YAHglobal Best & Worst Lists for Attractions Around the World
Best Christmas Markets in the World
Traditional European Christmas Markets are sprouting up within cities all over North America. What was once an only overseas festive spectacle has spilled over and become a staple in more familiar metropolises, bringing out the masses in search of unique regional Christmas crafts, cuisine, entertainment, and in many (all) instances - eastern European beer (you'll notice a consistent theme there). Local (North America) start-ups aside, hoards of holiday season vacationers still plan trips to destinations where these month long events create brilliantly lit, ornately decorated, and proverbially snow capped makeshift villages where one can immerse themselves for the entirety of their vacation.
The following list details some of the best traditional Christmas markets in the world, worthy of 20 hour flights and currency conversion murder (euro). We've thrown in a couple localized holiday havens (for those that want to keep the experience closer to home) that have managed to garner quite the following over the years, putting together an impressive layout of vendors, activities, and attractions that would even impress Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, or Der Weihnachtsmann himself.
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!
Munich, Germany - Location: Marienplatz
Dates: November 25th to December 24th
Christkindlmarkt in Munich, Germany is famously recognized when European Christmas Markets are featured on TV or pictured in holiday issues of travel magazines and periodicals. A 30 meter high Christmas Tree stands tall at the heart of the main event, strung with 2,500 lights, serving as the beacon of the affair AND as a great place to meet up should your party get separated while browsing through over 160 arts & crafts and edible goods stalls. Traditional mulled wine and a large selection of German beers, are a given.
The market at the Marienplatz is the highlight of Christkindlmarkt, but others worth checking out in Munich include markets at; Sendlinger Tor, Chinesicher Turm (Chinese Tower), Schwabinger Weihnachtsmarkt, Haidhausen, Wittelsbacher Platz (Medieval Christmas Market!), Tollwood Christmas Market, and in Theresienwiese. If you're flying into the city and can't wait to check into your accommodations before getting a taste of the holiday festivities in the city, there is a market at Munich Airport Center (S-Bahnhof Flughafen Terminal). Munich knows how to do Christmas.
Dresden, Germany - Location: In the historical part of the city, close to Frauenkirche
Dates: November 24th to December 24th
This behemoth of a Christmas Market stuffs 250 vendors into the city center of Dresden and commands the attention of over 2 million international visitors a year throughout the Advent period. The name Striezelmarkt finds it origin from Strüzel or Stroczel, a regional holiday cake traditionally sold at the market, now more commonly known and sold at supermarkets all over the world as Stollen or Christstollen.
Stemming from the 15th century, Dresden's Striezelmarkt has been recognized for its grand structures. At the rear of the market square, one can find an expertly crafted castle made from fairy tale imagination, which also does double duty as a gigantic Advent calendar. Each day, one door is opened to the delight of onlookers where a puppet show takes the place of the simple sweets that we here in North America tore into as each day in December passed. The real star of the show is found at the world's tallest Christmas Candle Pyramid, a traditional display for many European countries, which stands at 14 meters in height. Once can also find one of the world's biggest Nutcracker Soldiers, not counting the inflatable balloon ones you find in Southern California used car sales lots during Christmas). It is said that the Dresden crafted version of the nutcracker soldier is the one that inspired Tchaikovsky ballet's best known toy character.
In addition to the expected seasonal arts and decor on sale at Striezelmarkt, audiences are entertained by mastercraftspersons at work as on site artisans, carvers, glass-blowers, and bakers do their thing.
Prague, Czech Republic - Location/s: Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square, Namesti Republiky, Namesti Miru & Havelske Trziste.
Dates: November 26th to January 8th
Vanocni Trhy is set up like one big red, green, and gold puzzle, combining several different markets (see above locations) all within close proximity, ultimately creating what one could consider to be the ultimate Christmas Market. Prague is an ancient city with amazing architecture, and when the lights of Vanocni Trhy shine from November to January (the longest running market on the list), it is hard to beat the majestic contrasts of the festive decorations and gothic cityscape. Prague springs to life when Vanocni Trhy comes to town.
Old Town Square probably sees the most action, with a stage set up where both Czech and International choirs and dance groups entertain all in attendance. Professional entertainers aside, the highlight of the performances comes from the multitude of children, arriving from schools from all over the Czech Republic, dressed in traditional holiday attire, who sing and dance for the crowd and remind all why they love Christmas so. Also found in Old Town Square, is a large Bethlehem scene with a petting zoo worthy collection of livestock to complete the picture and give the kids even more to get excited about.
With such a diverse collection of retail stalls intermingled within the varied locations of Vanocni Trhy, visitors are offered an eclectic collections of goods, including a heavy concentration of handmade puppets, a popular collectible in Prague. Almost as numerous as the Christmas craft selection is the cuisine and accompanying "drink menu". Czech beers are on tap for a refreshing sip and for those seeking heated comfort, a cup of svarené víno or svará - hot wines - will do the trick just fine.
The city center of Prague is perfectly compact, allowing for easy on-foot navigation even if there is two feet of snow under your boots. The Vanocni Trhy Christmas Market is exquisitely ideal for families and any other fan of convenience during the at times chaotic Christmas season.
Vienna, Austria - Location: City Hall at Rathusplatz
Dates: November 12th to December 24th
On the square in front of Vienna's City Hall is one of the oldest running markets of its kind. Since the 13th century, Winer Christkindlmarkt has attracted droves of travelers to its heart-warming holiday affair, reaching a total of 3 million visitors per year to date. Retail stalls are approaching the 150 mark and offer everything from Christmas ornaments and seasonal garb to toys for children and the children in us all. The food stalls continue to impress upon the palates of those in town to sample local holiday goodies and when the Austrian air temperature drops well below zero, beverages such as "Glühwein" - heated sweetened wine - warm your core as fast as the spirit of Christmas, if not faster.
Dates: November 20nd to December 24th, 2012
Make a Christmas wish for snow in the Windy City to complete the perfect holiday picture as Daley Plaza converts into Germany - circa sometime in December in the 15th century. Ornate Beer Steins are raised in holiday cheer as a crowd that normally gathers to herald the praises of the Bears, the Bulls, and the Cubs, turns its attention to sauerkraut, sausage, and steaming Glühwein. There's also plenty of shopping and entertainment for the whole family at Christkindlmarket Chicago.