The World’s Most Amazing Christmas Markets — and What to Buy There

Christmas market and historic quarter, Strasbourg, Alsace, France
Photo: Getty Images

Whether you’re in need of a last-minute gift or maybe just a cup of good cheer, nothing quite beats a Christmas market. Stalls come stocked with handmade gifts, schnitzels with noodles, and mugs of steaming gluhwein. Lights are strung from end-to-end of a big market square, and carolers sing as children clamor around carousels and Ferris wheels.

While the Christmas market originated many centuries ago in Germany, fortunately it has transcended its geographical boundaries. Now you’ll find awe-inspiring markets throughout Europe and well beyond. Some of these markets are set against cultural icons like Strasbourg’s cathedral, Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, or London’s Hyde Park; while in Berlin there are almost too many Christmas markets in too many beautiful spots to count.

And these Christmas markets are so much more than holiday gifts, cheesy souvenirs, and delicious street food. Both Nuremberg and Chicago kick off their festivities with a Christkind, a golden-haired ambassador of Christmas. In Vienna’s Christmas market, a Christkindl’s workshop offers cookie baking and crafts stations for kids in the holiday spirit. And several of these markets offer rides and light shows and live nativity scenes and appearances from the man of the hour, Santa Claus.

So now that the big day has drawn near and Christmas cheer is in the air, here’s a look at nine of the world’s most magnificent Christmas markets.

Strasbourg, France

November 27-December 24, 2015

As the self-proclaimed “capital of Christmas,” Strasbourg makes a stunning backdrop for its Alsatian Christmas market with 300 stalls spread out across 12 locations—including the impressive Place de la Cathédrale. In addition to the traditional Christkindelmarik, Strasbourg offers foie gras, Bredle cakes, local beer, and mulled white wine at the Market of Christmas Treats, as well as an entire Luxembourg Village showcasing that country’s artisanal specialties.

Nuremberg, Germany

Europe, Germany, Bavaria, Nuremberg, Christmas market
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November 27-December 24, 2015

Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt is one of the most well-known Christmas markets in the world, dating back as far as the early 17th century. Each year to open the market, a Christkind—an angelic “ambassador of Christmas” chosen every two years by election—recites a prologue inviting market-goers to join in the spirit of giving and childlike joy. Stalls offer bratwurst, gingerbread, figurines made of prunes, and more. This market has inspired other Christmas festivals in America and beyond.

Vienna, Austria

Austria, Vienna, Christmas market outside Vienna city hall. (Photo by: JTB/UIG via Getty Images) (Photo by: JTB Photo/UIG via Getty Images)
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November 13-December 26, 2015

An earlier version of Vienna’s Christkindlmarkt took place in the sixteenth century selling textiles, gingerbreads, and pastries for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. This year, you might find chestnuts (likely even roasting on an open fire), pretzels, hand-painted Christmas ornaments, blown glass, and train rides for children. Through December 24, there’s also the “Christkindl’s workshop” full of craft stations for cookie baking, tea candle decorating, and more.

Chicago, USA

Christmas Market in the center of Chicago
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November 20-December 24, 2015

Inspired by the Christmas market in Nuremberg, Chicago’s Christkindlmarket has become a legend of its own since its debut in 1996. This is where Americans come to shop for their traditional German goods from nutcrackers to beer steins to wood-carved handicrafts. In Chicago, the mulled wine is served in a souvenir cup shaped like a boot, while crepes, doner kebabs, schnitzels, and strudel will take care of your appetite.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen Christmas market at night
Allan Baxter/Getty Images

November 14, 2015-January 3, 2016

Copenhagen’s iconic Tivoli Gardens make an ideal setting for the city’s best Christmas market—where, so they say, Christmas “is hand crafted from start to finish.” That means hand-sewn felt shoes, caramels cooked over a copper pot, and a roast pork sandwich made with marinated red cabbage and house dressing that’s only available at Tivoli’s Halloween and Christmas events. You can also visit Santa, marvel at a lightshow of more than 16,000 lights, ride carousels, explore the Alpine village, or take in the Christmas and New Year’s fireworks displays from December 25-27 and January 1-3.

Berlin, Germany

BERLIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 24: Visitors stop at a stall selling Gluehwein next to an illuminated ferris wheel at the Christmas market at Alexanderplatz on the market's opening day on November 24, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Christmas markets across Germany
Sean Gallup

Dates vary

With dozens of massive Christmas markets scattered about town, Berlin is an essential stop for European holiday celebrations (and shopping). At the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, there are more than 100 stalls lining the market selling Christmas decorations, toys, clothing, waffles, bratwurst, and eggnog. The Alexanderplatz market showcases the work of potters and blacksmiths, a skating rink, and a Christmas pyramid adorned with more than 5,000 lights. The Berliner Weihnachtszeit features old-fashioned wooden pavilions, lit up for the season, as well as a visit from Santa, pony rides, and a 50-meter-high Ferris wheel. Finally, you might check out the popular WeihnachtsZauber at the Gendarmenmarkt with its candlemakers, embroiderers, schnitzel and spaetzle, and more.

Brussels, Belgium

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - DECEMBER 12: Belgians start their Christmas preparation and shopping at a bazaar around Saint-Catherine and Grande Place selling Christmas goods in Brussels, Belgium on December 12, 2015. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty I
2015 Anadolu Agency. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

November 27, 2015-January 3, 2016

Heeding its own Christmas tradition, Brussels has transformed its Grand-Place and the rest of the city center into a spectacular winter wonderland for the Plaisirs d’Hiver Christmas Market. Vendors hawk mulled wine, artisan goods, gooey fondue, and Belgian waffles from wooden chalets in the Christmas market, while the Place de Monnaie has transformed into an ice rink. Each night, the facade of Sainte Catherine Church serves as the canvas for a festive projection mapping performance, and the Grand-Place itself boasts a life-sized nativity scene and a Christmas tree plucked from Walloon forests.

Zagreb, Croatia

ZAGREB, CROATIA - DECEMBER 22: Locals take pictures and selfies at the Christmas decorated fountain in the main square on December 22, 2015 in Zagreb, Croatia. Zagreb was voted last week European Christmas Market of the year and one of the top Christmas
2015 Marco Secchi. Marco Secchi/ Getty Images

November 28, 2015-January 10, 2016

Christmas in the Croatian capital has become an increasingly impressive undertaking with an advent calendar of events, markets, fairs, and festivities that rival its neighbors in Western Europe. In European Square, choirs sing carols while revelers shop for Christmas decorations; at the traditional Christmas Fair, you’ll find wooden stalls selling gingerbread hearts, wine and toys and warm woolen hats. There’s also an antiquity fair, a live nativity, and concerts hosted on balconies throughout the city.

London, England

UK, England, London, The Southbank, Christmas Market
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November 20, 2015-January 3, 2016

Each Christmas, London transforms its most famous royal city park into the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. The Christmas markets boast more than 200 wooden chalets, handmade clothing, holiday decor, hot chocolate, and mulled wine. Dining options abound here with a Bavarian village of food stalls, a Dickensian cocktail bar, a Swiss chalet serving fondue, and a “street food” area with pulled pork and brisket sandwiches, venison hamburgers, and more. Not to mention the more than 100 rides, the 60-meter-high observation wheel, ice rink, Magical Ice Kingdom and, of course, Santa Land. What’s not to love?

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