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).
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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, visit Brooklyn Flea’s winter home in SoHo or cross the East River for the annual BUST Craftacular 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. Sixty-five wooden chalets feature everything from handmade goods and decorative objects to artisanal foods and more, both imported from Germany and made in Quebec. There’s even a section of the market dedicated to Germany’s neighbors, including Switzerland, Alsace, and Wallonia-Brussels.
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, Swiss fondue, 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. Cascina Cuccangna, a historic farmstead, hosts a Christmas-focused market on Tuesdays in December 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. In more recent years, Stiegl-Brauwelt, a brewery and museum, launched Stiegl-Bier Advent, a popular beer-centric affair. Prost!
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), gestacheltes bier at Stiegl-Brauwelt.
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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 200 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. The rows of wooden chalets at London Bridge City Christmas Market have a cozy, traditional feel and feature 68 vendors with an emphasis on artisanal and bespoke gifts and stocking stuffers. The market at the new Greenwich Wintertime Festival (ticketed admission), has a contemporary focus, as does the E17 Designers’ Christmas Market, which runs over the course of two weekends in December on Oxford Street.
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 180 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 plazas around the city. Every year Roppongi Hills throws a giant Christmas extravaganza, complete with a Christmas market at Big Roof Plaza that’s inspired by festivities in Stuttgart, Germany, and Tokyo Skytree Town Dream Christmas also features a German-style Christmas market where food offerings include sausages, warm pretzels, stollen cakes, German beer, and glüwein. The Christmas Marché at Yebisu Garden Place is the exception to the rule because most markets here look to replicate that German Christmas feeling. Case in point: 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 was the star attraction at Tokyo Christmas Market in Hibiya Park last year.
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 Navideno de la Delegacion Miguel Hidalgo transforms the top floor of 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 200 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 and visit the Christmas Craft Fair at the American Museum.
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), hog baps (The Jolly Hog), 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