Traditional Christmas markets in Europe and America make town squares merry and bright
Visiting a Christmas market – known as a Christkindlmarkt in German or a Marché de Noël in French – is like stepping into a real, live Advent calendar. In the weeks that lead up to December 25th, cities and towns all over Europe light up with hundreds of festive outdoor stalls where shoppers can find handmade ornaments, seasonal sweets, and unique gifts. Christmas markets originated in the Holy Roman Empire and Scandinavia during the late Middle Ages. When Queen Victoria and the German-born Prince Albert married in 1840, they introduced German traditions to their Yuletide celebrations in England. As a result, both Christmas markets and Christmas trees gained wide popularity in Britain and America. Christmas markets traditionally take place in town squares and nearby pedestrian streets, and typically feature a nativity scene, or crèche, and a huge Christmas tree.
For full-time residents of cities like Paris, Stockholm, Salzburg, London, or New York, a visit to the local Christmas market is a wonderful neighborhood ritual to celebrate the season and ring in the new year. Count down the Twelve Days of Christmas by learning about Christmas markets all over the world, and explore the spectacular nearby estates that could each become a cozy and luxurious holiday perch.
1. Christmas Market at Champs-Elysées, Paris, France
November 15–January 4
The most famous avenue in Paris is home to the annual Christmas Market at the Champs-Elysées, and it attracts thousands of visitors every year. The charming vendor stalls are designed to resemble chalets, and goods range from specialty foods to toys and ornaments. This elegant, turn-of-the-century apartment in the 8th Arrondissement is within easy walking distance of the Christmas Market at the Champs-Elysées-—and of many of Paris’s top cultural attractions year round.
2. Salzburg Christmas Market, Salzburg, Austria
November 19–December 26
Salzburg’s Christmas Market is one of the oldest continuous holiday markets in Europe. Nestled at the foot of the iconic Hohensalzburg fortress, it dates back to at least the 15th century. The nearby Baroque Salzburg Cathedral just happens to be the church where one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized. Appropriately, the Salzburg Christmas Market has an extensive program of events, including choral music that’s performed right in front of the cathedral. During the holiday season, this rooftop apartment in Salzburg is the ideal place to enjoy the city’s beauty from indoors: its panoramic views of snow-covered rooftops and churches are picture perfect.
3. Old Town Christmas Market, Stockholm, Sweden
November 21–December 23
Stockholm’s Old Town Christmas Market is a tradition five centuries in the making. Set just in front of the city’s Nobel Museum and not far from the Royal Palace, it offers a chance to enjoy Swedish holiday fare like pepparkakor (thin ginger cookies) and glögg (mulled wine), while browsing handcrafted gifts, many of which feature the trademark Swedish Christmas colors of red, silver, and white. This modern, four-bedroom villa located nearby is a prime setting for a chic Scandinavian holiday celebration.
4. Bordeaux Christmas Market, Bordeaux, France
November 23–December 30
Every November, a stretch of downtown Bordeaux metamorphosizes into a sparkling fairytale village full of wooden stalls when the Christmas market on Allées de Tourny opens to an eager public. This being France, the Bordeaux Christmas Market is especially famous for its local wines, artisan perfumes, and Landes foie gras. Enjoy these holiday treats in anearby duplex apartment on one of the city’s loveliest streets. With the Bordeaux Public Gardens nearby as well, it’s an ideal location any month of the year.
5. Canterbury Christmas Market, Kent, England
November 28–December 24
Whitefriars Square in the medieval cathedral city of Canterbury is home to the Canterbury Christmas Market, in addition to being the famed site of poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and the seat of the Anglican Church. The setting is every bit as charming as the description suggests: colorful stalls have roasted almonds, gingerbread, and tin toys on offer. This 16th-century timber-framed estate with a courtyard garden nearby has the look and feel of a quintessential English country estate, yet it’s within walking distance of the historic city center. A lush courtyard garden frames the property.
6. Salisbury Christmas Market, Wiltshire, England
November 26–December 20
The Salisbury Christmas Market in Wiltshire’s Guildhall Square is known for its vividly colorful paper lantern parade, musical performances by local school choirs, and the Father Christmas Grotto. Its food stalls offer award-winning cheeses, local wines, French sausage, and homemade chili jams for a savory holiday treat. This gracious four-bedroom Georgian estatein Wiltshire has a light-filled dining room, a wonderful setting for a Christmas dinner.
7. Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market, Winchester, England
November 19–December 22
A relative newcomer only in its tenth year, the Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market is already renowned as one of the most spectacular in Europe. Taking a cue from the older historic markets and inspired by traditional German Christmas markets, the Winchester version features mulled wine, bratwurst, stollen, and the English holiday favorite, mince pie. Talented craftspeople including jewelers, painters, glass makers, and textile artists make it an ideal place to browse for unique gifts. This stunning, modern estate known as the Dutch Barn is inspired by the proportions of a historic Cotswolds farmhouse. With six bedrooms, landscaped grounds, stables, and a five-oven AGA stove in the kitchen, it’s ready for holiday entertaining.
8. Belgravia Christmas Market, London, England
London lights up each year for the Belgravia Christmas Market with its trademark striped awnings atop each stall on Pimlico Road. For just two days in early December, the streets appear to dial back the clock to an earlier era, and festive stalls offer food, drink, toys, and ornaments while music plays and electric lights shimmer. A particularly London-style touch is the iconic Black Cab photo booth, where Santa poses with kids in one of the city’s famed taxis instead of his traditional grotto. The light-filled, modern Penthouse at 59-60 Cadogan Place is situated a short walk from the location of the Belgravia Christmas Market. Charles Dickens wrote of Cadogan Place in his 1838 novel Nicholas Nickleby, and though London has certainly changed since the famous author’s time, Cadogan Place remains a lively street full of historic charm and character—especially at Christmas.
9. Union Square Holiday Market, New York City
November 19–December 24
It’s no surprise that New York City’s Union Square Holiday Market draws nearly 1 million visitors each year to its more than 150 stalls offering food, ornaments, jewelry, toys, and crafts beneath their red and white striped tents. Since 1994, it has been one of the city’s most festive and popular holiday attractions, located about two miles due south of the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. With its huge windows and spacious kitchen and dining area, this spectacular Upper West Side residence overlooking Central Park is a lovely place to watch the snow fall and prepare a sumptuous holiday meal after a shopping sojourn to the Union Square Holiday Market.
10. Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas, Berkshire, Massachusetts
Northwestern Massachusetts is a storybook winter wonderland with its rolling hills, famously robust snowfalls, and charming New England architecture. Each Christmas, the town of Stockbridge hosts Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas, which includes a market, historic holiday home tours, a candlelit carolling walk, holiday-themed storytime for kids organized by the Stockbridge Library, a holiday concert at the First Congregational Church and, of course, lots of great food. Nearby in historic Lenox, Thistlewood, an 1880s estate, has been exquisitely restored. Grand, spacious rooms for entertaining, period woodwork and details throughout as well as multiple fireplaces make this six-bedroom home a magical winter getaway.
11. Great Dickens Christmas Fair, San Francisco, CA
November 21–December 20
San Francisco does its best to recreate Victorian London at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair, which occupies more than 120,000 square feet of space. Going well above and beyond the traditional arrangement of festive stalls, the Great Dickens Christmas Fair is actually held in a miniature London cityscape complete with winding streets, actors wearing period costumes, lamplit shops selling pewter wares and ornaments, and vendors selling roasted chestnuts. And with a staged performance of the Dickens holiday masterpiece, A Christmas Carol, it’s about as close to London as one can get without leaving California. And in keeping with the 19th-century spirit of the Dickens Fair, this three-bedroom Victorian “painted lady” on Pine Street has been beautifully restored and updated. Originally designed with ample space for displaying art, its spacious interior and chef’s kitchen are ideal for entertaining.
12. Canyon Road Farolito Walk, Santa Fe, NM
Santa Fe’s Canyon Road Farolito Walk offers a different twist on the historic Christmas markets of Western Europe. Inspired by the region’s Spanish heritage, this event takes place on Christmas Eve, when thousands of visitors walk along Canyon Road holding paper lanterns (“farolitos” in Spanish). Small sand-filled paper bags, illuminated with a votive candle, light the path while carolers sing. Not far from Canyon Road sits the exquisite Casa La Luna. Built in the 1920s and expanded in the 1990s, Casa La Luna is one of Santa Fe’s most striking heritage homes. With 13,400 square feet of space and six bedrooms, it is a spectacular retreat for holiday visitors who will no doubt be enchanted by Santa Fe’s luminous holiday celebrations.