No one celebrates Christmas quite like Europe. With its charming, romantic, fairytale-like towns, there is no better background for stringing Christmas lights and freshly fallen snow. While local Christmas parades and ice skating at Rockefeller Center are beloved Christmas traditions for Americans, why not broaden your horizons for the holidays and catch a flight to Europe’s most beautiful cities next Christmas season?
Commencing just before Advent during the last few days of November, Christmas markets typically run during the weeks leading up to Christmas, with some running over into the first few days of January. Keep in mind, if you’re planning on heading to some of Europe’s most popular Christmas market hotspots, book your accommodations around six months in advance, as many other tourists likely share the same idea. While hotel prices might not be nearly as high as the summer months, expect a spike in prices closer to the holidays, with a drop in early to mid-January.
Germany is one of the most notorious countries when it comes to the Christkindlmarkt. In Bavaria, Nuremberg’s Christkindlmarkt is one of the oldest and largest Christmas markets in Germany, with 180 stalls lining Nuremberg’s Main Market Square. Locals and tourists sip on mulled wine, grilled sausages, and German Spekulatius cookies (almond spice cookies). Additionally, no German Christkindlmarkt would be complete without Lebkuchen, or classic German gingerbread.
Nuremberg’s Bavarian neighbor Munich is another Christkindlmarkt icon, and also home to attractions such as the famous Hofbrauhaus and Oktoberfest. At Munich’s Christkindlmarkt, visitors and locals participate in the Krampus Run, an alpine region tradition of over 500 years. Unlike St. Nicholas, Krampus is a horned, “funny devil” who gains respect from naughty children by using fear. With over 400 participants, Krampuses can be seen parading through Munich’s pedestrian zone in extravagant (and quite heavy) costumes, costing anywhere from 1,800 to 2,500 euros each.
In Switzerland, Zurich’s stunning Old Town is the ideal location for a Christmas market, along with charming Bern. Attendees at Swiss Christmas markets snack on roasted chestnuts, fondue, and raclette, a Swiss alpine cheese usually served melted with bread or potatoes. The Bern Starsmarket is a culinary paradise, with 60 huts serving up delicious treats and hot beverages.
Vienna, Austria, hosts Magic of Advent musical concerts to celebrate the season, along with a 32,000 square-foot ice skating rink for locals and tourists alike. The Christmas market in Rathausplatz is the most popular Christmas market in Vienna, with an impressive spread of 150 stalls selling Austrian glass ornaments, beeswax candles, and wooden toys. Salzburg’s market is much smaller than Vienna’s, with 100 stalls nestled in its Old Town. Along with hot chocolate and mulled wine, Austrian Christmas markets are known for Weihnachtspunsch, which is a warm, spiced punch made with fruit juices and wine, brandy, or schnapps.
The Czech Republic’s stunning city of Prague is a year-round sight for sore eyes, but becomes even more mesmerizing in December. Prague’s Old Town Square market is one of its better-known Christmas markets, bustling with roasted hams, sausages, smoked meat dumplings, pancakes, and most importantly, Czech beers. Another option for cold visitors is grog, a warm combination of rum, water, sugar, and lemon. Families can pet farm animals and admire the market’s nativity scene in wooden stables.
Don’t stick to only one Christmas market next holiday season – why not travel between countries and visit multiple markets throughout the month of December? Train tickets and flights between European countries are quite affordable, so you don’t have to choose just one market to visit. When flying budget airlines or airlines overseas, be sure to check carry-on and checked baggage requirements to prevent unexpected extra fees, as airline policies often vary from major U.S. airlines. Pack warm coats, knit hats, thick socks, and hand warmers for cold nights spent admiring Christmas lights and listening to cheerful Christmas carols. Not looking forward to a long-haul flight overseas? Watch your favorite Christmas movie on the plane to help yourself get into the Christmas spirit.