Different and Unique Christmas Markets
Emma Langley, 02.10.18
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.
Alternative Christmas Markets in Europe
Fira de Santa Llúcia - Barcelona, Spain
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. Dates for 2018 are yet to be announced but based on previous years it will most likely be held in late November and throughout December until Christmas Eve.
Credit: Cyrielle Marlet
Take me to Fira de Santa Llúcia
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.
Municipal Cave Christmas Market, Valkenburg, The Netherlands.
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 2018”. 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 Friday 16 November to Sunday 23 December 2018.
Take me to the caves
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.
Munich Christmas Market on Marienplatz, Germany.
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 2018 will be on December 10th between 3-5pm and December 17th 4-5pm. 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.
Take me to Munich Christmas Market
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.
Royal Christmas Market at Hohenzollern Castle
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. 2018 will see this Christmas market open on November 30th and December 1st, 2nd, 7th, 8th and 9th.
Take me to Hohenzollern Castle
Christmas Markets elsewhere in the World
Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
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. The market has not yet announced any dates for 2018, but be sure to keep an eye out for dates to be released.
Take me to Gardens by the Bay
Caretta Shiodome Winter Illumination - Tokyo, Japan
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, but 2018’s theme is yet to be announced. This event is so popular that it will run from November 16th 2018 to February 14th 2019.
Photo: Hiroaki Kaneko
Take me to Shiodome Winter Illumination
Dubai Winter Festival, UAE
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.
Take me to Dubai
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.
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair
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. 2018 will see this Christmas Fair return every weekend after Thanksgiving until Christmas, from 10am-7pm.
Take me to San Francisco
To get to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair, the nearest airport is San Francisco International Airport. Domestic airlines that fly to this region include Southwest Airlines, but for transatlantic flights, use airlines such as United Airlines.
Book a Unique Christmas Market
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Have you been to any weird and wonderful Christmas Markets that we haven't mentioned, or have any unusual Christmas Traditions? Let us know via our social media!