10 Tips for Shopping Holiday Craft Markets

Town Hall, Christmas Market, Snow, Tallinn, Estonia
joe daniel price / Getty Images

With an increasing focus on local and handmade, it’s no wonder that the classic holiday markets of old (the ones you remember in small towns growing up), are making a comeback. Those traditional craft fairs have taken a modern turn, spotlighting fresh, hip items made by independent makers, with not a mass-produced product in sight.

These markets never really faded away in European locales like Germany (and here, known as Christkindlmarkts, they’re having a moment). But in the States, local markets are shopping destinations once again, thanks to the inventiveness of crafters and small business owners.

And it couldn’t come at a better time. Yes, it can be fun to fill up a cart at your neighborhood big-box store and stock up on gifts for everyone on your list. But it can be argued that it’s even more fun to purchase thoughtful, one-of-a-kind gifts that the recipient hasn’t seen anywhere else. It takes a little more time and effort to shop a holiday market, but the payoff is so worth it. Plus, you’ll likely shop amid festive decorations, singing carolers and perhaps even falling snow. There’s plenty of holiday spirit to go around.

Like any market (flea, farmer’s, etc.), a little prepping and planning can go a long way when it comes to a successful shopping venture. Read these tips and tricks to have a positive, and even magical, experience at this season’s holiday markets.

  • 01 of 11

    'Tis the Season

    Christmas Market at Opernpalais at Mitte in Winter Berlin
    RomanBabakin / Getty Images
  • 02 of 11

    Take a Peek at the Vendors Before the Market

    Christmas Market under snow.
    Buena Vista Images / Getty Images

    Nowadays, several holiday craft markets will have their own websites with all the information you’ll need on the event. Often, these websites will also feature a full list of the vendors who will be at the market, along with links to their online shops and sites.

    Some of these markets can have upwards of 100 vendors or more, so it can be helpful to scope them out ahead of time, look at their offerings and jot down some favorites. This way, when you see the name of a vendor at the market, you’ll know to make a point of visiting their booth.

  • 03 of 11

    Take an Inventory of Your Holiday Pieces

    Close-Up Of Christmas Decoration
    Alena Kravchenko / EyeEm / Getty Images

    In addition to serving as a gift-filled wonderland, holiday markets can be amazing opportunities for you to collect beautiful, high-quality seasonal décor pieces. And it can be easy to go overboard.

    Before the market, dive into your bins of Christmas décor and assess what you already have. If you have way too many wreaths or ornaments to count, perhaps you could set your sights on a piece that you don’t own, like a gorgeous centerpiece or a seasonal sign to hang up in your home. Holiday markets can start as early as fall, so it might be difficult to remember the seasonal items you have.

  • 04 of 11

    Write Up a List of Gift Recipients

    Close up gift box
    Marco_Piunti / Getty Images

    Now, who do I have to buy for again? You might be quick to think of some family members, but what about your kids’ teachers, the mailman or the friend was the unknowing recipient of a “regift” last year? Avoid gift-giver’s guilt by writing up a list ahead of the market. You’ll remember to give a present to each person on your list, and bonus—this year, they’ll be getting distinctive, handmade gifts.

    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    Bring Cash

    Christmas shopping
    yulkapopkova / Getty Images

    Although swipers and Square Readers are becoming increasingly prevalent at markets, many makers still prefer the good, old-fashioned cash method. So, be sure to make a trip to the ATM for some cash before your trip to the market, and bring enough to cover everyone on your list or any big-ticket items.

  • 06 of 11

    Dress Warmly and Comfortably

    Christmas Shopping
    vgajic / Getty Images

    Since night markets are on the rise, many holiday markets are now being held outdoors on brisk evenings. But with those twinkle lights and freshly-fallen snow, it’ll certainly make for a fairytale-like atmosphere. With that said, be sure to bundle up if chilly temperatures are in the forecast. Flat boots, a warm coat and your coziest scarf should do the trick.

  • 07 of 11

    Start by Taking a Lap Around the Market

    Christmas Market in Princes Street
    Travelpix Ltd / Getty Images

    Even if you’ve checked out the vendors and done your homework ahead of time, it can help to take a lap around the market before you even purchase a single item. Get a sense of all the wares that are available and make notes on your favorites (you can ask vendors for their booth numbers so you can find your way back).

    But if you happen to see a product you love, and there’s only one, think about buying it on the spot. This is especially true of vintage items. If you aren’t ready to commit yet, try to make it an efficient lap and then get down to business.

  • 08 of 11

    Go for Unique, “Can’t Buy These at a Big-Box Store” Items

    Close-Up Of Christmas Decoration In Market For Sale
    Marco Noviello / EyeEm / Getty Images

    If you see an item that you know can’t be found at a big-box store, consider snatching it up. These are the items that are so beautifully-handmade and lovingly-crafted that the attention to detail is apparent and there’s no chance it looks mass-produced. The gift will appear to be that much more heartfelt to your gift recipient. And it won’t hurt to pick up a few handmade treats for yourself, too.

    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Purchase Cultural Items from Themed Markets

    Wooden Christmas decoration figures
    George Pachantouris / Getty Images

    There are several authentic, cultural holiday markets that are being held throughout the U.S. Many big cities feature classic German-style markets, and many cultural districts hold their own markets as well. Before the market, try to research Christmas items that are particular to those cultures. For example, it might be tough to find a handcrafted, European-made nutcracker anywhere but a real-deal holiday market. 

  • 10 of 11

    Don't Overload on Caffeinated Beverages or Sugary Treats

    Traditional Christmas market fair in Europe
    Poike / Getty Images

    Naturally, cookies, cakes, coffee and hot cocoa abound at these markets. What would the holiday season be without them? But if you prefer to shop with steady hands and a clear purpose in mind, that sugar rush might in the way. Sip, savor and try not to overdo it. There’s serious shopping to be had.

  • 11 of 11

    Talk to the Makers About Their Wares and Learn the Items’ Stories

    Senior man selling nativity figurines at market
    Jekaterina Nikitina / Getty Images

    One of the best aspects of shopping a holiday market is actually getting to talk to the artisans and makers in person. You aren’t buying an item off of a shelf that doesn’t have a story. You can learn where they sourced the materials, how long it takes them to make an item and why they love what they do. Crafters are often very open and willing to tell their stories. Plus, you’ll get to share a gift’s backstory when you give it to someone. And that makes a gift truly special.