Germany is filled with festive holiday markets this time of year, but Cologne hosts four annual markets within the city's confines, each with more sparkling Christmas lights and sweet treats than the last. Some sell candies and ornaments, some have live music playing, some have merry-go-rounds, and still some serve hot mulled wine and sweet cider to holiday shoppers.
The Christmas spirit pervades every street corner and shop window in Vienna, most of which direct festive shoppers to the Christkindlmarkt in the city's main square. As per tradition, Christmas trees are hung with heart-shaped ornaments and vendors sell roasted chestnuts, mulled wine, gingerbread, and candied breads, all before you peruse the stalls filled with handmade arts, crafts, and gifts.
Strasbourg, in the Alsace region of France that borders Germany, has hosted its particularly magical Christmas market for more than 430 years, making it France's oldest. There's a classic gingerbread bakery, stalls serving hot spiced wine, and wooden booths selling locally made goods, all within the romantic setting of the Strasbourg Cathedral.
Budapest's Christmas market is truly a food lover's holiday dream, with vendors that line the streets selling everything from goulash and glühwein to traditional Christmas cookies, strudel, and sausages. There are light shows, a Santa Claus for the kids, classical music concerts, and unique homemade crafts.
Uptown to downtown, New York City knows how to show its holiday spirit, and the markets at Union Square and Bryant Park are among the best places to soak up the twinkling lights and bright colors of the season. Free ice-skating and mouthwatering Belgian waffles at Bryant Park jump-start the festivities, while the gingerbread cookies alone are worth the trip to Union Square.
Sitting amidst the historic Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen's Christmas market is straight out of a fairy tale, with a Santa Claus and pony rides. The lake is turned into an ice-skating rink that sits beside more than 60 vendors in wooden stalls selling decorations, wooden dolls, Copenhagen porcelain, and heaps of food like apple dumplings and glögg (mulled wine with spices).
In the true tradition of German-style markets, Prague's Christmas market is full of charm and festivities, from the carol singers and folk art to the buzzing cafés and trees with twinkling lights that line the Old Town Square. Little wooden huts house holiday knickknacks and sweet gifts, as well as classic Czech snacks and plenty of beer.
Stockholm's julmarknad ("Christmas market") of choice has been held at the Skansen Open-Air Museum since 1903. It upholds all the traditions of an authentic Christmas market, with classic Swedish treats, locally made arts and crafts, a choir, pony rides for kids, and even ideas for holiday table settings for home celebrations.
The largest German-style Christmas market outside of Germany, Chicago's Christmas market starts just after Thanksgiving with the annual Christmas tree lighting. The food, drink, and vibe are all as Bavarian as can be, from pretzels to bratwurst, and beer to hot mulled wine. And the crafts and goodies found at market stalls include traditional Bavarian ornaments and wooden toys, as well as locally made gifts.
Among the more laid-back Christmas markets, Vancouver's annual event is colorful and filled with local pride. Heart-shaped Christmas cookies, homemade crepes, sausages, and strudel are served among the wooden stalls where live folk music is played, ornaments are hung, Santa Claus listens to little wishes, and carol singers serenade.