Sorry, Germany. You don’t hold the Rudolph nose on quintessential Christmas markets, as wonderful as yours are.
There are the famous Christmas markets—most notably the German ones–where the first open-air market opened in Nuremberg in 1545. And then there are the amazing ones that no one knows about—Bangkok? Really? Yes! Here are some of the best Christmas markets around the world, each one exuding local flavor mingling with plenty of traditional holiday spirit.
Marché de Noël
WHERE: Bordeaux, France
France’s fifth-largest city, Bordeaux puts on a spirited Christmas market with 150 petite chalets along Allées de Tourny, featuring sparkly lights, towering pines, and the spicy scent of mulled wine and chestnuts filling the air. The thing is, this is Bordeaux … so among the traditional gifts and artisan crafts being purveyed, you’ll find wine—lots of wine! In addition: Bayonne chocolates, canélés, Armagnac, foie gras, and other Aquitaine delicacies. Christmas shopping: Done.
INSIDER TIPA twist on the traditional Christmas market is Bordeaux’s Iboat—a market featuring 50 creators on an old ferry that also serves as a concert venue.
Luxembourg may be small, but its capital city is huge on holiday spirit, with its dreamy setting of turreted castles, snowcapped mountains, and ancient church spires straight out of an old-fashioned Christmas card. Here you’ll find six different markets sprinkling its cobbled streets, each with a distinct personality. The largest—described as “cosmopolitan”—is at Place de la Constitution, with 60 wooden huts selling crafts and culinary specialties from around the world. Place d’Armes is the traditional one, Grund is for foodies, and Roude Pëtz for local charities. There’s also a Christmas pyramid, an open-air skating rink, and a 32-foot-tall Ferris wheel offering views over the Pétrusse valley. Expect Feuerzangenbowle (flaming mulled wine), fondue, and grilled sausage everywhere you go.
Sapporo’s sister city is Munich, so you know what that means—Old-World flair at the city’s annual Christmas market in Odori Park. You’ll find decoration-bedecked stalls, outdoor concerts, and lots of festive German-style food and drink: mulled wine, sausages, candied almonds, even German beer, and pretzels. And the finale: The Sapporo White Illumination lights up Odori Park on Christmas Eve against a snowy backdrop in the most glorious of holiday light shows.
Tallin has been rated one of Europe’s most underrated cities—meaning, the crowds haven’t discovered this sparkling Baltic gem with its beautifully preserved medieval town center (yet). All the better to wander the traditional Christmas market. Town Hall Square transforms into a winter wonderland, with wooden huts purveying handicrafts, Christmas treats, steaming hot drinks, and Estonian fare (including black pudding and sour cabbage). Here, too, you’ll find the famous Christmas tree, each year bedecked in an amazing new style (the city has decorated a tree here since 1441, making it one of Europe’s first Christmas trees to be put on display). There also are musical performances and an Advent candle is lit every Sunday. Also, Santa Claus is there.
INSIDER TIPKehwider is a lovely café on the Town Hall Square offering fresh-roasted coffee, chocolate, and a good window view of the town square (book in advance).
A tropical Christmas may not be to everyone’s liking, but come on, what’s not to like about 80-degree temps and sunshine every day? This is, after all, Thailand’s “cool” time of year. And although most of the population is Buddhist, the Thais absolutely know how to put on some good holiday cheer (and shopping). The Great Gatsby Christmas Market, for example, which typically runs the week before Christmas at K Village on Sukhumvit, features more than 150 stalls offering artisan goods, decorations, clothing, and leather goods. There’s also festive food and drink, Christmas carols, and lots of games. You’ll nearly forget you’re just north of the equator. Almost.
Cuzco’s main square, Plaza de Armas, exudes stately charm with its balconied buildings, massive Spanish Colonial churches, and flowery landscaping. What better place to hold a traditional market on Christmas Eve? Santuranticuy (“saints for sale”) extols the work of Peruvian artists who sell their handmade nativity scenes and other artworks, including hand-carved retablos featuring religious and historical scenes. You’ll also find Christmas delicacies, hot rum punch, hot chocolate with marshmallows, and plenty of yuletide cheer.
WHERE: South Africa
While South Africa may feel a long way away from the North Pole (which it is), Stellenbosch’s Blaauwklippen Vineyards Twilight Christmas Market offers a dose of Old World holiday spirit. Check out the wares of colorfully decorated stalls—clothes, jewelry, leather goods, and more; sample German sausage, hamburgers, flammkuchen, and other global fare; and enjoy live music, including Carols by Candle Light, a special performance of English and Afrikaans carols beneath the dazzling Western Cape skies.
Chicago has an enormous German population, so it makes perfect sense that it hosts one of the country’s largest Christkindlmarkets. In the spirit of Bavaria, hundreds of merrily festooned cabins on Daley Plaza vend global handmade goods: wooden ornaments from Dresden, lace from Plauen, Cuckoo clocks from the Black Forest, Celtic-inspired woolens, even olive-wood nativity scenes from Bethlehem. And, of course, there’s German food: currywurst, sauerkraut, schnitzel, potato pancakes, and the list goes on. Grab a souvenir mug (each year features a different design) and fill it with mulled wine to ward off the winter chill as you make the rounds.
This Georgian city clustered about ancient Roman Baths and gorgeous 15th-century abbey could not provide a prettier Christmas market setting—explaining why it’s one of the UK’s most popular. More than 150 festive stalls offer locally produced and fair-trade options to finish off your Christmas list: toys, jewelry, ceramics, vegan perfumes, artwork, blown-glass baubles, and honey-based lotions, for starters. The food stalls celebrate local tradition, including a hog roast, caramelized nuts, local cheddar, Christmas steamed puddings, and Bath’s very own chocolate. With Dickensian characters strolling the streets and the jolly notes of Norland College Choir and Bath Spa Band filling the air, you’ll feel like you just walked straight into A Christmas Carol.
INSIDER TIPRest your weary shoppers’ feet at the free Shoppers’ Carols in Bath Abbey on certain afternoons; check the website for details.
Named Bethlehem on Christmas Eve in 1741 by Moravians and nicknamed Christmas City USA in 1937, this quaint town takes its Christmas roots seriously. So, of course, its giant German-style Christkindlmarket, located on the grounds of the former Bethlehem Steel plant, is one of the best. Large, festive (and heated!) tents overflow with artisan goods and mouth-watering food and drink, and live holiday music, ice sculptures, and the chance to eat breakfast with St. Nicholas keep the holiday spirit alive. And yet, the market only scrapes the surface of Bethlehem’s Christmas spirit. You’ll also find the country’s only “live advent calendar,” horse-drawn carriage rides, and a Bethlehem by Night bus tour that takes in the famous illuminated star sitting atop South Mountain, among many other offerings. Tip: Make a weekend of it!