Magical Christmas Markets in North America

Dara Continenza, December 31, 2014
Fares from Washington DC:

    The cozy smell of chestnuts roasting on open fire pits. A warm cup of mulled cider cradled in your mittened hands. Soft flecks of snow falling as you walk among shop stalls filled with glittering merchandise that just begs to be gifted.

    Europe, and Germany especially, is famous for its traditional holiday markets, but the scene above can be relived right in your own backyard. Take a seasonal spin through this showcase of 10 amazing Christmas markets around North America to find one near you.

    (Photo: Toronto Christmas Market)

    Toronto Christmas Market, Distillery Historic District, Toronto, Canada

    Imagine rows of beautifully maintained brick Victorians, once distillery buildings and industrial outposts, now fashionable bars, boutiques, and galleries. This is Toronto's Distillery District, home to one of the coziest holiday markets around. Equal parts romantic and magical, with strings of globe lights overhead and antique lamps on street corners, the annual Christmas market brims with trendy Torontonians clutching spicy mulled cider and cups of poutine. Get there early to avoid the crowds and browse the shops (including supercool Blackbird Vintage, in case you need to get yourself a little Christmas gift).

    (Photo: Discover Lehigh Valley)

    Christkindlmarkt, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

    The birthplace of Bethlehem Steel bills itself as "Christmas City" each December, when nearly 1 million guests pour into the town for its Christkindlmarkt celebrations. Under outdoor tents and the city's glittering Star of Bethlehem, browse gifts from artisans hailing from all over the world. Once you're shopped out, chow down on hearty Pennsylvania Dutch snacks (pierogies, funnel cake, and a heavenly multitude of wursts) while listening to local music acts.

    (Photo: Getty Images/Lonely Planet)

    Union Square Holiday Market, New York City, New York

    This glittery urban market has become as much a Christmas institution as the Rockettes' kicking legs or Rockefeller Center's towering tree. Join thousands of city dwellers as they browse an endless number of high-quality shops and stalls clustered in Union Square. In true New York spirit, food vendors sell artisan-crafted jams from Brooklyn, locally sourced cider donuts from Chelsea, and goodies from Chef David Chang's Momofuku Milk Bar.

    (Photo: Marche de Noel Allemand)

    Marche de Noel Allemand, Quebec, Canada

    December's swirling snow and subzero temps can't keep the Quebecois indoors. Instead, the city's old-world-style holiday market takes to the streets. Charming wooden stands are clustered along pathways under the glow of festive lights. Sellers hawk everything from glassblown ornaments to hot chestnuts while carols from a nearby brass quartet drift over the crowd. If the adorable storybook quality of the market doesn't keep you warm, the hot mulled cider will.

    (Photo: Rich Yee)

    Great Dickens Christmas Fair, San Francisco, California

    The Great Dickens Christmas Fair has been bringing Victorian London to life in San Francisco since 1970. Costumed characters straight out of A Christmas Carol and other Dickens masterpieces roam the marketplace and interact with guests while storytellers, carolers, and Irish dancers work the main stages. Pop into lamplit shops and music halls, then grab a seat at a cozy pub for a traditional English high tea (or an absinthe cocktail).

    (Photo: DowntownDC BID)

    Downtown Holiday Market, Washington, D.C.

    Forget trawling overcrowded shopping malls or mindlessly browsing Amazon: D.C.'s Downtown Holiday Market, now in its 10th year, fulfills all your shopping needs right in front of the Smithsonian complex. Find artwork, ceramics, crafts, clothing, antiques, soaps, candles, and other one-of-a-kind gifts from local artisans, many of which are fair-trade and sustainable. In fact, the entire market runs on biodiesel fuel and uses recyclable shopping bags—we love keeping the holidays green.

    (Photo: Texas Christkindlmarkt)

    Texas Christkindl Market, Arlington, Texas

    Arlington throws an enchanting Christmas market to celebrate its sister city, Bad Konigshofen, Germany, as well as the state's own shared heritage (in fact, some 3 million Texas residents claim German ancestry). The cheery traditional market is full of family-friendly activities, like a Bavarian-themed petting zoo and a marionette theater, plus wooden huts and tents lined with sparkly Christmas lights and pine boughs.

    (Photo: Vancouver Christmas Market)

    Vancouver Christmas Market, Vancouver, Canada

    Right up until Christmas Eve, revelers can enjoy this enchanting outdoor holiday market in Queen Elizabeth Plaza, where European choirs, folk-dance troupes, and gospel acts entertain the lively masses. Kids—and kids at heart—can ride the market's Christmas-themed carousel and tuck into goodies from Canadian and German purveyors. Grown-ups can get into the holiday spirit(s) with Krombacher Brauerei beer and feuerzangenbowle (literally "fire-tong punch," a sugar cube flambeed with rum and dipped into hot mulled wine). Prost!

    (Photo: Timmy Samuels)

    Christkindlmarket, Chicago, Illinois

    Each holiday season, downtown Chicago transforms into an old-style market straight out of Germany. Dozens of vendors (some from Germany themselves) sell European sweets, cuckoo clocks, nutcrackers, and beer steins while revelers nibble on traditional treats like schnitzel and strudel. Best of all is the life-size advent calendar: Each day, one lucky festivalgoer gets to open a door and receive an early Christmas gift.

    Downtown Disney During Festival of the Seasons (Photo: Gene Duncan)

    Festival of the Seasons, Downtown Disney, Orlando, Florida

    That old Mickey Mouse magic gets a dose of holiday sparkle at Downtown Disney. Browse shops decked out in Christmas finery and find perfect stocking stuffers, or enjoy live entertainment from characters, carolers, and stilt walkers. Santa makes an appearance, of course, but we imagine little ones are just as excited for Elsa. The Frozen heroine stars in a new holiday-themed show in front of the castle, which has been transformed into a glittering ice-blue palace for the season.

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    This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Magical Christmas Markets in North America. Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at

    (Lead Photo: Toronto Christmas Market)