5 Alternative Christmas Markets

We love Christmas Markets – they’re perfect for a festive getaway, and make Christmas shopping much more fun!

Originating in Germany in the Middle Ages, the first winter markets were held in front of a local church, in the hope people would buy hand-made gifts after a service. So you could probably blame Germany for the invention of Christmas shopping!

Today, of course, the Christmas Markets tradition has spread to cities across the world, with everywhere from Chicago to Cologne hosting their own variation on the original real deal. In the UK alone, you’ll find a plethora of festive markets in practically every city and suburb – from the Gloucester Victorian Christmas to Christkendelmarkt in Leeds, Worcester Christmas Fayre and Winter Wonderland in London.

The concept’s so popular, you might be in danger of Christmas market over-saturation – but not with our five picks below. Each market has its own USP to recommend it above the bauble-bedecked crowd. Read on to find out how to visit a floating Christmas market, a turkey parade and even a hipsters’ alternative

1. Old Riga Christmas Market in Riga, Latvia

Home to the Christmas tree!

Christmas is a big deal in Riga, the capital of Latvia. According to legend, the first Christmas tree was decorated here in 1510 – there’s even a plaque in the town centre to commemorate it! It’s perhaps surprisingly then that the Old Riga Christmas Market has only been in operation for the past five years. Regardless, what it lacks in longevity, it certainly makes up for in quality, maintaining all the hallmarks of a traditional German market – festive food, hand-made decorations, woolly Christmas clothes and gifts – all available at bargain prices! Warm up with a glass of hot blackcurrant juice, spiced up with a drop of potent ‘Black Balsam’, Latvia’s herbal alcoholic drink.

When: until 10 January 2014, from 10am.
Don’t miss: Riga’s unique Christmas traditions, from ‘Mumming’ (when masked ‘mummers’ travel from street to street dancing and singing to bring good luck), to the burning Yule Log (said to symbolise burning last year’s bad luck away).
Where to stay: The Naughty Squirrel Backpackers is a favourite option in the Old Town of Riga, offering comfortable and convenient hostel beds from only €8.46pppn.

2. Licques Market and Turkey Parade in Licques, France

Fancy a turkey?

Turkeys have long been gobbled on Christmas Day, and the small town of Licques in northern France is famous for them. Monks introduced the festive bird here in the 17th century, and it went down a storm on dinner tables across the town. Today, as a rather bizarre warm-up to Christmas, Licques plays host to a market and ‘’Fête de la Dinde’ (or ‘Turkey Procession’), where the birds are paraded through city streets for potential buyers. Spectators can eye up the fowl and buy one for their dinner, whilst sipping on a glass of licquoise, the local liqueur. Throughout the weekend, the Marché du Terroir also sells regional produce to take home.

When: 14-15th December 2013
Don’t miss: The ‘Knights of the Order of the Turkey’, who follow the birds in the grand parade.
Where to stay: Book a bed at a hostel in Calais, and you’ll find the Licques Christmas Market only a half hour drive away.

3. Christkindlmarket in Chicago, Illinois

German goodies in the windy city

The Midwest had a high number of German settlers who brought over the Christmas Market tradition with them. The Christkindlmarket in Chicago is now in its ninth year, and is modelled on the famous market in Nuremberg. Taking place at Daley Plaza on Washington Street, you’ll find a wide assortment of European gifts, with nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, and beer steins all on sale. Even more popular are the food and drink stalls, where you can stuff your face with sauerkraut, sausages and potato pancakes. When you’re done Christmas shopping, don’t forget to check out ‘One of the Greatest Avenues in the World’ – the Magnificent Mile.

When: until 24th December 2013
Don’t miss: Gluhwein, a traditional hot spiced wine served in a boot shaped cup… and German beer on tap of course!
Where to stay: The Chicago Getaway hostel is in the upscale Lincoln Park neighbourhood, but within easy access of downtown. Rooms are available from €20.99pppn. Take a look at all your options with our Chicago hotels list.

4. Schwabinger Weihnachtsmarkt in Schwabing, Munich

The artsy alternative

Head to the hip Munich suburb of Schwabing for a trendier type of Christmas shopping at the Schwabinger Weihnachtsmarkt (don’t ask us to pronounce that). In the 1970s, a small group of artists started their own Christmas Market here devoted to selling original works of art. Today you’ll find 120 independent painters, sculptors and ceramicists selling their works from little huts. There’s also an exhibition of work in the Artist’s Tent, and a range of eclectic food stalls offering global Christmas cuisine, from Eritrean mead to mulled Jamaican claret.

If you’re still craving the traditional German Market, then just head to Marienplatz for Munich’s main market, dating back to the 14th century. Here you’ll find stacks of gingerbread and some beautiful glassware from Bavaria.

When: until 24 December 2013
Don’t miss: The free guided tour of Old Schwabing, and children’s paper chase through the market.
Where to stay: The Haus International is a guesthouse in Schwabing catering to young travellers and students. Rooms are available from €21pppn. You could also try the Hotel Nymphemburg, an artsy boutique hotel with surprisingly affordable rooms from €27.50pppn.

MS Wappen von Mainz in Cologne, Germany

Float on a boat!

While Cologne has five traditional German markets outside the cathedral, it’s far more fun to hop aboard the MS Wappen von Mainz! Moored next to the Old Town, this cruise boat sails up and down the Rhine, with decks of stalls selling hand-crafted gifts and local delicacies. The Medieval Christmas Market outside the Chocolate Museum is another offbeat alternative to the traditional stalls.

When: until 21st Dec 2013
Don’t miss: The largest Christmas Tree in the Rhineland – a spectacular sight lit up with Christmas lights and backed by the Cologne Cathedral.
Where to stay: Kick off your stay in Cologne at the Black Sheep Hostel. Rooms are available smack bang in the city centre from only €18.50pppn.

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Thanks ReneSMike Johnson, Tegernsee Magazine and Wikimedia for the images from Flickr. Please note all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting. 

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