As Christmas enthusiasts, my husband and I always hoped to visit the Christmas markets in Europe. We got the opportunity this year to take a quick trip – 12 days starting the day after Thanksgiving. I planned the trip to visit cities/towns I wanted to see that had markets open (or about to open) during the time of our visit. Our itinerary was as follows: Salzburg – 3 nights, Regensburg – 2 nights, Rothenburg – 2 nights, and Wurzburg – 3 nights, with day trips to Bamberg and Nuremberg from Wurzburg. We had a wonderful trip. While we enjoyed the Christmas markets, I would have to say I was a little disappointed in them. I had no plans to buy a lot of stuff, but I did plan to sample a lot of food and drink. Perhaps it was the markets I chose, but the ion of food was more limited than I expected – primarily wurst, wurst and wurst. I enjoy a good wurst now and then, but it's not something I can eat every day. We saw a few crepes stands, but the lines were really long. I only saw potato pancakes and gingerbread (my favorites) in the market at Nuremberg. The gluhwein was good, but not so good that I wanted it every night. When it was crowded – mostly on the weekends – the markets were not a lot of fun. I just don't enjoy constantly bumping into people. I also thought the markets could use some Christmas music; I'm surprised they don't pipe some in. All that said, the markets were fun and added an air of festivity to the atmosphere. I just had high expectations.
What I also didn't expect – and which added immensely to the trip – was how beautifully the towns were decorated for Christmas. It was a complete joy to wander through the towns looking in the store windows and enjoying the Christmas season. Germany (at least what we saw of it) and Salzburg really know how to decorate for the holidays. I really, really loved that. We did very little sightseeing – this trip was all about walking and soaking up the Christmas atmosphere in medieval settings. I just love medieval towns. We had mostly good weather – very little rain (conveniently, it was while we were on a train) and no bitter cold. I dressed very warmly, so I was never cold and found the temperature (30 – 50 degrees) very pleasant for strolling.
Salzburg – This city has a magnificent setting and is quite scenic, even in November. The old town is compact and walkable, and the castle looming above offers great views. The walkways along the river are wonderful, and I'm sure it's idyllic in warm weather. There are lots of churches which make for a beautiful skyline, but the interiors don't appeal to me – I am not a fan of baroque. While I can recite all of Salzburg's charms, for some reason it didn't pull on my heart strings; I'm not sure why. But I did enjoy our visit there. Since we didn't have a car, we took Bob's Sound of Music Tour so we could see some of the countryside, which is indeed spectacular. There were just four people including us on the tour, which was lucky. And no singing, which I considered a plus. (I can't sing!) It was fun seeing the sites from the movie (which I just watched on DVD for the first time since I saw it in the 60s), but I liked the scenery best. We stopped in Mondsee for about 45 minutes where there was a small Christmas market with live horn players. It was absolutely enchanting. It made me think I would love the Christmas markets in small towns, although I wonder if I would get bored quickly.
Regensburg – This town was an absolute joy – I loved it! Even with gray skies as a backdrop, it is lovely. They had a few smallish markets scattered around the city, but they did not open until the day we left. I didn't care. The Christmas decorations were all out, and it was just beautiful. Regensburg grabbed my heart and wouldn't let go. I would love to go back.
Rothenburg – I debated about going here, having heard the complaints about it being too touristy and horribly crowded. But I just had to see it for myself. I figured the crowds wouldn't be a problem in late November (they weren't), and I thought the night watchman's tour sounded like fun (it was). I am soo glad we went. I was completely captivated! Rothenburg really is a perfectly preserved medieval town. And the Christmas decorations were beautiful. If you can't get in the Christmas spirit in Rothenburg, I'm afraid there is no hope for you. We walked and walked, enjoying the medieval architecture, the city walls, and the pretty parks and scenery outside the walls. I found it enchanting. The Christmas market was on the smallish side, but that was enough for me.
Wurzburg – This was a big disappointment. The castle is impressive, and there are some fabulous churches and other buildings, but most of the buildings are modern, and you just don't get that feeling of being in a medieval setting. The shopping streets had all the appeal of an American mall. The Christmas market was fine, but didn't seem exceptional in any way, and it was crowded. We had two and a half days here, and I had tentatively planned one or two day trips, depending on how much we liked Wurzburg. It was an easy decision – we took two day trips.
Bamberg – It was snowing the day we went to Bamberg, which was kind of neat, although it did give us the feeling that we were battling the elements. We may not have seen Bamberg at its finest; it was kind of messy and slushy. Still, it was a very attractive medieval town and I was glad we went. The market was kind of spread out, which I liked. However, since we only had one day there, I was more interested in walking around the town than visiting the market stalls. It was a fun place to explore.
Nuremberg – I debated about Nuremberg because I was afraid the market would be impossibly crowded, but I wanted to see what seemed to be the biggest and "best" market in Germany. I'm glad we did. The market was impressive and fun to walk through. It was a bit crowded – even on a Monday – but tolerable. It seemed to have a better variety of food than the others we saw – we had a delicious three-wurst sandwich, some potato pancakes and gingerbread. The town was interesting; I especially liked the castle, and the views over the town were nice. I would have liked to go out to the Nazi rally grounds, but it would have been a little rushed, so my husband wasn't up for it. That was okay – I was happy just to get a feel for the town and market.
Hi Carroll, Thanks for taking the time to write about your trip. We loved our stay in Rothenburg during Oct., but we'd really like to visit during the Christmas markets. We did a trip during Thanksgiving week in Nov. 2010 specifically to experience the Christmas Markets in Austria. We visted Salzburg, St. Gilgen, Innsbruck, Rattenberg, Hall in Tirol and Innsbruck. We also went not to sightsee (we've been to most of these places many times) but simply for the atmosphere during the markets. We love Salzburg. We've been 4 other times, but it was like seeing it again for the first time. One night while we were there there was a choir singing in front of the church. The fact that it snowed that day added to the charm for us. If you ever think of doing it again, I highly recommend Rattenberg, Austria on opening night of the Christmas markets. Live music, etc. I felt the same as you did about Rothenburg... If you can't get in the Christmas spirit in Rattenberg, I'm afraid there is no hope for you. Thank again for sharing your trip here. Paul
I do get Christmas Market fatigue too, especially if I'm visiting a lot of similar, "traditional" markets that all tend to offer the same stuff. That's one advantage of visiting markets in the big cities, even though Berlin doesn't SOUND as romantic as say, Rothenburg for Christmas, there is a large variety of different types of markets with different themes, decorations, and yes, food. :) and I'm someone who's learned to eat a lot of wurst, but I feel you there. Great report!
Several years back we took a Christmas market river cruise (a great last minute deal from Gate 1 Travel)from Vienna to Passau. Since I broke my ankle :-( right before boarding the boat, it was a great way to travel the Donau. Fortunately, with my ankle wrapped and a cane (the boat had one as a prop for their crew play), I could still see the markets. We added Nurnberg and Munich to our cruise and loved them both - but Vienna still stands out for me - especially the Schonbrunn palace market. Each German city seems to have it's own "wurst", though we did find other foods at some of the markets. I think, if I were to do a Christmas market trip again, I would try to do several countries, even with long train trips between - just for the different flavor (or, maybe, I just need to make several Christmas season trips :-) - wouldn't be a bad plan other than the airfare). Rick Steves' Christmas video has become my Christmas tradition - as I decorate the house for the holidays - just to focus a bit away from the American style go...go...go.
Thanks so much for the great report! I really enjoyed reading it and imagining the enchantment of these places decorated for Christmas (my favorite time of year!). Would love to see some photos from those of you who might have a way to share them. I also love Rick's Christmas video!
For those of you who love Christmas markets, YouTube has a huge variety. Just type in your favorite town and Christmas market, and see what they look like. Here is my favorite market, the Medieval market in Esslingen, with 180 stands: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dBWDOCLUgQ The Rick Steves videos are also to be found on Youube:
I loved the Esslingen video, Jo. I doubt I will do another Christmas market trip before I am retired. It's just too hectic a time to get away from work. If I every go again, I was thinking I would like to try markets in another country, but there are so many in Germany and Austria I would like to try, including (now) Esslingen. I got Rick's Christmas video two or three years ago and that spurred my interest in seeing the markets for myself. I watch it every year now; it's really good.
Visited the markets in Strassbourg and Colmar this year and found them to also be very charming, and since we had seen so many German markets, it was a nice change of pace, both the food items offered, and well, just being French. Was really impressed with the Stuttgart market. It doesn't get enough good press, but well worth a visit.
My favorite market outside of Germany is Hasselt, Belgium's yearly Winterland. Actually, the term "Christmas market" doesn't adequately describe it. It's more like a combination of carnival, market and Oktoberfest, with a very wide variety of food. The merchandise itself is pretty mediocre, the market is situated adjacent to Hasselt's extensive pedestrian shopping area.
Hi Jaye, Here are some photo's of our Nov., 2010 trip: http://www.worldisround.com/home/pja1/index.html Paul
I only remember seeing potato pancakes in Munich, quite near the cathedral. They were so good, I went back again the next day for more. Best I've ever eaten. In the Frankfurt area (Mainz, Wiesbaden, etc.) I remember hearing lots of Christmas carols. In Alsace, they were French carols, which I'm not familiar with, except at the Strasbourg Cathedral where there was a group playing Klezmer music - after all, it was Hanukkah too :-). In Munich and Salzburg, I think all I heard were seasonal songs (not carols) sung by Bing Crosby and Dean Martin. I never got tired of gluehwein. I'm sure there wasn't a day (in 12) that I didn't have at least 2 cups. Different flavors to choose from and different flavors from town to town. Maybe my experience was different because I started my trip a little later - Dec. 6-16. You are absolutely right that the markets aren't fun in the evenings because of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds.