Christkindlesmarkt in Nüremberg, Germany
With origins that stretch back to the mid-16th century, Nüremberg's Christmas market is one of the world's most magical while the market may be best known for its Christkind ("Christ child"), an angelic, elaborately-costumed local girl who's elected to represent the spirit of giving, its edible offerings threaten to steal the show. Snack on rostbratwurst, the petite sausages that are a town speciality, as well as lebkuchen, the spicy, honey-sweetened local version of gingerbread. The market's 9,000 liter cauldron offeuerzangenbowle (touted as the world's largest), a hot punch of rum and wine into which flaming sugar is melted and will warm your soul. For a souvenir that's decidedly quirky, check out thezwetschgenmännle, traditional folk figurines fashioned from prunes, figs and walnuts. Through December 24.
Christmas at Liseberg in Gothenburg, Sweden
Each year, this early 20th-century amusement park transforms into a Christmas wonderland that boasts 5 million dazzling lights, more than 6,000 pounds of artificial snow, ice shows and several themed "lands" incorporating food, drink and crafts. For a unique spin on Christmas, hasten to Lapland, an area inspired by the eponymous Arctic region of Norway that's home, according to Scandinavian lore, to none other than Santa. Here you can sample suovas, or smoked reindeer meat, a traditional food of Lapland's indigenous Sami people, as well as sausages made from bear, elk and wild boar. Once you've eaten your fill, shop for the embroidered woolen mittens known as lovikka, or take a spin in a reindeer-drawn sleigh. Through December 30.
Municipal Cave Christmas Market in Valkenburg, Netherlands
This annual event is arguably a frontrunner for Europe's most unusual Christmas market. That's because the entire extravaganza takes place below ground, in one of the man-made marlstone caves for which the southeastern Dutch city of Valkenburg is known. If you're envisioning bats and stalactites, think again: During market season, the passages of the Municipal Cave are all dressed up in cheerful garlands and twinkling lights. In between perusing stalls peddling festive decorations, indulge your sweet tooth with treats like Limburgse vlaai, the lattice-topped fruit tart that's a specialty of the region, as well as appelflap (an apple-filled puff pastry turnover) andBerliner bol (a jam-filled donut). Through December 23.
Christkindlmarket in Chicago
Can't make it to Nuremberg's market this year? Consider a visit to Chicago's Christkindlmarket, which reimagines the beloved Bavarian festival in a modern urban square presided over by Picasso statuary and towering Mies van der Rohe architecture. Germanophiles will dine with gusto on a wide variety of delights like currywurst, caraway-scented thüringer sausages,leberkäse (a bologna-like meatloaf), and colossal pretzels, many of them prepared by vendors who have traveled from Deutschland to participate in the market. The square's three beverage tents offer up German-brewed beers as well as mulled wine, a handy weapon against Chicago's cutting winter wind. Through December 24.
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco
While the bulk of American Christmas markets are inspired by the German tradition, always-unique San Francisco bucks the trend by taking its cues from Charles Dickens' England. The sprawling Great Dickens Fair aims to bring to life every aspect of the Victorian author's world, from the fashions (expect lots of top hats and voluminous skirts) to the era's popular entertainments (take in a Punch and Judy show, or for something bawdier, the "Saucy French Postcard Tableaux Review") to, of course, the food. With rich bites like steak pasties, sausage pies and puddings of the Yorkshire and plum varieties on offer, you may need to loosen your corset before your visit is through. Through December 21.
Christkindl Market in Denver
It's Old-World charm at 5,200 feet at Denver's Christkindl Market, which sets out to capture the spirit of Christmas in Germany and Austria. Stroll past the stalls (watch out for the roving accordion player!) in search of the perfect stein, hand-carved wooden ornament, or delicate lace doily -- or just raise a glass of hefeweizen or dunkel in the festively-decorated beer tent. When hunger strikes, dine on smoked salmon, spicy roasted nuts and kringle, a rich, baked pastry dough filled with fruit or nuts. Through December 23.
Vancouver Christmas Market in Vancouver, Canada
With more than 50 stalls and a diverse schedule of concerts and performances, the Christmas market of British Columbia's cultural capital has a flavor that's simultaneously local and international. If you're hungry for a taste of Canada, sample maple taffy (a sticky-sweet confection made from boiled maple sap thickened on a bed of snow), or shop for stocking stuffers with a locavore bent, such as honey and dried wild mushrooms. To savor Christmas around the world, check out the market's nation nights, which showcase traditional folk dances, songs and costumes of countries like Estonia and Slovenia. Stick to the international theme while you watch with dishes like Ukrainian borscht and poffertjes (petite Dutch pancakes). Through December 24.
Toronto Christmas Market in Toronto, Canada
There's plenty to satisfy your appetite at this bustling market, from traditional European holiday fare like roasted chestnuts and hutzelbrot (a German fruit bread) to decidedly unorthodox items like deep-fried, breakfast cereal-battered waffles. And if you're thirsty, you're in luck: You're in the Distillery District (a once-defunct distillery compound that's been transformed into an arts and entertainment complex), and you might say that the ghost of spirits past lives on in the market's sippable offerings. Warm up with a Drambuie Hot Apple Toddy, or hit the beer garden to sample suds from current Distillery District tenant Mill Street Brewing. And if you happen to spot a row of upside-down Christmas trees during your visit, don't worry; it's not a boozy hallucination, but rather homage to a bygone European tradition. Through December 21.
Christmas Wonderland at the Jing'an Kerry Center in Shanghai, China
Chances are Shanghai isn't the first city that springs to mind when you think of Santa, snow or stollen. In fact, the Chinese metropolis plays host to one of Asia's most authentic European-style Christmas markets. The brainchild of a French expat who missed the holiday traditions and tastes of her homeland, the market offers Eurocentric yuletide treats like bredeles (Alsatian Christmas cookies), grilled German sausages and crepes, as well as comforting cups ofgluhwein (mulled wine) and hot chocolate. Need to file your wish list with the man in red? Santa is also on hand for photo ops. Through January 4.
Start planning your adventure for next year. Not only visit the markets, but see all of the fabulous sites in the area. Call Peterson Travel Pros at 612-559-6545 to help with your planning.
by Cate Huguelet, USA TODAY 12/16/2014