Tis’ the Season for Christmas Markets

Christmas markets at night

Brace yourselves, the holiday season is upon us. I recently visited the store to pick up a few things for Halloween, but I was too late. Christmas decor was already up, Halloween forgotten before it even started. All across Europe, people are starting to think of markets: the hot mulled wine, the expensive tree ornaments, the prune men. Here’s the lowdown on planning your perfect holiday tour of these magical markets.

Brace yourselves for the holiday season

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Before you jet set to Europe to start sipping vin chaud, there are a few things to keep in mind. Probably the most important is: it’s going to be cold. The temps may look fairly mild from where you’re sitting right now, but trust me, after several hours outside, you’ll wish you’d packed warmer clothing. Make sure you have a good winter jacket, and above all else, comfortable shoes.

Christmas markets are all about walking, and the eating areas usually just have some high-top tables to stand at, no chairs. So expect to be on your feet for hours at a time, and choose footwear accordingly. Bonus points if they’re good in the rain or snow, since you’re likely to encounter at least one of those in November and December.

Which leads to the next question, what dates are you planning to go? Every Christmas market has different start and end dates. You can expect them to start sometime in the last week of November, all the way through the first week of December. Definitely plan which cities you intend to visit before you go, and check online that their markets will be open when you plan to be there. While the start dates of the Christmas markets are variable, almost all of them end December 23rd or 24th. There are a few that extend beyond Christmas, but aim for hitting them up before Christmas.

Bring cash! Food stalls almost exclusively accept cash, and you’re likely only going to have the option to use a credit card if you’re buying an expensive item.

And how do you plan to take your gifts home? If I know I’m planning to do a lot of shopping, I try to pack an extra bag. I usually pack my smaller suitcase inside my larger suitcase, and then fill one of them with gifts on the way back! Saves me having to buy a new bag, and if I pack well, I can use the smaller bag as a carry-on, avoiding more bag fees. 

Christmas markets decor
Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Santa Claus is Coming To Town

And oh, what gifts he brings. You will have no shortage of great gift ideas as you stroll through the Christmas markets. Besides enjoying the experience and atmosphere, you probably plan to bring some things home to your friends and family. 

The simplest souvenir, and a memento of your experience, are the
glühwein mugs. Most markets have a unique mug that has the year and location written on it. Normally, you put a deposit down on these mugs that you get back after returning the mug to the stall. However, you can choose to keep them instead, starting a collection or giving them as gifts. 

Each Christmas market will be overflowing with tree ornaments for sale. You will find everything from the sentimental to the funky. I tend to go for handmade over anything else, and there is no shortage of these either. Besides ornaments, expect to find each region’s handicrafts available for sale. The prune men I mentioned in the intro are a Nuremberg tradition that actually are not fit for consumption! So what should you eat instead?

Christmas markets sell handmade tree ornaments
Photo by Guillaume Bourdages on Unsplash

Marshmallow World

I would say that food might be the most important part of the Christmas markets. Sure, there’s lots of shopping. But the food stalls are where everyone gathers to really take in the experience. Grab a mug of svařák, and check the stalls for some of these German treats:

  • Schokokuss – Chocolate covered marshmallow, need I say anything else?
  • Bratwurst – Each market does this differently!
  • Kartoffellpuffer – Fried potatoes with applesauce or garlic sauce. Not my cup of tea (I’m not a fan of potatoes), but apparently a beloved treat.
  • Lebkucken – Gingerbread! You can find it hard or soft. You’ll often see big hearts being sold as ornaments that are decorated gingerbread. While these don’t taste the best, they can be a nice gift.
  • Germknodel – German dumplings, filled with jam and topped with a vanilla cream sauce.
  • Maroni – Candied nuts, perfect for eating while walking.
  • Kinderpunsch – If you’ve had enough of the kuhano vino or are traveling with children, this is an alcohol-free alternative. 
Have some gingerbread with your mulled wine at the Christmas markets
Photo by Evelin Horvath on Unsplash

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Do you know exactly where you plan to visit? If your itinerary is still open, I have some suggestions. If you’ve never been to a market at all, I suggest starting in Germany. Even small towns in Germany will have Christmas markets. But I’ve included some spectacular options in other countries as well:

  • Nuremberg – This is the largest Christmas market in the world.
  • Dresden – The oldest Christmas market in the world.
  • Konstanz – Located on the water at the foot of the Alps, this is a picturesque location to take in the markets.
  • Vienna – Considered one of the best markets in Europe, there are concerts in the churches throughout the city. Also, a Snow Globe Museum!
  • Zagreb – Voted Europe’s Best Christmas Market for the last 3 years.
  • Rovaniemi – Visit Santa’s Hometown in the Arctic Circle.
  • Strasbourg – Chandeliers in the street make these markets brilliant.
Some Christmas markets have rides and ice skating rinks
Photo by Jonas Smith on Unsplash

Are you planning to visit any Christmas markets this year, or have you visited any in the past? Let me know which ones in the comments below! If you or your girlfriends have any holiday trips coming up, you should check out Companach’s Curated Travel Newsletter! It’s a great way to receive information about your destination as well as get you hyped before you go.

Also, you may have noticed I had some words italicized throughout the article. These were the different ways of saying mulled wine in different languages. Have any to add?