Wednesday, October 5, 2022

6 tips for planning the perfect trip to dazzling European Christmas markets

I am a Christmas enthusiast. the kind of gal who puts out the tree on the day after Thanksgiving and has holiday music on blast all season. So, it should come as little surprise that I am OBSESSED with European Christmas markets! Want to join in the festive fun? Read on for 6 tips for planning the perfect trip!

Christmas tree in palace courtyard in Regensburg, German
Thurn und Taxis in Regensburg, Germany

1. Don't just focus on the biggest European Christmas markets.

Mother, father, and two daughters pose in front of Christmas market

Europe is chock-full of Christmas markets! The most famous ones are classics like Vienna's Christkindlmarkt and Strasbourg's Christkindelsm√§rik, but there are small charming markets all over, and others with a hipper, indie vibe.  

Merman ornament wearing lederhosen and carrying a stein on a Christmas tree
My beloved merman ornament 
Looking for charming? Thurn und Taxis in Regensburg, Germany, was the most magical European Christmas market we visited, and it's in a town we wouldn't have previously considered visiting. Set in an actual castle courtyard and filled with high-quality crafts and twinkling lights, it was everything you imagine holiday cheer should be. 

Looking for more of a party vibe? Look no further than Munich's LBGTQ pink market. At this Christmas Market, I bought my favorite ever Christmas ornament, an honest to God sexy lederhosen-wearing merman. Then I followed up that shopping feat by taking in a Whitney Houston drag performance while slurping down a delectable, chocolatey Lumumba cocktail

The markets are at their best at night when locals come to let off steam after work, the lights are twinkling and the glog is flowing. So you can easily hit other tourist spots or travel between towns during the day and do all of your market hopping in the evening.

2. Look for accommodations near the main markets and book early.

The biggest markets are quite popular, so book early. We found an affordable apart-hotel near the action in Munich (Hotel Deutsche Eiche) so our kids could walk everywhere, and the Novotel Hotel Nuernberg Centre Ville for our stop at Nuremberg's famed children's Christmas market. One annoying thing you should anticipate is that many US flights get into Europe obnoxiously early in the morning, which means you have to figure out where your exhausted family and your bags will go before you can get into your accommodations. 

Mother and daughters on bridge in Copenhagen in winter
Copenhagen Christmas Markets

We arrived in Copenhagen at the crack of dawn and our Airbnb wasn't ready. So we headed to the citizenM Copenhagen R√•dhuspladsen which had a comfortable cafe complete with a yummy breakfast and big soft sofas where we could snooze until it was time to go. It was a godsend when we were tired and lugging around bags. 

We walked nearly everywhere on this trip and found that to be easy to manage even with kids under 7 in tow. I recommend an air tag bracelet (air tag + bracelet) for kids so you have peace of mind when you're out and about! Our youngest made a break for it in the very crowded Rothenburg market, and it was scary. Fortunately, we found her quickly, but now we always travel with GPS bracelets.

Blond girl in fall foliage
3. Consider Thanksgiving for a visit to European Christmas markets.

Different markets open throughout the season, so you have to confirm dates before making any firm decisions, but we found that all of the ones we wanted to visit were open by Thanksgiving week. It's a perfect time to visit because it's not as cold and flight prices are lower than the stratospheric holiday pricing you find for domestic travel. We were pleasantly surprised by the weather in both Copenhagen and Germany during our visit, and the crowds were manageable. 

Bonus - by going in November, you get some beautiful lingering fall foliage as we did in Munich's English Garden.

4. Leave empty luggage space for all the crafts you'll bring home from the Christmas markets.

Mother and daughters browsing at a European Christmas market
Shopping at a European Christmas market

The best markets are filled with lovely and unique ornaments and other crafts. If you're used to the mass-produced crap you find at a lot of American street fairs, you will be very pleasantly surprised. I came home with a bag full of keepsakes that I cherish bringing out each year. Look out for nutcrackers, incense smokers, knitted items, and local specialties like Germany and Austria's lebkuchen (a sturdy heart-shaped cookie that is more about looks than taste). 

Another fun item to collect are the special market-specific mugs you can buy when you order kinderpunch or gluhwein. You can return the mug and get a deposit back or keep it as we did. I love breaking out my myriad of Christmas market mugs
each holiday.

5. Try all the European Christmas market food specialties.

Usually, when I travel I obsess over where to eat, but when it comes to holiday markets, you'd be missing out if you planned all your meals at restaurants. The markets are full of so many delectable snacks and meals. So much so, that we barely ate at restaurants in the evenings. Specialties are hyper-local, so you should do some recon before arriving so you know what to keep an eye out for. Some of my favorites in Germany were currywurst, kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), flammkuchen (Alsatian flatbreads), and schneeballen (fried snowballs found in the very crowded fairy-tale village of Rothenburg).

Atractive man holds beer stein and sausage in winter
Jeff grabs dinner at a market
Little girl in front of European Christmas market pastries
Gemma can't wait to eat in Rothenburg

Chocolate pastry in front of Christmas market lights

6. Don't forget the Christmas cocktails.

Attractive woman in winter jacket drinking gluhwein at Christmas market

Drinking is part of the fun at Christmas markets, and there are delicious local specialties. Gluhwein, a hot mulled wine, is common, as is glog. But, it was a German specialty I'd never even heard of that won my heart. Eierpunsch is similar to eggnog, but is made with a German egg liquor. I tried to recreate it once I arrived home but it just wasn't the same. Another can't-miss is a flaming cocktail - the feuerzangenbowle. I tried one at one of my favorite markets, Munich's Mittelaltermarkt, an incredibly atmospheric Medieval market.

The Adventurous Tastes European Christmas Market Itinerary

  • 2 nights Copenhagen - don't miss Tivoli, their beautifully decorated amusement park where you can check out the market and ride the excellent rollercoasters.
  • 3 nights Munich - there are so many markets here, we had plenty to keep us busy.
  • 1 night Nuremberg/Romantic road - included a stop in Regensburg, home of my very favorite market
  • 1 night Frankfurt departure - included stop at Rothenburg, which is truly stunning but Disneyworld-level crowded

This year we're off to Paris, Vienna, Salzburg, and a quick one-night stop in Munich to catch our direct flight home (hello flaming cocktail!) Can't wait to share more about our experience!

Palace in Munich with text: Plan the ultimate trip to European Christmas Markets

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