Europe’s Christmas markets date back to medieval times, when German territories covered a wide swath of the continent. Some of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets trace their origins as far back as the 15th and 16th centuries. Dresden’s market first opened for one day on Christmas Eve in 1434. Meanwhile, the oldest evidence of Nuremberg’s Christmas market dates it to 1628, though some suspect it stretches back at least to 1530.

In Germany, the number of Christmas markets has also been on the rise for the last 50 years—tripling from about 950 markets in the 1970s to about 3,000 in 2019. Local tourism bureaus use them to persuade people to visit during winter’s bleakest days, and tour companies have expanded from bus tours to Christmas market river cruises that stop in cities along the Danube, from Germany to Hungary.

Every holiday season, Christmas markets transform the main squares of cities across Europe into winter wonderlands. Wooden huts adorned with twinkling lights and boughs of holly line the streets. Vendors sell hand-carved ornaments and Nativity scene figurines, alongside piping hot mugs of glühwein (mulled wine), as Christmas carols fill the air. In Germany alone, where the tradition began, there are normally 2,500 to 3,000 Christmas markets a year.