5 awesome cities for Christmas shopping in Europe

If you are anything like me, visiting a town before Christmas is something you truly love. There are hot mulled wine, market stalls and a festive atmosphere I just can’t resist: so if you are wondering where to go to get plenty of Christmas cheer, here are 5 awesome cities for Christmas shopping in Europe.

Tallinn: gourmet Christmas shopping in Estonia

The minute I set foot in Tallinn, I instantly knew I was in love. The old town was everything I could dream of: compact, quaint, and absolutely picture perfect. To top it off, the sky looked heavy with snow, a definite plus if you ask me: I mean, what is more romantic than strolling under the snow in a beautiful town? Tallinn not only is incredibly romantic, but it’s also a great destination if you want to browse an awesome Christmas market: the stalls are located right in the main square, which of course adds charm to an already charming destination, and they sell beautiful wooden artifacts and the best glogg you will ever try. For those who don’t know what glogg is, it’s the Estonian version of hot mulled wine, spiked with a local favorite: Vana Tallinn. It may be a bit strong, but when it’s cold out and the sun has set at 3 pm, you’ll be glad to drink a glass of two. Tallinn is also an incredible destination for food lovers, as it features some of the best and most interesting restaurant scenes I have seen in a long time. You can read all about it here.

Where to stay: Small and quaint Merchant House Hotel is right in the city center and has a wonderfully cozy atmosphere. For other options in Tallinn, click here.

Best places to eat: Rataskaevu 16 was definitely my favorite for modern Estonian cuisine. To read a more in depth guide to dining in Tallinn check out this post.

Riga: a true beauty for Christmas shopping in the Baltics

What can I say? I had heard great things about Riga, but it wasn’t until I was there that I truly understood what all the hype was about. Compact, impossibly charming and incredibly fun, Latvia’s capital is easily one of my favorite cities in Europe any time of the year, and even more so in December. According to legend, the Christmas tree was invented here in the 1300s, when a bunch of German merchants decided, after abundant eating and drinking on Christmas Eve, to set a pine tree on fire in the town main square. Although today Christmas trees aren’t set on fire, you can still feel the festive atmosphere everywhere you go: make sure you buy a handknitted hat or sweater, as Latvians are known for producing some of the best handmade wool products in Europe at very competitive prices. To warm up, try Black Balsam, a very strong yet good local liquor, and check out the wonderful Folkklub for the best food and entertainment in Riga!

Where to stay: Hotel Garden Palace has lovely large rooms and it’s right next to the city’s main square, making it ideal to explore Riga. For more ideas on where to stay, click here.

Best places to eat: Folkklub was a riot! Great food, very affordable prices and live music afterwards.

Bratislava: Slovakia’s winter and Christmas shopping wonderland

While everyone has certainly heard of Prague, Bratislava, Slovakia’s main city, is not as famous but should be on everyone’s radar as not only is it beautiful, but it’s also cheaper and less crowded than its more popular sister. The main square turns every year into a fun open-air Christmas market where you can find all sorts of presents: from centerpieces to jewelry and everything in between. The walk uphill to the castle is definitely very romantic and a wonderful way to spend the morning, while the numerous cafés in town are ideal to stop for hot chocolate and a pastry. If you like beer, Slovak breweries are great for tasting a pint or two of the local favorites!

Where to stay: Arcadia Boutique Hotel has a wonderful atmosphere, great service, and an amazing breakfast, plus it’s right downtown. For other options, click here.

Best places to eat: Mestiansky Pivovar is a must for beer lovers, as it serves its own beer and good brewery fare. Urban House is perfect for those who like a hip atmosphere and are looking for some vegetarian options.

 

Colmar: one of France’s quaintest destinations for Christmas shopping

When it comes to Christmas markets, those in Alsace in general and in Colmar, in particular, are famous worldwide, and for a very good reason. Colmar looks like a fairytale village straight out of a book, with impossibly cute houses, winding pedestrian-only alleys and wonderful Christmas decorations. Take your time strolling around the old town, browse the wonderful market stalls and buy local favorites such as Alsace wines, pain d’epices -similar to gingerbread- and other gastronomical delicacies.

Where to stay: Click here to see a list of places to stay in Colmar.

Best places to eat: We loved the atmosphere of Bartholdi – a classic French bistro with Alsacian cuisine.

Milano: Italy’s best Christmas shopping

Milano is famous for being a shopping and fashion mecca, and in the past few years it has also reinvented itself as one of Italy’s best destinations for food and holiday travel as well. Stroll in the Navigli and the Brera districts to find small boutiques with unique gift ideas, then head over to Piazza del Duomo where you can admire the city’s cathedral, the Duomo, and the gallery, where you can see one of the most incredible Christmas trees in Italy. While window shopping in the glitzy Quadrilatero della Moda, stop by Cova café in Via Montenapoleone, where you can enjoy a delicious coffee and buy a traditional panettone.

Where to stay: Hotel Manin has incredible views over the park and is within walkable distance from everything you might want to see in Milan. For other wonderful options in Milan click here.

Best places to eat:  See my favorite restaurants in Milano here.

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