Hi Frugalistas! As Christmas looms many European cities and towns are revving up for their annual Christmas Market. Whether you visit one or many European Christmas markets, here is how to make the most of your trip, and why any winter trip to Europe should include a visit to a Christmas market!
How many Christmas markets 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.
What time of the day should you visit a European Christmas Market?
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.
Eating and drinking in European Christmas Markets
Every market will have plenty to tempt you in the food and drink department. Mulled wine (gluhwein 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).
Acting like a local in European Christmas Markets
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.
Great things to buy in European Christmas Markets
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 Germany (you see them all over Germany, but for the best variety, made locally, head to Dresden – Plauen is just outside Dresden).
How to make a European Christmas Market 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 gluhwein (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 gluhwein 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.
Keeping warm at European Christmas Markets
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! You can get my winter packing list here >>
European Christmas markets really are fun and unique. Seek out the unique aspects of each one, get stuck in and enjoy!