Slovenia’s thriving ski-scene.
Getting there by rail: Ljubljana is about 6 hours by train from Vienna, or 5 hours from Venice.
7. Zagreb, Croatia
November 30 2019 to January 7 2020
Croatia is a popular summer destination, but its capital Zagreb is a hidden Christmas gem. Advent in Zagreb has been voted the “best Christmas market destination” and its not hard to see why, with festive activities to be found in almost every square, park and hidden corner of this small city.
The main market is held in Ban Josip Jelačić Square (the main square), alongside a stage which hosts regular live performances. Strossmayer Promenade teems with hip stalls, while King Tomislav Square becomes Ice Park with an enormous ice-rink and ice ballets. Even the Grič Tunnel gets an icy makeover.
Getting there by rail: Zagreb is just 2 hours 15 mins from Ljubljana by EuroCity train.
These off the beaten track destinations aren’t just reserved for Christmas and New Year – they will charm you throughout the year with their historic attractions and quirky experiences. All you need to add them to your holiday is a Eurail Pass and a 1 travel day detour.
Have you caught the Christmas spirit? Read more about Christmas markets and traditions:
- The Best Events In Europe In December
- 5 Weird Christmas Traditions In Europe
- The 5 Best Cities For Celebrating New Year’s Eve In Europe