Thursday, September 10, 2015

2014 Christmas Markets

There are many Christmas markets that we have been wanting to visit, but our busy 2014 holiday schedule only allowed us time to focus on two different locations: New York and the Stuttgart region in Germany.

Bank of America's Winter Village at Bryant Park - New York, USA

Bryant Park hosts a yearly Winter Village featuring 125 mini shops selling everything from specialty chocolate to jewelry. During our unseasonably cold visit, it was nice to pop into the little shops to check out the merchandise and defrost our cold hands. Besides shopping, this market has a food court area that sells holiday snacks and a bar area. My favorite feature was ice skating rink in the middle of the park. This became the best spot to enjoy a warm drink and people watch.

I visited twice: once during the daytime by myself and once in the evening as part of group. Though it's easier to get shopping done during the daytime, I personally liked the atmosphere at night. The lit up individual shops gave the feeling of a mini village and the well lit ice rink became the wintery focus of the park.
Rows of mini shops transformed the park into a village
The individual shops are best described as "jewel boxes", each with its own unique character inside.
Felt like Europe with lots of people hanging outside around the ice skating rink.
Hanging out with G at the Christmas market - we'll have to make this a yearly traditional.

Union Square Holiday Market - New York, USA

The Union Square Holiday Market was the market that ignited my love for Christmas markets ten years ago. This market has been running annually since the late 90s and this year more than 100 merchants set up shop in outdoor booths opening up onto aisles. This remains my favorite Christmas market in New York probably because it closely resembles those in Europe. The booths sell a variety of unique gifts and less holiday themed items than European markets, which makes it a great place to complete your holiday gift shopping. The downside is that this market is best set up for shopping rather then hanging out with friends. Food and drink options are limited and there isn't a great place to hang out and people watch.
Booths were more like the traditional European style.
My favorite booth. It reminded me of my favorite play - Avenue Q.
Alcohol free Gluhwein. At least everyone is able to drink, even the kids and pregnant ladies.
An American twist on a German classic. To my dismay, it ended up being more like a donut than churro.

Grand Central Holiday Fair - New York, USA

The Grand Central Holiday Fair was an unexpected find while strolling through New York's central train station. Tucked off to the side of the main hall in the Grand Central Station was a small Holiday Fair with artisan crafts and other giftables. My favorite aspect of this market was it being inside. With unseasonably cold weather, a place to leisurely stroll through and defrost was more than welcome. This market is small and quick to pass through with a modest number of vendors. But it isn't worth going out of your way to visit.
Grand Central Station
Entrance to the fair from the main hall.
Cozy holiday shopping atmosphere.
Unique gift ideas.

Ludwigsburg Weihnachtsmarkt - Ludwigsburg, Germany

When I imagine the image of a classic Christmas market, the one in Ludwigsburg comes to mind. This market checks off all the boxes of what I consider makes a good market. Ludwigsburg has few old fashioned rides for the kids, plenty of booths selling a variety of holiday trinkets, lots of food choices, and areas set aside to eat or drink while people watching. Although this market doesn't stand out on its own, it's was worth a visit when you combine it with a visit to Stuttgart and Esslingen's Christmas markets. 
Plenty of aisles of booths to explore - just make sure you're bundled up.
My favorite merry-go-round featuring all types of transportation, such as bikes, trams, and cars.
Chocolate covered fruit on a stick - a common find in Christmas Markets.
Plenty of dinner or lunch food options to keep everyone happy. Next time I'm getting the grilled fish.

Stuttgart Weihnachtsmarkt - Stuttgart, Germany

The Stuttgart Christmas Market is huge. We thought we could see the whole market in one evening but we underestimated its size. The 280 decorated stands take over three plazas and the neighboring streets, making it one of Europe's largest Christmas markets. Even though this market is spread over a large area, it was still crowded day and night. Approximately 3.5 to 4 million visitors come here annually during the 4 weeks it is open. It is also one of Europe's oldest markets dating back to 1692.

The market has multiple places to grab a bite to eat and drink. On the Saturday night we were there for dinner, the food area was packed with people. At one end of the market we found a children's area featuring a  real steam locomotive ride, carousels and a ferris wheel. Of course these were next to candy and toy booths. My favorite feature of this market was all the elaborately decorated rooftop stalls. Each roof was unique, with figurines, lights and some with moving parts - each competing for the prize of the most beautiful stall.
Delicious hot chocolate.
Lots of food options to choose from.
Currywurst is a popular street snack in Germany.
Amazing rooftop decorations.
Adorable animated roofs.
On Sunday, the streets were already packed by the afternoon.
If you don't know how to ice skate, don't worry; an ice skating gnome can help you!

Esslingens Mittelalter- und Weihnachtsmarkt - Esslingen, Germany

The Esslingen market was hands down my favorite market in 2004 - maybe even of all time. There is a unique twist to this Christmas market: it has two distinct themes. The first half is a traditional market, similar to many others in Germany, and the other half is a medieval market. As a bonus, on the weekend we went there was a small flea market/craft market along one of the side streets.

The traditional market portion sells the expected seasonal fare of sausages, Glühwein, hot chocolate, beer, and holiday trinkets. Adjacent to this area is a distantly different market; something I would equate to a Renaissance Faire Christmas. The vendors are dressed in era-appropriate costumes and selling medieval inspired crafts and fare. The market has a medieval inspired game area, a ferris wheel and a candle making booth for kids. The medieval market also had a line up of free entertainment throughout the day - musicians, parades, and fire shows  in the evening.

From our experience, we would advise visitors to arrive early in the day. By 4 pm the market was crowded and by night fall the surrounding roads were jam packed with more people arriving and searching for parking.
The main entrance is typical of many Christmas markets.
And like any decent market, there are plenty of ways to keep warm. We loved the hot chocolate.
Adorable figurines to recreate your own German village.
Unlike other Christmas markets, this one has a unique section - a Medieval Christmas Market.
Games, drinks, music and even the ferris wheel all make up the Medieval theme.
Costumed parade through the market.
Waffles cooked over an open flame. Even the food kept with the Medieval theme.

As we explore more Christmas markets each year, we are starting to learn what makes each one unique (and others not so unique). We have started looking into which ones we'd like to visit this coming winter.

For more, check our post about Christmas markets in 2013.

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