There are two types of seasonal travelers in this world: those who are forever skeptical of anything cinnamon-scented, and those who double fist glühwein and gingerbread. At Journy, we sit unabashedly in the latter category. And that's why we've scoured the world for the Christmas markets that convert even the staunchest Scrooges into euphoric elves.
Strasbourg, France - From Late November To December 31st
On the border between France and Germany, you'll find Strasbourg's Christkindelsmärik, the largest of its kind in the world. It draws approximately 2 million visitors annually and hotels are booked up to a year in advance.
This inundation of visitors means that Strasbourg actually earns between 15 and 17% of all its yearly profits from running the Christmas market! Good thing they've been running it since 1570, making it one of the oldest continuously operating Christmas markets in the world.
The center of the market is around Strasbourg's Gothic Cathedral, but it has come to encompass most of the old town center with over 300 stalls in total. Each section of the market has their own speciality, and you can download an interactive map on the Christmas market's website to help you navigate.
At all of them you'll find a variation on the classic Christmas market offerings: ornaments, souvenirs, linens, food and mulled wine. There's also a "Sharing" section, where both local and international nonprofits and charities sell items for a good cause.
You're really here to soak up the atmosphere, which is best done with a cup of glühwein made from white Alsatian wine. To eat, grab some local bredele cookies or a fresh and fluffy pretzel. And don't even think about leaving before sundown, when all the lights come on and make wandering through the market feel like entering into a French version of a Currier and Ives painting.
Vancouver Christmas Market - From November 22 To December 24
Get your fill of old-school German Christmas Market charm without leaving North America at Vancouver's Christmas Market. Inside the market you'll find over 75 stalls to lose your head over—especially if you go overboard on the glühwein, feuerzangenbowle (mulled wine with a shot of rum) or a hand picked selection of German and Austrian beers.
You'll find German-designed travel accessories from Troika alongside handcrafted wood boxes, also made in Germany. Local Canadian products also make an appearance, and you’ll be able to find socks for stocking stuffers, spirits distilled nearby and candles made in Canada.
Unlike other Christmas markets, you will need to buy a ticket for entry and these purchases are cash only. Most stalls accept card, however it's best to come prepared with cash.
Chicago's Irish Christmas Market - From December 8 To December 10
If you’re sick of month long German Christmas markets, consider a trip to Chicago in mid-December for the Chicago Irish Christmas Market. For one weekend, the Northcenter neighborhood transforms into a Christmas haven with plenty of festive music, food and gifts.
Forget the Top 40 Hits piped into some Christmas markets, this market features traditional Irish tunes and dances. Instead of mulled wine you'll find Irish coffee, Guinness and hot chocolate for the kids. To eat, there's corned beef sandwiches and other local specialities.
The vendor list changes from year to year, but as they're hand-picked by the organizing team, you can bet that you're getting quality products made from local artisans—none of that mass produced plastic Christmas junk.
Edinburgh Christmas Market - From November 24 To December 30
More than a market, the Edinburgh Christmas festival combines plenty of wintery activities with the same festive atmosphere you love about other Christmas markets for an extravaganza full of good cheer.
There are Christmas carol concerts, Christmas pantomimes, a Christmas tree maze for kids, ice skating for the whole family and even amusement park-style rides.
And if you just want the good old German Christmas market shopping experience, there are several smaller sections of the festival that offer that. On George Street, you'll find Scottish products ranging from Celtic fusion design to Scottish fudge and Scotch.
For the generic European Christmas market products, head to East Prince's Street Gardens. There you'll find all the bratwurst your heart desires, alongside lesser known European Christmas treats from Hungary, Iceland, Finland, Sweden—basically anywhere it gets a little nippy come December.
London Christmas Market (Winter Wonderland) - From November 17 To January 1
London embraces the German Christmas market tradition with open arms, and there are plenty to choose from across the capital.
Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland is arguably the most famous and Londoners know to expect ads on the tube for weeks leading up to it. While entrance is free, some events and attractions within the market are ticketed (these are best booked online).
You'll find ice skating, amusement park rides and even an underwater exploration. Oh, and you can stop for a drink at the Biergarten, let loose with karaoke and cocktails at Bar Hütte or toast like a viking at Thor's Tipis Bar. There's even an ice bar, if you don't mind the extra chill.
If you'd prefer to avoid the crowds at Winter Wonderland, head to one of London's (slightly) less-crowded, though no less festive markets. There's a mini German Christmas village that sets up alongside the Thames each year, perfect for strolling with a mug of glühwein.
There’s also a Scandinavian Christmas market at Rotherhithe's Finnish and Norwegian churches, which starts earlier in the season in preparation for St. Lucia celebrations on December 13th.
New York City's Union Square Christmas Market - From November 16 To December 24
While it doesn't have Rockefeller Center's mammoth Christmas tree, nor Bryant Park's ice skating rink, Union Square Christmas Market does ooze holiday good cheer. Located at the southern end of the pedestrian park/plaza, the market is run by Urban Space and offers a carefully curated mix of local producers, festive foods and German Christmas cute.
Start with a mug of mulled cider—the overly sweet glühwein is non alcoholic—then make your way through the lower portion of the market, which features everything from locally made soaps and socks to glistening ornaments and hand made cards.
Work your way up to the center of the market, where you'll find some of the city's top food stands. For something sweet, consider a made-to-order crepe or freshly fried doughnuts. If you're in a savory mood, the Persian stews are not to be missed.
Copenhagen Christmas Market At Tivoli - From November 18 To December 31
The Danes, like most Scandinavians, are absolutely crazy for Christmas—after all, those twinkly fairy lights and fragrant gingerbread scream hyggelig! You'll be spoiled for choice among the different options to get your cheer on in Copenhagen.
Any discussion of Copenhagen's Christmas markets must start at Tivoli. The much-loved amusement park turns into a festive yuletide village, complete with reindeer rides, holiday treats and a visit from Santa himself. They also have gifts for purchase, but you'll likely be too distracted by the gorgeous lights to take much notice.
Christiania also operates their own, non-traditional Christmas market. Visitors compare it to a Middle Eastern bazaar. In keeping with the city's ethos, everything is hand made and truly one-of-a-kind. The 100 plus stalls offers products from all over the world, and unlike at Tivoli, it's all indoors, so there's minimal chance of succumbing to the Danish winter freeze.
Another option is the Hans Christian Andersen Christmas market. Locals dub this the most hygge of the bunch, and their rich butter cookies are downright famous. Grab some gløgg and wander through the stalls, all of which are named after different Hans Christian Andersen stories.
Dresden Christmas Market
This year will mark the 583rd iteration of the Dresden Christmas Market, Germany's oldest. Officially called Striezelmarkt, the market derives its name from the festive treat Hefestriezel, a variation on stollen.
At the center of the market you'll find an old-school carousel and ferris wheel that the kids can take a ride on. For the adults, there's ample glühwein and even glühbier, if you prefer.
While the stalls offer the same yuletide-themed trinkets and icing covered gingerbread you'll find at markets around the world, the lights and decorations are far more enchanting. Large elves sit a top the wood stalls, there's a nativity scene at the center and even during the day the enter scene glows with fairy lights. Also check out the so-called Christmas pyramid, which rises from the center of the market.