For most of us, the Christmas season is both enchanting and daunting. Yes, it’s the time of year when the world becomes just a little bit more whimsical and beautiful. But it’s also the time when gift shopping can begin to feel like a burden. Luckily, many towns around the world manage to maintain the holiday magic (and offset the often overwhelming commercialization of the holiday) with their unique and whimsical Christmas markets. From late November through the New Year, you can find amazing candlelit displays, winter delicacies, delicious mulled wine, and spectacular crafts at seasonal markets around the world. These markets are time-honored traditions — some have been around for centuries — that make the historical magic of Christmas feel a bit more present-day.
Dating back to 1786, the Fira de Santa Llúcia is still going strong in the twenty-first century, with hundreds of stalls selling everything you need to decorate your home for the holidays and enough gifts for your entire family, extended included. Some of the best Spanish nativity scene and figure artists display and sell their wares in front of the Pla de la Seu, and there are additional sections for greenery and plants (moss, eucalyptus branches, artificial trees, and natural cork), crafts (including jewelry, accessories, and housewares), and simbombas (tambourines and other musical instruments to add some funky beats to your revelry).
Berlin plays host to more than 50 Christmas markets, many of which are multi-week events throughout the Advent season. These events date back to the early 1500s and have always been places where artisans sell everything you could ever need for the holidays. The market in Rixdorf is specially known for wood and metal, as well as ceramic ware. Not even a terror attack in 2016 could dim the spirit of the city's Christmas markets, and they were back stronger than ever this year.
Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market, the largest German-style Christmas market outside of Germany. Open until December 24, the Frankfurt Christmas Market features glowing chalets spread across Victoria Square, Chamberlain Square, and New Street. Treats to try include moist marzipan, mulled wine, and rich gingerbread.
Bolzano, situated in northern Italy on the south side of the Alps, turns into a spectacle of romantic, snowy splendor come holiday time with the nation’s largest Christmas market. The Piazza Walther supplies the magical setting, bathed in orange light from candles and lamps, and scented with cinnamon, mulled wine, and woodsy aromas. Expect to see handmade gifts, foods, and beverages representing countries across the globe. For the little ones, there are pony rides, puppet shows, and an incandescent carousel.
The Brussels Christmas market has more than a mile of shops, stalls, and chalets with gifts, food and drinks, ornaments, and artisanal arts and crafts. With help from the Montreux Noël team (who worked on a very successful holiday market in Switzerland for two decades), the market is equipped with an authentic Swiss chalet serving culinary delicacies from Switzerland (think fondues and expertly paired wines from the Vaud region), and the Rue Devaux will be a big part of the action, hosting a number of participating shops, vendors, and outdoor eating areas.
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.
Photo by Posh K. via Yelp
Held outdoors on Daley Plaza at The Loop, Christkindlmarket is a free event that showcases Chicago’s German heritage with an array of culinary delicacies and a Christkind wandering the grounds telling Christmas stories. Feasting is mandatory, with excessive amounts of sweet and savory bites for sale. Your ears are in for a treat as well, with string bands and brass quarters, along with children’s choirs, performing throughout the season.
Colmar is one of the most charming Alsatian towns, full of crooked houses set on crooked lanes. Colmar Christmas Market is divided into five venues, each offering an abundance of activities and entertainment for guests of all ages. The children’s section is in Petite Venise and is highlighted by a wooden horse merry-go-round, an animated nativity scene, and a giant letterbox for kids to send their letters to Santa. Adults can enjoy markets at the Place de Dominicains, with stalls augmented by lights around the stained-glass windows of a fourteenth-century Dominican church; the Place Jeanne d’Arc, loaded with local culinary delights; Place de l’Ancienne Douane, with stalls surrounding the Schwendi Fountain; and at the covered market of the Koïfhus, located in a fourteenth- and fifteenth-century structure that was used as a trading post, which features antiques, wood sculptures, cabinet-makers, hatters, jewelers, and old booksellers.
Germany is filled with festive holiday markets this time of year, and Cologne hosts many annual markets within the city's confines, each with more sparkling Christmas lights and sweet treats than the last. These include the Cathedral Christmas Market, Angel’s Christmas Market, and the Gay and Lesbian Christmas Market. 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.
Christmas in Tivoli Gardens is only open through December 31, so hurry to visit before it closes for the season. The Christmas market at Tivoli Gardens is where Copenhagen locals go to cope with cold winter weather with hot drinks, and to hang out during the holidays among festive lights, Nordic décor, and music playing through the Gardens. There are 60 stalls that serve sweet and savory snacks, along with handmade gifts and ornaments.
The Dresden Striezelmarkt is one of a few cities that can lay claim to being Germany’s oldest market. This Christmas it celebrates its 583rd season, and it is open from November 29 to December 24 in Altmarkt Square. Dresden actually hosts 11 different Christmas markets, ranging from the medieval to traditional. The market’s goods celebrate the traditional local industries, including mining, pottery, and woodworking. The scent of baked apples fills the air under millions of twinkling lights and the festive glow of the Ferris wheel and carousel.
It may not seem as if it’s possible for Edinburgh to get any more magical, but that’s exactly what happens at Christmastime. Edinburgh hosts many Christmas markets, but don’t miss the traditional Christmas market held in the Princes Street Garden. Find traditional Scottish crafts and toys, friendly artisans, festive local food, and of course Scottish whisky. The market also boasts a large outdoor ice skating rink as well as a Ferris wheel (recognizable to those who have visited during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival).
A trio of Finnish cities — Helsinki, Turku, and Tampere — host Christmas markets. In Finland’s capital, there are several markets, including the St. Thomas Christmas Market at Senate Square, which is open daily from December 2 to December 22. A second market at Old Student’s House features two floors of vendors selling candles, knitted goods, ceramic, and clothes daily from December 15 to December 22. Turku, the "Christmas City of Finland," hosts a bustling holiday market in the Old Great Square that features hand-crafted products and Christmas treats like gingerbread cookies. Tampere’s Christmas Market is open daily from December 2 to December 22 and offers traditional Christmas handicrafts and other products from Finland and abroad.
London gets a North Pole makeover during the holiday season when Hyde Park transforms into this surreal snow-asis, featuring exhilarating rides (the Winter Wonderland Express, Star Flyer, and three roller coasters, to name a few), ice skating, and a Christmas circus at the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. Experience the best views of the U.K.’s capital on the nearly 200-foot-tall Giant Observation Wheel, and get your grub on with beer and bratwurst at the Bavarian Village and a number of bars, including the Carousel Bar, Nordic Bar, Mirror Bar, and the après-ski bar.
One of the largest markets in the U.K. is Manchester’s Christmas Market, which features hundreds of twinkling market stalls across eight city-center locations all offering the requisite wintertime snacks like mulled wine and sweets, is open from mid-November to December 20.
Dating back to the fourteenth century, Munich’s Christmas Market takes place on the historic Marienplatz, the center of cultural life in Munich. This makes it a fitting place for the city's Christmas celebration. The celebration kicks off with a 100-foot-tall Christmas tree and 140 stalls crowded into the Marienplatz. Visitors can purchase traditional Bavarian gifts such as wooden nativity sets, freshly prepared gingerbread, and handcrafted glassware from the Bavarian Forest. Alternative options for enthusiasts include the Medieval Christmas Market, where participants wear costume dress; the Kripperlmarkt, which specializes in miniature cribs and other nativity accessories; Tollwood Christmas Market with its modern, multicultural offerings; and the Munich Airport's Winter Market where those with long layovers can shop 45 market stands and enjoy their daily musical performances by over 20 bands.
Photo by Maria B. via Yelp
Situated across from the southwest corner of Central Park, the Columbus Circle Holiday Market features scores of vendors hawking arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry, and handmade ornaments. There are food and drink vendors galore, as well, offering Korean barbecue, Sicilian rice balls, and hot apple cider. The same producers also handle the Union Square Holiday Market a bit farther downtown. And if you still want more Christmas, you can check out the Christmas market at Grand Central Station.
Ring in the Christmas season in Old World style in festive markets bursting with handmade crafts and winter warmers. One of the oldest and most notable Christmas markets in the world, the Christkindlesmarkt is a spectacular event for both kids and adults. Young ones can bask in the wonder of the Christmas City at the Hans-Sachs-Platz where they can ride the Ferris wheel and write wish lists to the Christkind; after that, they can frolic at the Sternenhaus (located in the refurbished Heilig-Geist-Saal) and listen to an array of holiday stories.
Oslo hosts many Christmas markets, which range from traditional markets selling handicrafts and offering horse sleigh rides to those selling local designer clothes, jewelry, and glassware. Three of the biggest markets are the Christmas Fair at the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, the Christmas market at Youngstorget, and the Christmas fair at Bærums Verk. Treats to try include aquavit (a potato-based spirit flavored with herbs such as caraway seeds, anise, dill, fennel, and coriander), gløgg (the Norwegian version of mulled wine, a syrupy mixture with dried figs and raisins), juleøl (a thicker lager with spices), and julebrus (a non-alcoholic red or gold carbonated drink).
Photo by Christa N. via Yelp
Love Park at JFK Plaza is home to the Christmas Village holiday bash, which will run until Christmas Eve. Even though the village is modeled after traditional German Christmas markets, you’ll find artwork and ornaments aplenty from across the world, including Turkish mosaic lamps, Indian table runners, Egyptian frames and perfume bottles, and Nicaraguan pottery. Don’t miss Philly’s flavorful city finds.
Possibly the largest and best known of Prague's Christmas markets can be found in the city's Old Town Square. Kids will enjoy petting zoos while adults can peruse hand-carved wooden figurines and Bavarian crystal. Visitors can also gaze upon the Church of Our Lady before Týn and the medieval Prague astronomical clock, walk through the winding lanes of Prague's Old Town, and marvel at the fairy-tale cityscape covered in snow.
During the holiday season, Le Marché du Vieux-Port is home to thousands of gifts, ornaments, and home decorations amid the Old World splendor of beautiful Québec City, making the Christmas Market at Old Port Market the perfect place to explore, shop, and stimulate your senses. The selection of gourmet snacks will overwhelm you, so opt for cheesy poutine to warm your insides if the weather is extra-frigid — and to make decision-making especially easy.
Sapporo and Munich are sister cities, and to celebrate over three decades of their relationship, the city of Sapporo began hosting the annual German Christmas Market. Vendors working from German-style booths peddle everything you need for Christmas, from glass and wood ornaments to candles, postcards made by local artists, and hand-crafted teddy bears. There will be mulled wine and roasted almonds prepared in traditional German fashion, along with lots of Bavarian beer and truckloads of the local elixir of inebriation, Sapporo rice lager.
One of the most impressive and little-known holiday markets, the Sibiu Christmas Market takes place in the old city of Sibiu in Romania's Transylvania region. “It’s all very Baroque and beautiful,” says Ryan Ver Berkmoes, a Lonely Planet author. “You can feel the passage of centuries as you wander the narrow streets,” he says. The market action takes place in the recently restored main square, Piaţă Mare, a large, trapezoidal area, which is a stunner any time of year. “There’s all the usual little wooden huts selling food (a lot of good Romanian sausage), drinks (Austrian gluhwein, good Romanian beers and various hot drinks with Romanian booze like ţuică, which is made from plums) and gifts — Christmas ornaments, leather goods etc.,” says Ver Berkmoes. “Transylvania gets cold so you can count on snow. Best of all, you’re off the beaten path. People are still a bit innocent over this type of Western fun. And it’s cheap — generally half the price you’d pay for anything in Vienna,” Ver Berkmoes says.
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.
Strasbourg, in the Alsace region of France along the border with 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.
Photo by Edwin A. via Yelp
At the Toronto Christmas Market the sounds of children’s choirs and carolers can be heard throughout, whose organizers strive to keep true to centuries-old European traditions. On top of romantic lighting and an enormous, lit-up tree, the market boasts a number of garden spaces where visitors can relax with a glass of mulled wine, local beer, or a hot rum-based beverage.
Photo by Vancouver Christmas Market via Yelp
Vancouver Christmas Market is an homage to German Christmas markets of yesteryear, playing up the décor with rows of wooden huts adorned with white light ropes and aromatic pine branches. Each hut offers visitors a chance to sample authentic Bavarian edibles and libations, including Feuerzangenbowle (a beverage in which sugar cubes are flambéed with rum and mixed with mulled wine), cakes and cookies from Sven’s Bakery, and cherry-topped waffles from Das Wafflehaus.
Known as one of the most romantic cities in the world, Vienna transforms into a holiday haven during winter months, hosting several traditional Christmas markets around picturesque spots including the town square Rathausplatz and the Historic Quarter. Vienna held its first Dezembermarktes (or “December Market”) in 1294, kicking off a tradition that carries through to today's Christmas Market. Now, festivities center on the Rathaus, the city's town hall, where millions of revelers gather to ring in the season. The markets host vendors selling handcrafted decorations and artisanal beeswax candles. Travelers will enjoy weekend performances by choirs from around the world, and families can take advantage of daily kids’ workshops. Top picks include the Spittelberg Christmas Market and Old Viennese Christmas Market, where visitors are immersed in the aroma of roasted chestnuts and are spoiled for choice with over 150 stalls; the Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz, offering handicrafts and other stocking fillers along with freshly-baked pastries; and the Kultur-und Weihnachtsmarkt in front of the monumental Schönbrunn Palace, which specializes in lucky charms to offer to loved ones for the New Year.
Europe's biggest indoor Christmas festival at Zürich’s Hauptbahnhof station entices travelers with the sweet smell of cinnamon permeating the air around the chalet-style stalls. While sampling the local spiced wine and delicious hot chocolate, visitors can also gaze in amazement at the centerpiece Christmas tree adorned with thousands of Swarovski crystals. Another must-see is the Christmas market in the old town, which sells a variety of goods made by local and international craftsmen. If you’re planning a trip in the coming year, here are the best world airlines to fly with.