When buying Christmas presents, people usually try to avoid the overcrowded shopping malls by either buying the presents in advance or by using online shops. However, there are places crammed with people, which can give you a great shopping opportunity as well as a unique festive spirit and a charming Christmas atmosphere. What are these places? Traditional Christmas markets. Originated in Europe but now spreading all over the world, the Christmas markets are guaranteed to get you in the right holiday mood. From the iconic German Christkindlmarkts to their spectacular American imitations, check out these 25 awesome Christmas markets.
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Where else should we start out other than in the country which is considered the place where the Christmas markets were born. Numerous Christmas markets take place in Munich between the 1st advent and the Christmas Eve, but the most famous one is the Christmas market at the Marienplat where you’ll find all manner of stalls selling crafts, sweets, cakes, food, mulled wine and other delights.
When in Germany, you shouldn’t miss out the Nuremberg Christmas markets. Held annually in the Hauptmarkt, the central square in Nuremberg’s old town, these markets rank among the largest and most famous in the world, attracting over 2 million visitors every year. On the Friday preceding the first Sunday in Advent, the markets are always opened with a prologue recited by the Christkind.
First mentioned in 1434, the Dresden Striezelmarkt Christmas markets are one of the oldest in Europe. Dominated by a 48 feet (14.6 m) high wooden “Christmas Pyramid” in the centre, the markets consist of hundreds of stands, taking up a large part of the Dresden downtown. The word Striezelmarkt comes from Strüzel, which was the name of a fruitcake sold at the market. In addition to this delicacy, the area is also known for the pflaumentoffel, a good-luck charm made from dried plums.
The city of Cologne offers several Christmas markets with the most famous and popular ones located at the iconic Cologne Cathedral. Dominated by the giant cathedral, the markets include hundreds of festively designed wooden pavilions where you can watch artisans at work, enjoy Christmas mulled wine, or you can choose from an unlimited choice of sweets and local delicacies. The spectacular background makes this place a major Christmas destination attracting almost 2 million visitors annually.
Germany´s neighbor, Austria, can also boast some of the most beautiful and romantic Christmas markets. The most famous ones are held in the capital. Their unique location in front of the City Hall and the delicious aromas coming from numerous delicacies sold at the markets make the Vienna markets a very popular Christmas destination for tourists from all over the world. Preparations for the markets often start as early as in mid-November.
Located at the foot of the Hohensalzburg fortress and around the venerable Cathedral of Salzburg, the Salzburg Christmas markets are more intimate affair than some of the larger city’s markets but the magic-like atmosphere and the smell of punch and toasted almonds, hot roasted chestnuts and freshly baked apples will make you love this place. As the birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg has an outstanding musical tradition and the markets also offer wonderful choral performances.
Prague, Czech Republic
Held in the two most famous Prague squares – the Old Town Square and the Wenceslas Square, the Prague Christmas markets consist of brightly decorated wooden huts selling traditional handicrafts such as glassware, jewelry, wooden toys, metal-ware, ceramics, scented candles, Christmas tree ornaments, clothes, puppets and many other. Traditional Czech dishes and drinks are available as well. The markets also feature a giant Christmas tree and an amazing living Bethlehem.
Brno, Czech Republic
Another popular Czech Christmas markets can be found in Brno, the second largest city of the country. Located in the main city square, the markets offer wide range of decorations, gifts, souvenirs, and traditional handcrafted products. While enjoying the peaceful Christmas spirit, you can also listen to traditional Christmas carolers, and watch performances put on by musicians, dancers, and artists. The Brno Christmas Markets open on November 30th and close on December 24th.
There are not that many Christmas markets in Poland but the major ones such as those in Warsaw, Gdansk or Wroclaw are famous all over the country. Beginning on Swidnicka Street and running through the market place to the old city, the Wroclaw Christmas markets are a must-visit for all food lovers since they offer a plethora of not delicacies such as Hungarian kalachs, French creme brulee, Lithuanian cured meats or Austrian and Italian cheeses – this is just a small example of what you can come across at the Christmas markets in Wroclaw.
If you want to visit the oldest and most famous Christmas markets of France, you don’t go to Paris but rather go to Strasbourg. Founded in 1570, Christmas markets in this city provide a spectacular combination of lights and smells. Apart from traditional Christmas market products such as mulled wine, spice bread, bretzels or pastries, the Strasbourg markets also offer a local specialty – spicy hot orange juice.
Dominated by a 50-meter (165 feet) high Ferris Wheel, the Lille Christmas markets consist of hundreds of picturesque wooden chalets packed with gifts, nativity figurines, Christmas decorations and festive food. But it is not just the Christmas markets what creates the magical festive spirit in Lille. In the Advent time, the whole city gets covered in a huge crown of garlands and Christmas ornaments with all the shop windows competing to have the most original and beautiful decoration.
An easy train ride from the Belgium capital Brussels, the Christmas markets in Leuven consist of about 150 stalls located in the historical center of the town. The place is especially popular among families with children because the Leuven markets feature a life-size nativity scenes, musical performances, fun fair rides and even a forest in which the children can visit Father Christmas. The markets run from the 9th-18th of December.
Located in the city of Bolzano in South Tyrol, the Bolzano Christmas markets are the largest Christmas markets in Italy. What makes them different from other Christmas markets of this list is the fact that they are usually themed (for example, “Meeting of Cultures” for 2012) and various events are held accordingly. Another aspect of the Bolzano Christmas markets is the traditional pattern regarding the exhibitors, stalls and partners of the markets.
Situated in the Vorosmarty Square in the Pest district of Budapest, the city’s Christmas markets are a great opportunity to experience traditional Hungarian food, folk dances and live music. Housing more than 100 wooden pavilions, the Budapest markets are also a perfect spot to shop for handmade items, as the city has an association which checks products for quality and authenticity and certifies all items sold at the market.
As one of the largest world´s metropolis, London is home to not just one but many Christmas markets and fairs. There are great markets and activities on either side of the Thames in the Advent time but it is the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park that is probably the best known Christmas market of the city. Apart from traditional Christmas market wooden chalets, the Winter Wonderland also offers attractions such as an ice rink, fun rides, Santa´s grotto, observational wheel and a circus.
Christmas markets in the largest Swiss city are very special because – as the only markets on the list – they are not held outside. Arranged in the covered concourse of the city’s enormous railway station, the Zurich markets can proudly boast of being Europe’s largest indoor Christmas markets. But the unusual setting has no influence of the wide range of goods sold there. Over 150 festively decorated market stalls offer mulled wine, baked Christmas goodies, handmade products and decorations, jewelry and much more.
Christmas is a very important event for Riga, the Latvian capital. According to a legend, it was here where the very first Christmas tree was decorated in 1510. The Riga Christmas markets await visitors in a unique architectural setting, in the lovely Town Hall Square. Along with traditional festive food, hand-made decorations, Christmas clothes and gifts, the markets offer several special events intended for an audience of children such as a carousel of wooden figures, ponies and a horse drawn carriage, animal corner, or a cat house.
Situated on the west coast of Sweden, Gothenburg, a home to over a half a million people, can boast the largest Christmas markets in the country. Held at the Liseberg amusement park, the markets feature impressive 5 million Christmas lights, transforming the park into a real bright winter wonderland. Visitors can try Swedish candy cane known as polkagrisar, smoked fish, baked goods and other traditional local specialties and drinks.
Located in the city central Vrijthof square, the Maastricht Christmas markets, also known as “Magical Maastricht“, will appeal to those who do not enjoy an overly large sprawling market experience but rather cozy, feel-like-home atmosphere and magical festive spirit. Visitors can try local home-made treats, skate on the temporary 100-meter (330 feet) squared ice-rink that is put up for the duration of the market or take a spin on the big Ferris which provides panoramic views over the lights of the city.
In the Scottish capital, Christmas markets are held as a part of the Edinburgh Christmas – a spectacular, six-week season of festive entertainment in the heart of the city centre. Attracting over 2.6 million visitors the last year, the event features a host of shows, as well as ice skating, markets and fun rides. The Christmas markets offer a wide range of souvenirs, presents, handcraft items, traditional food and drinks as well as clothes.
Americans who would like to visit Christmas markets this year don’t have to fly to Europe. There are some even in the U.S. Probably the largest and most famous one is held in Chicago. Known as the Christkindlmarket, the Chicago Christmas market is part of the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. Situated by a large Christmas tree at the Daley Plaza, the event attracts more than 1 million visitors each year.
The capital and the largest city of Colorado also has its own well-known Christmas markets. Located at the Skyline Park, right across from the Daniels & Fisher Clock Tower, the Denver Christmas markets bring the sights, sounds and flavors of the holiday season with its music, food, holiday lights and old-world vendors selling crafts, gifts and local as well traditional German goodies like schnitzel and strudel. The Christmas markets in Denver run from November 22nd to December 21st.
Officially known as the Christmas Village, the Philadelphia Christmas markets are an annual outdoor holiday market event held in the LOVE Park in the city center. Modeled on the style of traditional German Christmas Markets, the Christmas Village offers the unique European festive atmosphere with thousands of lights, the big Holiday Tree, and delicious smell of waffles, gingerbread, bratwurst, mulled wine and other delicious treats.
Canada can also boasts some nice Christmas markets worth visiting. Now in its fifth year, the Vancouver Christmas Markets light up the downtown Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza from November 22 to December 24. Like most of the North American Christmas markets, the Vancouver markets are also marked by a strong German emphasis. The vendors sell wooden toys, nutcrackers, Advent wreaths and traditional German specialties such as bratwurst, freshly-baked waffles, German noodles or hot punch.
Opened from November 29 to December 15, the Toronto Christmas markets are unique and popular thanks to their romantic setting in the Distillery Historic District, a pedestrian-only village of restored Victorian brick buildings. Apart from the charming atmosphere, the visitors can enjoy a variety of food, locally handcrafted products, carol-singing, multiple lounges for sampling traditional beverages, beer garden and many other attractions.