When you think of Christmas markets, you’ll be imagining being wrapped up in layers, gazing up at twinkling Christmas trees and nativity scenes, smelling the sweet scent of mulled wine and gorging on festive treats such as gingerbread. Most Christmas markets, regardless of the country, will have a German theme because this is where the tradition originated from.
From smiling wooden logs (Caga Tió) to spectacular light shows, we’ve put together a guide to Alternative Christmas Markets in Europe and around the world. This list will be brimming with markets which are unique, unknown or off-the-beaten-track and away from the busier tourist destinations.
First on our list of unique Christmas markets is Fira de Santa Llúcia, Barcelona’s oldest market, made famous for its Catalan mascot ‘Tió de Nadal’. Although this market may look traditional from the outside, their mascot is what makes this a must-visit unique destination. The tradition in Catalonia is to get a Caga Tió, decorate it with a face, hat and legs and then fill it with candies, nuts and nougat so that children can hit it with a stick, making the log ‘poop’ these presents! The Fira de Santa Llúcia features a huge Caga Tió outside the Plaça de la Seu Cathedral, with a celebrity inspired ‘Caganer’ in the Nativity scene. There are also smaller Caganers on sale from the stalls in the market for households and gifts. 2021 will see the return of this market on the 26th November, lasting until the 23rd December.
Credit: Cyrielle Marlet
The nearest airport to Fira de Santa Llúcia is Barcelona–El Prat Airport (BCN). Spanish airlines that fly to this airport include Iberia or Vueling, but also many other major European airlines such as easyJet or British Airways.
How many people can say they’ve been to an underground Christmas Market? Well in Valkenburg, their oldest and largest Christmas Market is located deep underground, in the caves beneath the Cauberg. These caves are transformed by the locals during the Christmas season to a festive winter wonderland - there’s no wonder it’s been named the “European City of Christmas”. Despite its location in a cave, this market still hosts a wealth of over 50 stalls offering gifts, food and Christmas decorations. This market will be open from 12th November to 30th December 2021.
This year, the Muncipal Cave Christmas Market has changed it hours slightly due to the tightening of coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands. The market will now be open from 10am–5pm.
Valkenburg’s nearest airport, Maastricht Aachen Airport (MST) only offers seasonal services from airlines such as Onur Air or Ryanair. Alternatively, fly to larger airports such as Eindhoven with airlines such as TUI fly Netherlands or Transavia.
Although a Christmas Market in Germany may not originally yell out ‘alternative’, this Christmas market gives visitors something else to scream about. Despite being very traditional in its German and Bavarian origins with a tremendous sparkling Christmas tree and advent music, you’ll find people masked and dressed up as ’Krampus’. These demon-like creatures originate from Christmas tales where these creatures will punish naughty children, as opposed to St. Nicholas or Santa Claus who rewards well-behaved children. These harmless figures compete in a Krampus run through the market, which for 2019 will be on December 8th between 3-5pm. However, Munich Christmas Market is still a must-visit for a traditional Christmas experience and will be open in 2018 from November 27th to December 24th. Make sure to read our blog ‘A Local’s Guide to Germany’, which features many other things that you can do whilst in Munich.
Unfortunately, this year, Muncipal Christmas Market on Marienplatz has been cancelled along with all other Christmas markets in Bavaria and Munich. But, make sure to check it out in 2022 (hopefully!)
To visit this Christmas market which is as popular with the locals as it is visiting tourists, fly to the closest airport of Munich Airport (MUC) on German airlines such as Condor or Germania. Well-known German airlines also fly to Munich, such as Lufthansa.
Another German market which features on this list due to its alternative location is the Hohenzollern Castle Christmas Market. This castle is impressive at any time of the year, but when it is transformed at Christmas time, it is truly like something out of a fairytale. Dripped in history, the market is held within the castle, including some of the state rooms. This castle is located on a hilltop about 70 km outside of Stuttgart, making it much less touristy than some of Stuttgart’s city markets and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and original Christmas markets in all of Germany. 2021 will see this Christmas market open on November 25th and stay open until January 9th 2022.
Singapore’s spectacular display of Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay is another market not to be missed. Lights transform this already impressive attraction with large-scale light sculptures which are marveled over by Children and Adults alike. Their Christmas Market is inspired by Europe, with influences from London, Paris and Berlin. This attraction also features circus shows, a skating rink and Asia’s largest santa’s grotto. 2021 will see the return of this Christmas Wonderland on December 3rd 2021 to January 2nd 2022.
Singapore’s main airport is Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) which is accessible by many major Singapore airlines, such as Scoot, JetStar Asia and Singapore Airlines who operate flights internationally.
This breathtaking display of lights is a definite must-see when visiting Tokyo during the winter period. This light show, which consists of over 250,000 LED lights, was too impressive to not include in this list, despite not actually being a Christmas Market. However, the light show is hosted by the shopping centre Caretta Shiodome, meaning that you can still fit in some Christmas shopping like you would at a Christmas market. 2017’s display had a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ theme, 2018's being 'Frozen' and 'Tangled' themed, with 2019's celebrating Aladdin. The event was cancelled in 2020 but is set to return in 2021.
Photo: Hiroaki Kaneko
Whilst Dubai may not seem like a conventional location for a Christmas market, this Winter Festival celebrates all things Christmas. This Christmas festival features gingerbread making classes, a Santa’s Grotto, a funfair, a snow play zone and of course a Christmas market. This Christmas market has been deemed alternative due to its unusual hot temperatures. Although many of the Christmas markets mentioned so far would have freezing winter temperatures, Dubai sees temperatures in December rising to 27°. This makes the hourly snowfall at the festival even more magical when the temperature is far from freezing. Unfortunately, this festival last made an appearance since 2017, but be sure to check back to see if it will make a reappearance soon!
To go to an alternative Christmas market where you can get some winter sun, you’ll need to fly to Dubai International Airport (DXB). Emirates fly to Dubai from many destinations across Europe and Asia. Alternatively, flyDubai is a low-cost airline which flies to destinations across the Middle-East, Asia and Europe.
San Francisco wins it for most alternative Christmas Market in the US, with the Cow Palace Exhibition Halls transforming themselves into a Charles Dickens themed wonderland. Here, you can experience Victorian London the improvised pubs, tearooms, dance halls and of course a bustling Christmas market all paired with traditional Victorian London dress. 2021 will see this Christmas Fair return from December 4th-19th.
To get to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair, the nearest airport is San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Domestic airlines that fly to this region include Southwest Airlines, but for transatlantic flights, use airlines such as United Airlines.
Book your alternative Christmas Market break today with Alternative Airlines to visit these weird and wonderful places, full of tradition yet far from what you could possibly imagine.
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