Christmas markets are annual events that draw millions of visitors annually, especially across Northern Europe. They’re highly anticipated by locals and world travelers alike. Though these events are now part of many people’s Christmas traditions, the markets actually have secular roots.
In 1296, Emperor Albrecht issued a decree allowing Viennese shopkeepers to open their stores for one or two days in the early winter. This way, residents of Vienna could stock up on the supplies they needed to endure the cold season ahead. During the years that followed, many European villages and cities held their own winter markets. As these events grew, stalls began selling toys, baskets, woodcarvings, roasted nuts, and other goodies. This gave attendees the opportunity to buy Christmas gifts along with their winter necessities.
During the 15th century, festive gifts had become the chief attraction at the winter markets, and the European Christmas market was born.
Today, there are hundreds of Christmas markets in Europe and beyond. Read on to discover some of the biggest and best in the world.
Munich Christmas Market at Marienplatz
There are actually three Munich Christmas markets, but the one in Marienplatz Square in the Old City is the most famous. Founded during the 14th century, it is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany.
The holiday market has been held in its current location since 1972 when the event outgrew its previous site. Marienplatz Square makes a picturesque backdrop for the festivities with its neo-Gothic architecture that lends a historic feel to the event.
In 2022, the Munich Christmas Market at Marienplatz will take place from November 21–December 24. Guests can visit more than 140 booths and stands and pose for selfies in front of the famous Munich Christmas tree covered in glowing candles.
Like other German Christmas markets, the event has plenty of activities for families, like the Himmel Werkstatt craft workshop. Live performances will provide the soundtrack for the festivities and include church choirs, brass bands, and Bavarian Stubenmusik, or traditional German folk music. Guided tours for up to 20 people are available for a fee of 150 € plus 5.50 € per person for an extra snack of almonds and mulled wine.
Frankfurt Christmas Market
The Frankfurt Christmas Market is another option for those who want to experience an authentic German market. Like the Marienplatz event, the Frankfurt holiday market is among the oldest in Germany with the first written record of its annual observance dated 1393.
In 2022, the event begins on November 21 and runs through December 22. It will be held in the Römerberg and Paulsplatz public spaces of Frankfurt with locations easily accessible by bus.
While visiting, be sure to purchase hot apple wine presented in a commemorative mug. Each year, the Frankfurt Christmas market unveils a new collectible drinkware design. Guided tours of the new and old town sections of the European Christmas market are available for 19.00€ and include a roasted almond snack.
The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt
If you’re looking for Christmas markets in Germany that will delight young children, the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt held from November 25 to December 24, 2022, is one to visit. While other German Christmas markets have activities geared toward kids, the Nuremberg Christmas market is centered around them.
The holiday market’s name comes from Christkind, a heavenly figure created by church reformer Martin Luther. In southern and western Germany and neighboring countries, Christkind (not Santa Claus) brings children gifts for Christmas. At the event, kids can meet The Christkind, pose for pictures, and whisper what they hope to get for the holiday. The Nuremberg Christmas market also has carnival rides and hands-on crafting booths.
Adults will also find plenty to do at this German Christmas market. After a busy afternoon or evening touring the booths that sell handmade gifts and decorations, you can warm up with a famous mini bratwurst or some freshly baked Spekulatius almond cookies. And be on the lookout for the 15-minute tours on one of the yellow horse-drawn stagecoaches.
Strasbourg Christmas Market
The Strasbourg Christmas Market is one of the most famous Christmas markets in France. In fact, the city was nicknamed “the Capital of Christmas” in 1992 due to the popularity of its holiday market.
The history of the city gives the holiday market a one-of-a-kind character. Until 1681, Strasbourg was a part of the German Rhineland. As a result, the culture of the city draws on both German and French traditions. The Christmas market reflects this with its mix of French and German folk music, food, and drinks.
In 2022, the Strasbourg Christmas Market runs from November 26 to December 26 and will feature more than 300 stalls. Special performances and activities for children take place daily throughout the festival.
Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz, Vienna
Vienna is home to numerous Christmas markets, but the one held annually at the Rathausplatz is the most well-known. Called the Christkindlmarkt, the famous Vienna Christmas market is believed to draw more than 4 million visitors every year. In 2022, the event runs from November 19 through December 26.
Browsing through the hundreds of booths at the Vienna Christmas market will allow you to see and buy beautiful decorations made of glass and wood. The food is also a major draw and includes local favorites like soft pretzels, Victorian-style lollipops, and huge doughnuts.
Children can enjoy the Ferris wheel and nativity scene trail, while couples can stop for a smooch and a selfie under the Tree of Hearts, which is decorated with softly glowing red heart-shaped lanterns.
Tuileries Garden Christmas Market, Paris
Throughout the year, the Tuileries Garden between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde attracts tourists who wish to enjoy the picturesque gardens where Kings Louis XIII and Louis XV played when they were boys. In November, the area transforms into the most popular Christmas market in France. The 2022 market starts on November 19 and ends on January 1.
The Paris Christmas market at the Tuileries has two main components: the artisan village featuring handmade gifts and decor as well as the carnival. The latter draws inspiration from Medieval fun fairs but also includes a modern Ferris wheel and other rides.
While getting into the spirit of the season at the Tuileries Paris Christmas market, visitors can enjoy delicious foods including melted raclette cheese, sausages, waffles, and crepes. There is also a skating rink and an igloo made of frozen champagne in the garden.
The Christmas Market on Vorosmarty Square, Budapest
Budapest hosts multiple holiday markets, but the one held in Vorosmarty Square is the most famous and the one most commonly referred to as “the Budapest Christmas Market.” The event typically begins around November 18 and continues for a few days after Christmas. Usually, guided tours and wine-tastings are available during the event.
Due to the lower cost of living in Hungary, crafts sold at the Vorosmarty Square market tend to be inexpensive, making the event an affordable option for those who want to experience an authentic European Christmas market on a budget. The market is especially well known for items made of hand-spun lace and wooden toys.
Plan to come hungry, so you can enjoy specialties like langos flatbread, goulash, and salami while you shop.
The Christkindlmarket, Chicago
You don’t have to travel to Europe to experience a traditional Christmas market. The Christkindlmarket in Chicago brings the holiday market to Daley Plaza. Based on the Nuremberg Christkindlmarket, the Chicago Christmas market was founded by The German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest Inc. and debuted in 1996. In 2022, the event will run from November 18 to December 24.
A visit to the Christmas market in Chicago features vendors with handcrafted Christmas gifts and decor from throughout the U.S. and beyond. The event also hosts daily concerts and offers snacks of tasty German fare.
The Chicago Christmas market has an area reserved especially for kids called the Kinder Club. Each day, the club hosts holiday-themed activities and events. One of the most popular is the Lantern Parade, where children receive a lantern and a goodie bag and then walk through the market singing traditional carols.
Vancouver Christmas Market
The Vancouver Christmas Market is Canada’s most famous holiday market. With more than 80 stalls, it’s a one-stop shop for buying gifts. When it’s time to warm up, you can visit the Alpine Lounge, which is a heated tent that sells food and drinks.
In addition to shopping and refreshments, the Vancouver Christmas Market is home to numerous attractions. Among the most popular are the walk-in Christmas tree made of tens of thousands of twinkling lights and the picturesque Lover’s Lane path decorated with lights and mistletoe. Kids can participate in a playful scavenger hunt, and there are usually concerts and singalongs held every evening.
Dates for the 2022 market run from November 12 to December 24 at Jack Poole Plaza. Single tickets and season passes for the event are available online.
Union Square Holiday Market, New York City
The Union Square Christmas Market brings the fun of European Christmas markets to one of the most picturesque parks in Manhattan. In 2022, the Christmas market in NYC will take place from November 17 to December 24 and will feature 160 booths full of gifts made by artisans and artists.
While shopping, visitors can enjoy live musical performances. Street food and hot beverages are sold onsite, and there is a warming station available on cold days. The Union Square location of the market is easily accessible via subway, so you can check out other holiday attractions like the famous tree and skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza.
How to find a Christmas market near you
Booking a trip to one of the above Christmas markets is a great way to experience a new city or country and get into the spirit of the season. However, you may not have to travel so far to enjoy the fun of a Christmas market.
To find Christmas markets near you, search online for the words “Christmas market” and your city. You can also check local government websites and community groups on Facebook. Keep an eye on the newspaper, too, as many print publications run stories about upcoming holiday markets in local areas.