Nothing is more romantic than Christmas in Europe. At the end of November, Christmas markets pop up in main squares of towns and cities across the continent. Bundled up locals and tourists come out in droves to socialize, eat, drink, and shop at the festive stalls.
You won’t find any kitschy plastic reindeer or a blow up Santas! Europeans decorate with natural evergreen wreaths, garlands, candles, white lights and classic decorations.
Christmas is a magical time in Europe, especially in Germany. I crave Glühwein (hot spiced red wine) and gebrannte Mandeln (roasted candied almonds) in December, they never taste the same anywhere else.
Since I live on California’s Central Coast, I don’t experience winter weather (I know, poor me). I fly to Germany in December, just so I can dust off my winter clothes, hats and boots! Make sure you bring waterproof boots and a warm, water repellent coat. Flights to Europe are usually very reasonable at that time of year. Here are just a few of my favorite Christmas markets.
Munich is my favorite city in the world, especially in December. Upon arrival at the airport, be sure to visit the adorable Christmas market (Christkindlmarkt) and Winter Village at the MAC Forum right at the airport.
The largest (and most crowded) market is in the middle of town in the Marienplatz, and it is AMAZING! A Christmas village with a huge wooden Advent pyramid is set up in the courtyard of the Residenz and is well worth a visit. For children, there is a very cute Christkindlmarkt in the Englischer Garten by the Chinesischer Turm. Also, the neighborhood of Bogenhausen has a wonderful Christkindlmarkt. Be sure to have a Bratwurst and some Glühwein!
Check where the decorations are made, especially the wooden nutcrackers and advent houses. Many of the stalls sell products made in China. Look for the stalls that sell original wooden decorations from the Erzgebirge region of Germany, they are more expensive, but they are original and the most coveted.
Salzburg is a perfect day trip from Munich, trains are available every hour. Leave by 9 in the morning, spend the day in Salzburg and return after dinner! No hauling luggage or checking in and out of hotels required. Of course, I can never visit Salzburg without tunes from The Sound of Music playing in my mind…the hills are alive…! Salzburg Christkindlmarkt is in the main square of the old town, by the cathedral of course.
It will probably be cold, so stop and enjoy a mug of Glühwein to warm yourself up from the inside out. My relatives and I always have at least one!
Make sure you stroll along the alleys and streets of old town Salzburg. Visit the house Mozart was born in (great restaurant for lunch in the courtyard around the back), and do some shopping in the charming boutiques. Goldgasse (literally Gold Alley) has amazing jewelry shops! All of the shops have the most ornate iron signs.
Another quick day trip from Munich is the picturesque village of Bad Tölz, located in the hills before the Bavarian Alps. Breathtaking views of snow capped Alps surround the village. Take a train, or drive there, it’s very close to Munich. There’s a good chance you’ll see snow or sleet, so bring a hat, gloves and warm waterproof boots. The Christkindlmarkt runs up and down the main pedestrian street, so you can shop in the stores and the market stalls. Have a warm lunch and a beer at the Hofbrauhaus restaurant, no it’s not as large as the original in Munich, but its hearty Bavarian fare is perfect for a cold day.
Take a train, fly or drive but you must go to the Christmas Market in Prague. The flight from Munich is an hour and you can find reasonable fares. Plan on staying at least 3 days to see the sights of this amazing city on the Vltava river in the Czech Republic. The Christmas Market is in the Old Town Square (Staromstske Namesti), which has two beautiful churches and the famous Astronomical Clock.
Be sure to walk across Charles Bridge, rub the statues along the way for good luck, and walk up to the castle for an amazing view of the city. Try some Prague Ham at the Christmas market, it’s delicious, especially with a local Czech beer! Top that off with the sugar coated ring shaped donuts for dessert, my mouth is watering now.
This is just a small sample of my favorite Christmas markets in Europe, there are so many more to see. Nürnberg, well known for its Lebkuchen (German gingerbread) has a huge market. Vienna, Zurich, Paris and so many more! I prefer the smaller towns to big cities, they are much less crowded and quite charming.
If you plan on taking trains in Germany, be sure to read my Guide to Train Travel Germany for some great tips. And really, who wants to drive in snow, sleet and ice? Trust me, trains are the way to go in the winter.
Do you have any favorite Christmas markets? Leave me a comment, ask me a question!
Frohe Weihnachten (Merry Christmas)!