5 U.S. Holiday Markets That Wow Visitors Every Winter

Celebrate this season’s many holidays at magical markets in Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

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by NEA Member Benefits

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Each holiday season, Americans see tempting pictures of Europe’s famous Christmas markets where stalls decorated with twinkling lights overflow with unique gift choices and delectable food. There’s debate about which market is the oldest, but Dresden, Germany’s Striezelmarkt claims its origin goes way back to 1434.

Fortunately, you don’t have to travel to Europe to enjoy this holiday experience: America has plenty of holiday markets that put unique spins on tradition, delivering terrific food and shopping along with plenty of fun.

1. Downtown Holiday Market, Washington, D.C., Nov. 17 - Dec. 23, 2023

The nation’s capital shines during the holidays, and the Downtown Holiday Market is a reminder that Washington, D.C., is a city of people and neighborhoods and not just the center of our nation’s government. The market focuses on local and regional crafts as well as items imported from around the globe, making it perfect for finding one-of-a-kind holiday gifts. Its cheerful, white-draped booths are set up in downtown Penn Quarter on the sidewalk in front of the building shared by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.

The market hosts more than 70 vendors, but many sellers don’t come every day. Vendors range from painters and photographers to jewelry makers and craftspeople that sell everything from ceramics to wooden items. Clothing and textiles are popular, and some vendors display international wares sourced from South America, Europe and Africa. Live music provides a backdrop for browsing, with different bands each day playing genres such as jazz, blues, folk rock and world music, along with holiday classics. Favorite market snacks include tasty doughnuts, empanadas and churros. Penn Quarter and nearby Chinatown offer restaurants for when you need a meal, or drop into one of the nearby museums (they’re free to enter) to warm up.

NEA member travel benefits: It’s best to fly into Ronald Regan Washington National Airport (DCA) or Dulles International Airport (IAD), and you can find airfare by searching through NEA’s Travel Program. Next, book a hotel using NEA Travel: Hotels. You can find rooms at places like the Pod DC, which averages $113 per night, if you’re okay with tight quarters. Otherwise, look at the Morrison Clark Hotel, which is inside a historic mansion and averages $105 per night.

Plan your itinerary: Destination DC

2. Christkindlmarket Chicago, Nov. 17 - Dec. 24, 2023

In the Loop’s Daley Plaza, known for its iconic Picasso sculpture, wooden booths with colorful red-and-white-striped roofs mark the arrival of Christkindlmarket Chicago. A seasonal favorite since 1996, this German-style outpost modeled on Nuremberg’s famous market is one of the biggest traditional Christmas markets outside of Europe. Locals and visitors alike appreciate the market’s traditional style and high-quality shopping. More than half of the vendors come from Germany, offering nutcrackers, beer steins, handcrafted holiday ornaments, wooden specialties, jewelry and more.

Outdoor holiday shopping requires food and entertainment, and the market has abundant options. Stall vendors tempt with treats such as savory wursts, and German beer and Glühwein (a classic hot, spiced wine, served here in a sought-after souvenir mug) keep adults warm. There’s more food in the Grand Timber House and the Festival Tent, including schnitzel, sausages and potato pancakes. The busy entertainment schedule has weekend appearances by the popular Alpine Brass Band, featuring seasonal German music. Also anticipated are visits by the Christkind, the traditional bringer of Christmas gifts, who wears a crown and dresses in white and gold robes. She represents a tradition that goes back to the 16th century. A daily highlight is the opening of a door of the oversized Advent Calendar, and the Kinder Club has fun activities for younger children.

Note that Christkindlmarket opened another location in suburban Naperville in 2016.

NEA member travel benefits: To visit Chicago, you can either fly into Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) or Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW). Either way, be sure to check NEA Travel: Flights for the best ticket prices. At NEA Travel: Hotels, you’ll find amazing deals like an average of $114 a night at the historic Palmer House a Hilton Hotel, which is also right near the market. For $98 a night you can lodge at Staypineapple, An Iconic Hotel, The Loop, which is also in a great location and includes free WiFi. If you splurge a little and spend an average of $160 a night, you can get a room at the trendy and fun Chicago Athletic Association, a Hyatt Hotel, which has great on-site bars and restaurants and tons of funky and historic details.

Plan your itinerary: Choose Chicago | Enjoy Illinois

3. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, San Francisco, Nov. 18 - Dec. 17, 2023

If the idea of spending the holidays in Victorian Britain appeals to you, consider a visit to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair, where a bit of time travel takes you to a holiday market in the streets of Charles Dickens’ London. In operation since 1970, the fair includes costumed shopkeepers, a wealth of period entertainment and appearances by beloved characters from Dickens’ novels such as Scrooge and the Cratchits. The indoor exhibition halls of the Cow Palace, just south of San Francisco in Daly City, hold the festivities. Tickets, which include all shows and entertainment, cost $25 (children) to $45 (adults), and children under 5 are free.

The fair’s atmospheric “London” streets have abundant shopping and food options. More than 100 shops display goods from handmade Christmas ornaments to soaps and scents as well as pewter items, jewelry, pottery and accessories. Some vendors echo the period theme, selling Victorian-style hats and clothing. Multiple entertainment venues present choices from Punch and Judy puppet shows to theatrical performances. Father Christmas sits by carolers, and children can have their photo taken with him. Street food from roasted chestnuts to popcorn fuels the fun, and several pubs and a bar dish up fish and chips, meat pies, tea and scones. Consider dressing in costume yourself to get in the Victorian holiday spirit: The fair encourages it.

NEA member travel benefits: Visit NEA Travel: Flights to book a ticket to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Next, click on the NEA Travel: Hotels page to search for lodging. You’ll see options like Hampton Inn SFO Daly City for an average of $179/night, including breakfast and WiFi, and Bridgepoint Inn Daly City, which averages $103/night and also offers free breakfast and WiFi. Both are located near the fair.

Plan your itinerary: San Francisco Travel Association | Visit California

4. Christkindlmarket, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Nov. 17 - Dec. 17, 2023

Bethlehem, which calls itself the Christmas City, is a big Christmas destination, just like its Biblical namesake. The town holds an annual Christkindlmarkt that stretches across 10 acres of PNC Plaza at SteelStacks and it’s filled with shopping and food from more than 100 vendors who come from across the country, selling everything from hot sauce to home goods to jewelry to toys. Feast on traditional German treats like strudel and pretzels, as well as other international street food favorites like tacos and poutine. The market is open every Thursday to Sunday and tickets cost $12 on Thursdays and Fridays and $15 on Saturdays and Sundays. Children under 5 are free and you can save $1 per ticket if you buy them online in advance. Admission is free on Fridays between 5 and 8 p.m.

NEA member travel benefits: The closest airport to Bethlehem is the Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE). You can search for tickets through NEA Travel: Flights and earn travel dollars. On the hotels page, you’ll see deals like an average of $159 a night for Wind Creek Bethlehem, which is a resort and casino complete with an indoor pool, spa and seven different restaurants and bars. For something quieter, there’s the Hampton Inn & Suites Bethlehem, which averages $120 a night and includes breakfast.

Plan your itinerary: Christmas City | Visit PA

5. Kerstmarkt, Holland, Michigan, Nov. 18 - Dec. 16, 2023

Kerstmarkt is Dutch for “Christmas market” and while several cities have German-style holiday markets, Holland, Michigan, celebrates its Dutch heritage with this market that was designed to be similar to traditional markets that pop up across the Netherlands every December. Held at 8th Street Market Place in front of the Civic Center, Kerstmarkt features 19 wooden booths with vendors selling art and crafts. The market is held every Friday and Saturday, and on Saturdays they share the space with the local farmers market.

NEA member travel benefits: Check airfare to Grand Rapids Gerald Ford International Airport (GRR) on NEA Travel: Flights; it’s about 30 miles away from Holland. Find lodging at NEA Travel: Hotels where you’ll see off-season deals like an average of just $61/night at the DoubleTree by Hilton Holland, which has an indoor pool and hot tub and an average of $79/night at Fairfield Inn & Suites Holland, where rooms feature kitchenettes and there’s an indoor pool and gym, plus breakfast is complimentary.

Plan your itinerary: Discover Holland Michigan | Pure Michigan

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