Winter holidays bring Old Europe to life in the most magical way: snowdrifts, twinkling lights, and the iconic Christmas markets.
Indulge in gourmet street fare, homemade pastries, sparkling Champagne and hot mulled wine at these charming cultural experiences. From the biggest and most iconic to the tucked-away locals-only markets, these 10 picks are sure to kick your Christmas spirit into high gear.
Drink the original mulled wine at Cologne's Cathedral Christmas market — Photo courtesy of Dieter Jacobi/KölnTourismus GmbHCologne, Germany
When it comes to best location, Cologne is spoilt for choice. For big iconic moments, head to the famous Cathedral Christmas market, where Cologne's stunning Gothic cathedral towers over 150+ market stalls. Savor the "original Christmas mulled wine" and watch the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland (82 feet tall) twinkle with lights.
If you prefer less pomp and circumstance, head to the Angel's Market on Neumarkt in the shopping district. This picturesque market feels like a tucked-away Christmas village, with stars lighting up the trees and girls dressed up as all-white angels waltzing through the stands with glitter in hand.
Germany's oldest Christmas market turns 581 this year — Photo courtesy of Michael Schmidt/Landeshauptstadt DresdenDresden, Germany
Celebrating its 581st anniversary, the Dresden Striezelmarkt in the Dresden Altmarkt Square is Germany's oldest Christmas market.
There's plenty for kids to enjoy here, from biscuits in the baker's shop to a puppet theater, Elves' Cinema and miniature railway.
While the children are entertained, parents can do some holiday shopping at the stands while sipping glühwein, or mulled wine, and nibbling on traditional Dresden Stollen cake, the market's namesake.
The capital of Thuringia, in central Germany, Erfurt hosts the largest market in the region right on Domplatz ("Cathedral Square") in its medieval Old Town.
Erfurt's Christmas market is famous for its hand-carved nativity scene with enormous, almost-life-sized wooden figures, as well as regional specialties like Thuringian bratwurst and Erfurt Schittchen, or stollen bread.
Hamburg's Christmas Market is set against the historic Town Hall — Photo courtesy of Jörg Modrow/Hamburg MarketingHamburg, Germany
Hamburg's historic Christmas market on Rathausmarkt is one of the largest in the city, set against the Town Hall with over 100 stands bringing together woodcarvers from the Tyrol, ceramics from Lausitz, and gingerbread bakers from Aachen and Nuremberg.
One of the highlights of the market is the Spielzeuggasse, or toy street, with merchants bringing their toys from around the globe.
Dubbed the "Capital of Christmas," the French city held Europe's first Christmas market in 1570, the "Christkindelsmärik," or market of the infant Jesus.
Still one of the largest and most popular markets in Europe, Strasbourg lights up for the holidays with 300 stalls sitting in over 12 locations around town, with the Great Christmas Tree glowing on Place Kléber in the city center.
This year, one of the market's villages is honoring the guest country of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, bringing a taste of the region's wine, beer, chocolate and produce to Strasbourg for the holidays.
Lyon is home to two Christmas markets: the traditional village at Place Carnot, with 140+ wooden chalets selling artisanal candles and Christmas decorations, and the covered Croix-Rousse market, complete with a Christmas farm with animals and food stands.
The city is also known for its annual Fête des Lumières, or Festival of Lights. This year, however, the famed festival is on hold - replaced with a candlelit vigil honoring the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks.
Drink Champagne in the Champagne region at the Reims Christmas market — Photo courtesy of Reims Tourisme/Carmen MoyaReims, France
Located in the Champagne region and just an hour away from Paris by train, Reims is famous in foodie circles for hosting one of the most gourmet Christmas markets in the world.
The Place d'Erlon is home to the traditional Christmas village with some 135 chalets selling typical holiday market fare, while the Village Gourmand across from Square Colbert brings together some of the finest local produce from Champagne-Ardenne, including gingerbread, foie gras, mushrooms and snails.
The City of the Popes brings many Provençal traditions to its holiday markets - with nativity scenes scattered throughout Avignon's churches and over 60 chalets selling pate, fromage, and, of course, mulled wine.
While there may not be snow, it's easy to get in full holiday spirit here in Avignon. Take a horse and buggy ride through town, starting at the Place de l'Horloge and ending at the Place des Célestins.
Saint-Paul de Vence, France
The medieval village of Saint-Paul de Vence, in the foothills of the Alps, already looks like it was plucked out of a fairy tale - but come December the town really takes on a magical theme for Christmas.
Streets glow and twinkle in full holiday décor, and visitors can take part in themed workshops and cooking classes in regional cuisine. Of course, the highlight here is the truffle market, where you can stroll through the stands of truffles and even taste a few.
While Monaco technically isn't in France or Germany, it's wedged along the French Riviera between Nice and Menton and knows how to throw a heck of a party–and none better than around Christmas time.
This year, the Monaco port is transforming into a Christmas village, with wooden chalets taking on a Russian theme and selling everything from crafts to local cuisine.