Traveling during around Christmas time is a special experience. Twinkling lights, festively decorated trees and Christmas markets are a hallmark of the season. And, for many travelers, those Christmas markets are high on their to-do list. For the most popular European Christmas Markets, clients need to have their river cruises or land tours booked months in advance, but there are a number of off-the-beaten path markets (in Europe and beyond) that can be booked closer in.
Here are 11 Christmas Markets – from some of the most well-known to others that might take you by surprise – to tell your clients about. All can be built into one-of-a-kind seasonal FIT vacations that give you the chance to show off your expertise.
1. Helsinki, Finland
Visitors to Helsinki during the holiday season will find a number of Christmas markets but the granddaddy of them all is the Helsinki Christmas Market (Tuomaan Markkinat) held in Senate Square. It’s the oldest in the city and the largest in the country with some 120 stalls selling Finnish handmade crafts and Christmas decorations, along with a food court serving traditional Finnish drinks and food, including reindeer sausage. A brass band is typically on had to keep the crowds entertained and kids will love the antique Dutch carousel. Santa Claus (who legend has it lives in Finland’s far northern Lapland) makes daily visits to the market.
2. Strasbourg, France
One of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe (and the oldest in France), Strasbourg's Christkindelsmarik dates back to 1570. (The name of the market is Alsatian dialect for "Christ Child Market.") The sprawling market is spread across several themed “villages” in the city's center and offers up more than 300 wooden chalets selling handicrafts, like wooden toys, pottery, Advent wreaths and glass baubles. In between shopping, visitors can indulge in traditional Alsatian treats (try the bredele biscuits), and mulled wine, while enjoying kilometers of sparkly lights, the central Great Christmas Tree, and free concerts.
3. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – Christkindlmarkt
One would expect a town named after the birthplace of Jesus to have an excellent Christmas Market and Bethlehem’s Christkindlmarkt doesn’t disappoint. Named one of the top holiday markets in North America by USA Today readers, the market features an array of handmade crafts from about 60 artisans from all over the U.S. and a selection of Christmas ornaments and decorations from Germany, as well. In between shopping, visitors can snack on strudel, Christmas cookies and German bratwurst. Unlike European Christmas markets, the Bethlehem market is only open Friday to Sunday for most of its run and does cost money to enter.
4. Dresden, Germany
Most people think of Germany when they think of Christmas Markets and there's a reason why. Germany Christmas Markets have been a tradition for centuries, with many markets outside of Europe tracing their heritage back to German tradition. Within Germany, Dresden's Striezelmarkt is the oldest, going back some 600 years. In addition to more than 250 stalls selling handicrafts, gluhwein (mulled wine) and food like pulsnitzer pfefferkuchen (gingerbread filled with jam), visitors can take part in daily Christmas programming, see a show at the puppet theater and ride the Ferris wheel.
5. Salzburg, Austria – Christkindlesmarkt
Salzburg's Christkindlesmarkt may not be the largest Christmas Market in the world, but it's one of the most picturesque. Set next to the Salzburg Cathedral, with the city's medieval castle as a backdrop, the nearly 100 huts sell everything from local folk crafts to traditional Christmas decorations and delectable Austrian treats. In between shopping for presents and sipping on mulled wine, visitors can join in weekly sing-a-longs, visit with the “Christ Child,” and take in traditional wind music performed high above the square three times a week.
6. Prague, Czech Republic
Technically, two separate Christmas markets, we've combined the Old Town Square market and the Wenceslas Square market into one spectacular Prague Christmas Market. (They are only five minutes away from each other, after all.) Each of the brightly decorated wooden huts offers up an array of handicrafts and treats, from ceramics, jewelry and cozy gloves and hats to wooden toys, embroidered lace and Christmas tree ornaments. Traditional Czech treats to check out include klobasa sausages, smoked meat dumplings, and trdelnik (baked dough topped with sugar and walnuts). Just in case that's not enough Christmas spirit for you, Prague boasts several other markets, including a decent-sized one at Prague Castle.