Chicago’s Christkindlmarket: An insider’s guide

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Among the many holiday traditions, the Christkindlmarket in Chicago is one not to miss. Nestled in Daley Plaza amidst the urban hustle and bustle of Chicago, the Christkindlmarket stands as a beacon of holiday charm and festive enchantment.

As winter’s chill descends upon the city, this traditional German market brings warmth, cheer, and a touch of Old World magic to locals and visitors alike. From its captivating history to the array of delectable treats, every visitor is bound to fall in love with this enchanting market.

The Chicago Christkindlmarket has for years been ranked among the top Christmas markets in the world by USA Today and others. It has been called the top ranked market outside of Europe by Big Seven Travel.

Image shows A festive gathering of visitors at the Christkindlmarket in Chicago.
Chicago’s Kristkindlmarket. Photo credit: Deposit Photos.

What is the Christkindlmarket?

The Chicago Christkindlmarket is a traditional Christmas fair modeled after the Christmas markets in Germany with more than 50 vendors selling food, beverages and handcrafted holiday gifts.

This encompasses an open-air market with red and white striped awnings decorating traditional wooden stalls that house various offerings for visitors to explore. There is no admission fee to visit the market, but each vendor has items for sale and there are some ticketed events.

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Where is Christkindlmarket held?

Beginning in 1996, the Chicago Christkindlmarket has been held in downtown Chicago’s Daley Plaza. However, in recent years, the Christmas market has expanded to additional locations in Wrigleyville and Aurora.

You can find the Aurora location in RiversEdge Park. This location is similar to the original in terms of the offerings but is more accessible to Chicago suburbanites.

The Wrigleyville location is at Gallagher Way, adjacent to Wrigley Field. While slightly smaller than the other two locations, it also includes a more modern Christmas market twist with more international fare for sale in addition to the traditional European food and drink found at the other locations.

The Wrigleyville Christkindlmarket coincides with Winterland at Gallagher Way with family-friendly activities and interactive experiences, including the ice rink available for skating inside Wrigley Field.

When is the market?

The Chicago Christkindlmarket traditionally takes place during the heart of the holiday season, spanning from mid-November through the end of December.

In Daley Plaza, the original Chicago Christkindlmarket runs seven days a week during the season. It is open from 11 am to 8 pm Sunday through Thursday, and from 11 am until 9 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. It is open on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve from 11 am to 4 pm.

Wrigleyville’s location is also open seven days a week. Hours are Monday to Thursday from 3 to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 10 pm and Sunday from 11 am to 7 pm.

The Aurora location runs Thursdays through Sundays. It is open from 11 am to 7 pm on Thursday, from 11 am to 9 pm on Friday and Saturday and from 11 am to 6 pm on Sunday. The week before Christmas, it is open with extended hours.

What do they sell there?

Come hungry and thirsty, as there are plenty of traditional foods and drinks to enjoy, as well as handcrafted items to purchase. Kids and adults alike will love the Christmas cookies, and there are some special treats for adults, too.

Among the market’s offerings are hand-carved wooden ornaments, each a miniature work of art that adds a touch of whimsy to your holiday tree. Delicate glass baubles, carefully blown and painted, make a unique gift for loved ones. For those seeking appropriate winter gifts, the market offers a selection of cozy knitwear, such as warm scarves and mittens.

Image shows  Christmas nutcrackers in a window display.
Photo credit: YayImages.

What are the best foods and drinks at Christkindlmarket?

You will find traditional European fare, especially German delights, since the Christmas market is based on the one in Nuremberg, Germany.

“My first stop at the Chicago Christkindlmarket is always to purchase a steaming cup of glühwein in a souvenir mug. No matter how cold the winter weather may be, it keeps me warm while I visit the vendor kiosks and load up on lebkuchen and Haribo gummies.” 

— Sage Scott, Everyday Wanderer 

Sink your teeth into authentic German bratwurst, grilled to perfection and served in a fresh bun. Soft, doughy pretzels with a sprinkle of salt are perfect on-the-go snacks as you wander the market’s enchanting pathways.

For the adults, embrace the cozy spirit of the season with a cup of steaming mulled wine known as “glühwein,” infused with spices that evoke holiday nostalgia. It has a rich aroma of cloves and cinnamon that warms you up from the inside out.

Image shows a gluwein pot filled with fruit and a spoon.
Gluwein. Photo credit: YayImages.

On the sweet side, try lebkuchen, intricately decorated gingerbread cookies that are not only visually appealing but also a delectable treat that captures the essence of the holidays. They are not the same traditional Christmas cookies you likely make at home, which is even more reason to indulge.

If you’ve never had it, embrace the almond-based sweetness of marzipan, which gets molded into various shapes and sizes for a treat that’s so gorgeous you may not want to bite into it. The subtle nutty flavor combines with the soft texture to create a confectionery masterpiece beloved in Europe.

What forms of payment do vendors accept?

Vendors at the Christkindlmarket used to only accept cash, but that has changed in recent years. The majority of vendors now accept credit and debit cards, but it is a good idea to carry cash for those vendors who still require it.

What annual collectibles are available?

For collectors and enthusiasts, the Christkindlmarket offers a special treat: annual collectibles. Each year, a unique glühwein mug is designed exclusively for the market, making it a coveted item among patrons.

When you purchase glühwein, you receive the mug that is yours to take home. You cannot purchase the mug by itself, so it’s the perfect excuse to enjoy.

A group of christmas ornaments hanging from a string.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Wrapping up

Every year, the Christkindlmarket becomes a captivating haven of holiday magic. Steeped in tradition and brimming with festive spirit, this market offers a glimpse into the heartwarming customs of Germany while weaving its own unique tapestry of joy in the heart of Chicago. 

Whether you’re seeking the perfect holiday gift, culinary delights or simply a dose of enchantment, the Christkindlmarket is a must-visit for both Chicago natives and visitors year after year.

Michelle Price is a food and travel writer at Honest and Truly who almost has an empty nest. She loves to provide both the inspiration and the confidence you need to help get you into the kitchen and on the road to enjoy new flavors and experiences.

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