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Scandinavia’s Christmas Markets for Families

by Barbara Rogers

Nov 12, 2018

© Famveldman | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / Europe

When we think of Christmas markets, we almost automatically think of Germany. Visions of spicy lebkuchen and cups of steaming hot mulled wine spring to mind, as do the cities that made the German word Christkindlmarkt a familiar one in any language.


A toy maker shows off his supply of fine wooden toys © Stillman Rogers

A toy maker shows off his supply of fine wooden toys © Stillman Rogers

But dazzling Christmas markets are a long-standing tradition in many other parts of Europe, and Scandinavian countries give their own particular twist to these holiday festivals. They are a natural magnet for children, whose eyes grow large at the sight of gingerbread houses, sparkling lights, bright-colored candies, painted wooden toys and the carousels and rides that frequently accompany the markets. Here are some of our family’s favorites in Norway, Sweden and Finland.


Helsinki and Turku, Finland

Finnish children are convinced Santa lives in Lapland (and many have been to his Santa Clause Village there), so it’s not surprising a Christmas village springs up in Helsinki’s broad Senate Square each December. Tents overflow with exceptionally good handmade gifts, among them wooden toys, woodcarvings, dolls, knit hats and mittens, blown-glass ornaments and tableware and buttery cookies. Kids get free rides on the carousel while parents warm up with steaming cups of glogi, spiced red wine with currant juice.


In Turku, two hours away, the massive 13th-century cathedral towers over the Old Great Square, alive with family-friendly holiday activity. Under a giant Christmas tree, booths sell toys, decorations and foods, while costumed characters pose for pictures with kids and frequent concerts add to the festive atmosphere.

The open air St. Thomas Christmas Market on the Esplanadi, Helsinki, Finland © Stillman Rogers

The open air St. Thomas Christmas Market on the Esplanadi, Helsinki, Finland © Stillman Rogers


Oslo and Bergen, Norway

Markets throughout Scandinavia feature high-quality crafts, often by artists whose work is found only in these annual markets. In Oslo, Spikersuppa glitters with sparkling lights and vendors sell Christmas cookies, handcrafts and decorations from mid-November through Dec. 30. Christmas workshops offer activities and craft-making for youngsters, who can also ride the Ferris wheel to see the lights. At the open-air Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, the historic houses are decorated to show period Christmases, while more than 100 stalls sell handmade gifts, decorations and goodies.


The Bergen Christmas Market, in the heart of the city at Festplassen Square, is filled with handmade gifts, intricately patterned knitwear and Christmas foods from all over the world. There’s a carousel and a Ferris wheel to entertain kids, as well as indoor activities. From mid-November through December, you can visit the world’s largest Gingerbread Town (Pepperkakebyen), a magical village of edible art created by local families (it’s estimated half of Bergen participates!). Houses, churches, castles, palaces and shops form a village beside an icing-covered fjord and under snow-capped mountains. And yes, kids get to munch on gingerbread cookies there.

The open air St. Thomas Christmas Market on the Esplanadi © Stillman Rogers

The open air St. Thomas Christmas Market on the Esplanadi © Stillman Rogers


Stockholm, Sweden

Although there is a charming Christmas market in Stockholm’s old town of Gamla Stan, surrounded by the old buildings that line Stortorget square, the Christmas market children will love is the one at Skansen Park. A tradition since 1903, the market at Skansen is set in the Market Square, surrounded by the historical museum houses and farmsteads decorated for the holidays. In the historic workshops of Skansen’s Town Quarter you can meet craftsmen demonstrating their skills, and at a Christmas workshop children can make their own decorations. Live traditional music and dancing games around the Christmas tree keep kids busy, and the market stalls sell sausages, cheeses, glassware, traditional breads and cakes, leatherwork, knitwear and other traditional Swedish crafts.


With bargain fares to Scandinavian cities throughout November and December on Norwegian Air, taking the whole family to the Christmas markets would be a good family Christmas present!


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