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Balancing Christmas Markets with Sightseeing

Hi,

We're off in 2 1/2 weeks, and we'll be visiting Christmas markets this time. My husband and I will be starting in London (where my sister currently is with a program through her university) and then all three of us will be flying to Austria, starting with Salzburg, then Innsbruck, and ending in Vienna.

My question is for those of you who do the Christmas market thing. Our main purpose in this trip is seeing the markets. But how much time do you allow for other things in your itinerary? I love markets, so I'm not worried about being bored by any means, but I don't want to plan too many other things. Does that question make sense? We have never been to Austria (though my sister has) and my husband has never been to London, so we do want to see some sights, but I do assume we'll return both to Austria and London during warmer months sometime in the future as well.

For a trip focused on Christmas markets, would you take thermals?

Also, just because I'm curious, what are your favorite things you have bought/eaten at a Christmas market? I visited some Christmas markets in Alsace 10 years ago and loved them; I'm really looking forward to this trip!!

Thanks!

Posted by
1068 posts

Hi:

How long you are staying in each place? I think that would make a difference.

Here's why I say that. We go to the Paris Christmas market most years. It must be vaster and more crammed with stuff than Salzburg and Innsbruck - just because the city is larger. And we couldn't possibly spend even one full day there without losing our minds in the crowds.

For proportion: we tend to make two or three visits if we'll be in town a week - one early morning to beat the crowds, scope out the goods and do actual shopping; then again at night for 3 - 4 hours of drinking wine and enjoying the people-watching and seeing the lights and stuffing our faces; and maybe another flying visit on another evening for more of the delightful mulled wine.

I never get cold and don't usually even bother with a coat, and even I say that if you plan 4 - 6 hour stretches at an outdoor market, thermals are probably an EXCELLENT idea. :-) And thick socks and warm shoes or boots. COMFY ones.

Posted by
175 posts

Hi Kira,

Thanks for your quick reply. Yes, I should have mentioned how long we'll be in each city! We have 3 full days in London, 1 1/2 days in Salzburg, 1 1/2 days in Innsbruck, and 3 1/2 days in Vienna. It's really quick in each city, but we're leaving our two kids at Grandma's and couldn't be gone longer than 2 weeks. Those travel days just kill you.

Thanks!

Posted by
2715 posts

Hi Becca,

As we've been to both Salzburg and Innsbruck for the Christmas Markets in 2010 and heading back this year, I'd say evenings and nights are the best, most "atmospheric" time to visit the markets. With the limited time you have, see a few sights in the afternoon and markets at dusk and into the evening/night. In Innsbruck, if it's a clear day on your full day, head up into the alps right across from the Congress, just outside the pedestrian zone, and take the Hungerburgbahn/Nordkettenbahn for fantastic views of the Alps. Save the markets for when it starts to get dark. The lights, etc. add to the entire experience.

Paul

Posted by
12040 posts

Here's a secret... most Christmas markets sell essentially the same stuff. The merchandise is really a side-line to the outdoor drinking and socializing. The food is usually various grilled sausages, crepes, pizza, pommes, Hänchen, etc. The Lindau market had some regional food that I've never seen elsewhere, but this was largely an exception. If you're looking for hand-made German/Austrian Christmas nick-nacks, many of the larger markets usually have a small Käthe Wohlfarht shop, although you can buy much of the same stuff year-round at one of their brick-and-mortar locations. I sometimes also see booths that sell woolen-ware from Scandinavia. Particularly good quality stuff, if you ask me, but quite expensive. The larger markets usually have a few artisans selling their wares, but most of the booths hawk similar mass-produced stuff.

I second the recommendation to visit at night. The markets are usually most lively at this time, particularly right after people get off of work in the evening.

"For a trip focused on Christmas markets, would you take thermals?" Depends on a lot of things. Your particular cold tolerance, how long you planned to stay outside, the temperature that particular evening, how much Glühwein you plan on imbibing, how warm your coat is, etc, whether or not the market has outdoor gas heaters (many markets have them, particularly around the Glühwein stands). I personally never wear thermals and I'm never uncomfortably cold, but others may differ.

Posted by
1346 posts

We visited the markets 4 times in recent years. In 2012 we visited Salzburg for 2 days and Vienna for three days. Those cities could fill the time that you have allotted them without markets. The division of time will be largely up to you. Vienna has several markets. We had a room near the main market at the Rathaus and saved it for the evening as we could easily walk there. We visited the many other markets by city transportation during the day as part of our sight-seeing. The only major sight on which we focused in Vienna was Schönbrunn Palace as we had seen the Residenz on an earlier trip. The self tour of the Palace was less than 2 hours and excellent. We also visited the Gardens (even in winter) and that was another 60-90 minutes. Riding out there, the sights, a stop at the Palace cafe and the small Christmas Market on the grounds took up most of a day. We stopped at the Karlsplatz Christmas Market on the way back to the room.

http://tinyurl.com/Vienna-Christmas-Mkts

The Salzburg Market is in the heart of the old town and the sights, and close to shopping. You can do all at the same time.

For us it was in the teens (fahrenheit) at night in both cities. I would check the weather report before I left the thermals home. We are returning to Germany this year and taking ours.

Posted by
1738 posts

Whatever you would wear in Provo should be fine. When we were in Salzburg Dec. 2011, the temps were about 32F

Posted by
175 posts

Thank you all for your thoughts!

Paul, I'd read that there is a Christmas market up at Hungerburg, but that it's only on the weekend, which won't line up with our dates. It's nice to know the view is worth it, too. We'll make an effort to do that if the weather cooperates, we love beautiful vistas.

Tom, yes, I know it's mostly the same, mass-market stuff. ;) We do have some things on our list we hope to bring back, but I just wondered about some particular favorites of people. I'm looking forward to roasted chestnuts, personally!

Thanks, Gary, for describing how you spent your time, it's really helpful for me to have an idea of what we might accomplish! Did you mean the gardens at the Schonbrunn Palace? I've considered making the jaunt out to Helbrunn (sp?) but wondered if it would be worth it since I'm more interested in gardens than palace interiors.

Stephen, 32 sounds perfect! The teens, not so much...I'll make sure to check the weather. I always expect it to be colder in Europe than it is in Utah, but I think you're probably right. I think we better buy some thermals just in case. We're not skiers, so we don't have any! :)

George, thanks for the link! I love browsing the web, looking at photo galleries of the markets.

Posted by
21660 posts

If you are from Utah and do any skiing, then you understand the concept of layers. I would certainly do that with long underwear, etc. We did a Christmas market tour about four years ago ending in Prague. The average temp, especially in the evening, was in high teens, low 20s for the week with light snow nearly every day but it added to the atmosphere of hot wine and food. We were well prepared with wool pants, long underwear, etc., so it was not a problem. Out of curiosity the following year we watch the temperatures via a weather app and it appeared to be about 10, 12 degrees warmer and no snow. I do think you need to anticipate cold weather and be happy it warmer.

Posted by
2715 posts

Hi,

You're not missing anything at the Hungerburg "market". Very small, just a few stalls. It's the views and then the cable cars leave right from Hungerburg to go high into the alps.

Posted by
1346 posts

Becca, I like strolling through gardens even in the winter, so it was worth it for us to visit Schonbrunn's. There were no flowers and it was cold. The "garden" is very large and is more bare trees than anything else in the winter. I have not been to Schloss Hellbrunn. I really don't know about its gardens. Gary

Posted by
8064 posts

I like going to Christmas markets in various cities because I find that they each have their own flavor. Find out what attractions are there so that you can balance your sightseeing with a visit to a historic or unusual church, perhaps a museum or two in the morning. If the weather is rainy or really blustery, you will be glad to be in a city that offers some sightseeing possibilities. I like wandering around the stands in the morning if I am in a big city so that I can actually look at the items for sale.

Yes, I would wear thermals. One never knows what the weather will be and it can get pretty cold wandering around.

My favorite gift items at the markets are hand carved wooden ornaments, pottery items especially the little houses that sit on top of a tea candle, leather items from local farms, funny knitted hats, and anything unusual. Favorite foods are potato pancakes with garlic sauce, brats from a swinging grill over a wood fire, flavored almonds with a burnt sugar coating, Kinder Punsch (non-alcoholic hot drink) and hot chocolate.

Posted by
837 posts

I agree with Tom. We spent last Christmas in France, Germany, and Austria. We found that the atmosphere was the primary attraction of the markets. The goods were pretty much the same at all, with the possible exception of Salzburg which we found to be a cut above the rest.

Posted by
2966 posts

See, and I found the Salzburg market pretty "meh" despite the lovely setting. To each their own, eh?

I do think that Christmas markets CAN get boring, and I know from personal experience that if you start drinking Gluhwein too early in the day, you won't have an easy time as it gets later. So I would really recommend doing sightseeing during the day and hanging out at the Christmas markets once it starts to get dark - as early as 4pm this time of year.

Vienna has such great museums and history, it would be a shame to miss them. Aside from St. Stephens, do take the crypt tour, visit the main art museum which is one of my favorites in Europe. I was really surprised by how much I liked the war museum there - my husband is a historical warfare nut, but I was not expecting to come face to face with the car that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was in when he was shot, kicking off WWI, or his uniform. Lots and lots of history in a great setting there.

London as you know, has lots of great museums as well.

I tend to be colder (being a Californian) so I don't think thermals are at all a bad idea if you're going to plan on spending hours outside at night. Don't listen to someone who says "It wasn't that cold when I was there last year" - weather conditions change. It could very well be in the teens or even lower at night in some of those places. Even if it's in the 20s, I'd still want thermals in that scenario.

Favorite things to eat: does gluhwein count? I like finding the specialized, homemade gluhweins (a lot of places just buy the cheap bottled stuff...yuck). White gluhwine is a particular favorite. For food, I'm usually pretty happy with local favorites like bublespitzle, a spicy wurst, or a cheese wurst. Can't wait for the markets, just a few more days!

Posted by
1631 posts

I have been to the markets the last two years and have enjoyed each one of them. If you would like to read my blogs and see my pics, send me a personal message for the website. Like Jo mentioned, each one is different in its atmosphere.

Posted by
175 posts

Thank you all! It's really nice and helpful to hear your experiences and thoughts.

I bought us each two pairs of thermals, just in case.

Jo, potato pancakes with garlic sauce sounds delicious! And I'm really looking forward to kinder punsch; we don't drink, and I didn't know about kinder punch when I was in France, but I'm looking forward to it this go around. It's good to know that the mornings are really best for sightseeing.

Sarah, we are planning on visiting the Kunsthistorisches, but I'm going to have to look into that war museum! That sounds interesting. I haven't read about it yet. And what is bublespitzle? I am looking forward to the different wursts...hoping to be braver this time, as I've had only bratwursts in the past. I'm not a big sausage eater here in the US, but I've sure enjoyed the bratwursts I've had in Germany and Alsace.

Thanks, Denise, for PMing the links to your blogs! I enjoyed looking at your photos!

Posted by
2715 posts

Hi again,

As for food at Salzburg's markets, I liked a sausage sandwich called "Bosna". For souvenirs for ourselves, we bought the Christmas Market mugs from each place we visited. You can get your hot drink in it and either return it or keep it for a couple of extra Euro. To get them home in one piece, we simply put each in a sock in our luggage.

Posted by
14780 posts

Thermals are great (even 2 layers of them) since you are going to be outside most of the time. If you expect to take long lunch breaks, for instance, in heated restaurants, you are likely to be overly warm. But you can easily eat your way through the markets outside in the markets. The markets I visited were just opening around noon so there's lots of time for sightseeing until mid-afternoon. In Germany and Austria, the markets became quite crowded around 7 p.m. when the locals arrived en masse to hang out and drink. In some places, it was nearly impossible to walk through them in the evenings. . . . a good time to dash back to your hotel, take off the thermals, and head to a nice warm restaurant for dinner.

Here are some photos of Christmas market food https://picasaweb.google.com/pitzikat/XmasMarketFood

Posted by
4643 posts

Overall, I would suggest going to the markets after dark as the setting is nicer. From 4-7 is probably a great time as 3 hours is more than enough in a market. You can then move on to dinner somewhere is you are not filled up on market food.

Speaking of food, Christmas Markets are all about the food; beware that the punsch is sickly-sweet. There are so many types of foods to get, it is hard to think of favorites, but I tend to look for something warm.

If you want to find crafts made by locals (rather than items mass-produced in China) avoid the market at the Rathaus and go instead to the markets at Altes AKH, Karlsplatz, Spittelberg (the best one) and Schonbrunn. These markets also tend to have the most "real" food as well.

Here is a link which gives highlights of several markets. You might also want to read through the Austria forums on TripAdvisor as there is discussion after discussion on the markets in both Vienna and Salzburg (much more info than you will find here).

http://www.wien.info/en/shopping-wining-dining/markets/christmas-markets

Posted by
2828 posts

Opinions obviously vary. Personally, I consider Christmas Markets more or less interchangeable. Seen one, seen them all. They sell the same things anywhere and they are too much crowded at night, when they are more visually interesting.

I'm sure many people will strongly disagree with my opinion, though.

Posted by
1738 posts

As a fellow Kinderpunsch drinker, be sure to keep the mug it is served in. Those make the best souvenirs,

Posted by
175 posts

Thanks for your replies! I think I'll print out this thread before I go and take it with me, it's been really helpful.

Paul, I'll keep my eye out for a Bosna.

Thanks Emily, for the specifics on Vienna. It's helpful to hear, and thanks for the website. I'll check on Trip Advisor as well.

Posted by
2715 posts

Becca,

While in Austria, if you like chocolate as much as I do (love it), look for "Mohr im Hemd" on the dessert menu.

Posted by
22 posts

Becca,

You can find the original Bosna stand in Salzburg right off of Getreidegasse. The "Bosna Grill" is at Getreidegasse 33 and is half way down the alley. It's just a window in the wall but it usually attacts quite a crowd. The line moves somewhat quickly. If the line is long, just know that it's worth the wait. There is also a wurst stand/truck in the Altstadt that serve Bosnas and other sausages after hours. There's usually one at Alter Markt, one by the fish house by the river and then also one on the other side of the Salzach River that I know of. I think you can also get them at the train station.

As for thermals, I would wear them along with layers.

Posted by
175 posts

Thank you, Paul and Diane!

Paul, I LOVE chocolate. I will check that out for sure!

Diane, it's so hard to remember that long lines are usually well-rewarded...thanks for the tip on finding the Bosna.

Can't wait!