Tips for Your Visit to the European Christmas Markets
Tips to enjoy the European Christmas Markets
The first winter markets date back to 1298 in Vienna. These were set up for locals to stock up on winter necessities and mostly meat. The Germans expanded on this open-air winter market selling seasonal treats, decorations, and hand-made crafts.
In 1385, the first market associated with Christmas called Christkindlemarkt is on record in Bautzen Saxony.
Over hundreds of years, German Christmas Markets continued to evolve across Europe and even worldwide. They harken back to the spirit of Christmas with locals getting together in the town square, buying local gifts and sharing some food and drink to celebrate the season.
I have had the chance to experience over 25 Christmas Markets over the years in Germany, France, Czech Republic, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Austria, & Hungary and each one has its own local flavor. It’s a wonderful chance to see each town’s traditions, interact with the locals and enjoy some Christmas Cheer.
These are my top tips to enjoy the Christmas markets in Europe.
Take a Stroll
Each town usually holds its Christmas market in the main medieval square giving the market a wonderful background and atmosphere of tradition going back hundreds of years. A Christmas tree usually sits in the center of the square expertly decorated with glistening lights.
With huts setup up around the perimeter and in winding rows throughout, it’s a pleasure to stroll through. The huts are run by locals and each brings their own unique spin on their Christmas goods.
You will also find unique Christmas traditions specific to the town and area.
Most of the markets in Germany will have a unique hand-carved nativity set.
In the Czech Republic, there is a small hut called a Zvonička. Children and adults walk through while secretly making a wish. Ringing the bell, they notify the angels who will grant their wish during the Christmas season.
Many towns build ice rinks where you can watch children learn to ice skate with the help of parents or little ice scooters.
In larger towns, there may be a few markets that are themed differently. Munich has a traditional market, medieval market, pink market, and Tollwood (alternative Christmas Market). The streets between the markets are often also beautifully decorated.
Shop for Treasures
After taking my stroll and seeing the variety of what is offered in the market, I am ready to shop. Each Christmas Market will have handmade ornaments made by local craftsmen that are a wonderful gifts & personal memento of your trip as usually not two are alike.
In addition to the traditional Christmas ornaments, you will find hand-crafts, home decor, jewelry, leather goods and more.
I found wonderful wool hats in the Czech Republic, hand-crafted wooden items in Germany, and linens in France. All of these were at great prices and made locally and unique.
Eat & Drink
With my purchases safely stowed in my day bag, I am ready to EAT.
You might not be able to hold out during your shopping as the food smells are divine and colorful treats will be calling your name as you stroll through.
A wide variety of food will be available in the markets from sausages, cheeses, potato dishes and fried goodness. Each town and even each market will be a little different.
The sausages in Germany are different between towns and flavored differently in the Czech Republic.
….And then there are the sweets. You must try the gingerbread (lebkuchen) in Germany.
Drink some Hot Spiced Wine or Glühwein
Hot spiced wine is served at most of the markets across Europe.
In the UK, it is just called hot spiced wine. In Germany, it’s called Glühwein. In the Czech Republic it is called vařák. Regardless of the name, it’s good and a welcome treat to ward off the cold.
The Glühwein’s are made from tightly guarded family recipes with different levels of spices, fruits and local wines.
Special booths within the Christmas Markets serve up the boiling concoction in a 6-7 ounce (.2L) mug shaped like a Christmas boot.
A Pfand (deposit) is added to the price of drinks. The deposit is usually 2-4 euros. The deposit is refunded if the mug is returned. Depending on the market, the mugs are returned to the original stall or to a special central collection point.
Non-alcoholic versions are available called Kinderpunsch. Hot Chocolate is often offered as well.
Three Tips for collecting Christmas Mugs
People Watch & Socialize
The decorations will delight, the food will saturate your palate, but just people-watching is one of my favorite things about the Christmas Markets.
Locals meet up at different markets and enjoy their holiday time, celebrating the spirit of the community.
The tables outside the food booths are for standing at to enjoy your food & drink your Gluhwein. They are meant to be shared and I have had several lovely conversations with locals while they explain their Christmas traditions, share their favorite secrets about their towns and ask plenty of questions about American Christmases.
It’s a great atmosphere and chance to mingle.
When to go to the Christmas Marts?
Christmas markets in most towns align with the Advent month before Christmas starting in late November and continue until December 23rd. However, each town is different so check the local schedule. In Germany, Christmas markets are usually not held on December 24 or December 25.
The markets will open anywhere from 10 am to 2 pm and end anywhere from 8 pm to 10 pm.
My recommendation is to go sightseeing & visit the local landmarks in the AM when these attractions are open. I would then head to the Christmas markets after lunch as most of the stalls will now be open and do some strolling and shopping during daylight and with fewer crowds.
Sunset in Europe during Christmas is likely around 4 pm in most areas and this is the magical time in the markets. The sun goes down and the lights come on. Photography during the blue hour (one-hour post sunset) is especially magical.
I love to grab a cup of Gluhwein and cozy up at a food stall to enjoy the atmosphere and watch the lights come up.
More Christmas Market Tips
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