Markets, in general, are a wonderful way to truly get to know a new town or an unfamiliar city. From eating local specialties and fresh produce to shopping for handmade arts and crafts, few things will bring more joy than finding a little market when traveling to an unknown destination. Christmas markets, however, are another ball game.
Far from quaint and charming, certain cities are known to hold Christmas markets so extravagant that it's worth planning a holiday just to see them. With glorious light displays, regional delicacies, and traditional activities to engage in, these dazzling markets will make for an unforgettable Christmas holiday. 10/10 Christkindelsmarik, Strasbourg Strasbourg proudly calls itself the 'Capital of Christmas" and is reputed to hold a Christmas market each year that's very much worthy of the title.
Known to be one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe and certainly the oldest in France, the Christkindelsmarik market has been around since 1570. The market stretches across Place Broglie street, flanked by light-studded trees on both sides. Several hundred stalls sell pretzels, candies, spiced bread, and dipped fruits against the backdrop of Hotel de Ville, or the city hall, where a projection on the building narrates Christmas stories in different languages throughout the day.
Skansen is an open-air museum and zoo that has been hosting a Christmas market since 1903, and those who step into the market now, decades later, will realize that the market will take you right back to that time. Scheduled tours take visitors to homes, and farmsteads staged to show what Christmas celebrations looked like in the 1830s, several workshops are dedicated to bookbindery, printing, and engraving methods from the 19th century, and folk music and storytelling events regale Christmas legends from the past. Even sellers at the market are required to wear traditional clothing! Vienna is known to host several extravagant Christmas markets, but the comparatively smaller Belvedere Palace market is particularly stunning.
The grand Belvedere Palace is a stunning backdrop to the market outside, especially during sunset when its reflection glimmers in the lake on the grounds. While the market does have all the usual Christmas offerings -- hot drinks, Austrian specialties, festive ornaments, and handmade gifts -- it's the views of the Baroque-style palace which shadow visitors as they stroll around the market that makes the Belvedere Palace Christmas Market truly special. A Christmas in the Big Apple is magical, especially if it involves a trip to the famous Bank of America Winter Village held at Bryant Park each year.
Perhaps the most iconic part of the market is the 17,000 square-foot ice skating rink right in the center that charges no admission fees and regularly hosts ice skating shows. Surrounding the rink are several little huts that sell all sorts of Christmas wares, as well as open-air bars and grills. Even better, the winter village has dome-shaped igloos that can be booked for private seating in advance, where friends can sip on hot cocoa under the skyscrapers.
Having begun in only 2014, Singapore's Christmas Wonderland is a relatively new market on the block and a few thousand kilometers away from the famous Christmas markets of Europe. Spread across nearly 101 hectares, the Gardens By The Bay is a nature park that transforms into a wonderland over Christmas. From breathtaking light and sound shows, carnival games, 50-meter long light-studded tunnels, and 10-meter tall windmills sitting in a field of candy canes -- the Gardens By The Bay's Christmas Wonderland is a market unlike any other.
The capital of Croatia has been voted by Europeans to have the best Christmas market on the continent several times, and there's good reason for it. While most Christmas markets are held at dedicated spots, advent in Zagreb is celebrated throughout the city, and pockets of the city are assigned to different festive activities. Parks host live entertainment every day, and city squares are transformed into magical wonderlands with ornaments and decorations.
The city is lined with wooden cabins selling hot chestnuts and kuhano vino (mulled wine), and there are even designated areas for fuliranje, or fooling around, where jolly Christmas goers can dance to live music while eating on the streets. For those who've watched Hallmark Christmas movies and dreamed of finding themselves in a snow-capped town with castle-like buildings and fluffy Christmas trees, Tallinn's Christmas Market is one romantic encounter away from a fairytale. In fact, Tallinn is famous for its Christmas tree, which has been around since 1441, making it the first Christmas tree to have ever been displayed in all of Europe.
Surrounding the centuries-old Christmas tree are several stalls that sell sauerkraut, black pudding, and glogg (spiced wine). Each winter, the elves of Christmas transform the spa capital of the world into a magical wonderland by converting Vorosmarty Square into a Christmas fair. Starting in November, the Budapest Christmas Fair, or the Vorosmarty Square Christmas Market as it goes by, makes the entire city smell like cinnamon-filled chimney cakes, spicy mulled wine, and sweet honey cookies.
Areas of the market are dedicated to workshops that showcase traditional crafts, brightly lit Christmas trams are ready to do their annual rounds by the market, free concerts take place for everyone to enjoy, and shoppers can buy holiday presents from one of the many stalls specializing in handmade goods that the Budapest Christmas Fair is famous for. While Dresdner Striezelmarkt is certainly Germany's oldest Christmas market, it's widely regarded to also be one of the world's first proper Christmas markets as we know it. Striezelmarkt also boasts the largest walk-in candle arch in the world and a Ferris wheel with stunning views of Dresden twinkling at Christmas.
The market is famous for Pflaumentoffel, which are edible figures made from prunes, Pfefferkuchen or pepper cake, that are Dresdner's version of gingerbread, and gluhwein, which is German mulled wine. Although it's been over 500 years since Striezelmarkt first opened with a handful of stalls, the market still maintains much of its enchanting medieval charm. Tivoli gardens, on a normal day, is an amusement park sprinkled with pleasure gardens.
Come winter. However, Tivoli opens its doors to eager visitors who are in for an experience of a lifetime. The garden's 1000 fir trees are adorned with baubles, stalls take up the green spaces selling marzipan, rice pudding, and roast pork sandwiches from wooden cabins, Christmas carols jingle in the background, and all of Tivoli glows under twinkling lights, and the occasional fireworks.
The best part? Visitors can still hop onto any of the rides inside the gardens -- it's a Christmas market inside an amusement park!