I grew up in San Francisco and some of my fondest memories as a child are of my family going down to Pier 39 to visit little stores filled with Christmas decorations. We’d look for hours at every ornament you could imagine. I loved it because there’s just something so happy about entering a world of holiday cheer.
Germany is famous for Christmas Markets just like this where hearty food, jaunty music, and fun festivities will bring whole towns and cities together.
But if a plane ticket to Nuremberg or Berlin is out of the question, you don’t have to look far from home to find a Christmas Market filled with German-style celebrations.
Many of these Christmas Markets also offer free or low-cost admission, so you can bring the whole family with you for a day full of cheer. Here are 7 cities bringing back old world European Christmas charm this holiday season!
Quick tip: No matter which city you visit, here’s the best time to book a flight for your holidays. Don’t forget you can also save 10 percent on your meal when you dine out no matter what state you’re in!
1. Union Square Holiday Market, New York, NY
Photo by Shinya Suzuki (Creative Commons license)
November 17-December 24, 2016
It’s no surprise that the Union Square Holiday Market attracts a million visitors each year. This Christmas market boasts live music, a kids’ craft studio, and dozens of vendors offering unique holiday ornaments and gifts.
Columbus Circle in New York also hosts a wonderful Holiday Market on November 29-December 24. If that doesn’t make New York City the holiday capital of the world, I’d say ice skating at Bryant Park during their Winter Village on October 29-January 5 and the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center (November 30-January 7) make this city the top destination to get your holiday cheer on.
2. Christkindl Market, Denver, CO
Source: Denver Christkindl Market
November 18-December 23, 2016
The Denver Christkindl Market brings you back in time to old world Germany. You can enjoy traditional German music and dancing while you warm up in the Holiday Tent, or visit with St. Nikolaus, the Christkind, and Krampus on specially designated days. If the kiddos get hungry, grab a bag of Bob’s Roasted Almonds, a Danish pastry, or a sweet macaron.
While you’re in Denver, be sure to visit the Southwest Rink at Skyline Park from November 22-February 14 where you can skate for free if you bring your own skates or rent a pair for $2 (kids 12 and under skate for free every Sunday).
3. Downtown Holiday Market, Washington D.C.
Source: Diverse Markets Management on YouTube
November 25-December 23, 2016
The Downtown Holiday Market combines a holiday celebration with lots of shopping! This market features more than 150 regional artisans, boutique businesses, and crafters selling gift items like jewelry, paintings, textiles, pottery and more.
In keeping with supporting local artists, the market also features live performances by musicians and singers, plus exhibitions by local artists.
While you’re in the area, be sure to visit all of the Smithsonian Museums — they’re all free and some of my favorite places to visit on the planet!
4. Christmas Village, Baltimore, MD
Source: Christmas Village in Baltimore
November 24-December 24, 2016
The Christmas Village in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor comes close to an authentic German Christmas Market and will feature the famous German vendor Kathe Wohlfahrt. Kids will also have a chance to meet Gingy, the market’s life-sized gingerbread man, as well as Kris Kringle himself while they enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. For more kid-friendly hands-on activities, the market will feature a Kids’ Corner with giant games as well as arts and crafts classes.
While you’re in the area, be sure to stop by the Baltimore waterfront so you can experience It’s a Waterfront Life, which features lots of free family fun and holiday cheer.
November 19-20 & November 24-December 24, 2016
Center City Philadelphia is another hot spot for an authentic German Christmas market. As with most Christmas Markets admission is free! Hop on over for the opening ceremony on December 28th, or visit during their themed weekends: December 12-13 is Charity Weekend, December 19-20 is Love Weekend, and December 26-27 is Homecoming Weekend.
Kids will love participating in Mad Elf Monday, where Elfred, the Christmas Village’s resident Elf on the Shelf, needs to be tracked down by young detectives and returned to his home at the Information Booth. (The child who finds and returns Elfred to his home wins a prize!) Fridays are the perfect time to snuggle with your family while you enjoy a hearty bratwurst and a live lunch concert.
Another fun and free thing to do which in Philly: The Macy’s Christmas Light Show!
6. Christkindlmarket Chicago, IL
Source: Christkindlmarket Chicago
November 18-December 24, 2016
If you’re traveling to the Midwest this holiday season, be sure to pop on over to the Christkindlmarket in Chicago. Inspired by the 16th century Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, this market is known for authentic German Christmas items like cuckoo clocks, glass ornaments, and wood carvings. Oh, and did I mention delicious German food?
While you’re enjoying your stay in the Windy City, take the kids out for free ice skating (and lessons Friday-Sunday one hour before the rink opens!) at the ice skating rink in Millenium Park.
7. Great Dickens Christmas Fair, San Francisco, CA
Source: Anna Fox (Creative Commons license)
November 19-December 18, 2016
If you’ve been itching to visit the city by the bay, November and December are the perfect time. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair brings all the traditions and revelry of a Victorian Christmas to life, with roasted chestnuts, lamplit lanes, and even characters straight from Dickens’ classics roaming the streets!
While you’re bundled up (even California gets cold in the winter!), check out some of the fun things to do in San Francisco on a budget: Warm up with a spicy Mexican lunch in the Mission District, watch the sea lions at Pier 39, take a drive down the rollercoaster-like Lombard Street, and more!