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Short trip to Germany December 2024!

Hi all! Thanks in advance for your advice.
My husband and I are taking our first international trip since having kids a few years ago - kids will stay home with grandparents. Our timeline is pretty short (4-5 nights MAX) and we are flying out of ORD in early December. I've dreamed of going to Christmas Markets since I was in high school so would like to do that. I've read through many of the older posts - including lots of answers from Pat, Ms. Jo and others - so thank you! Most don't have such a quick timeline so hoping for some advice.

We generally enjoy a couple days in larger cities but prefer smaller towns and lots of history if possible. Hiking would be nice but perhaps not doable in the timeline we have. Most of our friends recommend Munich > Frankfurt to visit, but it seems the Munich Christmas market may be disappointing. My initial thought was:
Day 1: fly into Munich (arrive in AM), explore Munich, overnight Munich
Day 2: explore Munich, drive to Rothenburg ob der Tauber for overnight
Day 3: Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Day 4: Drive to Frankfurt, explore Frankfurt
Day 5: Frankfurt until late flight back to US

Alternative trip:
Day 1: arrive Frankfurt, immediately take car to Rothenburg ob der Tauber to explore and overnight
Day 2: Rothenburg ob der Tauber, overnight at same place
Day 3: Drive to Nuremberg or Regensburg for overnight for day trip
Day 4: Drive to Munich, explore Munich
Day 5: Munich before departure

Another option would be to Rountrip out of Munich and go to Regensburg and/or Nuremberg instead of Frankfurt for 1 overnight on our way back from Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Perhaps all of this is too much and we skip Rothenburg all together; however, it seems like such a stunning historical town that we both would love to go.

Esslingen also seems great - is this market the one that is nearer to the French border or the one that is a suburb of Stuttgart?

We also thought about Strasbourg, France (too far) and Salzburg, Austria. My sister feels Salzburg may be too tourist-y and not give the "small town" feeing. It's a quick trip so we want to see some nice towns but not feel run down. Thanks in advance for your advice!

Posted by
6800 posts

Day 1: arrive Frankfurt, immediately take car to Rothenburg ob der

Bad idea, driving immediately after an overnight red-eye flight in unfamiliar territory, possibly in bad weather conditions.

"We generally enjoy a couple days in larger cities but prefer smaller towns and lots of history if possible."

So then, with your very short time, why oh why are you thinking of spending it in Munich, or in Frankfurt?

For history lessons, Nuremberg is quite good. It has wonderful atmosphere and will be busy at Christmastime, so arrange to visit on a weekday if possible.

Regensburg is a UNESCO World Heritage site - no shortage of history there:

Rothenburg sounds like the town you most want to see.

I would visit all three by train, myself, without question, as I've done before. But you can drive if you like. (If so, with the plan below, pick up the car, if that's your preference, on Day 3 in Regensburg - but use the train to reach Regensburg on Day 1.) I'll provide the train trips with costs just so you can compare options.

Day 1: Direct train to Regensburg from MUC airport, 2 nights (9:16 - 10:41 for example. €39 on a Bayern Ticket day pass.)

Day 3: Direct morning train to Nuremberg, 1 night, maybe some morning time in N'berg on Day 4 (9:45 - 10:46 for example. €39 on a Bayern Ticket day pass.)

Day 4: Train sequence w/ 2 changes to Rothenburg, 1 night, maybe some morning time in R'burg on Day 5 (8:37 - 9:51 for example. €23 on a VGN Tagesticket Plus day pass.)

Day 5: Not sure... Would you fly out on Day 6?? Freising is a great little town with a train station near MUC airport if you need to spend a final night nearby.

Posted by
26 posts

Russ, thank you so much! I agree - I would rather spend time in smaller towns. I guess it feels silly to fly into a city and not see it (but that doesn't seem like a great reason looking at that sentence typed out). Is Rothenburg worth seeing/prioritizing? I know it would be less travel if we focused on Regensburg/Nuremburg instead.

Posted by
6800 posts

Munich: There are forum members who would tell you must spend at least 3 nights there if you go there at all (which would usurp the whole short visit, of course, so advice like that is telling you to stay away anyway.)

Rothenburg: a very attractive old-world town worth seeing. I have never been there at Christmas. You can of course make the trip there OPTIONAL by booking nights 3 & 4 both in Nuremberg. If you are loving Nuremberg and want to spend all of Day 4 there, you skip R'burg. But if at noon on Day 4, you decide your time in Nuremberg is done, you can walk to the train station and head to Rothenburg for the rest of the day, returning by train later that same evening. For example...

Train to Rothenburg 12:34 - 13:51

(5 hours in Rothenburg)

Train to Nuremberg 19:05 - 20:18

The train daypass I mentioned at €23 can be bought on the spot and will cover the two of you ROUND TRIP from Nuremberg.

Posted by
462 posts

It’s such a short whirlwind, I kinda hate the idea of moving around so your choices are limited by airline access. Alternatively… 5 nights in Prague which to me has a small feel, yet with plenty to do, and will be beautiful Or Salzburg?

I’d say Vienna but, while beautiful, it doesn’t feel “small”

Posted by
6668 posts

I guess it feels silly to fly into a city and not see it

Maybe, but the smaller towns don't have airports so you have to fly to a large city. Munich is a great city and well worth seeing, but if you prefer smaller towns you don't have to see Munich. Although it can be a good idea to spend the first day somewhere close to get over jetlag, but it also depends on how well you handle jetlag.

I like the Stuttgart - Esslingen - Strasbourg - Colmar suggestion, it's not a bad idea.

But you should probably do this by train instead. It will make the trip much easier.

Posted by
2484 posts

Rothenburg market is not much. How about Munich, Regensburg, Salzburg

Posted by
26 posts

We'd love to go to Prague, but don't have a direct flight from ORD and would like to minimize time spent on layovers if possible.
If we do the route including Strasbourg and Colmar, which airport would you recommend to fly back to the US- potentially Zurich?

We are planning another trip to Vienna/Salzburg and potentially other areas in Austria for another year (longer trip) so thought those made sense to group together for another time.

Thank you for so many helpful responses thus far!

Posted by
6800 posts

Why oh why, do people think that Frankfurt is not historic?

Words mean different things to different people, depending on their own life experience and objectives, and "historic" is no exception. For a lot of travelers to Europe, an "historic" city is not one that was founded earlier than some other city like Munich, but one that today still LOOKS something like it might have looked a few centuries ago. They want to SEE some really old towns and cities - or at least some really old stuff that's not inside a museum - with their own eyes.

Anyway, whether you choose to look at Frankfurt as historic or modern, the issue is completely unrelated to my question on why the OP penciled Frankfurt and Munich into her 5-day plan, a plan that flies in the face of her "we...prefer smaller towns.." comment - not whether Frankfurt is "historic" or not.

Posted by
1506 posts

I would fly in-out of Munich.

You need not visit Munich at all, but I actually found its variety of Christmas Markets interesting: Haidhausen for a community market, Schwabing for a craft fair, Wittlelsbach Platz for a Medieval Market and the Marienplatz for a packed, full-bore Christmas Market.

As an alternative for the first day or two, you could also take a direct train (RE22) from the Airport to either Landshut (34 minutes) for a pretty small town with a community Christmas Market or Regensburg (1.5 hours) for a World Heritage town with 2 markets - one on the Thurn and Taxis Palace Grounds. Regensburg is our favorite Christmas Market destination for the historical feel of the town, its shopping and the markets.

You could then go on to Nürnberg or Augsburg. Nürnberg's Market is famous and crowded. Augsburg's Market is less know but quite beautifully laid out in the fan shaped square. At Christmas I think I would prefer sight-seeing in Augsburg as well.

We almost always spend our last night in Freising. It is an attractive small town with a tiny Christmas Market. The Merry-go-round is powered by parents pushing it. We like the Wirthaus Hüber for our last meal in Germany. Freising is only about 15 minutes from the airport by taxi.

Posted by
26 posts

Thank you all for your helpful and insightful comments. The flight for the date we want (11/30/24) to leave the US was just released and Munich as the destination is much cheaper than Frankfurt, so looks like we will at least fly into Munich.

I like the idea of arriving at the airport and taking a train to Regensburg or Rothenburg then working back towards Munich. I see rothenburg listed in so many articles about beautiful historical German towns which is why we’ve prioritized it but would take your more personalized opinions on whether it’s worth venturing that far. We do love to see historical architecture, cobblestone streets, beautiful nature all mixed in with great food, so if rothenburg is a must do from that standpoint, we will go there.

11/30- fly to Munich (arrive AM 12/1), take train to rothenburg or Regensburg
12/4 or 12/5 fly home from Munich (likely)

Thank you!

Posted by
1339 posts

München and Regensburg would be my choice. That's a lot in 5 days. You would not have to drive unless that is something you want to do. With luck you will have good cold temps and some snow. The markets close early and then you can enjoy the towns for dinner and nightlife. If you can squeeze it in Nürnberg.

Posted by
6800 posts

Jo: You are taking Quixotic swings at windmills. Please re-read my first post (11/28.) You have mistaken my post as a statement about Frankfurt's historic value. I repeat: I referred the OP to smaller destinations solely on the basis of the SIZE of Frankfurt - and the SIZE of Munich - whose historic value I ignored as well. My only mention of history at all was to assure the OP that Nuremberg, my alternative suggestion, had some of that.

Jo: "...the OP said they enjoy spending a couple of days in large cities..."

What the OP really said, quoted: "We generally enjoy a couple days in larger cities but prefer smaller towns."

It's just fine with me if you want to post about Frankfurt's historic value. Still, such comments do not necessitate a dispute with other forum members who are 100% mute on that topic, or the reconfiguration of others' statements. We understand you love Frankfurt - you live there and work there - so I hope you will continue to defend Frankfurt aggressively... if and when it is misrepresented.

Posted by
2484 posts

Rothenburg is certainly worth it as a place to visit, but don’t expect much as far as a Christmas market. The half meter bratwurst however might make it worthwhile ! We were there just before Christmas in 2011 and it snowed about 1/2 inch. Made it even more magical

Posted by
1506 posts

We have visited Rothenburg 3 times in the Christmas Market Season. We enjoyed it very much, as did my brother and his wife, and my wife's 2 sisters. The problem is getting there if you do not have lots of time and it does not lie along your route.

From the München (Munich) Airport it is 3.5 to 4.5 hours by train with 3-4 connections. To tackle that after a long flight would not work for us. You know your own tolerance best.

Posted by
6800 posts

11/30- fly to Munich (arrive AM 12/1), take train to rothenburg or

12/1 It is too much time and trouble to make the long train trip to Rothenburg right after a long overnight flight. Go to Regensburg, IMO.

12/2 in Regensburg

12/3 to Nuremberg (2 nights)

12/4 Nuremberg in the morning; visit Rothenburg for several hours in the afternoon/evening (see previous post) and return to Nuremberg by train, an easy train trip without luggage. R'burg is small but quite beautiful and worth seeing - but it does not require 24+ hours.

12/5 Take an early morning DIRECT train from Nuremberg to FRA Airport; many choices... here are some times from a random date this week since no schedule is yet available so far out into 2024:

5:28 - 7:55
6:00 - 8:20
6:39 - 8:39
7:02 - 9:20
7:30 - 9:55

Select your flight from FRA based on a 3-hour cushion between train arrival and flight departure.

While you CAN fly out of MUC, from Nuremberg, the travel times are shorter, and MUC will require a change of train, which might jeopardize making your flight.

ALTERNATIVE Plan B: Fly into FRA and out of FRA...

12/1 Train from FRA to Nuremberg for 4 nights. (2-2.5 hours by direct train)
12/2 in Nuremberg
12/3 Day trip to Rothenburg or Regensburg
12/4 Day trip to Rothenburg or Regensburg
12/5 Train to FRA in early morning