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Best Places in December

I'm going to preface this with the knowledge that due to COVID, I know the Christmas markets may not open and the trip may not happen.

We are supposed to fly into Frankfurt on Dec 11 and out of Luxembourg City on Dec 22. It was a whim airfare purchase (cheap, good flight times) and we we've wanted to visit the Christmas markets for awhile. After reading about them, we're now trying to base the trips on cities that we want to see foremost that also have good Christmas markets (especially indoor activities if it's cold/cruddy weather). I'd like to do one big city and we're trying to decide between Berlin or Vienna. Berlin is obviously closer to Frankfurt, but is it really nice at Christmas? We haven't been to either but Vienna just seems more Christmas-y to me. We'd also like a smaller city, thinking Stuttgart (we'd love to see the car museums there) and a smaller town that is just for a good market, maybe Trier before a few nights in Lux.

We have 10 nights and would like to reserve 2 for Lux - just so we can see a bit of the town before leaving on a morning flight on the 22nd. Where would you spend the other 8 nights? We prefer train travel (we've driven in Germany and just don't feel like doing that in winter) and don't really want one base to daytrip from. We've already seen Munich and the Freiburg area.

Posted by
46 posts

Vienna is beautiful at Christmas time, and there is so much to do in and around. Prague is a bit closer to Frankfurt and we loved it as much or more than Vienna. Have done both in December, markets are abundant and weather was very nice (two different trips)...cold but not horribly so, some snow, and very tolerable if dressed correctly. That said, sadly we have not been to Germany during December but there are many here who have and I'm sure will weigh in on the many markets around Germany that would be closer to Frankfurt and Luxembourg City that might be better options. Hopefully your trip will happen no matter where you choose!

Posted by
885 posts

Lots to do and see in Berlin although it's been almost 20 years since I visited (haven't been to Vienna). I'd be tempted to stay a couple of nights in Frankfurt itself since I've only been to it's airport. Although you've seen the Freiburg area if you haven't been to Colmar, France it has a great Christmas Market (was there in December 2019) and nearby towns like Eguisheim and Kaysersberg do as well - and they're all fairly close to Lux. Merry Christmas!

Posted by
157 posts

I do lean towards Vienna, but hubby is thinking that staying in Germany/closer to the Frankfurt area will maximize our time there. We've talked about staying in Frankfurt for a few hours before taking a train. Is it worth more time than that? It just seems very big city but without the charm and history of other large cities.

We have seen Colmar as well and it was very pretty, but a little too touristy for us (we were there in summer though). Strasbourg was great as well and we saw both on our last trip to Europe (Aug 2019 - too long!!). Prague is great, but not at the top of our list of places to revisit yet - too many other great places to see first!

Posted by
4351 posts

Berlin is nothing special in December. Several Christmas markets but they're all the same, selling the same Chinese made tat and cheap currywurst although I did find a nice little Polish stall at one that sold excellent bigos. I preferred visiting the various museums which tended to be quieter than in the warmer months. The weather was cold with brief snow or freezing rain. I haven't been to Vienna at Christmas however I would imagine that it would feel more Christmas-y than Berlin.

Posted by
157 posts

Thanks JC - we want to avoid the markets with the cheap junk. We always look for unique items for gifts and to bring home and it's so hard to find stuff that wasn't imported.

Posted by
1926 posts

Vienna and Salzberg. I was there in December 2019, the markets were very Christmasy and had lots of unique things in the various booths. Salzberg was my favorite.

Posted by
157 posts

Judy - are there a lot of things open outside of the markets in Salzburg to do? I know that most of the markets come alive at night, so we'd like to have plenty to do during the day.

Posted by
1279 posts

We did a xmas markets trip Dec 2019, thru Switzerland, France [Strasbourg] and Germany [Stuttgart, Esslingen , Rothenburg]. Flew into Zurich and out of Frankfurt.
The Stuttgart markets don't get enough attention, [per Mrs Jo here, the xmas markets expert,] and they were so much fun! Each vendor decorates the roofs of their stalls in the most elaborate decorations I have ever seen, and there are 200-300 stalls.

In addition, Esslingen is a short S-train ride from Stuttgart, where one finds the most elaborate Middle Ages-themed markets. There's outdoor stage entertainment, vendors in period costumes, parades, and a special section of Middle Age games of skill for children, not to mention the hot tubs for adults. I would highly recommend Esslingen.

We really liked Rothenburg, not so much for their [smaller] markets, but because we really enjoyed the well-preserved town.
If you search my posting history, I have detailed Trip Reports posted around mid-January, 2020, which may help. We found many hotels booked full by June for the markets, especially on the weekends.

I believe you've been to Strasboug; it was the most decorated town I've ever seen for xmas!

Haven't been to Vienna at xmas, but it's certainly on the bucket list.

Have a great trip, with so many wonderful options. Good luck to us all returning to travel!

Posted by
2054 posts

Looking at your travel options, over the years we've visited Christmas markets in all the sites mentioned: Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Colmar, Strasbourg, and more! If you're looking for a LARGE city with a great sense of the Holiday spirit, Vienna exceeds all. The Viennese Dream Christmas Market - placed in front of City Hall - and complete with an ice rink, is an amazing experience. A few photos: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

We were fortunate to live in Vienna for a couple of years and thus were able to see all the markets (There are probably 14-15 spread all over the city. As the Christmas Market at Spittelberg was just down the street from our apartment, we went there often). You can't beat Vienna at Christmas. It's an incredibly beautiful city at night - and at Christmas. even more so!

Berlin has more than 50 markets spread all over the city. (I think it's the only place I ever paid to enter a market). Since the XMAS bombing in W. Berlin a few years ago, security is an issue, as it has to be. Near Alexanderplatz, there were three separate markets! So, lots of choices... but we felt Berlin does not have as much charm as Vienna during the holiday season. (Do love the annual Gingerbread House at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin, though).

Stuttgart has some great markets - especially for food! We very much enjoyed our time, but not sure the city is BIG enough for what you're asking. We also had a great time at Nuremberg, but a very small town. Salzburg had three markets in the city center, but it's perhaps a 2-night city in the winter. We found the Prague markets to be lacking (although the New Years' Eve fireworks and celebration were top-notch). Vienna would offer you more!.

Our favorite small-town Christmas market was undoubtedly Strasbourg. It's the one location we agree we want to go back to - again and again. The incredible lights created a beautiful visual. With three downtown markets (now I hear there are more) we had enough variety to keep us busy.  (6) (7) (8) (9)

You have some great options... For the "Big City," my suggestion would be Vienna. For a smaller location, perhaps Strasbourg or Stuttgart. All that you mention are excellent options and let's hope they're all open this year!

Posted by
4351 posts

Cheap food??? never. The Germans prepare fresh food with natural product that they sell with pride...fattening? Yes. Cheap products..Nien

Nein. A large number of the sausages sold at the markets are of the cheap variety. The curry sauce they serve it with is made with cheap, astringent ketchup mixed with curry spices that haven't been cooked and therefore retain their harsh rawness. Not all Germans prepare fresh food with natural products, they have just as much cheap processed food as other countries in Europe. When I ran my catering business I imported some products from Germany and trust me, some of the sausages from the wholesalers that many of the Christmas stallholders buy are not good quality.

Posted by
4834 posts

I lived in Bavaria for four years and Winter was great for skiing and going to the Christmas market.
However, it gets dark at 4:30 and it is cold. Not something I would do.

Posted by
157 posts

It gets dark and cold here in the winter, so we're pretty used to it :) I'd rather be in Bavaria in the dark and cold than at home!

Posted by
7881 posts

All of the large cities have multiple markets with varying themes to match any taste or interest. Berlin, Dusseldorf, Strausberg, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Cologne, Munich.
My favorites are Stuttgart, Esslingen, Mainz, Frankfurt, Strausberg and Colmar. I haven't been to Salzberg or Vienna, but would probably like those too.
For small markets, you need to know when you are going to be there because some of them are only on one weekend, but others may be longer, like Michelstadt, Heidelberg, Worms, or Würzberg.
They all have interesting museums too. I had to laugh at the comment that Cologne only has a cathedral and no other interesting sites? If you are interested in Roman history or art, then Cologne is a good place to be. Frankfurt has dozens of museums too, and its' location means you can get to lots of other markets easily, like Mainz, Wiesbaden, Heidelberg, Worms, or on the weekend, Bad Homburg or Hessen Park Open Air Museum. Stuttgart you can easily get to Esslingen and it also is not too far away from Strassburg and Colmar.

Posted by
157 posts

I think we're leaning towards Vienna - Stuttgart (side trip to Esslingen) - Trier - Luxembourg and just trying to figure out if we want to do the train from Frankfurt to Vienna, Vienna to Stuttgart or if flying (while more expensive) is a better use of time. We do love trains, but both routes are 6+ hours.

Posted by
1926 posts

Jennifer,
Yes, at night there are concerts. We attended a Mozart dinner concert at a baroque palace, I don’t remember the name of it, but your hotel will know of it. The opera singers in costumes sang arias from The Magic Flute. It was a wonderful evening. Also, there are concerts at churches and various venues, mostly classical. I wanted to get tickets for the Puppet Theatre but we weren’t there at the right time. At Christmas time there is a lot on offer.

Posted by
1279 posts

Jennifer,
we didn't find the dark or cold a problem, because it's all so exciting, and beautiful! It was strange being dark at 8:00am, but that's just a side note . I'm sure you have all the winter clothes you need, being from Kansas. It does occasionally rain, so it helps to have a packable , full length raincoat coat or poncho, that goes over your winter coat. I brought disposable hand warmers, that I put inside my gloves on cold days. Of course, there is the gluhwein, the wonderful warm wine available everywhere, around 5 Euros, and the option of collecting the mugs, which are specific to each city.
I really liked staying in the old town areas, paying a bit more for the hotels, but since we ate most of our meals at the markets, we saved money on meals. Again, we found that many of these well-located hotels were fully booked by June.
I get excited just thinking about the xmas markets, so wish you a great and wonderful trip.

Posted by
4351 posts

jc....wrong wrong wrong as as rule sausage is not the best meat but we are not talking filet steaks. these family operated stands do their best. respect that.

Do you know where all these stall holders get their sausages from? Do you think they all make them themselves? I've seen them opening the packets, I've bought exactly the same packets from wholesalers in Germany and I wouldn't buy them again because they weren't very good.

I'm talking from experience in the provenance of the food in question rather than some fanciful notion of gourmet heaven and it makes no difference whether the stalls are family operated or not. I've traded amongst a number of family operated stands, some of whom quite happily sold the cheapest food possible and with a high mark up. They often made more profit than I did but I took pride in the quality of my food and I refused to go down the cheap route so let's forget the notion that family operated automatically means quality and that they deserve respect (whatever that entails).

Posted by
7881 posts

Jennifer, perhaps this will help. After a long, overnight flight, the last thing you want to do is stress about missing a train or schedule it hours after landing so you are sitting around tired and waiting and then sit for hours on the train.
My best tip is to stay overnight in Frankfurt after landing, walk around the market, go to bed early and catch an early morning ICE to either Vienna, Straussberg or Stuttgart. You don't have to stress about the train, you will be well-rested and you can get cheap train fares.

Posted by
5129 posts

I do lean towards Vienna, but hubby is thinking that staying in
Germany/closer to the Frankfurt area will maximize our time there... I
think we're leaning towards Vienna - Stuttgart (side trip to
Esslingen) - Trier - Luxembourg and just trying to figure out if we
want to do the train from Frankfurt to Vienna, Vienna to Stuttgart or
if flying (while more expensive) is a better use of time. We do love
trains, but both routes are 6+ hours.

Vienna is indeed pretty far off for an 8-night stay. I've not been to the Vienna Christmas market but have paid the city a couple of visits. A flight between Vienna and STR, FRA or LUX is probably not going to spare you much if any time - and wintertime flight cancellations/delays within Europe are not uncommon and can handily up-end your plans. IMHO, stick with the train, if in fact you do include Vienna.

But I think I would leave it out for now. For me Vienna had a palpable winter bleakness and was far livelier and enjoyable in the warmer months - and it combines nicely with visits to Prague (which you will likely see later anyway,) Budapest and other destinations. Right now, the other previously suggested options are both desirable and a good fit for 8 nights, and using the trains to get between them is very doable.

Stuttgart / Esslingen: Stuttgart is only 1.25 hours from FRA airport by direct train. I would not hesitate to go straight away upon arrival at FRA.

Salzburg: This corner of Austria is lovely; 4 hours away from Stuttgart.

Heidelberg: 4.75 hours by direct train from Salzburg.

Trier: 3.25 hours from H'berg, some limited direct train service.

Alternative to Heidelberg:

Nuremberg, already mentioned - about 3 hours from Salzburg normally, different train route this time, possibly Germany's most popular Christmas market. It does put you about 6 hours from Trier, however.

Your husband's suggestion, staying closer to Frankfurt prior to Trier + Luxembourg: Lots of great spots near one another, more than enough to see and do in 8 nights; avoids the longer train rides to/from Salzburg and you will have a lovely time...

Stuttgart/Esslingen
Heidelberg
Frankfurt + Mainz + Rüdesheim (all within day trip distance; I like Mainz as a base town. Great Christmas markets in Mainz and R'heim!)
Cologne

Posted by
4351 posts

I'm not obsessed with sausages, I've already mentioned I'd enjoyed a good bigos at one of the markets however sausages were the topic of the disagreement. Yes, you can buy all sorts of food in the markets, some good others not so good but ultimately it's my opinion. I happened to find the majority of the sausages (and some of the other food) to be poor quality and I'm not comparing it to fillet steak but simply good quality sausages whereas others are quite happy to eat them, each to their own but I'm simply sharing my experiences with the OP.

Posted by
157 posts

Russ, thank you for the suggestions!

I know there are a lot of towns around Frankfurt that we'd love to visit, however, we'd prefer to do that with a rental car and in good weather. We love small towns when we can just drive and stop at whichever one looks interesting. With it being wintertime, I think we're still leaning towards Vienna as there will be a lot of indoor activities we can do if a) the weather is crummy or b) we get burnt out on Christmas markets. It is a long way to go but we'd rather go a little further and really enjoy the trip than get bored with the markets and not have much else to do (hubby is a go-go-go traveller so he always wants something to do).

As far as the whole sausage debate - I don't know that I would know a good one from a so-so one. We did have the most amazing hotdog from a little stand in Freiburg (the whole reason we stopped there) so if they're anywhere close to that, I'm good. Our only experience with a Christmas market was the one in Florence a few years ago and the food was amazing - easily the best apfel strudel we've ever had!

Posted by
5129 posts

I know there are a lot of towns around Frankfurt that we'd love to
visit, however, we'd prefer to do that with a rental car and in good
weather. We love small towns when we can just drive and stop at
whichever one looks interesting.

For a Christmastime visit, no, I would never suggest staying/visiting a bunch of small towns - or the stop-and-look strategy you mention for small towns.

We seem to use "big" and "small" a little differently.

Berlin is truly "big" - "extra-extra-large" IMHO, so big that a 4-night stay would be a bare minimum, I think.

Rüdesheim is the only truly "small" town I suggested, and not as a destination, but as an outing from Mainz or Frankfurt (both of which have frequent and easy train connections to R'heim.) The Christmas market vibe there is worth the side trip.

The places I suggested for staying/visiting near Frankfurt included Heidelberg, Mainz, and Frankfurt itself, all of which have substantial railway infrastructure, nice-sized town centers, and populations greater than Trier's and Luxembourg's - and a good variety of things to see and do; they are not merely Christmas market stops. Any of these would provide more things to see/do than you can actually manage in the short stays you are considering.

You mention Frankfurt: "It just seems very big city..." I do not disagree with that. But I cannot call Stuttgart a "smaller" city unless you mean smaller than Berlin (which every other place in Germany is.) Stuttgart qualifies as "big" as well IMO considering its population (nearly equivalent to Frankfurt's,) its importance to the region and the country, and the number of things to see and do there and in the immediate vicinity.

When you do return to see the Frankfurt area: I'd suggest that Mainz and Frankfurt are way too auto-unfriendly to just drop in by car for a quick look around. When I visit the area's smaller places, I use the train as well. I know, it sounds counterintuitive to those who are unfamiliar with Germany's public transport system... but the dense German train network is more like a hop-on-hop-off experience than anywhere I know in Europe, especially in this region. The rail map below captures just the small portion of Germany that lies roughly between Frankfurt and Luxembourg. It's very easy from a city like Mainz to hop on a train in almost any direction, hop off in a town that looks interesting, explore on foot, and reboard 30-60 minutes later.

https://www.bahn.de/p/view/mdb/bahnintern/fahrplan_und_buchung/streckenplaene/mdb_306443_streckenkarte_rhlpfalz_saarl_2020.pdf

Posted by
162 posts

Being in Germany or Alsace for the Christmas Markets is an experience to be enjoyed like no other. Every town seems to teem with wonderful Christmas decorations, lights, gluhwein, sausages and wonderful items to buy. We have been on three independent, train dependent trips at that time of year and thoroughly enjoyed them. Hopefully, we will be able to return in December. our last trip had an itinerary similar to your thoughts. We flew into Vienna and spent three nights. Not only markets but wonderful concerts to enjoy as well as palaces and the Lippizaner horses. From there we trained to Regensburg (about 3-4 hours) and spent one night.We will definitely return. Good small markets spread around town and one near the palace that charged admission but wonderful food and items for sale. From there, we trained to Frankfurt for two nights (3-4 hours on the train). we stayed at a wonderful hotel near the train station but had a long walk to the markets. Probably would not repeat Frankfurt markets. We trained from Frankfurt to Heidelberg on a day trip from Frankfurt ( 1 hour by train) and thoroughly enjoyed the visit. On our list for return as we did not have a chance to visit all the site. From Frankfurt, we trained to Cologne for the markets. Two nights there. We did a day trip from there to Aachen to visit the old town and the cathedral along with the Treasury. Back in Cologne for the night markets. Next day trained to Dortmund for one night to visit a friend of ours from my husband's work experiences. The market there was OK but not our main focus. Trained back to Frankfurt for one night and Flew home the next day. We also bought a Eurail pass for 5 days travel out of a month. There was a special promotional fare at the time so we found it to be about breakeven with point to point tickets for seniors but gave us the flexibility of choosing our departure times, etc. We did buy point to point tickets for the day trips. A word of advice: choose towns for stops that also have sites, museums, concerts, etc. that you would like to include as well as the markets. Actually, we purchased very few items - not because we did not want them but because we have a lifetime collection of Christmas decorations! Enjoy!!

Posted by
145 posts

Vienna over Berlin for Christmas, for sure. It is a delight. Give Salzburg a night for the market on your way back west. Go to Nuremberg for the oldest market, Esslingen for the medieval setting, maybe Colmar and/or Strasbourg for the French twist. Happy planning!

Posted by
133 posts

We are Christmas market junkies.

1) Nürnberg is super crowded. It's fantastic, but there were others we liked better. The little medieval market was our favourite part, but the international section, while not as traditional, also held appeal.

2) Munich's main market is nice, but go off the beaten track to the other neighbourhoods and try a Krampus (hot beer--sounds disgusting, but it is actually really good, and my husband is a beer snob) or visit the more eclectic markets.

3) Vienna and Prague are good bets. Frankfurt, Brussels, and Luxembourg are also well known for being good. Skip Berlin and Hamburg--fantastic cities, but not known for good markets at all unless you want the flair and raunch of the Santa Pauli market. If you want different and local, though, this is it--is there anywhere else you can drink a glittery Glühwein-like drink with a raunchy name or enjoy a chocolate phallus on a stick? But it's not for most people.

4) Bremen is our absolute FAVOURITE city market. The alleyways of the Schnoor fascinate in the summer, but they are unbeatable at Christmas. Best to go on a weekday; it can get crowded on the weekends.

5) Easily overlooked--the Wolfgangsee in Austria (with a side of Salzburg). There are three towns--Strobl, St. Wolfgang, and St. Gilgen--that are on the lake and have slightly different markets. You can travel by boat between them. Strobl was our favourite--they had a life sized wood carved nativity scene and live reindeer. Most of their stalls were hand crafts and less of the same stuff, and it was not at all crowded. I cannot say enough good things about these markets; they are a true gem and not as touristy. We hadn't even heard of them until we visited our friend who lived in Strobl. You also have a good chance of snow.

6) If you are in the Stuttgart area, the quality of the Glühwein is better; you get the local wineries competing with each other rather than the stock Glühwein. My friend lived there for a bit and he still raves about it. I can't speak to the markets themselves, though.

DO NOT plan indoor activities. Plan better clothing. The markets are all outdoors, and a light drizzle or snowfall doesn't keep the markets down much--in fact, it just makes them a bit less crowded. All of these cities have museums and such if the weather is absolutely unbearable; if it's pouring, just pop over to the Deutsches Museum in Munich or something.

Posted by
157 posts

Just wanted to come back and update this. Hubby and I have gone round and round on where to go and FINALLY just nailed it down yesterday (there are just too many great places to see and not enough time). We are taking the train from the Frankfurt airport to Stuttgart (we thought about spending time in Frankfurt/Heidelberg/Mainz.. but decided to come back in the summer and do a Rhine trip).

So we settled on:
4 nights Stuttgart (with a daytrip to Esslingen)
2 nights Freiburg (we stopped here in Aug 2019 on the way to Switzerland, fell in love, figured it would be even better at Christmas)
2 nights Trier
2 nights Luxembourg (fly home from Lux)

It's a pretty short trip to Europe for us, which made it even harder to plan. We wanted to include Basel, Strasbourg, and a few others but decided to not do a bunch of 1 nighters. Even if the markets are scaled back this year, there will be plenty to see and do! It'll be our first plane trip since Jan 2020.. and it can't come soon enough!

Posted by
1279 posts

You will love the Stuttgart and Esslingen markets. Is there any way you would consider taking a day away from Stuttgart, tho, and somehow seeing Strasbourg? That city is amazing at xmas.
Also- book your hotels asap- I found that many in 2019 were booked by June. Those old hotels are fairly small.
Safe - and healthy- travels!

Posted by
157 posts

We really wanted to include Strasbourg on this trip but unfortunately, the two museums we want to see in Stuttgart are closed on Monday (our first full day there) and we didn't want to try to cram both into one day so we decided to skip Strasbourg this time (we were there in Aug 2019 and loved it, so I'm sure we'll go back at Christmas time another trip).

Hotels are already booked! Thankfully the ones we had been eyeing were still available.