10 Spectacular Holiday Markets Around the World

The Christkindlesmarkt at Marktplatz Nürnberg, Germany. Photo by jwpriebe
By Laura Kiniry

There's no better way to experience the winter season than visiting a holiday market, where you can buy last-minute gifts -- and treat yourself to hot chocolate, mulled wine, cookies, and other sweets.

This centuries-old European tradition has since caught on in North America and other parts of the world, where most holiday markets now include entertainment, children's play areas, and sometimes even a little snow or a visit from Santa himself.

From Austria to Canada, pick up unique holiday gifts at these Christmas markets and stay to sample some of the region's best seasonal cuisine.

Photo Caption: The Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany.
The lighted entry to the Christkindelsmärik -- the Christmas market -- of Strasbourg, France. Photo by Tangopaso/Wikimedia Commons
What: Christkindelsmärik

Strasbourg hosts nearly a dozen Christmas markets, but Christkindelsmärik is the largest. Hundreds of artisans sell traditional holiday gifts and handmade items in the area around Strasbourg Cathedral. The market -- first held in 1570 -- is one of Europe's oldest, and thanks to its close proximity to Germany and Switzerland, it's a great place to sample regional dishes and seasonal treats such as spaetzle and grittibaenz, spiced bread shaped like little men. Authentic French offerings like fish quenelles -- oval-shaped dumplings -- and regional wine are also available.

A trip to the nearby Bredle Market is a must for its freshly made selection of its namesake dessert, an Alsatian butter cookie baked in various shapes and often flavored with fruits, nuts, and spices.

Info: www.noel.strasbourg.eu

Photo Caption: The lighted entry to the Christkindelsmärik -- the Christmas market -- of Strasbourg, France. Photo by Tangopaso/Wikimedia Commons.
Nuremberg's famous Elisenlebkuchen, a bread that is similar to gingerbread, at the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg. Photo by thegirlg
What: Christkindlesmarkt

Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg is one of the world's most famous holiday markets. Dating back to the mid-16th century, this holiday market is also one of the oldest. Held in the center square of Nuremberg's old town, the Christmas market earned the nickname "Little Town from Wood and Cloth" for its abundance of wooden stalls -- nearly 200 in all -- decorated in red and white cloth.

About two million people visit annually, shopping for seasonal items such as ornaments, tree angels, candles, and Nuremberg Plum People (handheld figurines made from prunes and dressed as beer maids and chimney sweeps). Delicacies include fruit loaves, Nuremberg spicy gingerbread, and mugs of mulled wine. Market staff makes an extra effort to hold true to tradition, keeping out possible distractions such as piped-in holiday muzak and gaudy decorations. The most attractive stalls even receive awards.

Info:
www.christkindlesmarkt.de

Photo Caption: Nuremberg's famous Elisenlebkuchen (a bread that is similar to gingerbread) at Christkindlesmarkt.
The Tivoli Lake at Christmas time in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen. Photo by Henrik Petit
What: Tivoli Gardens' Christmas Market

Held on the grounds of historic Tivoli Gardens amusement park, Copenhagen's popular Christmas Market is a wonderland of sight and sound. A Christmas Village offers souvenirs, artisan goods, and local delicacies like aebleskiver -- or Danish pancakes -- and glogg, a warm combo of red wine and spices that's the Scandinavian version of glühwein (mulled wine). Tivoli Gardens restaurants and attractions are open for business, and additional winter rides include a swing carousel and an Elves' Train.

Info: www.tivoli.dk

Photo Caption: The Tivoli Lake at Christmas time in Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen.
Fira de Santa Llùcia, Barcelona's largest holiday market. Photo by arquera
What: Fira de Santa Llúcia

Barcelona's largest holiday market specializes in traditional holiday goods such as Christmas trees, poinsettias, and nativity scenes. You'll also find artisan items and an entire section devoted to instruments.

This is the place to purchase a caganer, a small squatting figure with its pants around its ankles and a "surprise" in back -- the figurines have been a beloved addition to Catalan nativity scenes for centuries. Today, cagnaers take the form of everything from sports stars to Barack Obama. Unlike most European Christmas markets, Fira de Santa Llúcia forgoes traditional food and drink offerings like mulled wine and sausages in favor of Spanish dishes.

Info: www.firadesantallucia.cat

Photo Caption: Fira de Santa Llúcia, Barcelona's largest holiday market. Photo by arquera/Flickr.com.
Visitors to the Christmas Market in Toronto, Ontario. Photo by Mclellan Group
What: Toronto Christmas Market

Much like the city itself, the Toronto Christmas Market is a blend of old world and new. Along with a Ferris wheel, beer, and mulled wine gardens, shoppers choose between dozens of stalls selling everything from woolly hats and alpaca shawls to regional treats like maple syrup.

Activities for kids include Santa's Lane, home to Rudolph's reindeer zoo and a fairytale forest maze. Come hungry -- snacks run the gamut from hot chestnuts and gingerbread biscuits (Lebkuchen) to French Canadian poutine (decadent fries with cheese curds and gravy).

Photo Caption: The festive Christmas Market in Toronto, Ontario.
Schönbrunn Christmas Market in Vienna. Photo by Rinaldo W.
What: Schönbrunn Christmas Market

About 70 exhibitors set up their wares at Parade Court in front of Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace, peddling such holiday goods as Advent wreaths, tin toys, and handmade Christmas decorations.

Along with sausages, crepes, and warm apple desserts, culinary highlights include raclette with bread and gröstl, pan-fried potatoes served with various ingredients such as eggs, pork, and onion. Hot chocolate, Austrian wines, and glühwein (mulled wine) are popular crowd-pleasers, as are the collectible mulled-wine mugs. New this year: market booths are redecorated for New Year's and reopen with additional theme-worthy items for sale.

Info: www.weihnachtsmarkt.co.at

Photo Caption: Schönbrunn Christmas Market in Vienna. Photo by Rinaldo W./Flickr.com.
German sausage stand inside the Manchester Christmas Market, England. Photo by avidoll
What: Manchester Christmas Market

With eight Christmas markets spread throughout Manchester, the market at Albert Square -- at the foot of the Neo-Gothic-designed Manchester Town Hall -- is a regional favorite. Both local and European vendors are on hand with everything from amber jewelry and handcrafted leather bags to bonsai trees and bird houses.

Culinary offerings from across the continent include Dutch mini pancakes, Hungarian goulash, German sausages, and French macarons. Hot chocolate and Christmas punch -- a potent blend of spirits and fruit juices -- are popular market beverages.

Info: For an easy stroll between markets, download a Manchester Markets map at www.manchestermarkets.com.

Photo Caption: A German sausage stand inside the Manchester Christmas Market, England. Photo by avidoll/Flickr.com.
Christmas Market in the Town Hall Square, Tallinn, Estonia. Photo by Marit and Toomas Hinnosaar
What: Tallinn Christmas Market

The city's annual Christmas Market happens in Rotermann Square. The selection of handcrafted goods is remarkable: Browse among more than 40 wooden huts for one-of-a-kind buckwheat pillows, wooden bowls, felted wool hats, and locally-made honey while sipping from mugs of hot mulled wine. Save room to sample an array of blood sausages, sauerkraut, and marzipan sweets. Keep an eye out for Santa, who makes market rounds accompanied by his elves, Scribble and Scrabble.

Photo Caption: Christmas Market in the Town Hall Square, Tallinn, Estonia. Photo by Marit and Toomas Hinnosaar/Flickr.com.
Christmas Village 2011 in Love Park, in Philadelphia. Photo by Miriam Nemeth
What: Christmas Village

This year Philly's annual Christmas Village is celebrating the holidays in a new location: Love Park, just west of City Hall. The market models itself on Germany's traditional holiday markets, with more than 50 vendors -- including local craftspeople and German vendors -- selling items such as nutcrackers, nesting dolls, hand-painted glass ornaments, Indian folk art, handmade hats, pottery, jewelry, and vintage toys. As for treats, expect the delicious filling foods that both Philly and Germany are known for: Nutella-topped waffles, bratwurst, strudels, and an undeniable favorite in both locations -- soft pretzels.

Info: www.philachristmas.com

Photo Caption: Christmas Village 2011 in Love Park, Philadelphia.
The Christmas market in Bratislava. Photo by Gribiche
Euro River Cruises is just one of many tour operators offering river cruises that visit Christmas-markets during the holiday season. Euro River Cruises' seven-night cruise travels the Danube from Passau, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary, with stops at several holiday markets. These include the Christmas market on the main square in Bratislava, Slovakia, and another in Passau. Along the way, guests have the opportunity for guided city tours, side excursions, and seasonal offerings such as a gingerbread-making demo.

Info: http://eurorivercruises.com

Photo Caption: The Christmas market in Bratislava
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