Christmas markets Europe 2021: best European festive markets and their Covid rules - including Brussels

The UK government has dismissed calls to enforce its Covid winter Plan B, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid saying Christmas will be “normal” this year

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said there is “nothing to indicate” that a winter lockdown is on the cards this year, despite warnings over rising Covid-19 cases.

The government is relying on the vaccine rollout and booster jabs to prevent the need for strict restrictions, giving hope that the Christmas celebrations can go ahead unimpeded.

The Health Secretary said on Monday (25 October) that he thinks Christmas will be “normal” this year, providing everyone ‘plays their part’ in getting vaccinated.

Under current plans, the government has dismissed calls to enforce its winter Plan B, which would see the return of mandatory face masks, work-from-home guidance, and vaccine passports for certain venues and events.

And with the seasonal period expected to be free from lockdown rules, it means the chance to visit Christmas markets is on the cards this year.

While festive stalls will be popping up across the UK, there are some spectacular markets to visit in Europe if you are planning on a winter getaway ahead of Christmas.

If you are keen to soak up the festive atmosphere abroad this year, here are some of Europe’s best Christmas markets that will be running in 2021.

Brussels, Belgium

Taking place from 26 November to 2 January, the Winter Wonders Christmas market in Brussels is one not to be missed.

Spread across Grand-Place, Bourse, Place Sainte-Catherine and Marché aux Poissons, the market features more than 200 snow covered wooden chalets serving a selection of sumptuous delights, including Belgian chocolates, waffles, mulled wine and beers.

There are also ice skating rinks to enjoy, light shows and a huge Christmas tree which adds to the picture-perfect festive setting.

Christmas in Brussels (Photo: Shutterstock)Christmas in Brussels (Photo: Shutterstock)
Christmas in Brussels (Photo: Shutterstock)

What are the entry requirements?

The UK is currently classified as a red zone (high risk) on the Belgian government’s travel colour code system.

If you do not hold a Belgian, EU Digital Covid Certificate or an equivalent recognised by Belgium, such as an NHS Covid Pass or certificate with a QR code from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, you are considered to be unvaccinated by the Belgian government and should follow entry requirements for unvaccinated travellers.

Travellers who are fully vaccinated with a Belgian, EU Vaccination Certificate or an NHS Covid Pass or certificate with a QR code must complete a Passenger Locator Form. and take a test on day one or two after arrival and quarantine until you receive a negative result.

Alternatively, you can provide evidence of a negative PCR test upon arrival, taken no more than 72 hours before arrival in Belgium. If you have a negative pre-departure test, you do not need to take tests on day one or day two.

All arrivals from countries classified as high-risk, which currently includes the UK, are required to take a test on day seven, even if you are fully vaccinated, and provide evidence of a negative pre-departure test. If any of the test results are positive, you must self-isolate in line with Belgian government guidance.

Travellers who are not fully vaccinated, or vaccinated with a vaccine or certificate not recognised by Belgium, will only be allowed entry in limited circumstances set out on the Belgian government’s website

Strasbourg, France

Held from 26 November to 26 December, this Christmas market is one of the oldest in Europe and is set up in the heart of the Grande Île.

Around 300 wooden chalets will be set up in the city centre, alongside a huge Christmas tree and  illuminated streets, which give the city the feel of a magical winter wonderland.

Christmas in Strasbourg (Photo: Shutterstock)Christmas in Strasbourg (Photo: Shutterstock)
Christmas in Strasbourg (Photo: Shutterstock)

What are the entry requirements?

The UK is currently on the French amber list, meaning entry requirements differ depending on whether you are fully vaccinated or not.

Travellers who are not fully vaccinated will only be allowed to enter for essential reasons and will need to present a completed International Travel Certificate, plus a completed ‘sworn statement’ form self-certifying you are not suffering from coronavirus symptoms and have not been in contact with confirmed cases in the preceding fortnight.

Unvaccinated travellers will also need to self-isolate for seven days after arrival and take another PCR test following this period.

Children aged 12 and over who are not fully vaccinated and travelling with a fully vaccinated adult are required to present a negative test result (PCR or antigen) but do not need to provide an essential reason for travel, nor self-isolate on arrival.

Travellers who are fully vaccinated do not need an essential reason to travel to France and do not need to self-isolate on arrival.

Fully vaccinated travellers will need to present a completed ‘sworn statement’ and proof of their vaccination status

Vienna, Austria

Most Christmas markets in Vienna start in mid-November and last until around Christmas day, giving visitors plenty of options to choose from.

There are more than 20 official Advent markets that are held around the festive season, including Vienna’s Magic of Advent market at the City Hall Square, which is believed to date back to 1296.

The trees surrounding the square are illuminated with glistening lights, while an array of stalls selling decorations, sweets and hot drinks are on offer to be enjoyed.

Christmas in Vienna (Photo: Getty Images)Christmas in Vienna (Photo: Getty Images)
Christmas in Vienna (Photo: Getty Images)

What are the entry requirements?

Travellers entering Austria must show proof of Covid-19 vaccination, evidence of a current negative Covid-19 test, or proof of recovery from Covid-19.

If you cannot provide proof of vaccination, you will need to complete a pre-travel clearance form no more than 72 hours before entry to Austria and self-isolate for 10 days.

If you provide proof of vaccination, you do not have to self-isolate or register upon entry.

For single dose vaccines, such as Johnson & Johnson, you must show that you received the vaccine more than 21 but no more than 360 days before arrival. For double dose vaccines, such as AstraZeneca and Moderna, you must show that you received the second injection no more than 360 days before arrival.

If you received a booster more than 120 days after being fully immunised, this must not have been more than 360 days before arrival.

If you cannot provide proof of vaccination, you must present a negative test or proof of recovery from Covid-19, and self-isolate for 10 days. You can leave self-isolation after five days with a new negative PCR test result. The day of entry counts as “day zero”.

For proof of a negative test, PCR results must be no older than 72 hours, lateral flow results must be no older than 48 hours, and antigen self-test results (which must be recorded in an official data processing system) must be no older than 24 hours.

For proof of recovery, you must show evidence of recovery during the past 180 days or evidence of neutralising antibodies that is no more than 90 days old.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague’s Christmas markets take place from 27 November until 2 January, with the pretty capital making the perfect backdrop to soak up some seasonal cheer.

The main markets are held in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, although smaller markets can also be found across the city, including at Republic Square and on the square in front of St George’s Basilica.

The markets consist of brightly decorated wooden huts which boast an array of goods, including traditional food, local crafts, ceramics, jewellery, scented candles and Christmas tree ornaments.

Sheep, goats and a donkey will also be waiting to greet visitors in the Old Town Square.

Christmas in Prague (Photo: Getty Images)Christmas in Prague (Photo: Getty Images)
Christmas in Prague (Photo: Getty Images)

What are the entry requirements?

Visitors who have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to travel can enter the Czech Republic without needing to self-isolate or take a pre-departure PCR test.

Children below the age of 12 can enter the country without a pre-departure test and without self-isolating if they are travelling with their fully vaccinated parents. Children over the age of 12 travelling with their parents will need to have proof of vaccination, or take a pre-departure PCR test and self-isolate after arrival.

Those who are not fully vaccinated can only enter the Czech Republic for essential reasons, or if you hold a residency permit.

Tallinn, Estonia

Taking place from mid-November to early January, Tallinn’s festive market is considered one of Europe’s very best.

Set in the heart of the medieval town, the Town Hall Square boasts more than 60 wooden stalls selling handmade crafts, sweets, honey, gingerbread and mulled wine, among other tasty delicacies.

Festive performances also take place at the weekends and the advent candle is lit every Sunday.

Christmas in Estonia (Photo: Shutterstock)Christmas in Estonia (Photo: Shutterstock)
Christmas in Estonia (Photo: Shutterstock)

What are the entry requirements?

Travellers arriving from the UK are required to self-isolate for 10 days.

To shorten the self-isolation period, a negative PCR test must be taken no more than 72 hours before departure, or by taking a test on arrival.

A second negative test no earlier than six days after the initial test will allow you to exit self-isolation.

Those exempt from self-isolation and testing requirements include:

  • individuals who tested positive for Covid-19 and declared cured no longer than six months ago
  • or individuals who have undergone a full course of Covid-19 vaccination and no more than one year has passed since its completion

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