On the first day of Christmas* my true love gave to me A TICKET TO SEE CHRISTMAS IN GERMANY.
Folks, such was my glee back in 2015 when I spent three weeks walking through as many Christmas markets in Eastern Europe as I could. And now, after spending most of 2016 doing this:
I can FINALLY release my Yuletide bowels (wow, that did not sound as gross in my head).
A European Christmas market experience is an absolute must – MUST – at least once in your lifetime. There are literally hundreds of markets dotted across the continent, but, like the Kardashian-Jenner sisters, not all are created equal. Not sure where to head? Grab your stocking-shaped souvenir wine mug, dear friends, and let’s go for a stroll…
You: “I am on a budget. Srsly, the amount of ramen I ate to save up for this trip…”
Go to: Prague, Czech Republic
Praha is a bone fide wet dream for those on a budget and/or short on time. When the clock strikes 10am on the city’s magical Astronomical Clock, wander across the road to Old Town Square. Tick off all the main sites around the square (oh hai there, St. Nicholas’ Church) as you stall-hop munching your way through warm and chewy gingerbread, Czech “prosciutto” (a lump of ham the size of a small child, slapped on a paper plate and served with a fork) and trdelník – a hollow, sweet pastry cooked kebab-style and doused in sugar.
Eschew the mulled wine for pilsner, because Prague, and if you’ve got some koruna to spare, stock up on some cute AF wooden tree decorations and glass snow globes. A five-minute walk down the road into New Town (still old, lezbihonest) is Wenceslas Square, which is named for Good King Wenceslas and home to a solid market offering, too.
You: “I want to eat pretzels in beautiful settings.”
Go to: Vienna, Austria
Sweet Unborn Baby Jesus, where to I even start here? Probably at Maria-Theresien-Platz, where a Christmas village is sandwiched between two of Vienna’s most insanely beautiful museums. Arrive at 11am to tuck into a cheesy, pizza-topped pretzel for breakfast before walking off those carbs at the Natural History Museum and the Kunsthistorisches Museum opposite. When dessert o’clock hits, treat yo’self to a basic cinnamon-dusted pretzel or the blowout chocolate-coated one rolled in nuts or coconut. MMMMMmmm yessir.
When the sun sets follow the fairy light decorated trees along Ringstrasse to Wien’s majestic City Hall, where you’ll find a market of some 150 stalls. This year’s market features two ice rinks so you can indulge in every wintry experience in one place. There’s also heaps of activities for kids, and plenty of Glühwein variations for adults. Just sayin’.
Yes: “I want to solve a problem like Maria. And celebrate Christmas. Don’t judge me.”
Go to: Salzburg, Austria
Let’s be real here: Salzburg is disgustingly beautiful year-round, but there’s something magical about the streets and squares adorned in fairy lights and giant green garlands. The city also happens to be Mecca for Sound of Music lovers, so if you plan to knock both tourist experiences off in one trip, I strongly advice to tick off the movie sites BEFORE getting stuck into the markets, because before long you’ll find yourself two glasses of schnapps in and lose all sense of direction. I know this, because it happened to a friend of mine *looks away shiftily*.
You: “I don’t *love* crowds, but I freaking love Christmas.”
Go to: Bratislava, Slovakia
Slovakia’s capital is another one of those compact, see-it-in-day places, and the Christmas market offerings are solid. Like the others, expect a good mix of food and gift stalls weaving in and out of the squares around the Old Town. Unlike the others, expect less crowds and a little more challenges with the language as a lot less people speak English. That said, “schnapps” is widely understood. A walking tour of the city shouldn’t take more than a few hours, so take your time to take in the sites and some Yuletide cheer along the way.
You: “The European Christmas market experience has been top of my bucket list since I was an embryo and I am about to go H.A.M.”
Go to: Nuremberg, Germany
TBH, anywhere in Germany will deliver the Christmas goods you’ve spent so long hyping up in your head, be it the fairground atmosphere of Berlin’s markets or the festive vibes in Munich (which is the beer capital of the world, so good cheer is literally a year-round thing).
But you’ve flown to Germany for the Real Deal, armed with nothing but one pair of pants and several rather fetch Christmas jumpers. You know your Yuletide shit, so there’s only one place for you: Nuremberg. We’re talking postcard-perfect village scenes that look like damn David Jones window displays, and a s-p-r-a-w-l-i-n-g market that sells pretty much anything and everything Christmassy, albeit at very touristy prices, if you catch my drift.
Final festive tips:
- Drop a couple of bucks’ deposit on a Christmas mug to fill up at the different food and drink stalls around the market. You can return it to get your deposit back, or you could just not be a grinch and keep the mug because it’s cute and it’s Christmas and you won’t ever use it for practical purposes back home but that’s for Future You to worry about.
- Most souvenir stalls at the major markets like Nuremberg and Vienna take cards, so save your cash for the foodie stalls.
- Hang around at night for roving Christmas entertainment.
- Take a circuit of the entire market BEFORE diving in and buying all the things. Compare the prices and don’t be afraid to bargain. Tis the season to haggle like a boss.
*December 5, 2015