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Go to christmas markets
There's no better way to experience the winter season than visiting a holiday market, where you can buy last-minute gifts -- and treat yourself to hot chocolate, mulled wine, cookies, and other sweets.
This centuries-old European tradition has since caught on in North America and other parts of the world, where most holiday markets now include entertainment, children's play areas, and sometimes even a little snow or a visit from Santa himself.
From Austria to Canada, pick up unique holiday gifts at these Christmas markets and stay to sample some of the region's best seasonal cuisine.
Strasbourg, France: Strasbourg hosts nearly a dozen Christmas markets, but Christkindelsmärik is the largest. Hundreds of artisans sell traditional holiday gifts and handmade items in the area around Strasbourg Cathedral.
Nuremberg, Germany Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg is one of the world's most famous holiday markets. Dating back to the mid-16th century, this holiday market is also one of the oldest. Held in the center square of Nuremberg's old town, the Christmas market earned the nickname "Little Town from Wood and Cloth" for its abundance of wooden stalls -- nearly 200 in all -- decorated in red and white cloth.
Copenhagen, Denmark Held on the grounds of historic Tivoli Gardens amusement park, Copenhagen's popular Christmas Market is a wonderland of sight and sound. A Christmas Village offers souvenirs, artisan goods, and local delicacies like aebleskiver -- or Danish pancakes -- and glogg, a warm combo of red wine and spices that's the Scandinavian version of glühwein (mulled wine).
Barcelona, Spain Barcelona's largest holiday market specializes in traditional holiday goods such as Christmas trees, poinsettias, and nativity scenes. You'll also find artisan items and an entire section devoted to instruments.
This is the place to purchase a caganer, a small squatting figure with its pants around its ankles and a "surprise" in back -- the figurines have been a beloved addition to Catalan nativity scenes for centuries.
Toronto, Canada Much like the city itself, the Toronto Christmas Market is a blend of old world and new. Along with a Ferris wheel, beer, and mulled wine gardens, shoppers choose between dozens of stalls selling everything from woolly hats and alpaca shawls to regional treats like maple syrup.
Vienna, Austria About 70 exhibitors set up their wares at Parade Court in front of Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace, peddling such holiday goods as Advent wreaths, tin toys, and handmade Christmas decorations.
Along with sausages, crepes, and warm apple desserts, culinary highlights include raclette with bread and gröstl, pan-fried potatoes served with various ingredients such as eggs, pork, and onion.
Manchester, England With eight Christmas markets spread throughout Manchester, the market at Albert Square -- at the foot of the Neo-Gothic-designed Manchester Town Hall -- is a regional favorite. Both local and European vendors are on hand with everything from amber jewelry and handcrafted leather bags to bonsai trees and bird houses.