Rug up and wander through New York’s iconic holiday markets with a cup of hot cocoa or a mug of mulled wine.
When you think of Christmas in New York, it’s only natural to imagine skating beneath the tree at Rockefeller Plaza or sipping hot cocoa as you wander Fifth Avenue admiring the whimsical store windows.
But the Christmas season, or “The Holidays” as it’s more widely known, has also given rise to another tradition: the European-style Holiday Markets that pop up across Manhattan for just a few weeks every year.
These makeshift winter villages attract visitors from around the corner and around the world and are famous for their handmade gifts and delicious winter fare.
The ‘big three’ outdoor markets are Columbus Circle Holiday Market, the Holiday Shops at Winter Village Bryant Park and the Union Square Holiday Market.
The Grand Central Holiday Fair is the city’s longest-running indoor market.
This year, for the first time, there’s even a Vegan Christmas Market.
The lights twinkle, snow crunches underfoot and the air is thick with song and the scent of mulled wine.
The tradition of winter markets started in Europe during the late Middle Ages. In recent times Christmas markets have become more popular and more elaborate, typified by Nuremberg’s world-famous Christkindlesmarkt.
The American versions might seem contrived and more corporate, with all their financial sponsors, but they are a much-loved tradition nonetheless.
And let’s face it, it just wouldn’t be the holiday season without the lights, the decorations, the hustle and bustle and the last-minute search for gifts.
It’s really a wonderful time to visit New York, as the lights twinkle, snow crunches underfoot (if you’re lucky), and the air is thick with song and the scent of mulled wine.
Even if you don’t plan to do much shopping, the atmosphere is fun and many markets offer fantastic food and warming drinks.
We’ve updated the operating hours for each of the main markets for the 2019 holiday season. Here’s what you can expect:
42nd Street at Sixth Avenue
Now in its 18th year, the Holiday Shops at Winter Village, Bryant Park, is head and shoulders my favourite holiday market.
Perhaps it’s the iconic midtown park setting – nestled between the skyscrapers and the imposing New York Public Library. Maybe it’s the twinkling glass stalls bursting with seasonal produce and one-of-a-kind gifts.
Or perhaps it’s the fact that this market also includes a 17,000-square foot ice skating rink (a novelty for many Australians who swelter through Christmas Day).
The Holiday Shops at Winter Village include more than 150 vendors in “jewel box” kiosks clustered around the ice rink and a giant Christmas tree.
They sell clothing and accessories, soaps and creams, photography, jewellery, knitwear, ornaments and even hand puppets.
Keep an eye out for the impressive Josephine Shaw Lowell Fountain, which often freezes over in the winter, and Le Carrousel, where riders are sometimes joined by Santa and his elves.
Southwest Porch, located near the southern end of the Fountain Terrace, has a full bar and restaurant with burgers, salads and more. You can also warm up with a cup of hot chocolate from Max Brenner.
In 2019/20, the Holiday Shops are open from October 31 to January 5. 11am-8pm Monday-Friday, 10am-8pm weekends. The ice rink is open from noon on October 31 until March. Skating is daily from 8am-10pm. The Bryant Park "Tree Lighting Skate-tacular" takes place on Tuesday December 3 at 6pm.
Between 14th and 15th Streets at Union Square
Located in the south west corner of Union Square Park, opposite DSW, this popular market is easily recognised thanks to row after row of tiny tents with their bottle green roofs.
More than 150 vendors sell a variety of unique, affordable products including jewellery, candles, soap, jams, olive oil and clothing.
The market has been upgraded and now includes a dedicated “Little Brooklyn” section featuring specialties from that borough.
There’s also an Urbanspace Provisions gift market selling an assortment of mouth-watering foods including confectionary, sauces and preserves.
There are outdoor heaters and a lounge where you can escape the chill and grab a hot chocolate while charging your phone.
With live music, a kids art studio and plenty of comfort food – including doughnuts and pretzels – the Union Square Holiday Market will get you in the festive mood.
Open November 21 to December 24 11am-8pm Monday to Friday 10am-8pm on Saturday and 11am-7pm Sunday Closed Thanksgiving Holiday.
59th Street and Central Park West
At the entrance to iconic Central Park, the holiday market at Columbus Circle is where you’ll find vintage pieces, hand-painted ornaments for your Christmas tree, jewellery by up and coming artists, artisanal soaps, handmade chocolates and jams and exotic spices.
It’s not as big as the markets at Bryant Park or Union Square, but it does pride itself on sourcing and selling only socially-conscious goods.
Most vendors are committed to the Artisan Pledge of 100 per cent handmade, made in New York or in the USA. And many products are made from recycled, reused or vintage materials.
You’ll find plenty of delicious snacks and street food here as well, including hot apple cider, Nutella-stuffed churros, savoury empanadas, tacos, cakes and macaroons.
Open December 4 to December 24. 10am-8pm Monday to Friday, Saturday 10am-8pm, Sunday 10am-7pm. The market closes at 4pm on Christmas Eve.
Grand Central Terminal, East 42nd Street
Probably the best thing about the Grand Central Holiday Fair is the location: it’s housed in the historic Vanderbilt Hall near the main hall at Grand Central Terminal.
That means you can soak up the festive fun without having to brave New York’s icy winter temperatures outside.
This is the longest-running indoor holiday market in Manhattan (it first opened in 1993), and it’s very different to the other markets around town.
Around 40 vendors sell a range of hand-crafted, American-made products including artwork, stationery, toys, bath and beauty products.
Open November 18 to December 24 10am-8pm Monday-Friday 10am-7pm Saturday 11am-6pm Sundays 10am-6pm Christmas Eve Closed Thanksgiving
342 West 37th Street
Manhattan’s first Vegan Christmas Market will provide a unique twist on the traditional Christmas experience with numerous vendors selling an assortment of vegan products.
Visitors can expect a variety of goods from local New York businesses during the two-day market, including skincare care products, cosmetics, baked goods, dairy-free fine cheeses, chocolates, savoury foods, handbags, jewellery and more.
Open November 30 to December 1. 11am-6pm November 30, 10am-5pm December 1. VIP tickets are $8 and includes a limited collection knitted beanie embroidered with a leaf logo (pictured), 1-hour early entry on November 30 and access to exclusive promotions.
This post was update on October 1, 2019.
© 2019 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved
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