What you need to know when visiting European Christmas markets

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Have you always dreamed of a European vacation? A chance to experience European traditions. Have you always wanted to experience a European Christmas?  Then visiting a European Christmas market is for you. 

If this is the first time you have visited a European Christmas Market or a German Market as they are sometimes referred to, then this video is going to provide you with all the information you need. I am going to answer the most common questions I receive when people ask me about visiting a Christmas market for the first time.

Stay until the end where we’ll share our recommendations on the best Christmas markets to visit. 

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And as always if you have questions on any of our information please go ahead and put those in the comments. We respond to all your questions / comments. 

What will the weather be like?

You can probably expect rain and snow in most parts of Europe during this time. The Weather will be incremental at best. 

This shouldn’t stop your enjoyment of the markets but it is something for you to be aware of especially when you are preparing for your trip. As the old adage goes, there’s not bad weather just bad clothing. 

What should I wear? 

When dressing for your European Winters layers are the key. While it can be bitterly cold outside the chances are it’s going to be extremely hot inside. 

Start with a warm base layer, a Down Layer, as these are light and keep you extremely warm and then a waterproof coat with a hood. 

For your legs, if it is expected to be really cold or if you are cold averse I would start with some thermal leggings and then jeans, waterproof pants or snow pants depending on the weather when you are there. 

Merino wool socks are great for travelers as they keep your feet warm and don’t smell after days of use. 

Finally you are going to want some comfortable waterproof shoes.  You’ll most likely be on your feet a lot so comfort is important. 

Finally you are going to want a warm hat, a scarf and gloves, preferably ones you can use with your smartphone, which either means fingerless or smartphone compatible gloves. 

I would also pack a small umbrella. If you don’t get caught in a downpour then having an umbrella shield the worst of it from you will be something you’ll be thankful for. Obviously if it’s snowing hard best not to use the umbrella!! 

How busy is it? 

If you don’t like crowds then a Christmas Market may not be for you as they are popular with both locals and international tourists. However, you can take some steps to help minimize the amounts of crowds you have to interact with. 

While the markets are prettiest at night if you want to avoid the crowds go during the day. Also you can expect that weekends are going to be the busiest with locals experiencing the markets on their days off. 

You can expect crowds if you are wanting to buy food and souvenirs but these normally move pretty quickly. 

You will also find a lot of the smaller towns in the areas of large cities will have their own Christmas markets and will likely less busy. This does require a bit more planning, especially in terms of transportation, but if you really don’t like being in big crowds this should be an option you look into. 

What time of day should I go the market? 

If you are looking to avoid the crowds then going during the day, especially on weekdays is recommended. However, going in the evening adds a special atmosphere, with the lights, the colder evenings and with people chatting and enjoying themselves. 

Can I buy local souvenirs?

A lot of the markets sell both locally produced goods and those that are mass produced. If you are looking for something made locally then don’t be afraid to ask the stall owner. After visiting a couple of markets you can normally tell which are the mass produced souvenirs. 

Also a top tip when buying souvenirs is to look at them during the day when it’s a little quieter and then experience the food and ambiance in the evening. 

Do the local vendors take cash or can I use card?

There is definitely a strong mix of card only or cash only stalls nowadays. My suggestion is to bring a small amount of cash but largely to use your card where it is available.  This way you are not limiting yourself to what you can or cannot buy. 

Also you will need cash to pay for use of the toilets. 

How safe are the Christmas Markets? 

Overall the Christmas Markets are extremely safe but you should exercise caution as when traveling to any destination. 

Pickpockets is the most likely crime you’ll come across so please make sure to keep your wallet safely secured where it is difficult for anyone apart from you to get to. 

If you are carrying a backpack make sure all your valuables are in the main compartment where it is harder to get out. And please don’t leave your bag just lying around. 

Taking sensible precautions will significantly reduce the risk of anything untoward happening to you. 

What should I do other than the Christmas Markets? 

We like to visit destinations where we can enjoy the local attractions and have the Christmas Market be the cherry on the top. This way if the Christmas Market is not what we were expecting we haven’t lost out. 

Most cities in Europe will have plenty to do outside of the Christmas Markets. As an example when visiting Munich we visited Daucha  the first Nazi Concentration Camp. Whilst no for the feint of heart it was both sobering and educational and really made us realize how lucky we were to be able to have the freedoms to enjoy the Christmas Markets. 

Can I keep the Mugs?  I only paid a deposit. 

In short if you put a deposit on a mug you can keep it if you wish. If you don’t want to keep it simply return it to the stall and get your deposit back.

Be warned that each market you visit typically has a different mug and depending on the number of markets you visit you could end up with a lot of mugs!  A lot of people do collect the mugs as a way of remembering their trip. 

What type of food and drinks do they serve?

Again this depends on the country and market you go to. 

Most typically you will find sausages, sweet vendors, crepes and other local delicacies.  In Vienna and Germany we’ve experienced spaztel, soups and other local cuisines. 

In France we’ve enjoyed poutine, snails etc. 

To drink you’ll find mulled wine (warm wine), hot chocolate and a selection of other alcoholic punches and drinks. You can even combine your hot chocolate with baileys or other liqueurs if you are so inclined.  You can also buy bottled soft drinks in most stalls when you buy food. 

Do the markets have toilets? 

Most of the larger ones will have some toilet facilities but will require cash to use them. Alternatively you can warm up in a local bar, coffee shop or restaurant and use theirs.

Can I travel to the Christmas Markets with small Children? 

We did!  There’s plenty of things for the children to see from the Christmas illuminations to enjoying the food. You’ll also find in many of the places they have children’s rides too. 

You’ll want to do some research about what you and your children feel comfortable with and what book accordingly. Naturally if your child doesn’t like lots of people or noise it may not be the best place to take them just yet. 

One thing to be mindful of is, that in some countries they have Krumpus festivals on the 5th December. 

The Krampus is a horned figure in some of the Alpine areas of Europe who, scares children who have misbehaved. The folklore suggests that he assists Santa Claus who gives presents to the good children and the Krampus punishes them.  Naturally if you’ve got small children you may want to avoid these, or alternatively finding one of these may be the first thing you do!  You should find information online after you’ve chosen your destination to see if this is something you need to avoid. 

Do I need to learn the language

Regardless of which market you go to there is likely to be a language barrier.  However, you’ll find most people in Europe use English as a second language so are able to converse with you fairly easily. However, don’t be afraid to learn some of the local dialect to really immerse yourself in the experience. 

How long are the markets open for?

This is a tricky one to give a definitive answer to as each market starts and ends at different times of the month, so it’s definitely worth checking before you book. Most markets will open close to the 1st Dec and be finished by the 24th. However, some will remain open until the new year, albeit a fairly small number. 

How should I get to and from the Christmas Markets?

Public transport in most of Europe is exceptional so it’s normally the quickest and easiest option to jump on a tram, bus or underground to get to your destination. 

As most of the larger markets are in busy cities parking can be hard, so I’d be weary of driving to a Christmas market. Plus it will limit your ability to enjoy the mulled wine. 

Where should I stay? 

There are really many options to this question. Ideally you’ll want to stay close to one of the Christmas Markets you are going to. Alternatively if you are using the impressive European rail network you might want to stay somewhere close to the rail station to make moving with your luggage that much easier. 

If you’re driving be sure to find out in advance if your hotel has parking. This is not always the case especially if you are staying in the heart of one of the larger European cities. 

So the final question we get all the time are 

What are the best European Christmas Markets to visit?

This is an almost impossible question to answer. It will depend on a number of factors, including where you are coming from, the type of weather you prefer, what country you may prefer visiting, etc., etc. 

I don’t think we’ve had a bad experience in any of the markets we’ve been to across several countries, including France, Germany, Brussels, Austria and Budapest. While each are somewhat similar they do have their local variations. 

In my opinion some of the not to be missed Christmas Markets include: 

  • Strasbourg and Colmar in France (conveniently located close to each other so if you see one you can see both. 
  • Budapest – this is routinely named one of the best Christmas markets in Europe. 
  • Cologne – 
  • Brussels – this has a spectacular light show and it’s like every street has a Christmas market down it. 
  • Finally Vienna. What makes Vienna so spectacular is the number of markets it has within the city center. There were at least 7 when we visited and each one is incredibly impressive, set against the beautiful architecture. 

Before I wrap up, please don’t forget to enjoy this wonderful experience. While the weather can throw things your way and maybe there are travel issues with the wintery weather, remember to roll with the punches.  

Stay Curious and Explore. 


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