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I Don't Understand the Attraction of Christmas Markets

I know that some individuals travel to France and Germany, especially, for the Christmas Markets. I am wondering why. No criticism from me. I just don't want to miss out on a good thing that I have no clue about. Is it the arts and crafts for sale? Is it the mulled wine? Maybe it's the conviviality of the holiday crowds? Is it the decorations? Perhaps it's all of the above.
I was in Paris last Christmas and had mulled wine in Parc Monceau but I don't think that was a Christmas Market--just a stall (it was still charming). Then, there was what I think was a Christmas Market near the Tuileries Garden that we cruised through but mainly sat and looked at the Ferris Wheel and another lit ride wondering how they affected those who lived in the buildings near them.
What is the draw for you of the Christmas Markets?

Posted by
7089 posts

The Paris Christmas markets are not really the best examples of their kind. They are a relative novelty (they were not around in the 90s), and the big one at Tuileries is more of a funfair than a real market.
The traditional Germanic Christmas markets are more attractive. They have some cool crafts, and they can have fun themes (I especially love the medieval theme in Esslingen). This being said, they do tend to feel samey after a while and I would not want to visit more than 3 large Christmas markets in a single trip.

Posted by
6824 posts

I enjoy walking through them just to see what is being sold and to people watch.

Posted by
877 posts

Different meanings to different people, but many of the things to purchase are very similar after two Christmas markets or three, or four. Each town or city however has different traditions in their markets, regional food specialties, etc. Different drinks too particularly in Germany, with which I am most familiar. And, if in the summer you like hanging out with friends on the plaza after work consuming Aperol Spritzes and talking about nothing, in the December darkness hanging out with friends drinking hot Gluhwein or Feuerzangebowle around fire pits talking about nothing is just as much fun after work.

Posted by
2529 posts

I think it's All of the Above.
The best ones have rules about only selling truly local crafts.
I have only been to a few during a December Rick Steve's Munich/Salzburg/Vienna tour and it was an enjoyable way to spend some of the non-tour time. I bought very little, had some food and drink, and thoroughly enjoyed the festive ambiance.

Posted by
9903 posts

The Paris Christmas "markets" have nothing to do with the beautiful traditions and structures of the historic German and Austrian Christmas markets. There just isn't any comparison.

Posted by
2507 posts

Our trip to the Christmas markets in 2015 was one of our favorite trips ever. They are simply beautiful. We didn’t go there to shop although we did come home with different gluhwein/vin chaud cups from the places we visited. Just wandering around the various stalls at night, drinking the mulled wine and enjoying the festive atmosphere was everything I had hoped for. It’s too bad you only experienced the Paris markets. If you had ventured a bit further into the Alsace (especially Strasbourg), you would understand the fascination. If you go, it is important to choose towns that have something more than the markets to visit during the day. I would do it again in a heartbeat. There is something truly magical about Christmas in Europe.

Posted by
7728 posts

I have been to Cologne's Christmas Market, There are some nice things to buy, particularly the locally made stuff. The food stalls are nice, you can get many "street" type foods, some that only come out near the holidays. Various hot alcoholic, and not, drinks. There is a general aura of a "good time", bit of a carnival or fair atmosphere, probably better if you find one with lots of town people or groups out for a night on a town.

It is a pleasant evening out, in what would otherwise be a dreary time of the year. I would compare it a bit to being in a town on market day. I see that if I found a deal for airfare, it might be one thing on the list that helped me decide to go, but I would need a list of other things as well. However, I do not think it is something I would want to do night after night, and I scratch my head a bit at planning a trip trying to hit a half dozen or more markets in different towns. But to each their own.

Posted by
382 posts

Christmas market tours is one more way to expand the travel season. It is beyond me what the attraction is. Compare it to a tour that only features cathedrals. Winter travel in Europe is lovely with sunny cool days and possibility of snow. The holiday lights are beautiful and occasional market fine. On a Tuscany and Umbria December tour we had it all. Just dress for the weather.

Posted by
2017 posts

Christmas Markets for locals are often for meetup with friends and getting a bit to eat and walk around. I don't know any Germans that buy things at the markets as most items are available everywhere and now made in China.

Look at. it more like going down and seeing the Rockefeller Center tree and maybe ice-skating. Much more about walking around at night with friends and family.

Posted by
10403 posts

I leave tomorrow morning for a 2 week “Christmas Market” trip. Will I only visit Christmas markets? Definitely not. I will do the same kind of sightseeing I do on any trip and also enjoy the festive atmosphere and regional foods at the markets. I’m also going to be visiting family and friends who live there. I agree with the sentiment that doing just the markets would be too repetitive.

Posted by
946 posts

I'm enjoying your comments. Next year very likely we will travel to Europe again at Christmas. From your comments, I'm thinking Strasbourg and then on to Germany and maybe Austria. I'll look for the Christmas Markets at night which seems to be when the locals are at them from your comments. They wouldn't be the main draws for us, though. I need to research things to see and do in Strasbourg, Munich? and ?Vienna.

Posted by
989 posts

we go over every other year. We love them, the history, the food, the vendors, the cathedrals, the atmosphere. They originated in Germany, so the most authentic ones are there. We rotate between doing them on our own and doing a Christmas Market River Cruise - the ones on the Danube are our favorites.

Go to YouTube and search for the Rick Steves Christmas market video - it's about 5 min long and takes place in Nuremberg - it is good and will give you a nice intro to them.

There is also a great facebook group called, Magical Christmas Markets Of Europe. Join it - lots of great info and photos.

The easiest way is a Xmas Market River Cruise.

If you want to do them on your own - we LOVE Vienna, Salzburg, Cologne, Nuremberg, Strasbourg, Passau, Regensburg, and Munich - very easy to fly home from Munich and it's an hour train ride from Nuremberg.

And - while it is a corny Hallmark Xmas Movie - Watch, CHRISTMAS IN VIENNA and A HEIDELBERG HOLIDAY - they show great scenery and have good market stuff in them.

Posted by
2507 posts

Definitely start in Strasbourg aka the Capital of Christmas which will set the tone for the whole trip. We did a day trip to Colmar from Strasbourg, then traveled to Rothenburg (a bit of a hike from Strasbourg by train), Munich, Salzburg and the Salzkammergut and another market just outside Salzburg and finally Vienna. One of my favorite parts of the trip was seeing the children’s faces as they experienced all the fun of the markets - watching cotton candy being spun, the carousel in Strasbourg, the carnival rides in Colmar, the ice skating rinks, the Christmas window displays at a large department store in Munich, the small train running through the market in front of the city hall in Vienna. Of course, there are plenty of other things to do in all of these places such as museums, palaces, concerts, etc. just the same as in summer.

Posted by
131 posts

I got back to Paris today from a weekend in Colmar. I’ve been twice previously.

As Kim said, the Christmas markets in Paris bear no resemblance to a true German or Alsatian Christmas market.

My favorite of the six markets in Colmar was just outside our front door. All products for sale were produced in Alsace. It was a wonderful variety of food, clothing and handmade crafts.

It was also insanely crowded on the weekend. If I go again, I’d go mid-week.

Posted by
467 posts

To me the christmas markets are festive in a tasteful, old-fashioned way (speaking mostly about the atmosphere, not necessarily the goods for sale), in a way that christmas decor in the states most definitely is not. That's the appeal of them to me.
I was in Berlin last December and we went to three markets. My least favorite was the one at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church - lots of mass produced tourist tat, loud American holiday music, the same food and drink offerings along each row. the other two we went to, the Gendarmenmarkt (at Bebelplatz last year and this year due to construction) was much cozier and authentic feeling, as was the Santa Lucia Markt at the Kulturbrauerei, which was rustic, minimal and Scandinavian.
I will be in Basel this week and plan to day trip to Colmar to go to the Unterlinden and to explore the markets (which day I go to Colmar is weather dependent, but the comment about it being insanely crowded on the weekend is noted). There are also markets in Basel which look charming and festive that I will also explore.
I enjoy Christmas markets, but honestly the idea of an entire week of visiting them does not appeal to me. One or two well chosen markets is plenty for me.

Posted by
2256 posts

For me, it is all of the above. We went for the markets for the first time last December and were in Munich and Salzburg. Loved every minute of it. Each market is a bit different, and there were plenty of artisan items for purchase. Last year it was a girls trip, but my husband and I are planning to go next year, to Vienna this time.

Posted by
1243 posts

I like small Christmas markets that are clearly being visited and enjoyed by the local community. I enjoy the local handcrafts and food. I do enjoy a nice feuerzangenbowle, but what makes that most enjoyable, whether at a large crowded market or a small neighborhood variety, is to be with friends. I have been to some markets on my own and have looked with happy awe at all the gifts and festivities. But the conviviality is what makes it special for me.

The last time I was in Munich, 2019, I by-passed the Marienplatz market on my way back to the hotel. It was a Saturday and the Christmas market crowds were getting boisterous. I am not big on crowds. I passed Der Alter Peter church and stopped in to find a special holiday service taking place all candle-lit with a small band playing and singing. The church was packed - never seen such a full church. It was a magical experience. This year, 2023, that church service took place last evening. I know when I make travel plans for next year (and I will), while I plot out the many things I want to see and do in Munich, I will add that church service to the mix.

I also love, but frustratingly so, the local food markets selling Christmas trees and holiday foods - I don't think I can bring even a bitty tree back to a hotel - ok, so maybe the plan next year is an apartment for a month and to settle in as a temporary local!

Posted by
7906 posts

We lived in Augsburg, Germany for four years from 87-91.
We loved the local Christmas Market with the potato pancakes and gluwien.

The atmosphere is special.

Still, I personally can't see people spending the airfare to fly to Germany to visit Christmas Markets. Yes, it is a fun experience, but to go there JUST for that, especially because it is COLD and it gets dark at 4:30pm.

Posted by
1379 posts

In December 2019 we based in Colmar, France for 5 nights and also visited nearby Christmas markets in Eguisheim and Kaysersberg as well as in Freiburg, Germany, and Basel, Switzerland. All were wonderful but you can get a bit of Christmas market fatigue. The answer to your question(s) is: it's all of the above.

Posted by
4604 posts

For example, les Frenchies just went to Strasbourg for the Christmas markets. Yes plural, because there are many of them.

Trigger warning, if you don't like to see people stuffing themselves with food, don't watch this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6a3mqx6ruY

Posted by
1243 posts

I have been enjoying les Frenchies, and they enjoy their food.

Posted by
4175 posts

Having lived in Nürnberg 3 years (1982-1985), I couldn't pass up adding to the conversation. I'm not much of a shopper, but I did go to the Christkindlesmarkt each year for the atmosphere and the food. It helped that I could walk there from my apartment. Besides Nürnberger bratwurst, lebkuchen and glühwein, the only thing I ever bought was a red and gold angel tree-topper. I still have the angel and a bottle of Christkindlesmarkt Glühwein.

Here's a link from the RS online article about it: https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/nuernbergs-christmas-market.

Embedded in that article is a link to more info about it: https://www.christkindlesmarkt.de/en/.

And I think that this is the video referenced above: https://youtu.be/xQfpf-7sqgU?si=ZL477z4bzLG9W6Er. I had the good fortune of being able to take in some performances at the adjacent Frauenkirche, which is shown in the background of the film.

I'm also puzzled by the attraction of seeing multiple Christmas markets on a trip to Europe, but maybe that's partly because I'm not a shopper and mostly because I got spoiled by the one in Nürnberg.

Posted by
946 posts

Many of you have such sweet memories of the Christmas Markets. I'll be in Costa Rica this Christmas, so I won't have that same atmosphere--can't wait to see what awaits me there during the season, though. Today my RS Austria guide book arrives. I'm looking at next Christmas already.

Posted by
10403 posts

I arrived in Bruges yesterday and am winding down from day 2. There are 3 markets here, and I assume they are smaller than those elsewhere. So far we wandered through one and past another. The one on Markt Square seems to be primarily locals. I can’t say about the other one because we really did just walk past a I happened to spy a pair of gloves like I’ve been looking for so I stopped to buy them. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.

Posted by
109 posts

I enjoyed the festivities of German Christmas markets. We visited Wurzburg. Bamberg, Rothenburg ODT, Nuremberg and Berlin. Bought some local crafts and xmas ornaments, enjoyed the food and tried gluhwine. Yes, after 2 markets, they started to look the same.
But we also visited other sites, churches, castles and museums, not just Christmas markets.

Posted by
382 posts

See 9 2023 Christmas markets on you tube site-Kara and Nate. They just did this world wind tour. Oops! Just finished the first episode. They are doing 3 markets in each show. This couple travels the world doing physical challenges, super high end travel and just travel with interesting twists.

Posted by
7659 posts

Lindy, in Costa Rica, there’ll be Rompope (Costa Rican eggnog), instead of hot spiced wine. It’s practically going to feel like summer, after all.

There will also be stalls, called chinamos, with things like Christmas items for sale, so you’ll have a bit of a similar scene to French or German type markets. Enjoy!

As for French and German markets, the appeal is everything you mentioned, plus it’s something that only happens that time of year. Lights, and a reason to go out in the cold, make the markets special.

Posted by
4482 posts

Cyn, thanks for the info about Costa Rica. I'm thinking about going there in Jan 25 but maybe I need to consider Dec instead-I could go for a Christmas market atmosphere that's not "biting cold".

Posted by
946 posts

Thank you, Cyn. I'll be on the lookout for chinamos and Rompope!

Posted by
67 posts

Enjoy reading everyone's posts. We went in 2019 in mid-December. Started in Munich (2 nights), train to Nurnberg (1 night), train to Prague (3 nights), train to Vienna (3 nights), train to Budapest ( 3 nights). Then flew home. We went to multiple markets in each city, except Nurnberg. Munich had a medival theme market which was different. Sure, they all can seem to look a like but each was unique in its own way. This year we hope to go to cites / towns near eastern France (Strasbourg) and smaller towns like Colmar (thanks for mentioning this town as it seems like a great market).

Posted by
161 posts

Everyone here seems to be concerned with the quality of merchandise or whatever else they didn’t like. For me it was a part of the Christmas season where I lived in Germany. Try a German Market see if you have a better impression. If you don’t get it that’s ok.

Posted by
7468 posts

We have a lot of family traditions, host Christmas parties for friends & also a neighborhood one, etc. that keeps it from being feasible. But History Traveler describes what I would hope for and why I would love to go to an authentic Christmas Market in Germany. The music of Christmas, Christmas concerts in churches, cold rosy cheeks from walking around at night all bundled up, lots of wooden Christmas old-fashion decor, colorful old-time displays and nativity scenes.

I pack extremely light and rarely bring home a souvenir, but this would be the trip where I would happily bring home an extra suitcase for sure!

Posted by
560 posts

We went for the first time in 2022 in Germany. We did lots of research and found markets that were quaint and in charming towns. We absolutely loved it. For us it was not one thing but more of a combination of the charming town, the stalls, the lights and decorations and just soaking up all the festive atmosphere. Having said that, last year we went to some Christmas markets in London and they were no where near as charming as Germany was, but London had more street lights and window displays and commercial decorations which were amazing but in a different way. So if you go to the right place and pick the right markets it can be magical. I hope you get there someday!!