Spectacular Holiday Markets Around the World
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 a visit from Santa himself.
Pictured: holiday market in Tallinn, Estonia
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. First held in 1570, the market is one of Europe's oldest. Thanks to Strasboug's close proximity to Germany and Switzerland, this is a great place to sample dishes from all three countries as well as seasonal treats such as spaetzle and grittibaenz, which is spiced bread shaped like little men.
More info: www.noel.strasbourg.eu
Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg is world-famous. Dating back to the mid-16th century, the market occupies the center square of Nuremberg's old town. An abundance of wooden stalls decorated in red and white cloth have earned the event's nickname: Little Town from Wood and Cloth. About two million people visit each year, shopping for seasonal items such as ornaments, tree angels, candles, and "plum people" (handheld figurines like the ones pictured, made from prunes, nuts, and tiny costumes). Delicacies include fruit loaves, gingerbread (another local specialty), and mugs of mulled wine. The most attractive stalls win awards.
More info: www.christkindlesmarkt.de
Held on the grounds of the historic Tivoli Gardens amusement park, Copenhagen's popular Christmas market is a wonderland of sight and sound. Visitors shop for souvenirs, artisan goods, and local delights like aebleskiver—or Danish pancakes—and gløgg, Scandinavia's answer to Glühwein. Tivoli Gardens restaurants and attractions are open for business, too, with wintertime additions such as a swing carousel and the Elf Train.
More info: www.tivoli.dk
Barcelona's largest holiday market shows off traditional Christmas trees, sweets, and nativity scenes. You'll also find handmade crafts and an entire section devoted to musical instruments. Another integral part of a Barcelona Christmas: the caganer, a small squatting figure with pants around the ankles. Believe it or not, these irreverent potty-goers have been beloved supporting characters in Catalan nativity scenes for centuries. Today, caganers appear in the likenesses of everyone from sports stars to presidents.
More info: www.firadesantallucia.cat
Toronto's Christmas market in the city's historic, pedestrian-only Distillery District has a Ferris wheel and beer gardens along with dozens of stalls selling woolly hats, alpaca shawls, and Canadian staples like maple syrup. Santa's on hand for photo ops, while carolers, folk dancers, and other performers keep crowds entertained. Come hungry—you can snack on hot chestnuts, gingerbread biscuits, and, of course, poutine.
More info: tochristmasmarket.com
About 70 exhibitors set up their wares in front of Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace, peddling advent wreaths, tin toys, and handmade Christmas decorations. Among the culinary highlights: sausages, crepes, apple-centric desserts, and raclette cheese served with bread and pan-fried potatoes. Hot chocolate, Austrian wines, and Glühwein are popular liquid refreshments—best enjoyed from a collectible mug.
More info: www.weihnachtsmarkt.co.at
There are eight different Christmas markets spread throughout Manchester, but the one at Albert Square—set against the neo-Gothic Manchester Town Hall—is a fan favorite. Shop for amber jewelry, handcrafted leather bags, bonsai trees, bird houses, you name it. Culinary offerings span the European continent: You can fill up on Dutch pancakes, Hungarian goulash, German sausages, and French macarons. Wash it all down with hot chocolate or a potent Christmas punch.
More info: www.manchestermarkets.com
The Estonian capital's annual Christmas market happens in Town Hall Square. 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.
More info: christmasmarket.ee
Philadelphia's annual Christmas Village takes over Love Park, just west of City Hall. Modeled on Germany's traditional holiday markets, Philly's take involves more than 80 vendors selling nutcrackers, nesting dolls, hand-painted glass ornaments, Indian folk art, handmade hats, pottery, jewelry, and vintage toys. As for treats, expect hearty helpings of Nutella-topped waffles, bratwurst, strudel, and soft pretzels.
More info: www.philachristmas.com
The Czech Republic hosts a number of Christmas markets across the country, but the most famous are held at Prague's Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. You'll have your pick of the country's tastiest winter delights: steamed dumplings filled with smoked pork, garlic-and-cheese flatbread, and enough spiced gingerbread men to start an army. Honey wine, thick hot chocolate, and a dizzying selection of Czech beers are all part of the beverage program. Make sure you plan your visit after 4:30pm, when the Old Town Square's grandiose Christmas tree, brought to the capital each year from the forested Liberec Region, comes to life with an all-singing, all-dancing lighting ceremony that's repeated every hour. If you're here with kids, don't miss the animals stable, where children can feed and pet sheep, goats, and donkeys. —Jessica Vincent
More info: www.pragueexperince.com