In addition to checking out NYC glorious lights displays, lacing up and taking a spin on one of New York City’s many ice skating rinks, or getting a snap with Santa, one of the best things to do during Christmas season in NYC is head to a holiday market. It’s a perfect ways to take in a festive scene, shop for gifts and goodies, and enjoy delicious hot food. The Union Square Holiday Market and Columbus Circle Holiday Market are two of the best, having become iconic additions to the NYC holiday season. What can you expect at the markets in 2019? Check out our guide to the Union Square Holiday Market and the Columbus Circle Holiday Market below!

photo: Sunshine M. via Yelp

Holiday Markets: What's the Big Deal?

Hitting up a holiday market during the holidays in NYC is a must-do. Why? In addition to being a fun way to soak up some cheer, these markets aren't stocked with your ordinary, everyday made-in-China items you'll find in a mall. Instead, they're filled with a curated group of vendors from around the Northeast that sell unique, handcrafted items that make truly special gifts. The markets are a great opportunity to find meaningful gifts for everyone on your list—kids, friends, pets, grandparents and beyond. From home decor, jewelry, clothing and art, to ornaments, toys, dolls and foodie gifts, it's all here!  

Add to that dozens of food options from favorite local eateries, free activities and music and you've got all the makings of an efficient, festive, filling and fun holiday outing in New York City! 

Note that depending on when you go, it can get very crowded at these holiday markets. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but something to consider if you need to roam freely and hate lines. Weekends can be hectic! 

Both the Union Square Holiday Market and the Columbus Circle Holiday Market are operated by UrbanSpace (the people behind the holiday market at Bryant Park, and others). The uptown market is now in its 16th season, while downtown returns for a 26th this year; both  shopping destinations serve up homespun treats and hand-crafted items from hundreds of local and regional vendors.

Hot tip: to really make the most of your trip, get maps of each site, and lots of gift ideas for all types of people, take a look at the Urbanspace Holiday Market Gift Guide here!

Union Square Holiday Market

The popular Holiday Market at Union Square opens before the one at Columbus Circle. (Shopping started downtown on November 21; doors open on December 4 uptown.) 

Union Square gets refreshed this year, with an upgraded look, and new sections, like "Little Brooklyn", featuring artisans and makers from the borough, and Urbanspace Provisions where you can get locally-produced "food, drink and 'spice of life' supplies. There's also a kid's area with free art projects, and live music to enjoy while you shop. 

Note that you can view a map of the Union Square Holiday Market here, which will be helpful navigating this vast outdoor emporium! 

photo: Betsy S. via Yelp

Hot Spots at Union Square

If you get chilly in Union Square, head to the Warming Station and Lounge Presented by Citi, where you can get free hot chocolate from United Chocolate Works and snap pic in a photo booth. 

Columbus Circle Holiday Market

Anchored by the USS Maine monument at Columbus Circle,  The Columbus Circle Holiday Market is a destination for shoppers both local and international looking for an elegant and unique holiday shopping experience.

Located at the entrance to Central Park, at 59th street and Central Park West, the market is now in its 15th year, and has the added bonus of not only being near the nature of Central Park, but also the upscale mall of The Shops at Columbus Circle. (Which is home to its very own light display, that you should check out!)

You can see a map of vendors here.

What to Eat at the Holiday Markets

We were sad to see one of our all-time favorite food vendors was not at Union Square this year (we miss you Sonrisa Empanada!), but you will not go hungry at these markets. Grab a bite to eat and enjoy under the warm heated lamps in Union Square or at the communal picnic tables in Columbus Circle.

Here are some of our favorites:

If your kids are fans of pizza (and let's face it, who isn't?) the pizza balls at Arancini Bros (Union: D17) will satisfy even the pickiest eaters. They're crispy on the outside and warm and gooey on the inside, like a compact pizza perfect for little hands. (Parents, we recommend the Thanksgiving special!)

Nothing warms you inside better than soup, and there are a few options to choose from: The borscht from Veselka Pierogi Bar (Union: D16) was sweet and filling (and came with a few slices of soft bread), while the spice-infused soups of Taste of Persia (Union: D18) are great if you love lots of flavor in your soup (and they come with a slice of pita).

Columbus Circle has more options for food if you're looking for a meal (not just a tasty treat). Here, you'll find tacos and burritos from Frida's Favorites Mexican Cantina (Columbus B39), sweet and savory bureks at Balkan Bites (Columbus: B33), and more!

Hot chocolate and other warm winter drinks are also easy to find here, but this writer's personal favorite is the hot (non-alcoholic) gluehwein from German Delights (Union: B40, C37, Columbus: A10, B41).

And no matter which holiday market you go to, Wafels & Dinges (Union: D11, Columbus: B62) is a must — if you haven't already, try the speculoos and fall in love!

photo: Yuliya Geikhman

What to Do at the Holiday Markets

Besides shopping and eating, the Union Square holiday market in particular is also home to the Art Station for kids, where kids can make art for free, courtesy of the Children's Museum of the Arts. The station is open after school on weekdays and all day on weekends and is a warm and inviting place for little ones to spend some time creating. There are plenty of art supplies and staff is on hand to lead kids in the projects—when we stopped by, kids were making their own tunnel books (cut out diorama-style mini-scenes) but future crafts include puppets, 3D lanterns, hanging stars, and winter cityscapes.

Alternatively, kids can pet and comb—yes, comb—the walls of the art station (pictured here), which are covered with the soft fur of the friendly art monster whose smile greets you from one of the walls when you enter.

For a sensory experience, visit Spices & Tease (Union: B31, Columbus: B35) to enjoy the scents and colors of their assortment of spice and tea mixes (and maybe take some home—they're all delicious!).

Little Extras at Union Square

Union is also home to a few other spots of interest, like a tree made of flat wood lit up by lights, where people have written positive messages for visitors, and a whole section dedicated to Brooklyn-made crafts called Little Brookyn.

photo: Yuliya Geikhman

Shopping for Kids at Holiday Markets

You can shop for all ages at the holiday markets, but you'll also find so many whimsical creations that will be especially appealing for kids. There are too many options to list but we've picked out some of our favorite spots that kids will love to explore—and that would make perfect gifts for the little ones! And here's a bonus: Want to save a bit when you visit? SquareSpace has three pages full of coupons starting on page 24 of their Holiday Gift Guide.

There are lots of cute toys this year, many of which are handmade and are really one-of-a-kind. For a toy with a purpose, check out Dragonette by La Muse Kalliope (Union: C13), whose adorable critters will help you meet your goals in different ways: One creature, for instance, has a piece of rectangular felt on his back into which you cut a spike for each goal you accomplish and help him meet his own goal of becoming a dinosaur!

If your kid wants a new miniature twinsie, stop by Hazel Village (Union: D9, pictured here)), where children can pick out an adorable animal plush, dress him up in a cute outfit, and get the same outfit for themselves so they can match their new friend.

You can also snag plenty of unique toys for tots at booths like Craftspring (Union: A50, Columbus: A20) for handmade felt ornaments, Little Poland Gallery (Union: C5) for wooden eco-friendly toys, New York Puzzle Company (Union: C28, Columbus: B51) for the jigsaw lovers in your life, and so many more.

photo: Yuliya Geikhman

Unique Gifts for Pets, Friends & Others

This is just a small sampling of all the vendors on display this year! Besides the many child-oriented options, you can really find something for everyone—whether you're looking for a gift for your eco-conscious cousin (try Three Bluebirds' reusable washcloths—Union: C42, Columbus: A22), your bestie (maybe they'd appreciate With Roots' gorgeous plant-based pendants—Union: A76), or your pet (Manhattan's Meow Parlour has a cat loaf bed your just has to have—Union: A61).

The Important Details

Union Square Holiday Market
Union Square, South Side
Nov. 21 - Dec. 24
Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.- 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
212-529-9262
Online: urbanspacenyc.com

Columbus Circle Holiday Market
Central Park West and 59th Street
Dec. 4 - Dec. 24
Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.- 8 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
212-529-9262
Online: urbanspacenyc.com

—Yuliya Geikhman

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