Opinion: Christmas markets as a year-end incentive

By Holly Mills, head of incentives at Penguins, a UK-based event and incentives company 

Whilst October may seem like a strange time to write about Christmas markets and it being a travel trend, there is actually no better time than now. The Christmas and New Year period inspires in us the desire to set goals, dream big and create plans. It is the perfect time to start thinking about the achievement of corporate objectives, the motivation of employees and an end-of-year celebration through incentive programmes. It is also the moment when the joys of the festive period are freshest in our minds. These markets create inspirational and magical moments, provide opportunities for unique, frivolous and indulgent purchases for attendees and their dearest and, most importantly, provide a welcome escape at a time when a break away is not generally on the agenda.

Whilst the German Christmas Markets of Munich are still some of the finest, our explorations across the globe have led us to uncover Christmas markets that would fill even the Grinch’s heart with festive joy. The following markets offer just as much magic, are slightly less known and offer the surprises and uniqueness of culture within each location. As we slowly edge into 2019, Christmas markets internationally will absolutely be a trendsetter for years to come and will be incorporated into various companies’ end-of-year incentive programmes. You’re not often exposed to market recommendations of where to go to explore the Christmas festivities. So, with that being said, check out our top five Christmas markets for 2018 and beyond.

Stuttgart, Germany

Stuttgart is a Penguins favourite. From the end of November, Stuttgart is transformed into a Christmas lover’s paradise. The city and its surrounding area boast a number of unique, yet spectacularly festive, Christmas markets. There are two markets in the heart of the city, so you don’t have to venture far. ‘Weihnachtsmarkt’ is in Markplatz, whilst the Finnish Christmas Village is in Karlsplatz. Here you can get a taste of a traditional Finnish Christmas in the heart of Germany. By venturing a little further afield, you will come across a range of markets in local towns, such as the Baroque Christmas Market in Ludwigsburg or Esslingen’s Medieval Christmas Market. Once you are filled with the joy of Christmas, there is also the opportunity to explore the Mercedes and Porsche museums that can add an extra touch of luxury, maybe with a private dinner or drinks reception at one of these two fantastic venues.

Zagreb, Croatia

In recent years, Croatia has become known as a hot spot for the high life. Throughout the summer months tourists arrive in droves, either to experience the rich culture or party long into the night at one of the island festivals. But as winter takes hold the ancient city of Zagreb prepares for some of its busiest months, as the twice award-winning Christmas markets fill the streets. At the centre of this festive extravaganza sits the Ice Park, between Tomislav Square and the Art Pavilion. This space becomes one of the most spectacular skating and light displays you may ever set your eyes upon. Christmas time truly does bring out the best in Zagreb; the streets are adorned with fantastic light displays, whilst local restaurants make the most of the passing crowds by bringing their kitchens to the streets. This is not so much a Christmas market as a Christmas town. Great to take your team away to. 

Riga, Latvia

Riga was named the European Capital of Culture in 2014 and it’s easy to see why. Boasting an impressive array of historic buildings, oversized churches and cobbled lanes, this Unesco World Heritage Site provides a truly authentic Latvian experience. The three Christmas markets run from the first week of December to the first week in January and are a little more rustic, which adds to the beauty of the experience. The stalls feature a range of handmade goods, including woodcarvings and locally knitted items. The Christmas markets of Riga are distinctive for their scent. Here, more than other locations, gingerbread is a significant tradition and the sweet and spicy tones linger in the crisp winter air. Another culinary experience that is fairly unique to Riga is the meal of ‘Grey peas and bacon’. Although it may not sound like a delight, on a cold winter’s day this is sure to fill your belly with joy. You may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of the local winter sports such as log dragging or witness a performance from one of the local pop or folk bands that appear around the city.

Chicago, US

If you are looking to offer something a little different, Chicago is a destination you probably were not expecting to find on a list of top Christmas markets, but we feel you will be pleasantly surprised. Obviously, this will require a slightly larger budget due to the cost of flights, but you will not be disappointed by what is on offer. The Christkindle Market is a combination of traditional European market and your childhood imagination of Christmas at Bloomingdale's. There are certainly no corners cut when it comes to investing in the Christmas spirit and, unlike other markets, they have taken into consideration the corporate demand, providing unique spaces that can be hired out, adding that premium feel. It is also great to have an area to get away from the hustle and bustle.

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