Celebrate the Holidays Around the World
The holiday season can feel a little too commercialized. From sleek commercials, door-buster deals and must-have toys to an endless parade of gatherings and get-togethers, the holidays can overwhelm more than enchant. But there’s one place where the spirit of the season endures: holiday markets. Some of the oldest holiday markets date back hundreds of years, to the Middle Ages in Europe, and have endured centuries of change and tumult by not changing very much. In lieu of electronic gadgets and high-end tech, you’re more likely to find handmade gifts, local fare, and traditional trinkets — all in a winter wonderland replete with carolers, lights and more. So if you’re looking to inject a bit of holiday cheer into your season, get inspired by these 11 festive markets around the world.
1. Nuremberg, Germany: Christkindlesmarkt
Honestly, we could probably name 11 festive holiday markets in Germany alone — Berlin, for instance, hosts nearly 80 such markets every winter — but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention perhaps the most famous of them all: Nuremberg’s annual Christkindlesmarkt. The market dates to the 16th century and hosts nearly 200 wooden stalls (each decorated in traditional red and white cloth) selling seasonal items, food and more. And all that holiday cheer is steeped in history: Lebkuchen, the city’s signature gingerbread, has been offered for more than 600 years; the Rauschgoldengel — a gold-foil angel — was invented in Nuremberg hundreds of years ago and remains a symbol of the market to this day; and the market’s eclectic Zwetschgenmännle — small figures made from dried prunes and figs — are common sights in the many vendor booths. (The Nuremberg Prune Men, as they’re known, trace their roots to the 18th century.)
2. Strasbourg, France: Christkindelsmärik
Strasbourg bills itself as the “Capital of Christmas,” and its vaunted Christkindelsmärik shows why: The city’s first market opened in 1570 and, nearly 450 years later, it feels less a gathering of vendors than a fairy tale come to life. The fun includes more than 300 vendors selling handmade goods and homemade cuisine out of quaint wooden chalets, live music, light displays and other attractions.
3. Tallinn, Estonia: Tallinn Christmas Market
Fun fact: The first Christmas tree ever to be displayed in Europe went up in Tallinn in 1441; more than 575 years later, the Tallinn Christmas Market sells traditional Estonian food (including blood sausages, sauerkraut, mulled wine, and more) and boasts live performances—including choirs, poets, and dance troupes.
4. Montreal, Canada: Le Grand Marché de Noël
Montreal’s Grand Christmas Market — also known as the Le Grand Marché de Noël — took 2018 off because of construction near the market site. The festival promised to return in 2019, so anticipation should make the atmosphere especially festive this year in the largest city in Canada’s Québec province. In past years, the European-inspired market has hosted vendors selling locally produced items, crafts, food, clothing, and more. And popular attractions have offered a little something for the whole family, including Christmas carols, karaoke, an elves’ workshop, Santa’s sleigh, and an igloo.
5. Prague, Czech Republic: Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square Markets
Apparently, Prague has too much holiday cheer for just one Christmas market. That’s why the City of a Hundred Spires—a nickname befitting the city’s Old World architecture—boasts not one, but two outstanding Christmas markets that light up the city every holiday season. Best of all: They’re a short, five-minute walk from each other. The markets comprise dozens of decorated wooden huts—each filled with traditional holiday fare, locally made jewelry, toys, crafts, ornaments, and more for sale—as well as a petting zoo, live performances, and numerous food vendors selling traditional cuisine and Czech beer.
6. Barcelona, Spain: Fira de Santa Llucia
For more than 200 years, the Fira de Santa Llúcia has been the heartbeat of the holiday season in Barcelona, Spain. The historic market hosts nearly 300 stands selling crafts, decorations, food, drink, and more—and other attractions include storytelling, Catalan dance performances, Nativity scenes, puppet shows, and caroling.
7. Vienna, Austia: Viennese Dream Christmas Market
Christmas markets in Vienna date back to the Middle Ages—1298, to be exact—and are today some of the country’s most cherished (and celebrated) traditions. And perhaps the most celebrated of the country’s myriad markets is the Vienna Dream Christmas Market, held every year in front of Vienna’s towering City Hall. The annual market opens each November and hosts more than 150 stands selling handicrafts and Viennese delicacies alike, a grand ice skating rink, arts and crafts workshops for kids, and a regal Nativity scene with 12 hand-made exhibits.
8. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Christmas Village in Philadelphia
Every winter, the annual Christmas Village in Philadelphia brings the flare and tradition of German holiday markets to the heart of downtown Philly. Vendors at the outdoor market sell traditional European cuisine, snacks, and beverages—as well as German-inspired gifts, ornaments, arts, crafts, and more—out of 80 wooden booths. The fun also includes live performances, photos with Santa, and a lantern parade for children.
9. Florence, Italy: Heidelbeger Weihnachtsmarkt
One of the most festive holiday markets in Italy draws inspiration from its German counterparts. Heidelberger Weihnachtsmarkt, also known as the German Christmas Market, fills Piazza Santa Croce with traditional wooden stalls where vendors handmade goods, sweet treats, stocking stuffers, and a variety of Italian and German cuisine.
10. Vancouver, Canada: Vancouver Christmas Market
Every year, a bit of the Old World descends on Vancouver’s ultra-modern downtown when the Vancouver Christmas Market opens for the season. Open through Christmas Eve on the shores of Vancouver Harbour, the market spotlights handmade gifts, food, drink, and entertainment from more than 80 vendors—all alongside live entertainment, a market-wide scavenger hunt, and photo ops with Santa Claus. The food lineup complements the market’s German-inspired theme with authentic German cuisine, Glühwein (mulled wine), German and Austrian beers, and more.
11. Stockholm, Sweden: Old Town Christmas Market
Stockholm’s Old Town Christmas Market (named for Gamla Stan—the city’s old town) promises a cozy, historic holiday experience. The market launched in 1837 and, other than a break between 1907 and 1914, has been sharing Swedish culture ever since. Today, vendors sell everything from sweets and smoked reindeer meat to mulled wine and handicrafts.
— Written by Matt Wastradowski