In many countries around the world, holiday season stretches leisurely across the last two months of the year. But it's the weeks leading up to Christmas that get particularly cheery, with sparkly decorations, evergreens outfitted with twinkling lights, festive music—and holiday markets.
For centuries, holiday markets have distilled the very best of the holidays—a one-stop Christmas cheer shop. The earliest markets, in late 1300s Germany, started by selling only meat, but eventually evolved to peddling seasonal treats, and putting on performances. In modern-day markets, you'll find everything from local crafts, food, and wine to ice rinks and more.
While most are en plein air, more unique locations have begun to pop up over the years. From inside amusement parks to river boats and caves, there’s no limit, it would seem, to the places you can celebrate in—and shop at. So whether you prefer a traditional, older fair or a newer, more bizarre bazaar, there's something out there for you. And that’s why we’ve rounded up the best holiday markets around the world. Add them to your list.
Estonia’s capital city was the first to publicly display a Christmas tree in Europe in 1441. Since then, Town Hall Square has housed the tree, which is now the centerpiece of the Tallinn Christmas Market. Traditional Estonian holiday cuisine, like black pudding, sour cabbage, mulled wine, and gingerbread, is on offer alongside handmade crafts. Visitors can also explore the extensive cultural program of performances, from folk dance to choir.
In the heart of London, Hyde Park transforms into a lively carnival for the season. Ticketed attractions include the world’s tallest transportable observation wheel, an ice rink, a snow sculpture experience, a karaoke bar, a comedy club, and a circus tent (phew!). Repeat customers can purchase a season pass for unlimited access to the roller coasters. Entering the grounds, however, is free, which means visitors can absorb cheer at no cost.
Vienna Christmas Dream is a descendant of what is believed to be the first ever holiday market in 1298. Housed in front of Rauhaus, Vienna’s grand City Hall, the massive fair has endless stalls of Austrian chocolates and sausages, warm punches, and handmade wooden toys. There is also a winding ice skating rink, a path of nativity scenes, a historic carousel, and musical performances. (They had me at chocolates and sausages, frankly!)
Set in Singapore’s signature nature park, Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay is perhaps the world’s brightest holiday market. Intricate, colorful light sculptures fill the park and there are five magical, snow falls each evening—faux, because ... the tropics. Gifts, bites, games, and rides are part of the fun.
The historic Tivoli Gardens is an amusement park in Copenhagen that’s been in operation since 1843, making it the second oldest in the world. For Christmas, the park offers a village of holiday trinkets and delicious treats like the Danish pancakes called aebleskiver, and puts on firework displays on December 25, 26, and 27. The park’s rides, shops, and restaurants are open as well.
If celebrating the holidays on land seems too commonplace, perhaps a Christmas market on the Danube River sounds more intriguing. Board a river cruiser decorated with tinsel and lights to find stalls filled with artisan gifts from Bavaria, as well as roasted almonds, gingerbread and mulled wine. Plus, the boat carries a large, lauded wooden nativity scene.
Chicago’s Christkindlmarket is inspired by the centuries-old Nuremberg market of the same name. The German-style festival is located in Daley Plaza and has stalls selling hand-blown glass ornaments, nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, beer steins, and more. Visitors can indulge in savory German delicacies like sausages, potato pancakes, Strudel, as well as sweet cakes and chocolates. All of which, naturally, must be washed down with glühwein, a traditional German mulled wine.
The charming, cobblestoned, pedestrian-only Distillery District is home to the Toronto Christmas Market. In its tenth year, the fair boasts a Ferris wheel, Santa’s House, performances by carolers and choirs, and vendors selling wool hats, maple syrups and candies, Liège waffles, and the like.
Dating back to the mid-16th century, Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is held in the city’s Old Town and is widely known for its wooden stalls dressed in red and white cloth. Nuremberg bratwurst, gingerbread, roasted almonds, mulled wine, and rum punch keep people happy whilst browsing for gifts like a traditional gold foil angel called Rauschgoldengel. I'd personally make a beeline for the stalls selling Zwetschgenmännle—well-loved figures made from ... prunes. (Yes, you read that right.) Buying a Nuremberg prune man is like taking home a little bit of Nuremberg itself.
The ruins of Valkenburg Castle (and its underground cave) host one of the most unusual holiday markets in the world. The cave itself, which likely dates back to the 11th or 12th century, is a treat, with impressive wall murals, inscriptions, and sculptures carved into its soft marlstone walls. For the market, subterranean stalls are decked out with handmade gifts, snacks, and seasonal beverages.
In the heart of bustling New York City, an entire Winter Village pops up for the holiday season. Taking over Midtown’s busy Bryant Park, the wonderland provides Manhattan’s only free ice skating rink, shops with globally-sourced gifts, a diverse food hall, bumper cars, even a fitness studio with barre and yoga classes—and Manhattan at its doorstep.
Since 1570, Strasbourg has celebrated Christmas with a seasonal market. Now, there are festive stalls located in bunches all over the city, making for a holiday mega-market. Guests should start at Place Kléber, where the Great Christmas Tree, a skating rink, and many vendors are set up. In another square, local Alsatian artisans sell specialties like regional wines, hot apple juice, jam, honey, gingerbread, and a butter cookie called Bredele that's calling my name.
What started as a singular event on December 13 to celebrate Saint Lucy’s Day in 1786 has evolved into a month-long Christmas festival in the square in front of the Barcelona Cathedral. The most distinctive tradition of the fair is caga tió, a grinning, piñata-like log that children thrash with a stick until it disgorges candy and gifts. Visitors can also enjoy Spanish fare, intricate nativity scenes, and many, many poinsettias.
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