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What to Buy at Christmas Markets for Meaningful Memories and Unique Gifts

If you do a quick search, it won’t be hard to find a list of random things that you can buy at Christmas markets. But do you really just want to buy a bunch of random tchotchkes? Do you REALLY need another Nutcracker, or is that just the mulled wine talking?

Hint: it’s the mulled wine.

Caleb and I have visited over 50 Christmas markets in Europe and have seen a lot of crappy mass-produced items that you should avoid buying. We’ve also seen plenty of unique items like regional cookie tins, city-specific mulled wine shoe mugs, and Santons that would make great gifts or souvenirs, some of which we brought home ourselves.

This guide will cover all of that with our best tips on making smart purchases! Let’s get into it!

Making Meaningful Purchases To Bring Memories Home

A wide selection of traditional Polish gingerbread in various shapes and sizes, displayed in wicker baskets at a Krakow Christmas market

When you visit Europe’s Christmas markets, we recommend that you not to just think about shopping at the markets as just “shopping for stuff” because what you are going to buy and bring back shouldn’t be something that just sits on the shelf at Christmas, but we think it should be something that brings back some sort of memory every time you see it at your next Christmases when you bring it out of that old “Christmas” box you have shoved in your garage.

Whether that be a memory of your time at the market or something that unlocks a core childhood Christmas memory.  Ya, ya, ya, it’s CHEESY.  But, it’s TRUE.

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Shoppers browsing a Christmas market stall with a variety of festive ornaments and gingerbread in Krakow, Poland.

For example, my family always set up a Nativity set at Christmas growing up,  so when Caleb and I did our Christmas market extravaganza,  I looked for things that were related to a Nativity scene since it could keep unlocking that core childhood memory year after year.

Or, maybe you look for things you can bring home to work into a new Christmas tradition going forward so that, each Christmas, you are reminded of your epic Christmas market experience together!

TAYLOR’S TIP:

Collecting the mulled wine mugs would be a great way to do that. They’re easy to pack and actually practical and useful because you whip them out each Christmas. We start drinking our morning coffee from the mugs we brought home around November, and it’s always a fun little walk down the ol’ memory lane.

a smiling woman in a pink hat holding a red boot mug at a christmas market

Finding Unique Gifts at Christmas Markets

If you’re anything like us, you’re also trying to do some Christmas shopping at the markets so you can bring some unique gifts home.

Here’s what we don’t want you to do: buy random mass-produced stuff for the people in your life. While it’ll be cool that it came from Europe, it won’t scream, “OMG, YOU REALLY THOUGHT ABOUT ME!”

TAYLOR’S TIP:

You want to buy super-personal gifts for those you love, right? (I hope so) so we recommend putting your thinking cap on BEFORE you go. Think of the few people you want to buy gifts for (keep it as small as possible because you have to pack said gifts!) and make a short bullet-point list of what they like, hobbies, interests, etc.  Then, keep it on hand so you can reference it when shopping and match what you see to your person!

BOOM! A super thoughtful gift!

Wooden handicrafts market stall in Copenhagen displaying an assortment of kitchen utensils, cutting boards, and chess sets, with price tags visible.

We also recommend trying to tie that in with specialties that you can only find at the markets to make the gift extra memorable. Not just something that could be similar to what they find at home, even if it is related to their interests.

For example, Caleb and I specifically sought out a stall that sold Elisenlebkuchen in Nuremberg (since that is the cookies’ homeland) that sold the cookies in tins that we could transport home so we could bring our family a taste of the Christmas markets.

It was so much more thoughtful than a mulled-wine-induced random nutcracker that would just sit on the shelf.

A variety of wooden Christmas decorations and toys, including nutcrackers and snowmen, are artfully displayed at a market stall, evoking a traditional festive spirit.

Unique and Memorable Souvenirs At Christmas Markets

Here is a list of the things that we saw during our visit to 50+ Christmas markets that we think could make unique and memorable souvenirs for yourselves or super-thoughtful gifts to bring home.

Getting an idea of what you might find in advance should help you plan your Christmas market trip and make shopping faster and easier! We’ve only included items that are relatively packable to keep it easy only you.:

Two hands holding special edition Christmas mugs with Santa Claus motifs, against the backdrop of Tübingen's picturesque half-timbered houses.

1.The mulled wine mugs

These are awesome because you can use them year after year. They are different and unique in each city, and they’re super cute and fairly easy to pack.

Bonus: they’re SUPER cheap, and mulled wine is one of the best drinks at Christmas markets, so it’s a good excuse to drink a lot of it!

A close-up of beautifully crafted Christmas decorations at a Vienna market, with intricate snowflake designs and other festive ornaments in baskets, dusted with snow.

2. Personalized or Engravable Items

We saw tons of handmade Christmas tree ornaments or jewelry where the Artisan had an extra service that you could personalize or engrave something to make it a little extra special and meaningful.

Santons in France. ceramic Christmas figurines

3. Santons 

In France, you will find Santons all over the markets. These are hand-crafted figurines that are hand-painted and used to build nativity or Christmas scenes. There are literally hundreds of different kinds of figurines, and it’s a big thing to collect them in France and use them to create scenes around your house.

This could be a SUPER special gift for someone who loves nativity scenes or those Christmas village things that your grandma always seems to have. Plus, you can’t get them anywhere else, and they’re tiny and easy to pack.

4. Regional foods

If you’re a foodie like us or are buying for a foodie, the markets have some unique and SUPER delicious things that are packable to bring home and share on Christmas.

Or, just eat yourself because you are an adult and can make your own decisions. RESPECT.

Here are the foodie things that we brought back in our backpacks:

A hand holding a slice of stollen, a traditional German fruit bread, dusted with powdered sugar, with a backdrop of festive lights.
  • Stollen from Dresden (we bought a cheap Tupperware container so it did not get smooshed)
  • Tin box of Elisenlebkuchen in Germany

The one thing you should absolutely avoid buying at the Christmas markets is the massive, hard heart-shaped lebkuchen that you will see at EVERY stall. Those are 100% made for tourists and are horrible. They’re almost inedible.

a bag of Bredle cookies in france. Small butter cookies in various shapes
  • Tin box of Bredle in the Alsace region of France (such as Strasbourg, one of the most beautiful Christmas markets) These are tiny little butter cookies with a million flavors, and they’re SO GOOD.
  • Small jam containers from local vendors.  
  • Flavored liquor such as Eierlikör, the German equivalent of eggnog!

General Things to Buy At Christmas Markets That Are Packable

Because you still may want to buy some general stuff, and we won’t judge you, here are some of the most common Christmas market “things” that you can find and may be applicable to personal gifts. We’re focusing on packability here.

The general things to know about when you’re thinking about what to buy at Christmas markets in Europe are:

A cozy Christmas market booth under a twinkling garland roof, selling colorful star-shaped lanterns and decorations to cheerful visitors in winter attire.
  • Paper stars (easy to fold up)
  • Hand-carved wooden Christmas figurines. If you can find a small wooden Christmas pyramid, that would be a unique thing to bring home for the sake of memories. Those things are part of almost every Christmas market in Europe.
  • Hand-painted Christmas ornaments.
  • Candle holders (usually hammered metal with some designs)
  • Furry hats, slippers, or mittens: these aren’t super unique, but they are useable outside of the Christmas markets and are great if you forget to pack the right winter clothes!
A Kathe Wolfhart stall in a Chrismas market in Europe decorated in candy cane stripes with green siding
  • Kathe Wohlfahrt Items – This is sort of the “go-to” Christmas ornament brand around Germany and Europe. You’ll find a Kathe Wohlfahrt stall or store in almost every market.

TAYLOR’S TIP:

They’re pretty, but be prepared to drop some cash as they’re not as cheap and are not made by local vendors.

A close-up of a crate filled with ornately decorated Christmas baubles in a vibrant mix of colors and patterns, showcasing the intricate artistry of holiday ornaments.

Tips For Shopping At Christmas Markets

Here are our top tips when you’re shopping around the Christmas markets 

  1. Take Your Time to Explore: Don’t rush through the market; just buy the first thing you see. We always recommend walking the market entirely before buying anything!

2. Look For Stalls Without Duplicates:  when walking around, see if you see any stalls selling the same things because that’s a tell-tale sign of something mass-produced. Avoid those.

We saw soooooo many of the exact same things at some of the big (and worst!) Christmas markets, so look around and see what doesn’t have a copy. It’s worth visiting a few Christmas markets before buying anything to ensure you get quality souvenirs!

A miniature winter village scene complete with snow-covered houses, figures, and trees, on display at a Christmas market.

3. Prioritize Quality Over Quantity: Instead of buying a bunch of trinkets, focus on investing in the best options that you can use for years to come.

This is also going to be much friendlier on your suitcase!

4. Support Small Businesses: Buy right from the vendors instead of going to the bigger Christmas stores like Kathe Wohlfahrt.

An assortment of colorful Christmas decorations and ornaments on display at a festive market stall

5. Consider Practicality and Usefulness: While sentimentality is important, think about whether you will actually use your purchases. You don’t want them to collect dust on your shelf forever.

6. Ultimately, Trust Your Instincts and Emotions! If you see something that “sparks joy,” in the words of Marie Kondo, it’s probably a good buy!

What You Need To Know About The Christmas Markets Next:

After you’ve figured out what to buy at Christmas markets, you need to figure out what you should eat.  One thing we learned during our trip to the markets is that the food can be REALLY good or really bad!

We wrote an ultimate guide to what you have to eat at Christmas markets so you don’t waste any calories on crap stuff!

So, what tip is the most helpful here? Any questions we can help with? 

Check Out Our Specific Christmas Market Guides:

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A couple embraces while watching the sunset behind the Crystal Palace in Madrid's Retiro Park, a moment of romance and tranquility by the reflective waters.

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