For many, a trip to an outdoor Christmas market is a favorite holiday tradition. Chicago has the Christkindlmarket, San Fransisco the Dickens Fair and most major American cities have festive pop-up bazaars with local food, music and wares.
But in Europe, Christmas markets are at another level. Thanksgiving through Christmas, visitors can explore these magical markets in historical settings, and shop for beautiful handmade crafts and delicious holiday treats.
Take the German Striezelmarkt in Dresden, below, where people feast on a four-ton “Fruitcake Maiden” after carrying her through the streets in a tradition dating back to 1434.
The market has 230 stalls and boasts handmade wooden crafts, ceramics and blown glass.
Christmas markets can be found throughout Germany, but Berlin’s WeihnachtsZauber is particularly famous. Visitors shop for gifts while sipping on a cups of white-chocolate milk and munching on fried apples.
A visit to Bruges, below, at any time of the year is like traveling back in time, and the medieval city is only enhanced by the fresh waffles and mulled wine served during the seasonal market. There are also many varieties of Belgian beer to sample.
In the Czech Republic, the most famous market is held in Old Town Square in Prague, a plaza that has remained virtually untouched since the 10th century. Shoppers snack on vánocvka, a braided pastry with raisins, and sip on mead.
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The Strasbourg Christkindelsmärik on the French-German border began in 1570. There are more than 300 stalls selling wares, including traditional Alsatian decorations and snacks. Stuffed white storks are favorite crafts of the region.
To visit the Strasbourg market, you can take a train from Paris and get there in just over two hours. Head towards the cathedral, and the market is decorated with thousands of lights and a Christmas tree at least 100 ft. high, so you can’t miss it.