Travel

The Best Christmas Markets Outside of Europe

Make travel plans to these unexpected, glimmering wonderlands
The Best Christmas Markets Outside Europe
Toronto's Christmas Market | Photo: Tourism Toronto

Is there any better place to embrace the holiday spirit than at a Christmas market? European countries (namely, Germany and France) get most of the fame for these charming extravaganzas, but don’t think the cheer stops there. Travelers can enjoy markets all over the world, from far-flung destinations like Singapore and South Africa to glimmering winter wonderlands right here in the States. Whether you’re looking to shop for gifts, have a craving for hot chocolate (or wine) or simply want to overload on all things Christmas, be sure to add these eight unexpected countries to your winter travel plans.

Singapore

Photo: Singapore Tourism Board
Head across the Pacific to a destination for holiday cheer: Singapore. Christmas Wonderland is the island nation's largest winter event, which takes place in its famous Gardens by the Bay from December 1 through 26. In addition to a European-style market, attractions at this Yuletide fair include ice-skating, carnival rides, circus acts, light sculptures and even a cozy grotto housing Santa himself. Singapore also hosts a second holiday experience known as Christmas on a Great Street along Orchard Road. Enjoy lights, pop-up stores, DIY crafts, interactive art, a "snow room," bouncy house, duplex carousel and more. This area is also hosting its first-ever Christmas Countdown Party this year, where travelers are invited to drink and dance on Christmas Eve, culminating in a pyrotechnic light display at midnight. 

Peru 

A special event takes place on Christmas Eve each year in Cuzco, Peru. The Santuranticuy is held in the city's Plaza Mayor, and celebrates the holiday's more traditional side through the work of local artisans from across the country. Explore a wide variety of nativity scenes in addition to other sacred crafts, predominantly hand-carved out of wood and clay.

Canada

The Great White North is home to some of the world's most dynamic Christmas markets. Enjoy delightful events all across Canada, with many taking place in its most buzzing regions this season. British Columbia hosts six prominent markets and craft shows. Two of the most exciting include the Vancouver Christmas Market and Arts Whistler Holiday Market—at the latter, you can explore more than 100 local vendors with live music and a backdrop of world-renowned slopes. Heading east, you'll find seven main events in Alberta, such as Spruce Meadows' International Christmas Market, hosting choir performances and 250+ vendors; Calgary's Heritage Park Historical Village transformation into Once upon a Christmas; and Banff Christmas Market, which feels straight out of a fairy tale, thanks to wagon rides through some of Mother Nature's best work. Additional Canadian standouts include Toronto Christmas Market, Montreal's Le Grand Marché de Noël and Quebec City's German Christmas Market, which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Jamaica

December 24 takes center stage in Jamaica. While the island doesn't have an official Christmas market, several cities—including Kingston and Port Antonio—take part in an unofficial celebration called the Grand Market. Local bands, food stands and vendors selling everything from clothes and toys to fresh fruit set up shop in outdoor spaces throughout the country. If you prefer your Christmas vacation set to reggae beats in paradise, this holiday festivity is right up your alley.

Australia

Photo: Jessica Wyld
Similar to the Canadian scene (but with an entirely opposite climate), the Land Down Under is downright brimming with Christmas-market cheer. One of the most exciting is The Big Design Market, taking place first in Sydney on November 24 to -26, followed by a second stint in Melbourne on December 1 to -3. Conquer all of your holiday shopping across 200+ stalls, paired with food and drink, designer goodies, plus free activities for the kids. If you travel for food, you should also check out Sydney's daylong event called Christmas Fare, where travelers can create their own gourmet food baskets. Shop 100 percent local, handmade products at Brisbane's Twilight Markets, and in Adelaide, a two-day Grand Bazaar is like a real-life Etsy. Finally, in Western Australia, enjoy an assortment of markets in Perth and its surrounding areas. A few standouts include: the historic Bazaar WA's Best Christmas Market, in which artisans have been selling holiday goods since 1979; 100+ stalls and craft stands at Christmas Markets at the Quay; and the Summer Night Markets that offer locally sourced gifts, live music, pop-up bars and more. 

Malaysia

One of the most unexpected places to indulge your Christmas-market craving is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. While only about 9 percent of the population identifies with a Christian religious affiliation, that doesn't stop the capital from having a plethora of festive options (more craft-bazaar-style than outdoor European markets, but bursting with holiday cheer just the same). While the AAM Annual Christmas Charity Bazaar has already passed, three more bazaars are coming up in November, followed by a fourth on December 7. Respectively, check out the ABWM Christmas Bazaar and MANZA Charity Christmas Bazaar for crafts and baked goods; the German-themed Sparkling Christmas Charity Bazaar featuring 50+ vendors, live music, kids' activities and more; and lastly, Le Marché de Noёl, a French-inspired charity event with shopping, food and a raffle draw.

South Africa 

Major cities across South Africa embrace the tradition of Christmas markets, making it an ideal place to feel holly and jolly abroad. Check out Cape Town's Made in the Cape, where local crafts reign supreme; Stellenbosch's Christmas Market, whose 2017 theme of Christmas on Fire is sure to include some tasty baked goods and grilled treats; The Shongweni Farmer's Market Christmas Extravaganza in Durban, home to caroling, a holiday train, 150+ stalls and more; and Cape Town's Edgemead Christmas Market, an indoor craft fair of more than 250 stalls.

United States 

Photo: Christmas Village in Philadelphia
And last but far from least, another wonderful place to explore Christmas markets is right here in the United States. Our country is home to numerous options across the 50 states, but a few specific German-inspired varieties stand out from the pack. America's most famous is the Christkindlmarket in Chicago. The monthlong event is setting up shop in three different places throughout the city this year, full of musical performances, local and international vendors, sweet and savory goodies, plus a light show and lantern procession. A second popular market is Philadelphia's Christmas Village. Sip mulled wine while perusing 60+ vendors selling gifts, crafts and holiday treats on November 18 and 19, plus Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. This special event includes live performances from musicians, dancers and even glassblowing artists. If these two cities are out of reach for you, however, there are also delightful markets in New York, D.C., Colorado, Texas and Ohio, to name a few. And don't worry, West Coasters; we haven't forgotten you. Enjoy an entirely unique sort of holiday cheer in San Francisco from November 17 through December 18. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, inspired by A Christmas Carol, brings travelers back to Victorian England through the spirit of Charles Dickens. A 120,000-square-foot space transforms into a miniature London Town, complete with vendors, winding streets, lamp-lit shops and even jolly actors dressed in vests and top hats. Cheerio!

This article originally appeared on AFAR

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