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Nuremberg Christmas market, Germany
Photograph: Perati Komson / Shutterstock.com

The 13 best Christmas markets in the world

From traditional German-style Christmas markets to dazzling winter blow-outs, these the world’s best festive markets

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham
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Wafts of toasty gingerbread and spicy mulled wine fill your nose, twinkling fairy lights and rows of Bavarian-style huts dazzle the eyes, and jolly seasonal music tinkles into your ears… there aren’t many winter activities that provide as much of a sensory overload as a stroll through a Christmas market.

Although European Christmas markets have been a tradition for centuries, festive markets have recently become established across the world – and it’s probably because there’s simply no better way to soak up the holiday spirit. After all, you’re somewhere with dark, miserable winters, they’re places to immerse yourself in light and warmth. And in hotter climates, festive markets provide a taste of a classic chocolate-box Christmas.

And there’s so much variety to what you can get at different Christmas markets. Whether you’re looking to pick up handcrafted gifts or a get a quick thrill on a fairground ride; whether you’re hunting for traditional German markts or sprawling modern mini-towns filled with light displays, there’s a Christmas market for you. Below, we’ve picked out the best: 13 of the most dazzling and unforgettable Christmas markets from all over the world.

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❄️ The best places to travel in December

The world’s best Christmas markets

Good for: ardent traditionalists

There isn’t one single reason why so many flock to Nuremberg’s Christkindlemarkt during the festive season. Sure, the market’s Christkind (a young woman dressed in white and gold) is a spectacular quirk and the setting, beneath the ornate spire of the Schöner fountain, is mesmerizingly scenic. But that all pales in comparison to the actual market itself, a mini-city of wooden stalls packed with traditional homemade goods, smoked beers and mugs of homely glühwein.

Hauptmarkt, 90403 Nuremberg. Nov 25-Dec 24. Mon-Sun 10am-9pm (Christmas Eve 10am-2pm).

Good for: figurine collectors

The Peruvian city of Cusco might be best known for its colonial architecture and nearby Incan wonders, but it’s also home to a Christmas market like no other. A vast arts and crafts fair called Santurantikuy takes over the Plaza de Armas on December 24 every year, a 500-year-old tradition that sees vendors selling colourful carvings of holy figures. Be sure to pick up a quirky retablo – a handmade box containing the nativity scene. 

Plaza de Armas de Cusco, Del Medio 123, Cusco 08000. Dec 24.

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Good for: a gorgeous gorge

I mean, do Christmas destinations get any more scenic than that? Beneath the 40-metre-high arches of a ginormous railway bridge in Germany’s Black Forest lies the festive market at Ravenna Gorge, a hive of buzzy huts and quaint Christmas lights that is often covered in a thick layer of snow. For even more dazzling sights, visit at night – when the entire bridge is lit up in deep red.

Ravenna Gorge, B31, Breitnau-Höllsteig. Nov 25-27, Dec 2-4, 9-11, 16-18. 2pm-9pm.

Good for: immersive festivities

When it comes to Vienna’s Christmas market, biggest really is best. The Austrian capital boasts one of the largest Christmas markets on the planet; a ‘Christmas World’ that features over 100 high-quality stalls and submerges visitors in wall-to-wall festivities. And just in case all that didn’t get you in the spirit, it’s all in the shadow of Vienna’s splendid rathaus, one of the city’s most splendid structures. 

Rathausplatz, 1010, Wien. Nov 19-Dec 26. Daily 10am-9:30pm.

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Good for: whisky-fuelled revellers

Edinburgh’s Winter Festival is every bit as grand and eventful as its legendary Hogmanay new year celebrations. Stretching all the way from East Princes Street Gardens down to the Royal Mile, the festive pageantry includes ice skating, artisan markets, delicious food vendors and enough whisky stands to bring a tear to anyone’s eye.

Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2HG. Nov 25-Jan 3. 10am ’til late.

Good for: troglodytes

Some of the caves of Valkenburg are nearly as old as Christmas itself: the underground system in the southeast Netherlands was originally mined by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago. At Christmastime, a select few of Valkenburg’s caves get a glow-up with festive lights, parades and one of the world’s most magical (if eerie) Christmas markets. If you’ve got to choose just one, head for the Christmas Market Municipal Cave.

Various locations in Valkenburg. See website for timings.

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Good for: Christmas light fanatics

In a city already famed for its bright lights, Hong Kong’s WinterFest still manages to up the ante. On Kowloon’s harbourfront, an enormous Christmas town pops up with huts, shops, light displays, ornate lampposts and jolly carol singers – all centred around a huge, 20-metre-high tree.

West Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. Nov 26-Jan 2. Mon-Fri 5pm-11pm, Sat-Sun 11am-11pm.

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Good for: all singers, all dancers

You name it, Vancouver’s Christmas market has got it. From wooden huts and artisan craftwork to fairground rides, vast light installations and even scavenger hunts, the Canadian city’s take on a traditional German Christkindlmarkt is a hyperactive blaze of stuff to see and do – and every year it just seems to get that much bigger, brighter and more glorious.

Jack Poole Plaza, 1055 Canada Place, Vancouver, BC, V6G 3E1. Nov 12-Dec 24. See website for timings.

Good for: classy shoppers

The Christmas markets of Cologne, Germany’s ‘cathedral city’, are appropriately elegant – despite attracting a mind-boggling four million visitors every year. While the market in the foreground of Cologne cathedral is the most famous, the entire city centre is dotted with markets of different themes, each teeming with culinary specialities and local handcrafts.

Various city centre locations. Nov 21-Dec 23. See website for timings.

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Good for: wannabe Germans

Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market (the name’s confusing, we know) bills itself as the largest ‘authentic’ Christmas market outside of Germany or Austria. While we can’t speak for its authenticity, we can vouch for it being a darn good time. Wash down pretzels, bratwursts and schnitzels with glühwein, weissbier and hot chocolate, all while browsing handmade wooden decorations and pristine glass baubles.

Victoria Square, Birmingham, B1 1BD. Nov 3-Dec 23. Daily, 10am-9pm.

Good for: sun hunters 

To those from chillier places, there’s something a bit surreal about ice-skating under palm trees and watching the nativity in very reasonable temperatures. But that’s what you get at Seville’s Christmas market, which is also known for its live music and distinctive Andalusian handcrafts. Check out the Feria del Belén for everything you might ever want to add to a nativity scene, including tiny animatronic figures.

Plaza Nueva, 41001 Seville. Dec 5-Jan 5. Mon-Sun 11am-3pm and 5pm-9pm.

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Good for: Dickensian characters

Step into San Francisco’s Great Dickens Christmas Fair and you’ll be whizzed over 5,000 miles (and back 200 years) to the streets of Victorian England. Hundreds of costumed Dickensian characters immerse visitors in a festive party, while the winding streets of the Cow Palace Exhibition Halls flog everything from antiquarian books and handcrafted jewellery to Christmas trees and mulled wine. No Scrooges allowed.

Cow Palace Exhibition Halls, 2600 Geneva Avenue, Daly City. Nov 19-20, 25-27; Dec. 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, 10am-6pm.

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