The Most Charming Christmas Markets Around the World
For many Americans, holiday shopping in December means queuing up with hundreds of people in lines in retail stores and malls across the country in the weeks leading up to Christmas. But shopping for unique, artful, and joyous holiday gifts for friends and family didn't always mean a trip to a mall—for many years, it meant shopping locally and enjoying the process. And what's a better way to celebrate the season and gift giving than by heading to a traditional Christmas market?
Whether you're hunting for a gift or just looking a hot cup of cocoa and some festive sights, Christmas markets are still alive and well, even in the most luxurious shopping capitals of the world. Classic marketplaces are found across the entire globe—closer to home, local vendors in New York City transform a few urban spaces into spectacular winter wonderlands where visitors can purchase handmade crafts, artisanal products, and sample some of the city's finest dishes all throughout December. The Christmas cheer at Bryant Park is undeniable—the iconic space is overhauled into an open-air market featuring more than 125 vendors who travel to Manhattan from around the world. Couples can wine and dine in splendor at the Bryant Park Grill; families can hop on Le Carrousel and spend time with Santa and his elves; and everyone can take in the beautiful Josephine Shaw Lowell Fountain while skating across the ice in the middle of it all.
Christmas markets are one of the main reasons why the holiday season can feel so romantic in many countries across Europe, where 13th century architecture and small cityscapes often serve as the background to open-air markets. The holidays can feel like a fairy tale in some of the locations—and Europe's old-world romanticism is rubbing off on some thriving cities in nations in Asia and the Mediterranean, too. Scattered across the globe, these Christmas markets are shining examples of where you can find unique gifts, sample world-class seasonal cuisine, and take in the best that this joyous season has to offer.
Food, food, and more food is what lies in wait for you at the world-famous Weihnachtszauber Gendarmenmarkt in the heart of Berlin. The event's organizers say there are plenty of gifts you can purchase, from toys to décor and more. But many simply pop in for a bite of traditional German food and delicious mulled wine or beer and to take nightly concerts, which include holiday-themed choral performances on certain dates. This market is open everyday beginning the day after Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve—including Christmas. And since many Germans prefer to travel to the Markt in Stuttgart, you may experience less crowds here overall.
The Old Viennese Freyung Christmas Market has as much history as this storied nation's city capital does itself. According to organizers, it's been open daily during December every year since the year 1298; nowadays, there's more than 100 stalls selling local wares and crafts in the picturesque setting. There are plenty of reasons to visit more than once since special events like ice skating and carriage rides rotate throughout the festival every week.
Prague, Czech Republic
If it seems like the entire city of Prague plunges into Advent Calendar season with zealous enthusiasm, that's because there's two major Christmas markets located within steps of each other. Wooden huts are erected on centuries-old rolling cobblestone streets, where shoppers can find singular gifts, holiday trinkets, and plenty of beer. A major Christmas tree, whose branches soar high above city rooftops, is lit nightly in the Old Town Square market every single night throughout December.
Croatia's alluring coastline has become a bit of a summertime hotspot for Europeans and international tourists alike, but the attention to the country's finest offerings turns to Zagreb during the holiday season. Zagreb's Christmas market, which is bathed in candlelight and features an equal amount of food artisans as crafters, was recently voted the best in Europe by an online poll. Nestled in the heart of Ban Josip Jelačić Square, you can catch concerts around the breathtaking Christmas tree throughout the season.
Just to the north of Zurich and about a three-hour train ride east from Paris, Basel's Christmas festivities envelope the entire city situated on the banks of the Rhine River. The market is split into two parts, according to tourism officials: Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz, which both house 200 vendors between them. The little ones may prefer Münsterplatz, however, since it also plays host to an "enchanted" forest and offers family-friendly activities like ornament decorating and baking gingerbread houses.
According to local officials, Strasbourg has been hosting the Alsace Region's largest Christmas market since 1570, with more than 300 vendors now operating each and every December. This teeny city's alleyways and squares are the backdrop to the festival, including Place Kleber, where you'll find the "Great Christmas Tree" just outside one of the city's beautiful churches.
Closer to the Mediterranean, the annual Christmas Market in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence usually runs up until the week before the holiday, giving locals plenty of time to find stocking stuffers and beat the rush of last-minute shoppers. Situated around the iconic Basilica, you can find 50 plus vendors here every year—but the seasonal cheer also extends to the Piazza del Duomo, where there's a nativity scene and public Christmas tree that is lit up as part of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Tivoli Gardens is a Copenhagen hotspot all year round, as this public space regularly features amusement park rides and local popups. But in December, Tivoli is transformed into a Danish winter wonderland where many Copenhagen locals choose to buy their Christmas trees and decorations. In the days after Thanksgiving all the way through New Year's Eve, visitors can shop, take in daily light shows across the park, enjoy live music, and a few special events, like the Lucia procession, which features 100 choir singers parading around the park in the week before Christmas.
For a modern city like Japan, brilliant Christmas lights are almost expected—and they're delivered at the oldest Christmas market in the city, at Roppongi Hills's Oyane Plaza. Japanese organizers recreate a Christmas village from a German model in Stuttgart, and while plenty of local cuisine is available, the market also sells traditional German treats, from mulled wine to sweets and everything in between. You'll catch some of the most illuminating Christmas lights and decor on Keyakizaka Street just a few steps away.
According to event organizers, the Fira de Santa Llúcia began in 1786 to celebrate the feast of the patron saint on December 13—now, it's celebrated as a three-week Christmas fair in the heart of Barcelona. With the fair's center just in front of the Barcelona Cathedral, the market features around 300 stalls selling handmade jewelry, musical instruments, and other local crafts. The festival concludes on Christmas Eve, but you can definitely visit more than once, as organizers put on special activities—like the "caga tio," which is a Spanish take on a piñata for Christmas—for families each day.
The Edinburg Eye, a festive ferris wheel that measures over 100-feet tall, is the crown jewel at the lively Christmas Market that overtakes the East Princes St Gardens every year. Families will find plenty of fun here: lots of local foods, a few attractions, and gifts galore. As an added bonus, the festival is just steps away from the Scottish National Gallery, which means you can spend all day reveling in local art before shopping at night.
Christmas feels even more special in the tropics. The Christmas Wonderland event that takes place on the grounds of Singapore's iconic Gardens by the Bay is the nation's largest event in the winter, which concludes just after Christmas day. There's a market of local vendors that's straight out of Europe, as well as ice skating, circus acts, and sculptures and art installations for visitors to enjoy. If you can't get your fill of Christmas spirit here, you can catch a taxi into the city's center to attend Christmas on a Great Street, where there's even more vendors, family-friendly activities, and small batch of fireworks on Christmas Eve.
Stateside, there are plenty of charming Christmas markets and events scattered throughout the United States—but none are as celebrated as the massive Christkindlmarket in Chicago. If you can't make it abroad this holiday season, festival organizers are bringing a classic German Christmas market to the Windy City through January. Inspired by the holiday market in Nuremberg, Germany, there are sausages, schnitzel, and goulash galore, plus imported beer.