Europe’s Christmas Markets: How to Plan the Perfect Trip
When you’re looking for festive Old World holiday charm, you can’t beat Central Europe. Cities and villages decorate and light up their medieval town squares until they look like something out of a fairytale. Stalls sell unique handmade gifts and delicious regional specialties to eat. Christmas Markets are great for holiday shopping too: Most of the merchandise is affordable handicrafts that you can’t find in the U.S. or in any catalog.
- Hit a mix of big cities and small towns—and more than one country.
It’s surprising how different the markets are in different cities—and how different the handicrafts and foods are. You might see something for sale and think, “I can get that at the next place,” but there are many unique items you won’t find again. The markets vary most by country, which is why country-hopping makes the experience even more interesting.
- Time your trip right.
Each market has different start and end dates. In Central Europe many start in late November and last till December 24, with a few even lasting into the first days of January. Your itinerary will likely be dictated by the dates of the Christmas markets in the cities that most interest you. You’ll find those dates on each country’s or city’s tourism information website.
- Focus your Christmas-market visits on weekdays.
Factor into your itinerary that the markets are best visited on weekdays rather than weekends, when they can be extremely crowded. Morning is the best time for actual shopping (that’s when crowds are lightest), whereas the best time for photos is at about 4:30 p.m. (the sky turns from overcast to blue at dusk), and the concerts tend to happen in the evenings. Beware Friday and Saturday nights at the markets in big cities.
- Don’t rent a car.
Driving between cities with Christmas markets is a logistical pain. Snow conditions can make it difficult, you can’t drive close to the markets because they’re usually in pedestrian-only areas in the old city, and parking is really hard to find. Getting around by train or river-cruise ship is much easier. Train stations are usually within easy walking distance of the old city (where the market is). A river cruise is easy in that you don’t have to worry about the logistics of getting between cities.
- Forget restaurant reservations.
You’ll be snacking your way through Europe—it’s impossible to resist trying the many intriguing local specialties—and there won’t be space left in your belly for a sit-down meal. Much of the food at Christmas markets you can’t find in restaurants anyways. And if you don’t speaks the local language you can point to the food you want at each stand.
- Consider going over Thanksgiving weekend.
Thanksgiving is low season in Christmas-market cities (it’s not a holiday that’s celebrated in Europe), and some of the markets kick off the weekend before Thanksgiving.
- Suss out low-season offers.
Many hotels run free-night or deep-discount promotions throughout the period of the holiday markets (with the exception of New Year’s Eve, which is generally expensive). When you book with a Travel Team Agent, we have access to special reduced rates that include tax, breakfast, and various benefits (e.g., free upgrades based on availability).
The Travel Team offers a wide variety of River Cruises & holiday packages to suit your needs. Right now is the perfect time to start planning your next Holiday River Cruise to Europe!
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