The World’s Best Christmas Markets

There’s no better way to experience the holiday season than a trip to the Christmas market. These are the perfect spots to purchase last-minute gifts, treat yourself to a cup of mulled wine, taste the local street food and mingle with the crowds all celebrating the arrival of the holidays.

This centuries-old European tradition is fairly new to the U.S. and other parts of the world. Most holiday markets now include entertainment, children’s play areas, and sometimes even a little snow or a visit from Santa himself. From Philadelphia to Tokyo, a visit to one of these Christmas markets will ensure your holidays get off to the right start.

Dresden, Germany

A new addition to this year’s Christmas markets list, multiple VirtualTourist members suggested that Dresden, Germany is a must visit for market lovers. The Striezelmarkt on Dresden’s Altmarkt Square is one of Germany’s oldest fairs with a particularly unique setting – the town erects a 48-foot- (14.6 m-) high wooden “Christmas Pyramid” in the centre of the market. The market’s name is derived from stollen, the Christmas bread, which is also known as striezel in this area of Germany. In addition to this delicacy, the area is also known for the pflaumentoffel, a good-luck charm made from dried plums, and famous for its handicrafts that come from all over Saxony.

Lille, France

Along France’s northern border and the capital of French Flanders, it makes sense that Lille would have great activities during the holiday season. Around the Christmas market, the whole town is covered in a huge crown of garlands. The city’s primary market is located on Place Rihour, where 80 wooden chalets teem with gift ideas, nativity figurines, Christmas decorations and festive food. On the nearby Grand Place, a 50-m (165-ft) high Big Wheel lights up the square and provides visitors with an amazing view of the city. As a city with Eurostar direct services, visiting Lille is an easy stop whether you are en route to Paris, Brussels, or London.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Held on the grounds of historic Tivoli Gardens amusement park, Copenhagen’s popular Christmas Market is a wonderland of sight and sound. A Christmas Village offers souvenirs, artisan goods, and local delicacies like aebleskiver — or Danish pancakes — and glogg, a warm combo of red wine and spices that’s the Scandinavian version of glühwein (mulled wine). This year’s celebration also features a new Russian theme, complete with a Tivoli version of Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral and its onion domes.

Toronto, Canada

Much like the city itself, the Toronto Christmas Market is a blend of old world and new. Along with a Ferris wheel, beer, and mulled wine gardens, shoppers choose between dozens of stalls selling everything from woolly hats and alpaca shawls to regional treats like maple syrup. Come hungry — snacks run the gamut from hot chestnuts and gingerbread biscuits (Lebkuchen) to French Canadian poutine (decadent fries with cheese curds and gravy).

Tallinn, Estonia

After nearly a decade at Tallinn’s Town Hall Square (site of the world’s first documented Christmas tree), the city’s annual Christmas Market has relocated to Rotermann Square for both 2010 and 2011 — and the selection of handcrafted goods remains just as remarkable. Browse among more than 40 wooden huts for one-of-a-kind buckwheat pillows, wooden bowls, felted wool hats, and locally-made honey while sipping from mugs of hot mulled wine. Save room to sample an array of blood sausages, sauerkraut, and marzipan sweets. Keep an eye out for Santa, who makes market rounds accompanied by his elves, Scribble and Scrabble.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This year Philly’s annual Christmas Village is celebrating the holidays in a new location: Love Park, just west of City Hall. The market models itself on Germany’s traditional holiday markets, with more than 50 vendors — including local craftspeople and German vendors — selling items such as nutcrackers, nesting dolls, hand-painted glass ornaments, Indian folk art, handmade hats, pottery, jewelry, and vintage toys. As for treats, expect the delicious filling foods that both Philly and Germany are known for: Nutella-topped waffles, bratwurst, strudels, and an undeniable favorite in both locations soft pretzels.

Tokyo, Japan

This German-style market offers all the usual attractions: wooden stalls with sellers touting various ‘holiday accessories’, mulled wine, and the obligatory beer and sausages. The lighting in the market area combines nicely with the winter ‘illuminations’ at Tokyo Skytree.