The Union Square Holiday market is New York’s closest thing to a traditional European Christmas market.
Like a European market, the Union Square market is held outdoors, its pathways lined with festive bough-trimmed wooden stalls. Hot drinks like gluwein are on offer to take an edge off the chill and local crafts abound.
But unlike a European Christmas market, the Union Square market is a holiday market– you’ll find Hanukkah themed items next to Christmas ornaments, along with plenty of non-holiday specific items and even different ethnic items. It makes for a unique mix and is a fun way to while away an afternoon.
The Union Square Holiday market is conveniently located in Union Square park (at 14th Street) and is practically on top of the subway entrance.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas eve, over a million people pass their way through the market. That means the market can get insanely crowded. I had family in town so we went on a Saturday, quite possibly the worst time to go– I recommend heading to the market during the work week if you can. If you work during the week like we do, then at least try to avoid the stalls near any of the market’s entrances– these are gridlock zones.
After dodging the crowds and working your way into the much emptier belly of the market, pick up some gluwein (non-alcoholic only) and get ready to shop.
The thick crowds kept us from hitting every stall, but from the stalls we did see, I can confirm that the overall quality and diversity of the items is much higher now than in years past.
The first vendor we checked out was a proper German stall selling handmade wooden Christmas goods, like these candle-operated rotating pyramids, made in a village outside of Dresden. They also sell authentic stollen (a german fruitcake rolled in sugar), gingerbread and other German goodies here.
What else caught our eye?
As with most New York street markets, there was lots of jewelry. Despite being handcrafted, much of the jewelry tended to look the same and was meh IMO. But there were some standouts. I liked this vendor’s glittery rope necklaces.And these orchid necklaces from Hanami.
These bug and butterfly shirts, all made locally by BugsDeluxe, would be a great gift or New York City souvenir for a bug-obsessed kid.
We spotted this jewelry along with other items made from diffused Vietnamese landmines.
Love these trays for travelers– they lay flat for transport and snap together to form a catchall so you don’t lose stuff like your keys in a hotel room. I stocked up on a bunch of similar silk trays in Japan.
Fatty Sundays is smart to hand out samples of their chocolate covered pretzels– after tasting there is no way you’ll ever confuse them with those bland snacks from the big box stores . The charming owner showed me all the different varieties they carry, like banana cream, pumpkin pie and gift-ready treats like “gelt-y pleasure” and “gobblegobble”.
Liz looked for her home state of Virgina in the bins of handcrafted charms offered by Brooklyn charms.
These dead sea salt scrubs were offered by an especially enthusiastic vendor.
We all loved the spices from Spices and Tease. Sniffing spices is encouraged and the cheerful vendors will definitely keep you entertained.
Momofuku milk bar is the one vendor I seek out every year for my holiday sugar fix. Sure I can buy their cookies at one of their New York City shops anytime of the year, but I’d rather save them for a holiday treat– that way I can indulge guilt-free “because it’s the holidays.” Also, the market location has holiday items not available in the shops like stollen and peppermint cookies (I’ve tried both and they’re delicious).
We bought the six cookie variety pack in a gift tin for $12. We immediately pried it open and sampled my favorite cookie, the compost.
Fortunately the compost cookie only has a healthy sounding name. It’s a full-on combo of yummy bits like pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch and chocolate chips, all smothered together in a satisfying bite.
We had a great day at the Union Square holiday market, but the one thing we missed from European Christmas markets were the bratwurst and weissewurst (ok and maybe the wine in the Gluwein). So we hopped a train downtown and hit my favorite Austrian spot, Blaue Gans, for a late lunch of sausages and pretzels. Now it was the perfect day.
New York’s Union Square Holiday and Christmas Market 2014 opening times and hours:
Market runs from November 20-December 24, 2014
Opening hours: weekdays 11-8, Saturdays 10-8, Sundays 11-7
Closed on Thanksgiving Day.
Have you been to New York’s Union Square Holiday market? What are your favorite vendors? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Want to read about more Christmas markets?
Read about a Real Life Swedish fairy tale at the Swedish market in Stockholm
Check out the Budapest Christmas Market here for the shopping
And here for the Budapest Market’s mouth watering-eats
Munich, Germany’s Medieval Christmas Market: Corny or Cool?
Special thanks to my junior editors Liz and Colin for assistance on this post!
All Photos by Souvenir Finder, Copyright 2014, all rights reserved and may not be used without express permission.