TRAVEL: 5 Ws for Exploring the European Christmas Markets – Your Questions Answered
European Christmas makes my heart happy, and I am sure everyone else who has ever experienced them before. (Exception for those who don’t like cold weather at all). Last year we spent our Christmas holidays in Germany and took a little European Christmas Markets tour through Switzerland and France as well. We are no strangers to the ways of market exploration.
So, here are the 5 Ws, the Who, What, When, Where and Why, of exploring the European Christmas Market.
Who should go to the markets?
If you love all things wintery and Christmas (or love a good spiced hot wine), then the markets are for you! Of course, the locals get the most of out their town’s Christmas Market, but because the Christmas markets and villages are all slightly different in how they decorate, visitors find their way to visit a few different markets in other cities and countries if possible!
You should expect there to be one main market area with wooden houses set up just for the month of December. If visiting a larger city, several smaller markets will be set up around popular neighborhoods. The markets will have a festive atmosphere and music, lots of visitors walking around and enjoying the food and wine, and several shops to buy goodies and souvenirs.
…. should you eat?
The food is one of the best parts of Christmas markets. Try one of the many flavors of sausages and pastries. Most importantly sample the mulled wine or Gulwhein. When you order your first wine at the markets, a deposit is made for the ceramic mugs. When another mug of wine is ordered, the last mug is exchanged for a new one, and you pay only for the refill. When you are ready to leave, return the mug to any vendor that sells wine, and they will refund your deposit.
… should you buy?
Every year each market has the new custom made mugs used for serving hot drinks. Instead of returning your mug for its 2 euro deposit, start a small collection of Christmas market mugs! If you are lucky, you can find mugs from previous years. Other than food, we found a small delicate wooden ornament with a detailed snowy village as a tiny, easy to pack souvenir.
… else should you do?
Our sole purpose of these visits was to see different Christmas markets in Europe. It made deciding what to do and how to spend our time easy. However, every city has their historical museums, churches, and other touristy activities if you tire of wine and food. Take time to explore outside the Christmas atmosphere to learn more about the culture and city.
… should you bring?
Cash! Most markets work off of Euros, and it is interchangeable in most EU countries. In Germany, they much prefer to take cash and don’t always offer a payment option for cards!
Dress warmly. The temps can be chilling around that time of year even if the sun is out in full force. Make sure to check the temperatures and dress warmly. We were so thankful that friends of ours brought little hand warmers to share with us!
When should you go?
Most markets start the first week of advent, and some as early as November 26. Perhaps they are trying to catch some of the Americans on their Thanksgiving breaks, but you will never see me complaining about that! Some markets end before Christmas day while other take a break on the 24th -26th and reopen again for New Year travelers. Each town has a website for the markets giving more details about when they start and finish.
Otherwise, go early in the day to avoid the afternoon and evening crowds! It gets very busy!
Where should you stay?
Hotels in the town center come with a high price. Consider using a private rental such as Airbnb instead. The rental usually comes with all you need and often a kitchen for those who enjoy cooking and coffee in the morning.
Everyone has their own favorite Christmas Markets, and you will have no issues finding scores of suggestions about what markets to visit. Our first markets took us to Basel in Switzerland (listen here), Strasbourg in France (listen here), and several in Germany (listen here).
Now it’s your turn:
Have you been to the Christmas Markets? If so, which ones?
What did you love about them?
What suggestions would you add?
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