Christmas markets are a surefire way to kickstart the holiday spirit.
As much as we love the traditional festivities, there are some Christmas markets out there that are a little more surprising—including ones with tropical settings, Laplander teepees, and a pooping nativity figurine (really!). Here are ten unique Christmas markets around the world for those who might be feeling a little tired of all the typical yuletide trimmings.
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Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay
December 1, 2023–January 1, 2024
Roasted chestnuts, ice skating, and sparkly Christmas lights—not to mention, Santa—might seem completely out of place in this tropical realm, but Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay pulls out all the stops for yuletide extravaganzas. Every year, the iconic botanical gardens transform into a magical winter wonderland, with photo ops with Santa, dazzling luminaire light sculptures, and a mind-blowing sound and light show at the Supertree Grove, the massive, tree-like structures dominating the gardens. For last-minute gifts, decorated wooden huts, looking every bit like a German Christmas market packed up and headed south for the winter, cluster along Mistletoe Alley, selling hand-poured candles, snow globes, jewelry, and more. Just remember: Leave the sweaters and wool caps at home.
November 17-19, 2023
At this Christkindlimärt near Lucerne, nearly 50 market stands purvey handcrafted glass angels, beeswax candles, windup toys, and ceramic nativity figurines, along with mulled wine, sausage, and raclette (that delicious melted Swiss cheese enjoyed après-ski). But what makes this Christmas market especially notable is its elevation. It occurs atop the 6,995-foot Mount Pilatus, making it Europe’s highest Christmas market. There are two ways to get there: by cable car and panorama, gondolas starting in Kriens, or by train from Alpnach—the world’s steepest railway, with a gradient of up to 48 percent. Once there, you’re greeted by endless vistas of surrounding lakes and the snowcapped Alps. Good luck focusing on the shopping task at hand.
November 17, 2023 to January 7, 2024
A Christmas market in a cave? Yes! That’s what you’ll find in this adorable southern Dutch town. Actually, not one but two caves, where shoppers wander through winding marlstone corridors decorated with garlands, hundreds of small lights, and festive trees that transform the rocky walls into a magical holiday scene. Here, beneath the earth, vendors sell all sorts of Christmas goodies, gluhwein, and other holiday treats. There’s also a nativity scene found in yet another cave, with the stars of the Christmas story sculpted out of sand. That said, Valkenburg above ground is just as festive, with parades, street theater, a culinary walking route, and more Christmas markets. It’s a veritable Christmas town, above and below.
Liseberg Amusement Park
WHERE: Gothenburg, Sweden
November 18-December 30, 2023
Laplander teepees and Sami herders? And (close your ears, Rudolph): roasted reindeer meat? That’s what you’ll find at this festive Christmas market held at Liseberg Amusement Park in Gothenburg, Sweden. But it’s perhaps the more than five million Christmas lights illuminating the stall-filled playground that is even more striking—powered by the city’s wind turbine (one of the reasons why Gothenburg is rated as one of the world’s most sustainable cities). Oh, and since it’s an amusement park, you can also jump on Valkyria, Europe’s longest dive coaster, tea cups, and other fun rides.
WHERE: Essingen, Germany
November 23–December 21, 2023
Musical performers on stilts might be the first clue this Christmas market is a little different. Or the hot mead served in clay goblets. Or the vendors dressed in hip-length tunics and bell-sleeved cotton dresses. Essingen, Germany, filled with half-timbered houses providing the perfect backdrop, hosts a spectacular market that travels back 800 years to the Middle Ages. More than 200 colorful stalls purvey traditional Christmas items, including hand-knitted scarves, wooden ornaments, and glass-blown baubles, but also medieval-style leather goods, colored cloths, and pottery. Falconry demonstrations take place at the castle, and the traditional torchlight parade unfurls at the winter solstice, just like revelers did way back when. You can even watch traditional pewterers, glassblowers, and blacksmiths perform their craft.
Pittwater Christmas Market
WHERE: Sydney, Australia
Saturday, December 9, 2023
You can bet there will be no snow at this Christmas market. It takes place in the middle of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, after all. But Sydney’s Pittwater Christmas Market heralds the spirit of Christmas Down Under. Like most other Christmas markets, dozens of stalls purveying all kinds of Christmas goods—toys, clothes, fine art, jewelry, pet accessories, and more—will ease you into the Christmas frame of mind. But, back to it being summer, you’re treated to the most incredible views overlooking Winnererremy Bay, and just try to ignore the fact that sandy beaches await nearby. You’ll be dreaming of a beachy Christmas in no time.
San Francisco Dickens Market
WHERE: San Francisco, California
November 18–19 24-25-26, and December 2–3, 9–10, and 16–17
Don’t be surprised if you bump into a Fagin lookalike, Bill Sykes, or Miss Havisham. This is San Francisco’s lively Dickens Market, after all, where more than 800 actors dressed as Dickens characters wander along paved, lamplit alleys resembling London Town (guests are invited to dress up too, by the way). Held since 1970 at the 14,000-square-foot Cow Palace, just south of the city, this yuletide extravaganza features pubs, theaters, music halls, and street vendors hawking roasted chestnuts and fish and chips. And, of course, there’s shopping. Festively decorated stalls at the Holiday Handcraft Marketplace display old-fashioned candles, unique toys, pottery, and other Victorian-inspired Christmas gifts. The spirit of a Dickens Christmas will embrace you, as the great author himself wrote: “Happy, happy Christmas, that can transport us back to the delusions of our childhood days.”
Fira de Santa Llúcia
WHERE: Barcelona, Spain
Around December 13 (feast of Santa Llúcia)–December 25
This joyful fair has sprawled in front of Plaça de la Seu’s Gothic cathedral since 1786. More than 200 stalls display nativity figures, handcrafted jewelry, and traditional tambourines. But that’s not why this fair made the list. No—at this fair, you’ll find two of Catalonia’s oddest Christmas traditions sprinkled among the greenery and mulled wine.
First off is Caga Tió (or Tió de Nadal), a log with a painted smiley face, two tiny wooden legs, and a red Catalan hat (barretina). For two weeks before Christmas, kids feed them cookies, vegetable scraps, and other foods that mysteriously disappear by the next morning as the “pooping log” gets bigger and bigger. Then, on Christmas Eve, they hit Caga Tió with a stick so that it “poops” sweets, clothing, books, and more (which their parents have stashed).
And if that’s not strange enough, you’ll also spy different versions of Caganer—aka “the pooper.” He’s a figurine found in Catalonian nativity scenes of a peasant, pants pulled down, as he smokes a pipe and defecates. Apparently, he brings good luck and fertile harvests.
Weeks leading up to Christmas
No, you’re not in Switzerland, though the Swiss-like architecture, ski resorts, chocolate shops, fondue restaurants, and stunning views of the mountain-ringed Nahuel Huapi Lake might say differently. You’re in San Carlos de Bariloche—locals call it “Bariloche”—a sweet Patagonian town perched in Argentina’s Andes foothills whose holiday festivities feel more European than Latin American. And there’s a reason for this. First, the Mapuche people then the Spaniards long lived here, but in the 1890s, German-Chilean Carlos Wiederhold arrived, drawn by the natural beauty. He established a shop called La Alemana (The German), and from there, the entire city was redesigned in Swiss Alpine style. So, as you can imagine, they go all out at Christmastime: a tree lighting, holiday concerts, sparkling decorations, an abundance of chocolate, and, of course, European-style Christmas markets.
Mississippi River Christmas Market Cruise
Several cruises are offered in 2023 and 2024
Christmas market cruises are popular in Europe, where passengers on small river ships jump on and off to enjoy festive markets in towns and cities along the way. But now, you can also enjoy a river cruise in the United States. American Queen Voyages offers Christmas Markets Experiential Voyages, which sails guests along the Mississippi River, stopping in various ports of call to wander through European-style craft stalls and enjoy bonfires, holiday carols, and local traditions. It depends on the cruise where you’ll stop, but itineraries include Natchez, New Orleans, Memphis, Baton Rouge, Vicksburg, St. Francisville, and more. The ships are all decked out for the holidays, including Christmassy decorations, performances of holiday classics, and seasonal libations.