Europe in the winter: European Christmas Markets

Hi Frugalistas!

Getting there early doesn’t have the same atmosphere, it is certainly easier to get about – Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber

As Christmas looms many European cities and towns are revving up for their annual Christmas Market.  Whether you visit one or many, here is how to make the most of your trip:

1.  How many should you visit and which ones?

Really, that is entirely up to you and how much you love markets.  Personally, I visit every market I come across regardless of the time of year. But as regular readers know, that’s just me!  While there are common features and some of the goods can be very similar, there are differences between locations.  Do a bit of research and work out the higher profile ones – Strasbourg in France and Nuremburg in Germany have reputations for being particularly good (Nuremburg I can vouch for), but Munich is also a particular favorite of mine.  Don’t underestimate how lovely a small town market can be – in Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber the local school choir put on a show – delightful.

2.  What time of the day should you visit?

Most markets open mid to late morning and stay open until quite late at night (particularly in larger cities).  Obviously earlier in the day things are a lot quieter if you want to browse in peace.  In the evenings things warm up, the atmosphere changes and the market is certainly a lot more convivial.

The pretty Dresden lights at dusk – very crowded round the gluwein stalls, but what an atmosphere!

3.  Eating and drinking

Every market will have plenty to tempt you in the food and drink department.  Mulled wine (gluwein in Germany) and sausages are standard fare.  If you are not a wine drinker or have children in tow, don’t despair, a flavoursome non-alcoholic version (called kinderpunch in Germany) is available and delicious – you won’t feel deprived.  The sausages will change everywhere you go – this is a time when the regional sausage rules.  The Nuremburg sausages are famous in German Christmas markets, but my personal favorites were the ones in Munich.  Also look out for fruit dipped in chocolate and served on a stick, crepes and gingerbread (especially in Nuremburg).

4.  Acting like a local

This is easy.  Grab yourself a mug for your mulled wine – each market does it differently, but generally you buy your mug (usually about EUR2) at the first wine stand you visit, then swap it for a clean one each time you replenish within that market.  In some places you go to a separate “mug station” and buy your mug before heading off to buy your wine.  Then buy your sausage and bread roll.  You’ll find standing tables near each of the food stands to perch at.

5.  Great things to buy

There will be things that you find everywhere – especially the wooden Christmas ornaments.  If your guidebook doesn’t help with local specialty items then ask at the hotel – your hotelier will only be too pleased to help you with the local regional foods and Christmas crafts to look out for (or ask the food guys at the market).  One easy thing to buy is your mulled wine mug – each market has a different design with the year on it making them a delightful and cheap souvenir.  We just washed our last one out when we got back to the hotel, and packed our socks and underwear in them to keep them safe.  In general, things to look out for are:  wooden Christmas ornaments, gingerbread (definitely wait for Nuremburg if you are heading there), or lace Christmas decorations – called plauenspitz in Germancy (you see them all over Germany, but for the best variety, made locally, head to Dresden – Plauen is just outside Dresden).

A stall in Nuremburg – early in the morning!

6.  How to make it fun with children

When we spent December visiting every market we found with our daughter we ran a bit of a competition between the markets – who had the best gluwein (or kinderpunch as the case may be). They do all taste different. Then also who had the best sausages.  Our daughter became quite expert at choosing which gluwein stall looked the best and whose sausages smelled and looked nicest.  We also allowed her to choose a single Christmas ornament at each one.  Again, she became a very discerning shopper cruising the stalls for things we hadn’t seen elsewhere.

7.  Keeping warm

If you aren’t from a cold climate, don’t underestimate how cold you will get at the market.  It was -15C when we visited the market at Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber in Germany, and I’m sure at least the same the next day in Nuremburg.  Full winter uniform is a definite – down coat, hat, scarf, thermals (tops and bottoms), gloves and thick warm socks are definitely the order of the day.  Of course, having another mulled wine or another sausage also helps!

European Christmas markets really are fun and unique.  Seek out the unique aspects of each one, get stuck in and enjoy!


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16 Comments on “Europe in the winter: European Christmas Markets”

  1. janeisawake 25/11/2012 at 5:16 pm #

    This post couldn’t be better timed! This time next week I’ll be inBerlin on my first stop of a 6 week long Christmas market extravaganza! As always, your posts are practical and informative. Good tip about the mug – I hadn’t heard about this.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 25/11/2012 at 5:21 pm #

      That’s exactly why I wrote it today!!

      We were in Berlin after Christmas and missed their market, so I’d be interested in your feedback.

      Hope you enjoy your trip!

  2. Eternal Gringo 25/11/2012 at 6:28 pm #

    Thanks for the information! I too am heading to Europe for 5 weeks over Christmas and plan to visit quite a few markets so this post has come at an ideal time.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 25/11/2012 at 6:32 pm #

      Great! I hope you enjoy it and find my post helpful.

      Thanks also for following my blog – much appreciated!

  3. Jan Ross 26/11/2012 at 1:31 am #

    I would love to visit the Christmas markets someday. When we were in Germany last year at the end of November, they were just setting up all the booths and I couldn’t believe I was going to miss it. One was already set up in Paris and we spent a litle time there one evening and that was nice. But not nearly enough!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 26/11/2012 at 9:37 am #

      ooh, so near and yet so far! It’s a good time to visit Europe as well, as airfares and hotel prices are generally a bit softer.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting

  4. ukchaseral1 26/11/2012 at 6:07 pm #

    That is one of the best things about Xmas. The markets really set the scene! Especially German markets…

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 26/11/2012 at 6:21 pm #

      To we residents of the Southern Hemisphere the whole combo of snow and Christmas markets is just magic. We visited markets in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and I have to say the German ones were definitely the winners for content and atmosphere.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  5. FoundTravel 26/11/2012 at 7:31 pm #

    I love markets – like you, all year round! But the Christmas markets are especially fun – even if it’s just to browse… and to eat and drink on a budget but feel like a queen! I love the Christmas Market in Prague as well as the one in Haarlem (Netherlands)… going to Copenhagen next month to check out theirs!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 26/11/2012 at 7:59 pm #

      If Copenhagen is good make sure you do a post on it. I’ve never visited Prague but a good Christmas market sounds like a fine excuse! 🙂

      • FoundTravel 26/11/2012 at 9:29 pm #

        Prague is MUST See… especially with the Christmas Market. There are some pics on my blog. And from what I see you like to write about.. you will LOVE Prague.

  6. FoundTravel 26/11/2012 at 11:43 pm #

    Reblogged this on Found… Travel and commented:
    A fun and informational overview of the German Christmas Markets!

  7. tinygirlwithbigbag 29/11/2012 at 12:04 am #

    I can highly recommend the Budapest Christmas Market, and of course, the Vienna one. They are pretty, good staff, good food and mulled wine 😉

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 29/11/2012 at 9:17 am #

      Thanks for the tips and for adding to the collective wisdom of the group – much appreciated!

      You need to have a read of my packing posts – make that blog name a misnomer!!

  8. frugalfirstclasstravel 25/11/2012 at 9:22 pm #

    Thanks for the reblog


  1. Europe in the winter: European Christmas Markets « The Adventures of Lex - 25/11/2012

    […] Europe in the winter: European Christmas Markets. […]

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