Summary and history
A Christmas market (also known as Christkindlmarkt, Marché de Noël, Christkindlesmarkt, Christkindlmarket, and Weihnachtsmarkt) is a street market associated with the celebration of Christmas during the four weeks of Advent. These markets originated in Germany, Austria, South Tyrol, North Italy and many French regions such as Alsace, Lorraine, Savoy, but are now being held in many other countries. The history of Christmas markets goes back to the Late Middle Ages in the German-speaking part of Europe and in many parts of the former Holy Roman Empire that includes many areas that are now in the east of France and in Switzerland. Dresden's Strietzelmarkt was first held in 1434. The Christmas markets of Bautzen (first held in 1384), Frankfurt (first mentioned in 1393) and Munich (1310) were even older. The Vienna "December market" was a kind of forerunner of the Christmas market and dates back to 1294.
As this is a winter activity in the northern hemisphere, dress warmly. Gloves are recommend when your hands are not round a nice warm mug of mulled wine. Especially for the "big" well known markets (e.g. those in Dresden, Nürnberg or Strasbourg) be prepared for crowds and try to find a way to get there that doesn't involve inner-city driving as the usually crowded streets of European inner cities can get unbearable during popular Christmas markets.
Christmas tree decorations. Wooden toys. Hand crafted candles and perhaps some cold-weather clothing. Some Christmas market have high quality handcrafted goods made in town or the surrounding areas, whereas other sell cheap knock off made in China kitsch. Sometimes you can get both at the same market or even the same stand. Caveat emptor!
Christmas markets in Germany generally have booths selling different kinds of sausages (Wurst) and sweets. Typical seasonal sweets are Stollen (especially in Dresden) or Lebkuchen (especially in Nürnberg) a type of sweet gingerbread. Another seasonal specialty sold at Christmas markets are Marroni the fruits of Castanea sativa (sweet Chestnuts) that are usually roasted over an open flame. Potato pancakes (Kartoffelpuffer) with apple sauce are also common.
Mulled wine (known as Glühwein, vin chaud, etc.) and other hot drinks like hot chocolate are commonly available. If you don't want to or can't drink alcohol there are usually non-alcoholic alternatives to mulled wine, such as "Kinderpunsch" (children's punch) be sure to ask whether there is alcohol in your drink or not. As the cups are often lavishly decorated and bear some sort of name or memory of the Christmas market, expect to pay a deposit of at least 5€. Often cups can be bought as well.
Temporary ice rinks with skates available for hire are getting more and more common on Christmas markets throughout Germany. They are often financed by local government or private sponsors and use is usually free of charge, but you may be charged for renting skates. Cities that have these include Dresden, Erlangen and Munich. Some Christmas Markets also have merry-go-rounds or other types of carnival rides.
As these events are crowded and you tend to be squeezing past and being knocked by other people on a regular basis, Christmas markets tend to be active places for pickpockets.
Remember that mulled wine can be of high alcohol content, and never drink and drive. Many places have increased police stop and check actions during this period.
In cold weather the floor can get slippery, which is exacerbated by Christmas Markets often being held in historic neighborhoods that have a lot of cobblestones, so be careful if you aren't accustomed to that.
Cities known for Christmas markets
With very few exceptions all Christmas markets are open until the morning hours of December 24. The first day they open is usually on the last November weekend or one of the first days in December.
- Munich Christkindlmarkt auf dem Marienplatz: 27 November - 24 December 2015 Munich. Big & commercial market, it stretches across the shopping street, so you can mix Christmas market shopping (and eating) with "normal" shopping. If you walk south towards Sendlinger Tor, you'll reach more traditional woodcarvers' stands (date needs updating)
- Munich Weihnachtsmarkt Chinaturm: 27 November - 23 December 2015 Munich. (date needs updating)
- Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt: 27 November - 24 December 2015 Nuremberg. good selection of craft stalls as well as plenty of opportunities to savour the Nürnberger Bratwürste and purchase Lebkuchen (date needs updating)
- Frankfurt Weihnachtsmarkt: 25 November - 22 December 2015 Frankfurt. crammed into the Römerplatz and adjacent Paulsplatz. Usual market fair plus strangely cheaply made tin toys. Food speciality the Bethmännchen (German for "a little Bethmann") is a pastry made from marzipan with almond. (date needs updating)
- Rüdesheim Christmas Market of Nations: 23 November - 23 December 2015 Rüdesheim. very popular with foreign tourists, particularly the British, ironically specialising in foreign gifts. (date needs updating)
- Esslingen Christmas market: 24 November - 23 December 2015 Esslingen. Consists of two markets, one traditional German Weihnachtsmarkt the other a medieval style stalls selling wares and food. (date needs updating)
- Dresden Striezelmarkt: 26 November - 24 December 2015 Dresden. The Christmas Market is the Striezelmarkt on Altmarkt square, dating back to 1434. Plenty of traditional wood carving, but also commercial stuff. (date needs updating)
- Dresden Stallhof: 27 November - 21 December 2015 Dresden. A romantic alternative is a strict medieval (no plastics, no electric lights, no loudspeakers booming Laaast Christmas....) Christmas market in the Stallhof, courtyard of the former royal palace) (date needs updating)
- Vienna Christkindlmarkt: 15 November - 24 December 2014 Vienna. (date needs updating)
- Tallinn Christmas market: 20 November - 8 January 2015/2016 Tallinn. The medieval city hall square (Raekoja plats) of Tallinn is almost tailor-made for a Christmas market and with some decorations, some snow, and a little darkness (days are short at these latitudes in the winter) the Hanseatic houses look almost like from a fairytale. You can find great Estonian handicrafts for Christmas decorations and gifts, and have a mug of traditional hot Glühwein with some Vana Tallinn liqueur. There is also an outdoor scene with different Christmas-themed events, Santa with his reindeers and a large Christmas tree in the middle of the square. (date needs updating)
- New York City - The most famous one is the Winter Village located in Bryant Park along 42nd Street, between Grand Central Terminal and Times Square. There are also several others throughout the city, most notably the Holiday Market at Union Square.
- Chicago - Chicago has its own Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza, modelled after the Christmas markets in Germany, hence giving it a German flair with German dishes being sold, with most of the counter staff being German as well.