The World's Best Holiday Markets and Festive Towns - Full-Time Travel

The World’s Best Holiday Markets and Festive Towns

The World's Best Holiday Markets + Festive Towns

Nothing evokes festive feelings like sipping warm boozy beverages, shopping from little stalls and gliding around the ice skating rink at a holiday market. If you're looking for a change of scenery this year, these festive towns have yuletide magic in spades. 

A quiet Christmassy street in Woodstock, VT

Wassail Weekend in Woodstock, VT

Cradled by Vermont's Green Mountains – an area that epitomizes every season – Woodstock is a big hit with tourists all year round, but it’s during the holidays that the town shines brightest. Every year in December, Wassail Weekend sees Woodstock’s historic homes and shops draped in festive sparkles, streets occupied by horse-drawn carriages and sidewalks illuminated by rows of lanterns. Find yourself a window seat in a cozy restaurant and watch as the snow swirls and settles.

The Vienna Christmas Dream Market

Vienna’s Christmas Markets

Vienna’s Christmas markets are rumored to date all the way back to the Middle Ages. Though the tradition has grown and evolved since then (there are now 20 separate locations across the city), the city’s elegant historic architecture is still the perfect backdrop for festive revelry. Perhaps the most striking of all is the Vienna Christmas Dream Market – a twinkling sprawl of over 100 stalls arranged in front of the gothic, cathedral-esque towers of City Hall. Post-shopping spree, stay for a hot punch and a spin around the ice “landscape,” which encompasses a giant rink and skating path.

Newport at dusk

Christmas in Newport, RI

The port city of Newport, Rhode Island is famous for its annual summer regatta, but travelers looking for a holiday season getaway will find plenty to love in winter, too. December 1st marks the start of Christmas in Newport, a tradition celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020. Attend the Bowen’s Wharf Tree Lighting, join a Holiday Lantern Tour led by the Newport Historical Society, or visit The Breakers and The Elms, two Newport mansions festively decorated with vibrant poinsettias, extravagant wreaths and lavishly ornamented Christmas trees.

Yuletide festival in Taos, NM 

At the annual Yuletide Festival in Taos you’ll find caroling, crafting, bonfires, concerts and lots of opportunities to buy the artisanal art, textiles, jewelry and ceramics this artsy town is famous for. During daylight hours, hit nearby ski slopes, soak in steamy hot springs, or hike the Rio Grande Del Norte national monument. Return once night falls to soak up the ambiance of Taos’ famous adobe buildings illuminated by hundreds of glowing farolitos (paper lanterns).

Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park | By Angelito Jusay

Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, NYC

If you’ve ever marveled at New York’s infectious energy, try visiting during the holiday season, when bars get a kitsch festively themed makeover, ice rinks are erected in everybody’s favorite parks, carolers sing on the street corners, and a plethora of unique seasonal shows play on theater stages. NYC has more than its fair share of festive markets too, and our top pick is the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park. Browse the stalls, guzzle some glühwein and circle the city’s only free ice skating rink. 

Read: The Best Christmassy Things to do in NYC

Visit Bruges by Jan Darthet

Bruges Winter Glow, Belgium

Belgium is up there with Germany when it comes to European destinations that excel at Christmastime ambiance (though German cities have largely canceled the festivities for 2020). This year, Bruges, arguably the country’s coolest city, is pausing its popular market in favor of a more social distance-friendly event dubbed Winter Glow. Follow an illuminated trail through 10 locations, soaking up famous landmarks resplendent with glittering lights and decorations.

Christmas lights in Tokyo | By Note Tanun

Tokyo Christmas Market 

Every year Tokyo’s Hibiya Park is transformed into a European-style Christmas market that’s become a seasonal staple for visitors and locals alike. There are, of course, the usual stalls filled with food and gift items, an array of lights and live musical performances, but the most unique element is an authentic Christmas Pyramid – a decorative German carousel filled with festive figures. 

Leavenworth lit up and dusted with snow

The Village of Lights in Leavenworth, WA 

Bavarian-style buildings and the snow covered peaks of Washington state’s Cascade Mountains make the town of Leavenworth an idyllic place to spend the holidays. This year, the annual Christmas Lighting Festival has been canceled to help reduce crowds. Instead, local authorities will be keeping the alpine main street illuminated every night until Valentine’s Day, and offering plenty of freebies and incentives for midweek visitors.  

Read: 7 American Towns That Feel European 

Natchitoches Christmas Festival, LA

Billed as one of the oldest community-based holiday celebrations in the U.S., Natchitoches, Louisiana has been decorating its streets with sparkling lights since 1927. The festival has grown exponentially since then, evolving into a six-week celebration with 100 set pieces, 300,000 lights, a parade, firework display and a Santa Claus house. The celebration starts the Saturday before Thanksgiving and runs until January 6th.

"This sculpture is called "Transmission" by artist Daniel Popper. Its a reminder that we are all rooted in love, unity and the divine. She stands a towering 28 feet tall and is located on Mojave Moon Ranch in Joshua Tree. The land is private property, so you can see it from the viewing platform off of Sunfair Road. And take it from me, it's best viewed at sunset."

Reel: @johnofah

There's more to Greece than the white and blue buildings and the surrounding Mediterranean Sea. If you're planning a visit, check out these places below!

📍Kokkinopilos. Preveza
📍Verliga Dragon lake, Thessaly
📍Ithaca island, lonian Sea
📍Aoos springs lake, Epirus
📍Lake Prespes, Macedonia
📍Balda di Stringa waterfalls, Epirus
📍Meteora, Thessaly
📍Pelion, Thessaly
📍Lake Zorika, Epirus
📍Mt Lakmos
📍Crete island, Aegean Sea
📍Gistova Dragon lake, Macedonia

Reel: @farawayfarers

Swim or kayak through the limestone cliffs of the Twin Lagoon, a must-visit destination for those traveling to Coron, Palawan, Philippines. It is called "twin" lagoon because it consists of two lagoons separated by a limestone cliff, with one lagoon on top of the other. The water in the inner lagoon is warm and clear, with a stunning turquoise color that makes it popular for swimming and snorkeling.

Reel: @travelifejournal

Take a dip in a series of seven saltwater lagoons located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The Lagoons of Baltinache are known for their beautiful turquoise waters and unique geological formations. The high concentration of minerals in the water gives it a unique buoyancy that makes swimming in the lagoons a unique experience.

Reel: @everchanginghorizon

Watching the sun rise above the clouds at Haleakalā National Park is one of the most memorable experiences you could have. Haleakalā is a Hawaiian name that means “House of the Sun” and is an awesome place to watch the clear night sky and stars fade away as the sun lights up the sky and the earth.

Reel: @girlchill_sunset

Just 1 hour from Shanghai by train, Cherry Blossom Valley is a popular tourist destination, particularly in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The valley is named after the thousands of cherry blossom trees that cover the area and create a stunning display of pink and white flowers. The trees were originally planted in the 1980s by a group of Japanese experts who were invited to China to help with reforestation efforts. The best time to visit is typically in late March or early April. Get there early to beat the crowds!

Reel: @cyncynti

New Zealand is unbelievable. See it for yourself:

1. Fiordland National Park
2. A classic backcountry hut trip
3. Blue Pools walk
4. Hooker Lake
5. Milford Sound
6. Lake Pukaki

Reel: @kylekotajarvi

Surrounded by lush greenery, towering karst mountains, and the river flowing through, the Detian Waterfall is a popular tourist attraction and a symbol of the close relationship between China and Vietnam. It is the largest waterfall in Asia and the fourth largest cross-border waterfall in the world.

Reel: @sophoebelous

Escape to a serene and peaceful oasis away from the bustling city of Marrakech at Le Jardin Secret—a beautiful and historic garden where visitors can escape the noise and chaos and enjoy the beauty of nature. The garden was originally built in the 16th century and is home to many different species of plants, including exotic flowers, citrus trees, and palm trees.

Reel: @hypermiggzz

For a magical moment and bucket list travel experience, visit the end point of the annual monarch butterfly migration. Starting in August, the monarchs travel 2,800 miles south from Canada, making a temporary home amid the towering trees of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, where the two most popular sanctuaries to view them are el Rosario in the state of Michoacan and Piedra Herrada in Estado de México. Standing in silence while thousands of delicate wings beat in unison is something you'll never forget.

Reel: @juliiathompson

There's just something beautiful about snow covered landscapes like this popular attraction in southwestern Utah. Known for its unique geology, @brycecanyonnps_gov consists of a series of natural amphitheaters, called "hoodoos," formed by erosion of the rock layers.

Photo: @nathanleeallen

As we experience a couple more weeks of winter, we can't help but dream of tropical destinations like Hawaii. The warm water, sunny skies, and consistent waves make it an ideal destination for surfers. Hawaii has a vibrant surf culture and community and is also a beautiful place to explore outside of the water, with lush green mountains, stunning beaches, and unique cultural experiences.

Reel: @christopherballadarez

1. @sequoiakingsnps, California
2. @canyonlandsnps, Utah
3. @olympic_nps, Washington
4. @whitesandsnps, New Mexico
5. Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona
6. Knik Glacier, Alaska

Reel: @nathanleeallen