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Winter trip to Germany/France

I am plotting a trip in my head for a Christmas trip to Germany and France next year (if travel conditions are improved). We would be traveling with our two 10 year olds. It would be their first trip to EU. My son is excited to see Germany and my daughter wants to see Paris. My husband is down on the idea of winter travel. I am thrilled with the idea of Xmas markets. But also worried about miserably cold kids and husband while trying to sightsee. Does anyone have any insight or advice? Keeping in mind we would physically be there on the holidays. What might be open or closed? My idea of an itinerary might be Munich -3 nights, Nuremberg - 2 nights, Rhein Valley - 3 nights (mostl likely ON Christmas Day), Strausbourg or Colmar - 3 nights, Paris - 3 nights (NYE holiday) and home. Would like to see Burg Elz but the days right before Xmas - is that feasible? Will kids get bored of the Xmas markets? If staying in Bacharach, would anything be open Xmas eve or day or closed up tight? I am not concerned about the boat not going as long as the commuter train still operates. You can see the river and castles from the train yes? What do you see as pros and cons? My husband and I have been to all these locations but never with kids and never in the winter. PS: do you think Dachau is an experience I should take the kids to and does winter change things for touring Dachau being a fair amount outside and walking? (Closed off areas?)

Posted by
728 posts

We did xmas markets Nov-Dec 2019 in Switzerland, France, and Germany. If you check my posting history, you can find my Trip Reports, 4 parts, posted Dec & Jan. I think I linked them all around Jan 12.

The cold wasn't a problem. We packed the appropriate clothes [all carry-on], and brought hand warmers for our gloves. If you stay in a hotel in the old town areas, you can go back up to the room to nap, rest, or warm up. We ate at the markets, which is really inexpensive, so spent more on the location of the hotel. It was cold, but the markets were so exciting, so never felt the cold. Note that It does not get light until 8:00am, and gets dark around 4:30pm. Rain was predicted everyday for us, but usually it just sprinkled in the evenings. Do make sure you have full length waterproof winter coats.

Strasbourg and Colmar are great, [and there are wine tasting tours in the area for the adults. ]

May I suggest Stuttgart ? The Stuttgart markets are great in themselves, with elaborate decorations on the roof of each stand.The Esslingen markets, [15 minutes away via S-Train,] are fabulous! Many vendors dress in Middle Ages costumes, and there is outdoor entertainment: stage shows, parades, fire jugglers, magic shows. There is a whole kids area with games of chance of the period, along with candle making and other crafts.

The markets are not just shopping, but great eating, decorations, xmas lights, energy, and entertainment.

My research leaned towards flying into or out of Frankfurt, as many reviews said the Munich markets were not the most interestting - many may disagree. You could also visit Rothenburg- an entire Middles Ages town. Perhaps fly into Frankfurt and out of Paris?

I think the smaller towns really do shut down on xmas/Eve. Also the markets usually close on Dec 23 or the morning of Dec 24. Many OP's here recommend being in a larger city on Xmas, but even many of the larger cities shut down on xmas.

Altho not religious, I have found holiday services in the great cathedrals are a spectacle. [ I had the pleasure of being in Salzburg Cathedral for Easter Sunday.]

Our trip was fantastic, and I send best wishes for a safe and healthy trip!

Posted by
387 posts

Seems like A LOT of moving around. Just remember 2 nights is really only one full day there and that it takes LOTS of time to move between cities. I'd cut it back and do 3-4 nights in each area. It takes more time than you realize to change towns. You want to savor and enJOY, not feel rushed. We go every other year and do 4 nights in most places. We also love the Xmas Market River Cruises as it's so easy and a great way to see lots in one week and learn so much. Also, some of the markets close down before Xmas, so check on that. We go over every other year and Nuremburg is the largest and we love it, I'd do more time there for sure. Strasbourg and Colmar are gorgeous and quaint, but on the Rhine - where Vienna, Salzburg, Regensburg, Nuremburg are on the Danube - just look at travel times. Munich is full of great buildings, but the Xmas market wasn't nearly as good as Nuremburg, Vienna, Salzburg -- be sure to get online and see when the markets close down. We did a Dachau day trip from Munich and we loved it - we used the Rick Steves recommended tour company Radius Tours and booked on their website. The Rick Steves books are GREAT for all the towns you mentioned. We never get a car - we take the train everywhere and we always fly in and out of different towns to avoid backtracking. We love the markets and like I said, we go every other year. Our kids are grown, but I don't think yours would get bored. Dachau - maybe, but I think everyone should see it. It was fully open when we went Dec 2018 - there are inside areas too and the tour was great. We live in NC and don't find it any colder there than here. We layer and wear Keen boots = scarves keep you warm. You can always go into a cathedral or Coffee House to warm up, but it's never been an issue for us - we do see snow often. Feel free to PM me if you need more details. We are already booked for 2021 - flying into Vienna and out of Munich with Saltzberg, Regensburg, Passau, Nuremburg in between --- get hotels early as the best ones near the markets go very very fast.

Posted by
15621 posts

That time of year, weather should be warmer than Mad Town, worst case about the same. So if you can survive walking down State Street that time of year, should be no problem. Christmas Markets do get a bit repetitive, same type of goods for sale at most, but then I'm not much of a shopper. Atmosphere is what it is all about. Best one I recall was actually in Verona with big lines of Italians waiting to get a big beer and a bratwurst with sauerkraut. Also "Santa" run going on with all the participants in Santa Claus costumes, plus the fire department holding a "kids day to play on the fire engines" event, all next to the Arena.

Posted by
728 posts

Regarding Chinalake 67's comments-
I agree-
I forgot to mention that the best hotels can be booked up by June for the xmas markets, especially on weekends .

Posted by
2041 posts

Another vote for the Stuttgart and Esslingen markets. The Stuttgart market is huge with, as noted, decorated roofs on each hut. Esslingen has a typical Christmas market that is adjacent to a medieval market that it is super cool. If you go to the medieval market, you want at least part of your time there to be after dark. There are no electric lights at the medieval market -- the light is all torches/fire.

Dachau? The Dachau website's FAQ page states, "There is no special exhibition for children at the Dachau Memorial Site, and some of the content may not be appropriate for children under 12. It is therefore recommended that children visit the Memorial Site only when accompanied by their parents. All of the programs offered by the Education Department are for visitors aged 12 and above." I looked at a couple of private tours (including the Radius Tours tour mentioned above). It looks like private companies are not permitted to provide tours to anyone under 14 years of age. So... it looks like you can walk around and look at things with the kids but not do a guided tour. Maybe it's worth waiting a couple of years on Dachau?

Posted by
707 posts

I love Christmas markets and traveling with kids. Have trip reports posted from 2016, 2018, and 2019, if you're interested in more details. If you're from WI, I don't think you'll find German winter weather any worse, but it always helps to have a hotel not far from the action for quick breaks. You already know what kind of clothes to bring. I usually travel the first two weeks in December so I can get home well before Christmas, but lived in Germany for a few years and experienced some markets later in the season. You can google dates for all the markets, but know that the German ones usually close completely by noon on Dec 23. Christmas itself is more a family holiday, less commercial than what we see in much of the US.

I think your kids will enjoy the festive atmosphere, but even adults with deep pockets can get enough of the shopping pretty quickly. Markets differ in atmosphere and decorations, and some are more kid friendly. The big ones, like Munich, Nuremberg, and Cologne, can be extremely crowded, especially on weekends. I would not enjoy trying to keep up with two kids in a cheek to jowl kind of crowd, especially if they're stuck down at cheek level. Some of the smaller markets, like Rothenburg, Essllngen, and Colmar, would be more fun for them. I'm a big fan of Salzburg, especially if you can stay in a hotel in the old pedestrian center close to the markets. We did one two week trip to Stuttgart, (Esslingen), Colmar, Paris, and London that worked out well, and you might like a variation on that.

Think it's also important to plan in some non-market days. Between Munich and Colmar, you could go up the Zugspitze, and ski or sled. Hiking through the PartnachKlamm is memorable if you're near Garmisch. In Paris there would be plenty to do. They might like the nighttime open bus ride to see Christmas lights, even though it's cold! As for the Rhein Valley, I would check the dates for markets, because the smaller towns may have them only on weekends, or even for one weekend. I love the Mosel and Rhein valleys during the the fall wine season, but in winter they can close up completely. Dachau is an important place, but for 10yo's I would consider it a hard no. (For adults, I think it would be a quick zap of accumulated Christmas cheer.)

Your proposed pace is fast for me. Have traveled in Europe with my own kids and now with my grandsons, and find slower better. Packing up and changing locations seems to take more out of everybody. Hope we'll all be traveling by next Christmas!

Posted by
5000 posts

Would like to see Burg Elz but the days right before Xmas - is that
feasible? Will kids get bored of the Xmas markets? If staying in
Bacharach, would anything be open Xmas eve or day or closed up tight?
I am not concerned about the boat not going as long as the commuter
train still operates. You can see the river and castles from the train
yes? What do you see as pros and cons?

Rick's somewhat skimpy travel advice for this part of Germany may leave the false impression that it is all about Bacharach and Burg Eltz. Both are shuttered in winter - but not to worry. The area still has plenty to do. Rüdesheim and Mainz are both interesting towns with worthwhile things to see and do, and both have excellent DAILY Christmas markets in normal years.

To the north, Braubach's Marksburg Castle is not only open year-round (closed 12/24 & 25) but also gives visitors a better impression of Medieval life than Burg Eltz.

And yes, you're right - the trains still run on a regular schedule along the Rhine. And like always, they follow the river very closely for most of the trip.

So a nice Christmastime visit can be done from a Mainz base. With 2 full days, you could spend one day in Mainz and a second day on a train ride that would take you north along the Rhine for castle-spotting as far as Koblenz; in Koblenz, change trains and ride south 10 minutes along the opposite river bank to Braubach (Marksburg Castle, open 11-4 in winter.) Then continue by train south Rüdesheim to catch the Christmas market, and then return to Mainz. You can use the Rheinland-Pfalz Ticket Day pass for this train trip. It's €29 for 2 adults and kids are free.

Posted by
5000 posts

Dachau isn't a tourist attraction, and there are good reasons it's not recommended for younger children. I would drop it

If you'll be in Stuttgart's neighborhood, you might enjoy a visit to nearby Ludwigsburg:

https://www.schloesser-und-gaerten.de/fileadmin/Broschueren/monumentflyer_2020_englisch/ssg_residenzschloss-ludwigsburg_monumentbroschuere-GB_2020.pdf

I agree with the advice you've received about cutting down on your travel as well. With Strasbourg, Colmar, Stuttgart/Esslingen and the Rhine Valley, you are already overloaded and can probably skip either Munich or Nuremberg. Personally, I'd keep Nuremberg. Leave Munich, Dachau, and the other charms of southern Bavaria for another time.

Posted by
4292 posts

We lived in the wonderful Bavarian city of Augsburg, Germany for four years and loved the Christmas markets, but would never, never spend good money going to northern Europe in the Winter.

It gets dark at 4:30PM during the Christmas season.
It is cold and you must wear a heavy overcoat, gloves and hat. Still, if outside and the wind is blowing, your face will need warming from time to time.
If you plan to visit Alpine areas in southern Bavaria, Switzerland or Austria, don't drive, since you may need chains for your tires and the road freeze up and are dangerous.

Best thing to do in the Winter is visit museums.
With young kids in tow, you will need to take care that they are not overexposed to the cold and get sick.
Don't take them to Dachau. My wife had nightmares after visiting Auschwitz in Poland.

Posted by
316 posts

With young kids in tow, you will need to take care that they are not overexposed to the cold and get sick.

Umm..... if this were true, my kids would be inside 6 months a year. Here in Vermont, as I'm sure they do in Wisconsin where the OP lives, we bundle them up and throw them out in the snow. All day on a good day.

I'm sure they'd be fine at the Christmas markets.

Posted by
521 posts

Thank you all so much! Great advice and exactly what I was hoping for. I am going to not worry about the weather as much. And now I am going to plan on dropping Munich and Nuremberg in favor of Stuttgart and surrounding area. I will do some research on Stuttgart. And as for the Rhein - I will look at basing in Mainz. I was worried Bacharach might be shuttered. If possible - I would like to have my son experience that castle experience so the alternate castle suggested will be one I will also research. Also good to know about the age recommendation for Dachau. My husband and I went several years ago and it was sobering for certain but it also helped me understand that history better than anything I had seen up to that point. I wanted my kids to know that history but it sounds like they are too young. It will have to wait. Thank you all! I will search the trip reports of the posters too!

Posted by
2041 posts

I like your plan! Stuttgart gets nary a mention in the Rick Steves guide, which makes me sad. You may think about taking a look at the Rough Guide to Germany -- it has 13 pages on the city + an additional page or two on Ludwigsburg.

If your kids like cars, there are a Mercedes-Benz museum and a Porsche museum in Stuttgart.

If your family has any interest in libraries, Stuttgart has a great one that is easily within walking distance of the Hbf (Hauptbahnhof aka main train station). It is 8 stories tall and has a viewing deck on top. A teen from my neck of the woods moved to Stuttgart with his family a few years ago and posted Youtube videos about his experience. The video for the library (including viewing deck near the end): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S30CZB01XYM

Esslingen is gorgeous. The town largely escaped bombing during WWII due its manufacturing center being on the river, away from the town. The half-timbered houses are super cool. As we walked around town, I turned to my friend and, with tongue firmly in cheek, said, "This is ALMOST as nice as being at Epcot." Esslingen has old fortifications on a hill above the city that provide a nice view and would be fun for 10-year-olds to walk, I think. Esslingen has an interesting library, too, that is in a ridiculously old building.

I'm not sure how much longer Sarah is going to be in Stuttgart, but she offers short English language tours at very fair prices through her company, Stuttgart Steps. She enhanced the experience of my friend and me in the area... like with advice to try the Schupfnudeln at the Christmas market. http://stuttgartsteps.com/

Posted by
728 posts

We were underwhelmed by Ludwigsburg- especially in the winter, when the gardens are dormant. The xmas market area was small, [unless we missed something]. And last winter, several of the main rooms in the Palace were closed for renovations, altho we enjoyed the Fashion Museum.
I don't like being negative here on the Forum, but on these trips one must conserve energy and the number of destinations, and I would place the priority on Esslingen, and skip Ludwigsburg.
[Perhaps OP's here can enlighten me on what I missed.]

Posted by
728 posts

And, regarding locations that RS does not include in the Guide Books:

Many of the xmas markets are located in cities which are not discussed in the RS Guidebooks. I tried downloading maps and brochures, but the results were not legible. So- I emailed the local TI's, and received via mail lovely and useful hardcopy maps [FREE} and info on the locations and dates of the xmas markets in each city, in English. [This could be a great activity for the kids to request.] Some of the TI's even included hand-written notes.

Also, in each city, the local TI's [usually located close to the train stations ] had special xmas market maps and additional info, in English.

Regarding French labor strikes- I was completely ignorant of the labor striking traditions in France. We were actually caught in the transportation strike last December. We didn't know that the strike was planned many weeks in advance. So- always check if any strikes have been announced.

Posted by
1001 posts

My husband and I did a Christmas market trip to France, Germany and Austria in early December 2015. It was one of our favorite trips and I would love to do it again. We started in Strasbourg with a day trip Colmar, then Rothenburg, Munich, Salzburg with a day trip to the Salzkammergut and Vienna. While we didn’t go to Paris, the shop windows must be beautiful at Christmas. And it obviously has plenty of other things to offer besides the Christmas market. With the exception of Strasbourg, I prefer the smaller towns for atmosphere but the bigger cities have museums to break things up. With the exception of the day/evening in the Salzkammergut, we were never cold and only had one day of light rain on the whole trip. Hats, mittens, sweaters, warm jackets and socks and shoes and you should be fine. I can’t imagine a more magical time to take the kids to Europe. The decorations are so beautiful and all the markets filled with goodies and food. And there are skating rinks in Colmar, Salzburg and Vienna, a small train that wends its way through the market in front of city hall in Vienna and pony rides at the market at Hellbrun Palace outside Salzburg. This will be a trip they will always remember. I hope you get to go next December.

Posted by
2898 posts

Since you live in Madison, you must understand how to cope with cold weather and already own appropriate gear. In my experience, mid-west U.S. winter weather is actually more severe than that in much of Europe.
I agree with those who opined that you were initially planning too many stops.

You need to be really careful about planning for meals and activities on Dec. 24, 25, and 26. The last is a holiday in many places. It might be prudent to get dinner reservations as soon as possible after pinning down your itinerary. It’s a bit hard for us Americans to grasp how seriously Europeans take their holidays, with our 24/7 supermarkets and shops open every day of the year. We have been tripped up more than once making wrong assumptions in that line. One example was thinking that we could take a train to Heathrow from Nottingham on Dec. 26. No public transport was available. Our friend, whom we were visiting, saved our bacon by driving us. Three hours there and the same for her to get back home! Unless you can pin down activities and meals for those days, it might be a reason to go at a different time.
Though non-Christians, we quite enjoyed seeing church decorations and local festivities at that time of year.
NYE in Paris is a blast. Everyone is out partying in the streets. Maybe you can persuade your kids to take a nap so that they can stay awake to join in the fun.

Posted by
5000 posts

Good point by Rosalyn about holiday meals. FOOD can probably be found at the train stations, but a sit-down meal may be possible only in certain high-end hotels. The 24th - 26th might be good days to book an apartment with kitchen or kitchenette.

German Christmas markets typically close early on the 24th or earlier. But a handful remain open after Christmas - good to know if you can't get there before Christmas. Speyer's market is one of those places. It continues operation until about 1 week into the new year as well. Speyer is roughly half way between Mainz and Stuttgart and is definitely worth a visit, not just for its awesome cathedral, but also for the Technik Museum, which - unbelievable as it seems - is open 365 days per year. And it might be just the thing for a couple of kids, maybe their parents too. Cars, planes, space shuttles, and more! I've never eaten there myself, but the museum has a restaurant as well - which presumably is also operational on holidays (something to check on if you go.)

The Speyer Christmas market typically closes on the 24th at 13:00 and re-opens on the 27th at 11:00 am. Maybe that's how 2021 will go too.

Posted by
96 posts

I lived in Cologne/Freiburg/Frankfurt/Lübeck/Prague. I am a X'mas market enthusiast. I took 3-week DIY X'mas market trip in France/Germany to visit 1-2 towns a day 17 years in a roll, almost always in gray/rainy/darkish by 4pm/26F-44F condition. I had visited every visit-worthy Xmas markets in Germany and Alsace. I'd recommend that you skip the Rhine/Mosel region. I had visited all the pretty towns along the Rhine/Mosel during X'mas market season, since I lived in Cologne several winters. You can see some castles from the local train along the river if the windows are not fogged up (rainy day) but the view is dull gray sky, bare trees, and gray river. All the pretty little towns are not so pretty without blue sky and green trees, and the Xmas market is uninteresting and tiny (a dozen small vendors at best). I visited Burg Eltz on a cold December day -- bare trees, gray sky, and nearly-1-hr walk from the train station thru the woods without another soul in sight, not a recommendable experience. Save Rhine/Mosel region for a summer-autumn visit to see it at its best and most festive.

The Xmas market itinerary I would recommend is: Prague-->Nuremberg-->Esslingen-->Gengenbach-->Strasbourg-->Colmar--> Paris. This itinerary is conveniently served by train and DB IC bus (Prague-Nuremberg). X'mas markets at Prague/Nuremberg/Strasbroug/Colmar are the star attractions in Europe. Prague/Strasbourg/Colmar Xmas markets last into first week of January -- each has half a dozen Xmas markets in pretty parts of town. 3 full days in Prague is recommended for first-time visitor, the town is glorious during Xmas market period and most people would add a day-trip to pretty UNESCO town Cesky Krumlov (uninteresting little Xmas market). DB IC bus from Prague stops right next to Nuremberg train station, store the luggage at the train station locker and walk across the street into beautiful historic old town to visit Germany's most famous Xmas market . Esslingen's medieval Xmas market is special and the town is beautiful even in cold rainy weather. Gengenbach's Xmas market attracts dozens of tour buses a day, and the town is gorgeous.

Towns in the Strasbourg/Colmar region are magical and festive during Xmas market period. Using Colmar as homebase, you can take convenient regional buses to visit the wonderful Xmas markets in pretty Riquewhir/Ribeaville/Kaysersberg/Eguisheim. Impressive medieval Haut-Koenigsbourg castle (in Selestat) is an easy day-trip from Colmar. Direct TGV runs Colmar-Paris and Strasbourg-Paris. Convenient Lufthansa Express Bus runs between Strasbourg and Frankfurt Airport. Paris' Xmas market is pitiful and not-worth-a-visit, in my opinion.

Beware of early-closure on 12/24 and 12/31, full-closure on 12/25, 12/26, 1/1, reduced train/bus frequency on 12/25 and 1/1 and all Sundays, and shop closure on Sundays in Germany/Alsace. Plan to stay put in bigger towns on full-closure days. Bring rain-proof winter coats and appropriate boots for icy grounds. 26F-44F daytime temperature may not sound very cold, but it feels a lot colder when out in open air for hours, especially when rainy.

If you want to fly in/out Munich airport, the must-see Xmas market is Salzburg (multiple markets in beautiful historic center) which is 2-hr local train ride from Munich. Munich is a mostly post-war rebuilt town, I did not find the Xmas markets in the Marienplatz vicinity special.

Posted by
15621 posts

I am trying to imagine myself as a 10 year old. "Mommmm!! Not another Christmas market!"

Just sayin.

Posted by
5000 posts

As Ashley points out, Christmas markets can now be found even in smaller towns all around Germany - and they are often tiny markets. They tend to be open only on weekends, sometimes only on one weekend during the season. For this and other reasons, these smaller towns make for weak winter destinations.

OTOH the very popular markets like Cologne's (which gets 4 million visitors in a month's time!) and Stuttgart's (3 million) and Nuremberg's (2 million) can get overwhelmed with crowds. I remember feeling like an ant hive resident at Nuremberg's (and I've read a lot of forum complaints in that vein as well.)

As for dropping the Rhine/Mosel... Amy, you and DH have been to Bacharach and along the Mosel (and to all your other destinations) before. But this is a "return trip," and winter will add a new dimension. With your short time in the area, you really don't have time for both the Rhine and Mosel, but there should be time for a day on the Rhine. Although Bacharach is a probably a bad winter base, I see no reason you can't get off the train here and there for an hour or two to show the boys around in the smaller towns. Bacharach's remarkable half-timbered buildings will still be there. The Rhine castles will still be on the cliffsides as they were before. But you'll also get a new perspective. The tourists and their trappings are absent. And IMO the winter views are still stunning in sepia tones... a walk up into the barren vineyards in cold weather is far more exhilarating than a hot, humid summertime hike. And of course Marksburg Castle (Braubach) will be new to you as well.

As for 12-stand markets... I don't think Ashley was referring to Mainz and Rüdesheim; rest assured that both markets are much more lively than a market in, say, tiny Braubach. Rüdesheim itself isn't a big town, but it's market is very popular and it attracts several thousand market visitors per day. Here's a map of the stands from a previous Christmas. And a video to get a feel for the atmosphere. For us, Mainz's market was fun and lively, and unlike the big-name markets that draw not just Germans but lots of international tourists, it felt comfortable, relaxed, and friendly. It seemed more like a hub for mostly local/regional visitors (which is no surprise I guess - that's what Mainz is.)

Posted by
23860 posts

AshleyMIA says,

I'd recommend that you skip the Rhine/Mosel region. I had visited all the pretty towns along the Rhine/Mosel during X'mas market season, since I lived in Cologne several winters. You can see some castles from the local train along the river if the windows are not fogged up (rainy day) but the view is dull gray sky, bare trees, and gray river. All the pretty little towns are not so pretty without blue sky and green trees, and the Xmas market is uninteresting and tiny (a dozen small vendors at best).

I guess you never visited the Christmas Market at Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, just upstream from Bonn, near where the bridge at Remagen used to be.

Easy to get to by train (2 stations, one for each of the merged towns, the best bit of the market is in the Ahrweiler end), ferry or car (easy parking under the town hall), the market spreads out from the main square formed by the town hall, the bank, and the church (nice church inside and out), and takes over virtually all the streets in the whole town - all within a very well preserved town wall with big and tall medieval gates (a great big car park just outside the walls too). Maidens (well maybe...) sing from the bank's balcony, the food is good throughout, in addition to the main square there are food vendors in various parts of the town, not overpriced, mostly regional, but the (not regional) currywurst and bratwurst (red and white, over charcoal) passes the quality test, and since this is a wine region there is plenty of wine, as well as Glühwein and bier (I don't drink so can't vouch, but the various stands certainly pull in the crowds).

The local fire brigade not only demonstrates their equipment but also sings - quite well - and are one of the local brass bands who strut their stuff.

There are also stands for the sort of vendors you'd find at a good regional market on market day. Some of my fav souvenirs from there are several different hand made brushes, including one for the radiators.

Forgot to mention - in addition to the ladies singing (one had a good looking brother who sometimes sang with them), there was live music all over the town. I don't think any of it was recorded.

We were there on a Saturday, but it was running straight through the week - we went back on Wednesday night and it was great then too.

I'm sorry you missed that one.

By the way, it had been frosty on the way there, with grey skies, but by about 11:30 we had sunshine which lasted for the rest of the day.

Posted by
728 posts

We found that it was best to shop, talk to the vendors, and explore the food stands during the daylight hours, maybe around 3pm, before the evening crowds. The locals generally come after work. But the xmas lights, entertainment, and energy are best experienced after dark, 4:30pm on. So- decide before it's crowded what food stands you want to visit later on, especially if you have dietary restrictions, and want to ask about ingredients or vegetarian options.
Obviously, the gluwein flows freely all day and evening.
In most towns, the markets closed by the end of the chiming of the 8:00pm cathedral bells.

Posted by
316 posts

I have been following this thread and would like to thank everyone for their detailed contributions. We are also planning a family trip for next December, and your input has given me some places I wouldn't have thought of that look really exciting. My working itinerary is now:

-- fly into Frankfurt (reasonable connections for us, vs. Stuttgart)
-- train to Esslingen, spend a night recovering from jet lag and visiting the markets (I always try and plan a travel recovery day in a small town with no major sights; less pressure to "sightsee" places that are impossible to process in a fog. Esslingen looks perfect for this.)
-- take a late morning/early afternoon train to Nuremberg; spend 3 nights sightseeing and visiting the Christmas market there
-- train to Prague to spend 4 nights and Christmas (and by the way, holy cow, lodging prices skyrocket in December in Prague!!! Good thing I saved all that money from this year's planned trip)
-- then fly off to southern Spain for a week of sunshine and seafood

Thanks so much for all the great information, and thanks Amy for your post that prompted such great replies!

Posted by
15621 posts

@DebVT, see if your airline has Rail & Fly. For a reasonable amount, you can take any train, including ICE trains to your final destination, Esslingen in your case. You really can't book a cheap rail connection because you cannot be sure your flight will land on time. Buying a ticket at the station is relatively expensive, and traveling on cheap regional trains is time consuming with extra connections along the way.
https://www.frankfurt-airport.com/en/transport-and-directions/by-train/rail-and-fly.html

Quickest, easiest way from Nuremberg to Prague is by bus. DB operates some of them, but other operators ply that route as well.

Posted by
316 posts

Thank you, Sam. I will check out your recommendations!

Posted by
1580 posts

Quickest, easiest way from Nuremberg to Prague is by bus. DB operates some of them, but other operators ply that route as well.

The DB will discontinue its IC bus by the end of the year. Regio Jet and Flix Bus will remain the carriers for the time being, and it is expected that Leo express will fill the gap.

Posted by
96 posts

I had a Lufthansa Rail&Fly trip this year: Spain--Frankfurt--Karlsruhe: flew into Frankfurt, picked up luggage at Lufthansa check-in counter (instead of regular baggage claim) at Airport's long-distance train station (DB Fernbahnhof) which is in the building across the walkway from airport terminal and is 30-second walk to the train platform. As a Lufthansa frequent flyer, I travailed Stuttgart-->Frankfurt->USA with Lufthansa Rail&Fly many times in the past with ICE train for the Stuttgart-->Frankfurt section. DB ICE train has a separate compartment for Lufthansa Express Rail and Rail&Fly passengers, with plenty of luggage space on board and a dedicated DB agent on the platform. The benefits of booking Rail&Fly ticket are: 1) automatically put on the next train if flight comes in late, 2) no need to buy expensive last minute train ticket, 3) luggage pick up is near the train platform, and 4) this special train compartment is usually sparsely occupied.

FYI, Stuttgart--Esslingen is served by regional trains and S-Bahn that runs every 7-10 min, costs under 5 Euro. It's a 10-16 min ride. DB ticket machine on train station platform, S-Bahn ticket machines at entrance to S-Bahn platform.

Posted by
1580 posts

As a Lufthansa frequent flyer, I travailed Stuttgart-->Frankfurt->USA with Lufthansa Rail&Fly many times in the past with ICE train for the Stuttgart-->Frankfurt section. DB ICE train has a separate compartment for Lufthansa Express Rail passengers, with plenty of luggage space on board and a dedicated DB agent on the platform. The benefits of booking Rail&Fly ticket are: 1) automatically put on the next train if flight comes in late, 2) no need to buy expensive last minute train ticket, 3) luggage pick up is near the train platform, and 4) this special train compartment is usually sparsely occupied.

Please let's not mix up Raily&Fly and Lufthansa Express. Those are different concepts. With Lufthansa express, part of your flight is by train (most popular segment is Cologne - Frankfurt) and you travel on a single LH ticket in a separate ICE compartment. Rail&Fly is a DB programm (even if available only by [different] airlines), which gives you simply a train ticket from / to the airport to / from any train station in Germany for a global price.

Posted by
15621 posts

And I am not sure that arriving from a non-EU country, even if you could get your luggage forwarded to the train platform with your type of ticket, it would be available, as you would have to pass through EU Customs after you collected your luggage. That is with respect to item 3) cited by AshleyMIA. With a Rail&Fly, you would also be ticketed to your final destination, even if the last leg is by a regional train or S-bahn. No need to stop and buy a local ticket after you get off the ICE at Stuttgart Hbf.

Posted by
694 posts

As one who's lived over four years in both Wisconsin and Bavaria I'm going to say that I'd rather be in Bavaria for multiple reasons in the winter. The weather in Munich and Nuremberg is going to be much better than what you have in Madison. It will be cold, but not that cold, and with much less snow. In fact there's a good chance there will not be any snow.

Travel between any of the places you're planning on is not going to eat up a huge amount of time if planned correctly. Travel in the morning and you'll have at least half the day to sightsee. And, if you get a hotel fairly near either the Bahnhoff or an U-Bahn station, you can easily drop off your luggage, even before you actually check in.

The Christmas markets are best planned for doing after the sun goes down, not during the day. Daytime is for shopping tourists, night is for locals, food, and partying. And there will be kids out too, so yours won't be alone. Do something else in the daytime.

If you're totally bored in Nuremberg take the family to Kristall Palm Beach and have a spa day with food, booze, and wave pools (pack a swimsuit). It's great in the winter.

In Munich take the kids to the Deutsches Museum. It's on an island in the middle of the river about a 10 minute walk from the Marinplatz. 10 yr olds will love the cave (mining exhibit) that runs under the museum. If they like cars take them to Porsche. If they like hunting and/or fishing (as do most of my WI relatives) take them to the Hunting and Fishing Museum. (It's way better than a couple hours in Bass Pro.) But be advised, just window shopping the old main through fares in old town can eat up a lot of time during the holidays as the stores go all out and there are buskers on every corner.

Don't forget to take them to a beer hall (Augustiner or Lowenbrau are best). It's something they'll have to wait another 8 years to do in the States.

Don't go to Dachau.

You might want to look at flying into Nuremberg, and then go Munich, Strausbourg, Paris. If you did that I'd recommend Christmas Eve/Day in Munich and then traveling west. It's going to be much easier to find services/accommodations in Munich than elsewhere. Personally I prefer Trier & Nancy to Strausbourg/Colmar, but either should be fun.

Posted by
96 posts

Lufthansa Rail&Fly web page specified: 1) The ticket is only valid in combination with an international flight (Lufthansa flight number issued on a Lufthansa ticket), and 2) the train choices – IC/EC (InterCity, EuroCity) and ICE (InterCity Express). https://www.lufthansa.com/us/en/lufthansa-express-rail-fly. The actual destination of my Rail&Fly January trip this year was a small Black Forest town, but I could only book my ticket up to Karlsruhe -- the nearest ICE stop where I could connect to Black Forest regional train. BTW, I got 2 boarding passes when I checked in online for my flight - one for flight, another for the train. My train boarding pass/passport/luggage claim sticker with bar code was inspected at Lufthansa's AiRail terminal before they handed over my luggage.

Posted by
1580 posts

Well, the fine print for R&F tickets is made by DB, and the respective web site states "From/to any of more than 5,600 DB stations", I.e. all. And it's valid for travelling to from any airport.

https://www.bahn.de/p/view/service/buchung/flug/rail-and-fly-english.shtml

That's different with LH Express, which technically is the first/last leg of a flight and is bookable to/from FRA to selected (major) stations only .

I think you were travelling on LH Express ticket and not a DB R&F ticket.

Posted by
521 posts

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