The holidays are finally upon us, and if you’ve been feeling a touch of the Grinch or just need a little last-minute inspiration for gifts, we’re here to help. We’ve compiled a list of four of our favorite cities around the world to get you in the holiday spirit, offering festive markets, great bites and sips, and maybe a quirky local tradition or two.
We know it’s a no-brainer, but Chicago had to make our roundup of all things festive. The Windy City is the embodiment of the Christmas spirit, after all: from serving as the setting for the Home Alone movies and National Lampoon’s Family Christmas, to the 60-to-70-foot Christmas Tree it lights every year in Millennium Park. And there’s plenty to do to revel in the frosty scenery.
Pay a visit to the Walnut Room, which first opened its doors in 1905. This restaurant inside the Macy’s on North State Street was the first restaurant ever opened inside a department store. It’s still known today for its impressive display of holiday décor—including an enormous Christmas tree in the middle of the dining room—and the special menu it offers during the holidays.
Tip: Looking for a way to keep toasty while perusing Chicago’s outdoor Christkindlmarkt? Sip on mulled wine, or Glühwein, an annual favorite served in a collectible cup.
Across its 344 square miles, Berlin boasts more than 50 Christmas markets—an incredible feat and certainly grounds for making it one of the merriest cities in the world. The atmosphere you’re seeking will help you hone in on the right market.
Looking for gifts made just by locals? The Bröhan Museum market is for you; this small, non-commercial market put on by a neighborhood initiative offers an authentic feel. Seeking something a little larger? Try the Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt, arguably the most famous of Berlin’s holiday offerings. There you’ll find food, entertainment, and plenty of fabulous gifts—you can even peer over the shoulders of the craftsmen at work as they create wood carvings, belts, dresses, and the like.
Tip: Though chocolate is important to Germans year round, the holidays are really when this sweet treat shines. During this time of the year, Berlin’s supermarkets are chockful of a wide assortment of fancy chocolates in any variety you can dream up—even vegan options.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Canada’s largest city is the perfect spot to stop for some holiday cheer, from its huge, nondenominational holiday market at City Hall, to its annual Santa Claus Parade, a tradition since 1905. Peruse the Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District—a historic neighborhood known for its shopping and arts scene—offering such whimsical holiday delights as life-size gingerbread houses for kids and merry music from the Candy Cane Carolers.
This year, Hanukkah falls from December 22 to December 30, and if you’re celebrating, the city typically holds a giant menorah lighting in Mel Lastman Square on the first day. Plus, at the beginning of December, the city hosts its newly annual Chanukah Market, “a celebration of all things Jewish.”
Tip: Some say that the best latkes in the city can be found at United Bakers in the Lawrence Plaza shopping center. You’ll get six pieces for $11.99, served with your choice of applesauce, sour cream, or a blueberry topping.
Though it rarely snows in Barcelona, don’t doubt this Spanish city’s ability to get you in the holiday spirit. (In fact, maybe some time away from snow and ice is exactly what you need.)
Nativity scenes are particularly important to the Spanish—visit a traditional outdoor nativity scene, or pessebre, on the Plaça Sant Jaume square in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona. And shop for gifts at Fira de Santa Llúcia, Barcelona’s oldest Christmas market.
Tip: Traveling with children? Be sure to take them to La Ciutat dels Somriures—the City of Smiles—offering activities, workshops, games, and puppet shows. One giant puppet, Senyor Hivern—Mr. Winter—presides over the whole production.