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Christmas Market......best town for this (and country)!

I have been researching Christmas markets and have decided that flying into one town and seeing the market there might be a better idea than taking a river cruise to see many or trying to drive from market to market, all over Europe in the weather this time of year. People tell me they think the Nuremberg market is the best...that most in Germany surpass others.....and I need some feedback on this. The two of us could fly into Munich, train to Nuremberg and spend a nice 4 or 5 days there, in a town we have not seen, enjoying the markets.....and travel maybe 1 day to a different one nearby if it is close and easy........would love some feedback on this. Seeing these markets is a bucket list item for me and I think I would enjoy this a lot........THANK YOU!

Posted by
1147 posts

All Germans together can write a huuuge library about Christmas markets. Here some of my key findings from the last decades.

  1. Not all markets are open the full advent time. A few of the best are open only a few days or a weekend, e.g. Rixdorf market in Berlin.
  2. There is not the best market in total, only the best for your personal taste (see also #5).
  3. Large cities have more than one market, very often in very different "tastes", e.g. example Berlin.
  4. "Traditional" does not matter because the market is etsbalished every year new. What you will feel is not tradition, it is love and passion for details.
  5. From south to north in Germany the religious touch of Christmas markets is decling (e.g. the Christkindl thing). In the north you will find more light markets with less religious background. Lübeck has a remarkable one, very much visited by Scandinavians too.
  6. Countryside markets often have a very good offering, especially if they are done in the countryside of nowhere. Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony states have very good examples for that.
  7. Find the best day and time to visit the market: too empty and too much filled up is no fun.
  8. Free yourself from any expectations when visiting the market. Just be open for everyting, this is the best way to enjoy a new experience.

Ultimate tip: search for the website of the markets and for videos. Based on this you will get a feeling what you like most.

Typical classics for tourists are: Nuremberg, Dresden, Ore Mountains, Erfurt, few Berlin markets, Aachen, Stuttgart, Cologne (huge one with focus on entertainment) and some others along the Rhine.

Posted by
245 posts

Jane, you can use the search function to review the comments and suggestions about the Christmas markets in Europe. We did a number of Christmas markets over Thanksgiving a few years ago. We visited the different cities by train. We visited in this order:
Heidelberg; small
Strasbourg France: large and our favorite of all the ones we visited. We happened to be there on the opening night. There were a number of festivities to open then market. Really done up and on an island.
Rothenburg: small and I would skip. I insisted we go and was not impressed. If you have not been to Rothenburg than it may be worth a visit. We like Rothenburg and have been a few times, just not their Christmas market.
Nuremburg: large and worth a visit.
Prague, Czech Republic: we used the Christmas market as an excuse to see a city we have never seen before. Enjoyed the Christmas market
Vienna Austria: Large, spread out, and worth a visit. Quite a show at night.
Budapest Hungary: we liked the markets and the city itself.
Going by train was easy enough. When we were going from Nuremberg to Prague there was not a direct train at the time. We would have to go through Munich or by bus directly from the Nuremburg Banhoff to Prague. We chose the latter. I am sure you will enjoy whichever market you choose. Understand that the markets do have a similarity of offerings.

Posted by
476 posts

Basing out of Nürnberg I would recommend Regensburg for the main Weihnachtsmarkt and two other Martplatz and the pay to enter Thurn und Taxis Weihnachtsmarkt. I would consider a second trip to Landshut for the town and Weihnachtsmarkt. Landshut not so well know, but would give you a visit in less touristic settings and a breath of fresh air and town to explore. Try to visit all in the dark for the lighting in the markets and towns.

Posted by
2 posts

If you are flying into Munich you may want to use it as a base for the Christmas Markets. I spent several nights here for the Christmas Markets. There are many markets here; the main one in the Marienplatz, a medieval one, a delightful village one at the Residenz and others. Plus I spent time absorbing all Munich has to offer. This is good to do on a Saturday as an escape from the crowds at the main markets. From Munich you can day trip to Nurnberg as well as Salzburg and get an Austrian flair for the markets. And if you still don’t have your fill you have one last market at the Munich airport before you depart.

I recommend visiting the markets during the week- on weekends they are very crowded. You will also get a lot more tourists in Nurnberg due to all the river boat cruises stopping there. I found Munich easy to navigate during the day. But all the markets get crowded after work as people stop by for food and drink and evening festivities. But the night is great to see all the lights and decorations. Be sure to check schedules for opening and closing times of markets as some markets may close by 8 PM.

I live in Italy in the fall and spend my time each Christmas season traveling to markets in various countries. You can overload yourself - I found 3 cities is max for a trip without starting to feel like you are seeing the same things.

Posted by
185 posts

A piggyback question for all you knowledgeable ones - do any of the markets stay open past Christmas Day? Thanks.

Posted by
476 posts

The majority are done on the evening of the 23rd. You would be surprised how fast they are done and gone. Christmas day and all is clear on the Marktplatz. Silvester (New Years) is right around the corner.

Posted by
2 posts

Some of the ones in Italy stay open until the Feast of the Epiphany in early January- I know Rome does. I believe most of the ones in Germany are closed by Christmas Eve. In Vienna some of the markets stay open until New Years Eve.

Posted by
7386 posts

I have a lot of posts on here about Christmas markets, my favorite ones, and not so favorite. Majority close on the 22nd, then more on the 23rd. Very few are open later.
In the Rhein Main region, these are open later: 25.11-6.01 Speyer (24th 10-13:00, closed 25-26) and I believe Limburg.

Stuttgart is my favorite big market, Esslingen for the most unique market, Idstein and Büdingen my favorite small markets. Favorite castle market is at Ronneburg Castle near Gelnhausen and Büdingen. Theirs is held on 3 weekends.
4-8.12 Büdingen
6-8.12 Idstein

Posted by
1208 posts

I know the market in Zagreb is open past Christmas Day. The countries that celebrate Christmas on January 6, such as Serbia, probably are still open. There are many websites that review and give market information.

Posted by
1220 posts

Stuttgart and two neighboring markets. Could also go to Strasburg for a day or longer and include Colmar

Posted by
658 posts

do any of the markets stay open past Christmas Day?

Some markets in the Dolomites (in northern Italy but also South Tyrol) stay open till Epiphany. They will seem more German than say something in Rome. I have my eyes on a few but not for 2019.

Posted by
324 posts

If you go to Nuremberg it will be special, but very crowded.... It depends what you are looking for since all of the booths in all of the markets have similar swag... BUT, from Nuremberg you can also visit Furth (a lovely small city Medieval Style Market accessible on the U-Bahn)... Bamberg, Augsburg, etc.

Have fun.

Posted by
9305 posts

Well, you did leave the question open for other countries. I haven't been to all the markets so I can't say which is the best. Actually I have been to very few. But I do know what I enjoyed and I do have a few details. The Vorosmarty ter Market in Budapest opens on the 9th of November, and closes on New Year Day. Each of the vendors must clear their products through a committee which ensures that they are all locally made and culturally representative. No junk. The setting is beautiful, the food is outstanding. When you find ratings of the various markets in print, if the rating extends outside of Germany, then the market will be near the top.

Also, Budapest at Christmas time is stunning and the things to do are endless. So when you get market burnout you can still enjoy many more days.

Another market that is interesting is in Lviv. Because Ukraine is Orthodox their Christmas is January 7th. That means you can extend the holiday market shopping. A good market, but not great, but there are a lot of other Christmas traditions evident in the town which are amazing.

Posted by
1156 posts

A few years ago, I spent a weekend in Stuttgart specifically for the Christmas markets there and in neighboring Esslingen. It was a very enjoyable, but after 2 days markets do feel "samey".

Posted by
1229 posts

I agree with Balso that large markets tend to be very similar. We find it best to pick a town that we would like to visit and take the market as an additional benefit. Markets are most beautiful and most crowded in the evening. Our favorite market /town combo is Regensburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nearby Landshut is a nice change this time of year, especially for its wonderfully different building facades.

We lived in Nürnberg over two Christmas Market Seasons. We love the city but it is a zoo during Advent Season. I think I like it better at other times of the year.

Regensburg and Romantic Market:

https://mcchelsea.smugmug.com/Advent-2010/Regensburg/

https://mcchelsea.smugmug.com/Advent-2010/Thurn-and-Taxis-Palace-Market/

Posted by
1 posts

Many German cities have several Christmas markets (for example Hamburg and Cologne have 9 or 10 each). I'd suggest going to a city like Hamburg as a home base then consider buying "lander tickets" for day trips to places like Lubek or Kiel from Hamburg. With 3 to 5 days you could easily visit 20 markets without ever having to change hotels.

Posted by
2 posts

The Christmas markets were always on my bucket list too! Last year, I was in Spain in November and decided to extend my trip to go to the Christmas markets. After researching them, I decided to fly into Basel which has a small Christmas market. It was a perfect introduction to the market atmosphere. From there, I took the train to Colmar which is a market I highly recommend. From there, I took the train to Strasbourg. We spent one night in each city so that we could shop the markets in the daytime then enjoy the food and atmosphere again at night. Three markets was a perfect number to visit. From Strasbourg, we took the train to Paris and spent a couple of nights there before flying home. I loved this trip and highly recommend. I thought I would miss seeing the German markets but I was very pleased with the Swiss and French markets.

Posted by
1 posts

Hi Jane
I think Nuremberg and Munich and Vienna are too large. There are several that are much smaller but still very nice...Salzburg, Bamberg, Budapest and Bratislava are my favorites. In Salzburg I usually stay at the Radisson Blue Alt Stadt, it is in the pedestrian area, but very near the markets.

Posted by
8 posts

I completely disagree that all the markets are the same. Each has its own unique setting and flair. It is very easy to go from town to town via trains in the winter. You can see historic points of interest during the day, then stroll through the markets in the evening.

I know this is personal preference, but why travel all that way and only see a couple markets? Pack light, be adventurous, soak up as much as you can if you are able. Among my favorites are Strasbourg, Nuremberg, Dresden, Erfurt, and Cologne. Prague and Munich are wonderful any time of the year, and a joy to visit for the markets. And yes, Salzburg and Vienna give you a more elegant feel.

This coming winter, I will be visiting Aachen, Leipzig, Wittenberg (Luther history), and Berlin before heading to Poland (Poznan, Gdansk, Torun, Wroclaw) and ending with Bautzen/Gorlitz and Eisenach.

Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
13017 posts

On my Christmas markets trip I went to Alsace (Colmar, Strasbourg), Stuttgart/Esslingen, Frankfurt (incl Buedingen, Mainz Wiesbaden), Munich and Salzburg. I traveled by train from place to place and flew open-jaw. It was easy, though it did mean constantly packing and unpacking. I spent 4 nights in Frankfurt with 2 day trips to Mainz/Wiesbaden, Buedingen and Bad Homburg. All my other stops were 2 nights, except for a 1-nighter in Stuttgart.

There wasn't one market in any of them except the smallest. In some towns, there are several in different locations, but they pretty much fill every pedestrian street (and some main streets that are specially closed off to vehicles for the markets) and every square in the historic center. The markets started opening around lunchtime and in Germany and Austria got more and more crowded from about 5 pm when the locals got off work. By 7 pm most of them were very hard to walk through because the locals congregate to drink, eat and be merry. Most markets closed down by 9 pm except in Munich where several big markets were open till 11 or later. The French markets closed around 7 pm. You'll have plenty of time to sightsee in the mornings and afternoons. The French markets were very different than those in Germany/Austria. The Christmas music is completely different, they felt more oriented to children, and especially in Colmar many small shops had beautiful holiday displays, not just in the windows but entire facades. Each German market I went to had local traditional foods. In Frankfurt and nearby towns, I heard traditional carols in German, in Munich and Strasbourg all I heard were modern Christmas songs in English sung by Perry Como, Dean Martin, etc.

I enjoyed all the markets except Buedingen (maybe I was just there too early in the day), but there weren't any towns I would have wanted to spend more than 2 days in for the markets alone. I think a river cruise would be a very good idea, no packing/unpacking but a lot of variety.

Posted by
15 posts

Jane, the Christmas markets in larger cities in Germany and France are extremely popular both with locals and tourists, i.e. very crowded, especially on weekends. Most will open the first weekend in December, and then the handcraft vendors close by December 23. The ones that have ice skating or other forms of entertainment will stay open through New Years and will still have the food, mulled wine, cookies and candies on offer. The more famous markets, like Strasbourg, will have activities that change every weekend. For example Strasbourg has a living nativity and a children's choir on different occasions, you will need to do some online research to see what is being offered and when. Markets are best visited by train, bus or boat tour because of limited parking.

Posted by
17 posts

I guess it's a matter of tastes. I enjoy travel in the 1st 2-3 weeks of December because the weather is often good (especially in more southern Europe) and the planes are half empty (literally). I have also enjoyed seeing nativities set up or being constructed in churches.

That said, I have not found the Christmas markets all that enjoyable. I was in Spain and experienced two - Barcelona (in the cathedral square) and Madrid (Plaza Major). The former was very crowded (think shuffling along in a line); the latter was not. That said, most of what was on offer was Christmas decorations, a bit of food, and many, many nativity pieces. It was interesting and nice to soak up the Christmas atmosphere, but personally I would not go hunting for such markets.

Although I enjoyed the atmosphere to some extent, Madrid (old town area in general) was absolutely packed in the evenings the last few days of my stay (I left there on Dec 18). All of the local population seemed to be out so doing more than slow walking with the movement of the crowd was impossible as was getting into any eatery. The department store has a large Christmas display on it's outside, which bursts into animation and song periodically - something locals bring their kids to see (in droves).

I say all of this only to alert y'all. I was glad I was there & the experience was engaging, though I'm not sure how many more of such I would seek out.

Posted by
4 posts

Hi, We love the markets! Try all of the Munich markets and get one of their calendars to see when there might be music, the Marienplatz at night with choirs singing was magical! Ge to the Residenz courtyard and see the singing moose. But, get out into the countryside, too. Take a train, or rent a car. We stay in Garmisch-Partenkirchen a lot (easy train ride from Munich), and the markets there (both parts of town) are great. We saw a performance of kids playing zithers one night, very cool. Our favorite experience was in a tiny village near GAP which held a 1 weekend market (not uncommon in small towns). We were the only non-villagers, I think. Gluehwein in mugs from Oma's kitchen cabinet, local bands playing, handmade ornaments and mittens for sale. It was wonderful.

Another small town worth going to is Michelstadt in the Odenwald (not too far from Heidelberg). They have large-scale pyramids and nutcrackers along the town's plazas. (They also have an outstanding Easter market).

We enjoyed going to Strasbourg's market (white wine gluehwein), and Vienna's is good in that it stays open after Christmas with some modifications, I think, till New Year's Eve.
I have been to Nuremberg, and while most people love it, I did not.

Posted by
9305 posts

David, I am still making plans for Christmas. It will be Budapest of course, but looking for a side trip.... or two.

Posted by
19 posts

Prague's Christmas markets are open November 30-January 6th if you're open to that. We're going on a market trip this year and will be taking the train from Regensburg to Prague which takes about 4 hours. Enjoy your trip and happy planning!

Posted by
1033 posts

Our three picks are Dresden, Vienna and Salzburg. Nuremberg to me is least favorite because of the crowds. You just cannot get around. The one we want to see the most is Budapest.