Toast the Holidays at the World’s Most Magical Christmas Markets

So merry, so bright.

A good Christmas market plays the hits—vendors selling last-minute wares, styrofoam cups of hot chocolate, Mariah Carey beaming through the speakers on an endless loop. But a truly great Christmas market is a transformative experience that casts a spell on everyone who enters. 

These luminous wonderlands come in all shapes and sizes (and offer many flavors of mulled wine). But they’re all linked in their timeless ability to bring the holiday magic through a combination of delicious pastries, lively music, unique handmade treasures, and soul-warming charm.

From the frozen delights of Bavaria and Scandinavia to busy streets of New York and Hong Kong’s reflective waterfront, the world’s best Christmas markets couldn’t be more different in their aesthetics and traditions. Yet each has the power to transform even the stodgiest of Scrooge into a wide-eyed child at heart. Grab a glühwein and don your favorite hand-made scarf, then browse some of the most awe-inspiring holiday markets around the world.

Strasbourg Christkindelsmärik france
Photo by Cedric Schell

Strasbourg Christkindelsmärik

Strasbourg, France
The heady fragrance of mulled wine hangs over Strasbourg's Christkindelsmärik, which has been held annually in northeastern France since 1570, making it one of Europe's oldest Christmas markets. With decorations and glittering lights everywhere you look from late November to Christmas Eve, it’s a truly timeless way to celebrate the season. Be sure to visit the market's decked-out tree in Place Kléber, which is known for its imposing height (typically around 100 feet), and spend some time shopping at one of more than 300 different stalls that sell everything from traditional Christmas treats (like pizza-reminiscent tarte flambée or buttery bredele biscuits) to handmade crafts. The so-called “Capital of Christmas” also embraces the giving spirit at its Sharing Village, where charitable organizations are present to help visitors make a difference.

Wiener Christkindlmarkt Vienna, Austria
NurPhot/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Wiener Christkindlmarkt

Vienna, Austria
Bringing a luminescent aura to Vienna’s historic capital, Wiener Christkindlmarkt is renowned for its 100+ stalls that sell everything from souvenirs to delicious Viennese delicacies, including kaiserschmarrn (sweet, fluffy, ripped-up pancakes), glühwein (mulled wine), and bauernkrapfen (donut-esque fried pastries). Located in Rathausplatz—a large city square near Vienna’s city hall—you'll know you're there when you see all the lights, stalls, an illuminated skating rink, and a multi-level carousel. Make a romantic visit to the famous Tree of Hearts—where red hearts glow among branches— check out the trail of Nativity scenes, or simply shop for holiday gifts from the massive range of vendors. The market runs from mid-November until the day after Christmas and gets millions of visitors each season, so it’s worth showing up on the earlier side if you want to avoid the crowds.

Toronto Christmas Market
The Distillery District

Distillery District Winter Village

Toronto, Canada
Stroll the cobblestone streets, marvel at the towering Christmas tree with 70,000 twinkling lights, and shop at the more than 65 local stalls within Toronto’s Distillery District Winter Village. Previously known as the Toronto Christmas Market, the annual holiday market runs through January 7 in the iconic post-industrial Toronto destination, which comes alive with live music, appearances by Santa, and all manner of holly jolly mirth. Sip winter warmers at the on-site bars (this is the Distillery District, after all) and eat at a range of food cabins serving festive fare like crepes, raclette, churros, and frites. Tickets are required after 4 pm on weekends and during the last few days of the year and start at $15, but you can enter the market for free at any other time.

Tivoli Gardens Christmas Market
StephenBridger/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Christmas in Tivoli Gardens

Copenhagen, Denmark
Located in central Copenhagen since 1843, Tivoli Gardens is the world’s third-oldest amusement park, and when Christmastime hits, one of the city’s most beloved attractions turns up the hygge along with the holiday cheer as it transforms into a full-scale Danish Christmas market. The park's sprawling garden is filled with glittering decorations to light up the long Scandinavian nights, including more than 1,000 glowing Christmas trees and more than 70,000 baubles. Pose for a photo with Julemanden (also known as Father Christmas), witness a spectacular light show, and get a front-row seat for one of the park's holiday-themed plays and ballets—and yes, the park's many rides are open for the occasion, too. For those who long for a traditional Christmas market, the park provides a full-fledged collection of around 60 food and gift stalls as well, many of which serve up Danish holiday eats like gingerbread hearts and spherical æbleskiver pancakes. The market runs from late November through New Year's Eve, so there's plenty of time to visit.

Hong Kong WinterFest
NurPhoto/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Hong Kong WinterFest

Hong Kong
Every winter, Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District helps light up the city’s already-vibrant night sky during Hong Kong WinterFest. And when we say “light up,” we’re not just talking about the gorgeous Christmas tree at the center of the festivities. Every evening, the Symphony of Lights illuminates Victoria Harbor, making the view even more dramatic—especially on nights that also include a concussive fireworks and pyrotechnic display. You’ll also find a series of holiday-themed lodges filled with festive displays as you meet Santa, take in a concert, and browse bazaars and workshops at Christmas Town, which is open through January 1.

Winter Village at Bryant Park New York, New York
Popova Valeriya/Shutterstock

Winter Village at Bryant Park

New York, New York
Is there any more iconic holiday experience than the Winter Village in Bryant Park? The 17,000-square foot ice skating rink is the centerpiece of the village, offering free skating with a reservation (and paid skate rentals if needed), plus skating performances. You can grab some comfort food and cocktails at the rink-side lodge, or inside private igloos. The Curling Cafe & Bar is also an option; reserve a curling lane and get competitive, then retreat into your heated dome for a bite to eat. Nearby, a European market-inspired series of kiosks sell everything from specialty food to eco-friendly artwork, giving you a reason to browse for hours beneath the glittering city skyline. The winter market runs from late October to early January, but the rink and lodge are open until early March.

Liseberg Julmarknad Gothenburg, Sweden
Trygve Finkelsen/Shutterstock

Liseberg Julmarknad

Gothenburg, Sweden
Like its better-known neighbor, Copenhagen, western Sweden’s oft-underestimated second city boasts a massive, 100-year-old amusement park at its center. And like Tivoli Gardens, Liseberg goes big by transforming its traditional Main Street Sweden facade into a sprawling Christmas market through January 7. You’ll find sausages roasting over the fire and a sea of cottage-like booths selling handmade crafts, chocolates, mulled wine (glögg), cheese, and more. Many of the rides remain open, while the massive Tomtehuset—Santa’s house—is an elaborate holiday fantasia complete with Christmas tree maze, animatronics, and a visit with the big man that’s just as enthralling for adults as it is for kids. Even better, Liseberg’s centralized location makes it an easy walk/tram ride from the city’s historic Haga neighborhood, which itself transforms into an old-school Christmas market throughout the season. Just watch out for all the goats.

Tallinn Christmas Market Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn Christmas Market

Tallinn, Estonia
A Christmas tree has graced Tallinn's Town Hall Square every year since 1441, which is a solid sign that this holiday market is taken very seriously. The event opens with a solemn tree lighting and light show in late November, after which you can feel free to enjoy the market in full. Snack on Estonian Christmas dishes like blood sausage, stewed sauerkraut, and many types of gingerbread, and taste a range of traditional and more inventive glöggs (mulled wine). Starting a few days after the tree lighting, you'll be able to meet Santa in his house on the square, clamber aboard some carnival rides, or check out the Christmas Market Stage for folk performances. On weekend evenings, these performances happen hourly, and visitors can dance in a conga line around the tree until the market shuts down on January 7.

Village of Lights: Christmastown Leavenworth, Washington
Visit Leavenworth WA,

Village of Lights: Christmastown

Leavenworth, Washington
Looking to experience the fairytale vibes of a German Christmas market without the layovers? Drive into the snow-capped mountains of central Washington and say “Frohe Weihnachten” to Leavenworth. Many cities in the US cosplay as German villages, but Leavenworth feels like some sort of Bavarian Brigadoon at the end of an alpine warp-zone, and come Christmas things get truly magical. The entire town—which, mind you, is convincingly modeled on German aesthetics—is dedicated to holiday cheer: You’ll find endless vendors selling custom wares from blankets to artisan cheeses, sausages, and scarves. The polka music is extra festive as the standards turn yuletide. You’ll find ice skating and warm belly-warming drinks, roasting chestnuts, horse-drawn carriages, and even the wayward reindeer roaming the streets. And while the holiday activities end on Christmas Eve, the lights stay on through February, making it a prime destination for an illuminated ski trip or romantic weekend.

Brussels Winter Wonders & Christmas Market Brussels, Belgium
Bloomberg/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Brussels Winter Wonders & Christmas Market

Brussels, Belgium
Although Belgium has no shortage of Christmas markets, Brussels's Winter Wonders event—running November 24 to December 31— is known to be the largest and most impressive in the country. With more than 200 different chalets for browsing, you can expect to find everything from trappist beers, waffles, and glühwein to handmade ornaments and trinkets. The massive market is spread out across the city center, which gives it plenty of space for an ice skating rink, Ferris wheel, and 66-foot Christmas tree covered in more than a mile of string lights. There's even an immersive audio and visual show at Grand-Place that runs multiple times every evening. First-time visitors should take advantage of the guided tours (available in English!) to avoid being overwhelmed by anything other than emotion.

Chicago Christkindlmarkets Chicago, Illinois

Chicago Christkindlmarkets

Chicago, Illinois
If you’re looking to experience a European-inspired Christmas market within the US, you’ll adore Chicago’s Christkindlmarkets. The German-style markets contain everything from food stalls to gift vendors to help you make the most of your holiday season, and there are actually three of them to choose from within Chicagoland: Daley Plaza, Wrigleyville, and Aurora. Visit one or all three to get into the holiday spirit—the Chicago and Aurora markets run from November 17 to December 24, while the Wrigleyville event lasts until December 31. Prepare to snack on some schnitzel and glühwein, shop for some glass ornaments, and meet the market's Christkind namesake, a gold-clad angel adorned with a crown who traditionally brings gifts to children in German-speaking countries.

Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt Nuremberg, Germany
picture alliance/picture alliance/Getty Images

Nuremberg, Germany
Perhaps the most famous holiday market in all of Germany—the Christmas market capital of the world—Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt has been bringing the cheer since way back in 1628, making it one of the longest-running Christmas gatherings in Europe. Here, you’ll find the requisite mini-village of stalls selling one-of-a-kind handcrafted gifts as the smell of sausage, mulled-wine, and burning wood hovers over all. And because you’re in one of the most beautiful cities in Bavaria, the fairytale vibes are strong even before you spot one of the year’s designated Chriskind Angel roaming the grounds. Even better? This is Europe, which means the also-fantastic markets of Frankfurt and Munich are only a short train ride away… just don’t leave without trying the regionally specific lebkuchen cookies and Nuremberg sausage—packed three to a bun—that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.

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Rachel Dube is a contributor for Thrillist.