The sights, the smells, the lights, that feeling of Christmas in the air—there’s something unequivocally delightful about strolling through a festive marketplace during the holiday season.
While certain Christmas markets in Central Europe can be traced back to the 15th and 16th centuries, cultures around the world have since adopted this holiday tradition as one of their own and given it a few local twists. From Salzburg to Stockholm, Quebec City to Cape Town, Milan to New York, these world-class destinations feature an array of seasonal marketplaces that will have you booking your next trip, stat.
During Christmas season in Stockholm, the Swedish capital is transformed with glittering light displays that brighten up even the darkest days of the year, and festive marketplaces add to the holiday cheer. Founded in 1837, the Christmas Market in Gamla Stan, the city’s charming old town, features dozens of red stalls selling all varieties of Swedish handicrafts and traditional Christmas treats. And it wouldn’t be Christmas in Stockholm without a visit to Christmas at Skansen. In the spirit of the open-air museum, which celebrates Swedish history and heritage, the Christmas market features handmade Christmas keepsakes, artisanal goods, and epicurean delights made by traditional methods.
Shop: Christmas ornaments and décor made from woven straw, carved wood, and natural fibers; advent stars and advent candle holders; Saint Lucia items for children; artisanal foods.
Taste: Look for pepparkakor (gingersnap cookies), saffransbullar (saffron buns with raisins), and glögg (mulled wine).
Located on the Rhone River in northeastern France, Strasbourg shares rich cultural history with its German neighbors, including its annual Christkindelmärik, which dates back to the Middle Ages and is the oldest Christmas market in France. Counting some 300 stalls spread throughout the city’s historic center, including along Place Broglie and surrounding the Cathedral de Notre Dame, the festivities also include a Village of Sharing that showcases humanitarian and charitable organizations and a Christmas treats market; and the Bredele market, which features traditional Alsatian cakes, shortbreads, and cookies. A local craft market sets up at Place de la Gare.
Shop: Christmas ornaments and nativity figurines; locally-made ceramics, woodcraft or glassware; tablecloths in traditional Alsatian plaid fabrics.
Taste: Le pain d’épices (French spice cake), bredele (traditional Alsatian holiday cookie that has many variations), roasted chestnuts, flammekeuche (savory pizza-esque “flamed cake”), glühwein or vin chaud (mulled wine).
WHERE: New York
While New York City always ranks high on destinations for serious shopping sprees, the holiday markets that pop up at busy Manhattan crossroads in the weeks leading up to Christmas offer a refreshingly intimate and eclectic shopping experience compared to the multistory flagships that line Fifth Avenue. Artisans, indie brands, and local makers of all varieties set up shop indoors at the Grand Central Holiday Fair, as well as outdoors at the Holiday Shops at Winter Village at Bryant Park (which stay open through early January), Columbus Circle Holiday Market, and Union Square Holiday Market. For weekend markets with a decidedly Brooklyn vibe, cross the East River for Brooklyn Flea’s winter home in Williamsburg and the annual in Greenpoint.
Shop: NYC mementos, including artwork, photo frames, and children’s gifts; men’s and women’s apparel and accessories, including handmade jewelry; locally-made bath and beauty products; home décor.
Over five weekends between mid-November and Christmas Day, Quebec City’s historic core sees an influx of more than 100,000 visitors, all bound for Marché de Noel Allemand—the city’s German Christmas Market—which transforms Place de l’Hôtel de Ville into a proverbial winter wonderland dedicated to celebrating German culture by way of Quebec. More than 90 wooden chalets feature everything from handmade goods and decorative objects to artisanal foods and more, both imported from Germany and made in Quebec.
Shop: German Christmas handicrafts; hand-blown glasswork and woodcraft; made in Quebec snowshoes, apparel, and recycled fur accessories; artisanal foods.
Taste: Warm pretzels, German Christmas cake, Quebec smoked meats and maple sweets; European and Canadian candies and chocolates. The Alpine Chalet hosts rotating Quebec chefs and Winterbar serves mulled wine.
While Italy’s fashion capital has its traditional marketplaces—including Oh Bej! Oh Bej!, a Milanese tradition since 1510, and the month-long Christmas market in Piazza Duomo that features all varieties of made in Italy Christmas items, artisan goods and DOC food products—December also brings more niche fairs to Milan. The Fonderia Napoleonica Eugenia, a museum in a former bell foundry, hosts an annual Green Christmas Market featuring home goods, apparel, , sustainable jewelry, and organic beauty products. Watch Italian artisans at work at Creatività Artigiana at Piazza Mercanti and shop for gifts from the makers, too. Local nonprofit Chico Mendes hosts Banco di Garabombo—a pop-up shop spotlighting fair-trade and sustainably-made goods—through early January and East Market Milano, a vintage and second-hand pop-up market with an East London vibe, hosts events on select weekends.
Taste: Panettone (sweet Christmas bread), roasted chestnuts and firunatt (strings of smoked chestnuts only at Oh Bej! Bej!), vin brulè (mulled wine).
Known as the birthplace of Mozart and the city where “Silent Night” was penned, Salzburg hosts more Christmas markets (called “advent markets”) than cities 10 times its size. The Salzburg Christkindlmarkt, the city’s oldest and largest event, dates back to 1491 and today features around 100 vendors selling gifts, children’s toys, holiday treats, and all things Christmas. On the outskirts of Salzburg, Hellbrunner Adventzauber brings a festive mood to the grounds of Hellbrunn Palace. The pine forest is adorned with 13,000 red balls and fairy lights, and a marketplace for local artisans and craftsmen sets up in the palace’s inner courtyard. Open Friday through Sunday in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the advent market at Fortress Hohensalzburg features live music and choral performances, as well as a dedicated children’s craft and entertainment area.
Shop: Handmade nutcrackers, ornaments, seasonal decorations, wooden toys, ceramics, hand-blown glass, knitted and leather goods.
Taste: Lebkuchen (gingerbread), roasted sausages; ofenkartoffel (baked potato), glühwein (mulled wine), jagatee (hot tea with rum).
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, London becomes one giant holiday playground with opportunities for merriment and pop-up marketplaces galore, often side-by-side. Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, the pinnacle of London’s seasonal festivities, features more than 100 vendors in twinkling cabins and loads of activities, but be prepared for the crowds here and at Christmas in Leicester Square, too. On the opposite side of the Thames, Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival features a marketplace with a global smorgasbord of eats. Christmas by the River at London Bridge City features 68 vendors with an emphasis on artisanal and bespoke gifts and stocking stuffers, and E17 Designers’ Christmas Market, which runs over the course of two weekends in December on Oxford Road, has an artisanal focus, as well.
Seeing on average more than 2.5 million visitors every year, Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt is one of the world’s most visited Christmas markets, an honor this northern Bavarian city takes quite seriously. Mass-produced goods, including plastic garland, are strictly forbidden at this historic market, which has origins in the 16th century; every season stallholders vie for gold, silver, and bronze “Plum People” awards for most beautiful stalls. In addition to the 160 wooden stalls covered in red-and-white-striped fabric in the city’s main square, a market starring Nuremberg’s sister cities sets up in nearby Rathausplatz; proceeds go to charitable organizations in the sister cities, which span the globe.
Shop: Zwetschgenmännle (Nuremberg Plum People, made from dried fruit); Rauschgold brass angels, symbol of the Christkind; springerle (painted Christmas tree decorations) and other ornaments; Christmas pyramids; hand-carved wooden gifts and toys for children.
Taste: Lebkuchen (gingerbread); stollen (sweet Christmas loaf with fruit); Nürnberger bratwurstchen (local sausages); glühwein (mulled wine).
Wondering where to find Christmas markets in Tokyo? Follow the lights, because odds are they won’t be too far from the mega holiday illuminations that are installed at shopping districts around the city. Every year Roppongi Hills throws a giant Christmas extravaganza, complete with a traditional, German-inspired Christmas market, while Tokyo Skytree Town’s Dream Christmas and the Christmas Marché at Yebisu Garden Palace have a more contemporary—but nonetheless festive—air. Other markets here look to replicate that German Christmas feeling with traditional food offerings and authentic décor: All of the wooden booths at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse Christmas Market were imported from Germany and a 45-foot-tall wooden Christmas tower from Dresden is the star attraction at Tokyo Christmas Market in Hibiya Park.
Mexico City goes all out with lights and décor for the Christmas season, so it’s no surprise that CDMX is also home to a strong lineup of Christmas markets. El Bazar Navideño de las Estrellas sets up for a month on an upper plaza at Galerias Plaza de las Estrellas, with more than 100 vendors selling handicrafts, decorative items, and textiles, and an artisan market pops up in front of the Olympic Sports Center. Xochimilco features a poinsettia market and many of the city’s permanent shopping bazaars—including Coyoacan, Lazaro Cardenas, and Río Blanco—host festive Christmas marketplaces, too.
Shop: Artisan-made figurines and nativity scenes, ornaments, textiles, piñatas, and poinsettias.
Taste: All varieties of homemade tamales, champurrado (style of Mexican hot chocolate), Christmas ponche (warm, spiced punch with fresh fruit, with or without alcohol).
For a Christmas market with a plenty of British charm, follow in the footsteps of a few famous authors and head for Bath, the historic spa town that made lasting impressions on both Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. Featuring more than 150 chalets in the city center, more than 80 percent of the merchants at Bath Christmas Market are artisans or small businesses from Southwest England, local to the region. The Bath Christmas Market is an easy day trip from London; alternatively, stay an extra day to enjoy the city’s holiday festivities.
Shop: Sheepskin products and accessories, handmade jewelry, local fashion and apparel brands, homewares and handicrafts, locally-made spirits and artisanal foods.
Taste: Fish & Chips (The Anglefish Restaurant), wild game burgers (The Burger Co.), traditional British pancakes (Suzette’s Pancakes), locally-brewed beer and cider (The Lodge).
WHERE: South Africa
A temperate climate doesn’t stop Cape Town from getting into the holiday spirit. The city is home to a bevy of holiday markets and events, including Stellenbosch Kersmark, which features handmade goods, toys, and handicrafts from more than 180 makers, and the Cape Gift Market, which spotlights crafters from South Africa and Namibia. The season kicks off annually with the Constantia Gift Fair (mid-November), a tented, outdoor artisan fair with inspirational overtones, as the event benefits SARDA, the South African Riding for the Disabled Association.
Shop: Beach house décor, garden accessories, locally made ceramics, rugs and other textiles, handmade picnic baskets, wine accessories, gourmet gift baskets, handmade plush toys for children.
Taste: Malva pudding (Cape Malay tradition), Koesisters (Cape Malay doughnuts), South African pancakes (similar to crepes), Christmas gammon (glazed ham), sago pudding, South African sparkling wines
While Croatia’s capital city only officially launched Advent in Zagreb in 2014—making it a relative newcomer to the scene, all things considered—within just a few years’ time, Zagreb has garnered critical acclaim for its annual holiday celebrations, which transform some of the city’s most popular public spaces into a strollable, shoppable, delectable—and definitely Instagram-able—winter wonderland.
Part of the charm is the mix of old and new: In addition to trees wrapped and draped in twinkle lights and rows of artisan kiosks in Zrinjevac Park, artificial snow dusts the pathways (and a towering Christmas tree) in the city’s central Ban Jelacic Square. Elsewhere, in Zagreb’s Upper Town, chalets line the Strossmayer Promenade—which also features some superb city views—while DJ-fueled beats lend to the festive atmosphere of “Fooling Around” in Strossmayer Square. In total, there are more than a dozen advent sites to discover.
Taste: Fritule (bite-sized doughnuts); bucnica (savory squash and cheese strudel); sarma (cabbage rolls); rakija (fruit-infused brandy)
This medieval capital city on the Baltic Sea may rest its Yuletide laurels on the fact that its citizens first raised a Christmas tree in Town Hall Square more than half a millennium ago—in 1441, to be precise—but Tallinn’s seasonal market offerings extend well beyond the clusters of traditional light-strung huts which encircle that glittering tree during the Tallinn Christmas Market. From local artist and indie designer showcases to a seasonal marketplace at the city’s annual Asian Lantern Festival, Tallinn hosts more than a dozen holiday market events between November and January. Weekends bring plenty of festive cheer to Balti Jaama Turg, a food-centric market hall located near the central rail station. Tucked in among the many food stalls and purveyors are plenty of other vendors worth discovering, some selling vintage and antique knickknacks, others apparel and home goods.
A crossroads of cultures for hundreds of years, the city of Budapest has a rich mercantile history and its Christmas markets follow suit. The roughly 120 stalls that take over Vörösmarty Square—plus the additional makers, craftsman and food purveyors that set up shop in St. Istvan Square, in the glow of the illuminated St. Stephen’s Basilica—engage all of the senses. From the fiery, charcoal roasting of the traditional chimney cakes to the tactile feel of supple leather and sheepskin coats and hand-carved kitchen wares, Budapest’s Christmas markets are full of treasures (and some curiosities, too) waiting to be discovered.
Shop: Handcrafted ornaments and toys; sheepskin and leather goods (apparel, accessories and home goods); artisan glassware, pottery, and woodwork; dried spice wreaths/décor
Taste: Kürtoskalács (charcoal-roasted chimney cake); goulash (traditional beef soup); toltott kaposzta (stuffed cabbage rolls); Hungarian sausages; glühwein, punsch (warm spiced wine)