If the idea of shopping for holiday gifts in a soulless mall gives you a sense of dread, there’s a much more celebratory seasonal solution out there: Across the country, cities are donning their festive finest at pop-up holiday markets, where the stress of checking everyone off your to-buy-for list is alleviated by the warmth of a hot chocolate or mulled wine, the sound of carols in the air, and a roster of cool, locally made gifts that your friends and family might actually want. Here, five of our favorites worth traveling for.
From November 17 to December 24, Daley Plaza in the Chicago Loop transforms into a little slice of Germany. In the shadow of a 50-foot public Picasso sculpture, red-and-white-roofed booths serve hot spiced wine, imported beer, stuffed pretzels, and lesser-known Central European delicacies like rollmops, made with pickled herring. While here, be sure to stock up on gifts like glass ornaments, German steins, cuckoo clocks, and wooden nativity scenes. There are also two other Christkindlmarket outposts—one in Aurora, and one just outside Wrigley Field.
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party
Daly City, California
Located in Daly City, the town just south of San Francisco, this massive holiday party runs for five weekends from November 18 to December 17. The market transports visitors to the 19th-century London of A Christmas Carol, complete with five pubs, Dickensian street performers, and plenty of hot spiced mead and roasting chestnuts. You can also sign up for more interactive experiences, like a Jekyll and Hyde–themed pub crawl, a port and chocolate tasting, or a Sherlock Holmes experience, in which you’ll be tasked with solving puzzles and collecting clues.
Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park
Come wintertime, the Big Apple abounds with holiday markets, from Columbus Circle to Union Square, Grand Central Station to pop-up locations across Brooklyn and Queens. Among the most impressive is the one that takes over Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library, and will stick around a long time, from October 27 all the way to March 3. There’s free ice-skating on a 17,000-square-foot outdoor rink, heated igloo-style domes for private partying, and a lodge for après-skate snacks and drinks, plus more than 180 kiosks selling every kind of gift imaginable. If you’re here after the holidays, bumper cars will be returning to the rink in January.
Free and open daily from November 17 through December 23, this German-style market sprawls across Civic Center Park with stands serving European snack staples like blinchiki (Russian crepes), pierogies, Viennese apple strudel, and knödel (boiled dumplings from Germany, Austria, and Hungary) and gifts like alpaca-wool winter wear and small-batch Colorado honey. Throughout the holiday season, the grounds also welcome a wide assortment of performance groups, including tap-dance troupes, a cappella ensembles, and especially polka bands. Sound like Oktoberfest? That’s sort of the idea.
Downtown Holiday Market
Each holiday season, F Street may as well stand for Festive Street: From November 17 to December 23, the thoroughfare plays host to this holiday market, which stretches for two blocks in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Its more than 70 exhibitors have a special focus on Black- and minority-owned businesses, including From Egypt with Love, for Egyptian jewelry and mother-of-pearl boxes; Tunisian Touch, for handmade olivewood home goods; and Canimals, which sells wildlife sculptures made with copper wire and upcycled cans by artist Manatho Shumba Masani.