In a world where holiday shopping has pretty much lost all of its charm, the thought of enjoyably strolling and browsing while sipping rich, sweet hot cocoa is almost unthinkable.
In New York City, however, we can do just that in our sparkling holiday markets.
This year, there are over 60 season- or weekend-long holiday markets throughout the city. Manhattan is home to the largest grand markets and fairs that have been at the heart of the city’s holiday spirit for decades. The holiday markets also offer some of the most exciting sweet and savory foods.
Made by local food entrepreneurs, the markets offer classic comfort foods all deliciously available to drink or chew on as you shop: hot cider, gingerbread cookies and holiday chocolates. Delving deeper into the offerings, holiday shoppers can even sit down for a pulled pork strudel from Strudels & Pies by Hans at Bryant Park, a cup of Persian ash reshteh soup from A Taste of Persia in Union Square or a plate of Japanese veggie pancakes from Oconomi at Hester Street’s One Penn Plaza Holiday Market.
If it is sweets that you crave, the holiday markets are brimming with handmade candies and chocolates, freshly baked cannoli, colorful macarons and caramelized Belgian waffles.
The markets also offer ample gift foods: a box of handmade truffles, a tin of cookies or a gift bag filled with Gruyère pretzels for hosts and hostesses. For the food lovers and chefs, something special for the kitchen, dish towels featuring seasonal vegetables, hand-carved spoons and cutting boards, and eco-friendly dish soaps and hand creams are always welcome gifts.
Here’s where to go while these holiday markets are in season:
Winter Village at Bryant Park
Open through January 4
This holiday market is always the first to open for the season. Vendors customize their own glass kiosks. Among the hats, scarves and jewelry boutiques are excellent food options to give as gifts (chocolates, organic tea, jams and handmade candy). For al fresco dining in the market, you will want to try several things and share them with your companions, maybe empanadas, chili and sushi, with churros, crêpes and donuts for dessert.
Grand Central Holiday Fair
Open through December 24
The Holiday Fair is exceptional this year, featuring primarily handcrafted gift items from New York and across the country. With Love from Brooklyn offers gift boxes of artisanal foods made in Brooklyn (hot sauces, jams, pickles, achaar, mayonnaise, hard candies, chocolate bars, cookies, granola and so much more). Chocolatier Jacques Torres has a kiosk in the Holiday Fair, too, with his signature hot cocoa mixes and bonbons. You can also find Claudia Pearson‘s tea towels featuring seasonal vegetables and iconic symbols of New York. There are many more food options in the nearby Grand Central Food Market.
Union Square Holiday Market
Open through December 24
Both Union Square and the Columbus Circle Holiday Markets are perfect spots for hungry people. The market is designed as a place to meet with friends and eat some wonderful food that you can easily carry as you shop. Order a Farmers Market crêpe made with ingredients from the Union Square Greenmarket, just a few feet away, or meatballs or Persian soups. Lovely sweets include macarons, fresh cannoli, cardamom cookies and salt caramels.
Columbus Circle Holiday Market
Open December 2–24
One of the nicest aspects of this holiday market, aside from the high-quality shopping from top local artisans and its proximity to a wintry Central Park, is the food section with long communal tables. It features many international foods to eat for lunch or dinner: German bratwurst and glue wine, Korean BBQ, Hong Kong street food, Spanish charcuterie and a wide variety of baked goods.
Urban Garden Center Holiday Market
Urban Garden Center is open 7 days a week
The Urban Garden Center is an oasis of green beneath the Metro-North rails in East Harlem. You can buy your locally grown Christmas tree there and shop from neighborhood craft artisans. You really want to go there for the Korean BBQ every Saturday throughout the holiday season. Harlem Seoul has two smokers on-site and serves a mouthwatering plate of pulled pork with Korean-style sauces, grilled mushrooms and cold beer. The Holiday Market and BBQ are open every Saturday through December 23.
Hester Street Holiday Market at One Penn Plaza
Open December 1–23
This pillar of the Lower East Side is moving uptown for their Holiday Market at One Penn Plaza across from Penn Station. They have curated a beautifully well-balanced mix of handmade gift items and fantastic foods to eat while you shop and to give as gifts. Their well-known food vendors bring us handmade charcuterie, Brazilian pão de queijo (cheese puffs), Jamaican delicacies, boozy cupcakes, freshly made mini donuts, lemonade and apple cider drinks and pies in a jar.
Food52 Holiday Market
Open December 4–7
Food52, the online community of food lovers and cooks, is hosting a food and cooking market with many of the vendors and products from their online store, Provisions. Kick off the holidays with holiday shopping happy hours, wine and food tastings and baking or gift-wrapping workshop. (Some fees apply.)
Holidays at Chelsea Market
Open 7 days a week
Chelsea Market may not be a holiday market in and of itself, but it is included in this list because it is a worldwide food destination and also host to several beautiful holiday pop-up markets: ID Pop Shop, Jingle Market and Artists & Fleas. Chelsea Market is a true crowd pleaser simply because the food options are so abundant: sushi, small production cheeses, imported Italian delicacies, fresh breads and baked goods, steamed lobsters and much, much more.
Union Square Greenmarket
Open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays
Sometimes, the best gifts come in a jar. At the Union Square Greenmarket, you will find a beautiful range of gift items made by farmers and food purveyors from within 250 miles of New York City. Jams and chutneys from Beth’s Farm Kitchen come already boxed with colorful ribbons. Who wouldn’t love a flight of honeys from city rooftops and Hudson Valley hives? If you look carefully, you will see skeins of merino wool, locally produced spices, beeswax candles and silky hand lotions. Check GrowNYC‘s website for vendor information.
LIC Flea — ’Tis the Fleason
Open Saturday and Sundays through December 21
Here is the thing — one of the largest food markets is actually just a short subway ride away in Long Island City, Queens. Located in a large warehouse space, this indoor market features flea and artisan vendors, selling a wonderful array of gift items, and over a dozen excellent food vendors. Vegan fare, nachos, empanadas, po’ boys and fried chicken for savory foods meet beignets, freshly brewed tea, handmade marshmallows, ice cream and lots of baked goods to appease any craving you may have.
See the entire 2014 New York City Holiday Markets Guide on Karen’s website.