Merry markets: The best Christmas markets from around the world
Make like Father Christmas and take a tour of these jolly good festive markets…
What is the essence of a festival? Lights? Definitely. Food rituals? Absolutely. Special snacks you binge on once a year, to such an extent you don’t want to see them again for another 360 days? Of course, Little tangible tokens of love from one to another? Sure. Good will and festive cheer? Check. Over the top decorations and outfit pageantry? Certainly.
Put all that together and you have the blueprint to a Christmas market. These kiosked hubs of festive fun have been around since the Middle Ages, drawing crowds from far and wide. We’ve ‘mulled’ it over and these top our market leading recommendations for you to have a merry, happy, jolly, cheery, wonderful Christmas, this year.
Magic of Advent Market
The Christmas markets in Vienna date all the way back to the 13th century and to this day, are still regarded as one of Europe’s finest festive fairs. The Magic of Advent Market at Rathausplatz is a must-visit. Featuring more than 145 stalls amidst a network of alleys and lights, you can sample some mulled wine or gluhwein, grapple with bratwurst and revel in local Austrian cheer. This year, you can enjoy all of its festive magic until December 26.
Strasbourg is called the ‘Christmas Capital’ of France, so you already know it’s going to be good. The Christkindelsmärik in Place Brogilie is known as the oldest one in France, founded in 1570. Here, over 300 chalets hawk festive trinkets and the gastronomic traditions of the region, including Alsatian pastries and the ubiquitous warm winter wine. The markets in Strasbourg generally begin around late November and end just in time for the big day.
New York City, New York
Union Square Christmas Market
The Union Square Christmas Market is the Big Apple’s big star on the Christmas tree – indeed the largest, and most extravagant one in the city with more than 150 vendors. The holiday spirit runs rife here, from the white Christmas vibes to the twinling lights and the festive nibbles. Flanked entirely by local and small businesses, it’s perhaps the best spot to visit to have a taste of that fairytale New York Christmas cheer. This year, the market runs until December 24.
Frankfurt Christmas Market
The Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market is a firm favourite for UK residents and visitors alike, and a fairly significant part of the city’s festive calendar of events. It comes to life on Victoria Square and stands proudly as the the largest authentic German Christmas market outside of Germany or Austria. Here, you can sample German classics like pretzels, schnitzels, bratwursts, and roasted almonds, all of which can be washed down with gluhwein, weissbier (wheat beer), or hot chocolate. There’s also loads to pick up in the way of presents – it’s as Christmas market-y as a Christmas market gets.
In a world of modern Christmas markets, be a Renaissance Christkindlesmarkt. This one is a veteran, one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe and still retains much of the character from yesteryear. The wooden stalls are constructed locally, and most of the goods sold by the 180 vendors are made entirely by hand. Consider it a time capsule of sorts. Sample local gingerbread, Nuremburg’s most famous festive export, and get yourself a little Prune person – traditional figurines made with prunes.
Hong Kong, China
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As it turns out, no one does Christmas Eve quite like Hong Kong, where the annual Winterfest brings the community together in an amalgamation of eastern and western Christmas customs. If you happen to find yourself in the West Kowloon Cultural District this month, make sure to a pay visit witness the tallest Christmas tree in the city, and try their traditional Yuletide dish, congee. This wholesome rice porridge is seasoned with chicken broth and drops straight down the chimney into the food-that-tastes-like-a-warm-hug category.
The centre of all the festive action in this chocolate box Belgian city is the Town Square, where the Bruges Christmas Market attracts the greatest number of visitors. While the roots of this spot’s history don’t go very far back, it is still a gorgeous attraction, serving straight out of a Hallmark holiday movie vibes. The many rows of wooden chalets stock gifts, crafts and festive decorations, such as knit and crochet, nutcrackers, candles, manger scenes, toys and ornaments made of handblown glass and other little bits. While there, sample some local specialities like warm waffles and hot chocolate.
Every year, since the 16th Century, this market has been coming to life on Christmas Eve in Cusco’s Plaza De Armas. It’s an opportunity for local artisans from across the south of the country to bring their renditions of Niño Manuelito, the Andean version of baby Jesus, to the steps and sidewalks. The highlight of Santurantikuy is the authenticity of its spiritual connection, the name literally translating to ‘saints for sale’. If you visit, make sure to get yourself a Retablo – a three-dimensional box depicting a religious scene, which is the speciality of the region.
The Snack Scoreboard
All of our favourite Christmas market snacks – scored
Hot chocolate – 9/10
- The OG winter beverage
- Warms even the coldest souls
- Sweet serotonin dreams
Bratwurst – 8/10
- Germany in a bite
- Great for sharing (or not, we don’t judge)
- Covers all the food groups
Gingerbread – 8.5/10
- Basically a hug
- Nuremburg for beginners
- Sugar, spice and everything nice
Mulled wine – 7.5/10
- Contains booze
- Possibly an acquired taste
- No idea what a mull actually is
Raclette – 8/10
- I’m quirky – savoury edition
- Fried potatoes – that’s it