Travel Blog

A guide to Central Europe’s Christmas markets

Original blog post featured on The Journal by Intrepid Travel, by Amy Foyster.

A sunshine-filled sailing trip around the coast of Croatia or enjoying Sangria and tapas on a warm evening in Spain might be what springs to mind when someone mentions a Euro trip; but there’s so much to do during the colder months too. Yep, I’m talking about taking a winter holiday in Europe.

Visiting Central Europe’s Christmas markets is one of the best things to do in Europe at this time of the year. What’s not to love? The festive spirit is at an all-time high, with locals and tourists both joining together to enjoy epic food, drinks, decorations and entertainment throughout the region. Lights twinkle above, snow crunches underfoot and the air rings with song. And the food – oh the food – the smell of roasting chestnuts and freshly baked gingerbread is enough to make anyone giddy with excitement. Many would agree that it’s the most magical time to be in Europe.

Throughout December, Intrepid will be running a special Christmas Market itinerary through Germany, Austria and Hungary taking in the best of the Yuletide festivities in Munich, Salzburg, Vienna and Budapest. Packed with visits to the region’s most famous markets – as well as some less conventional ones – the itinerary also features plenty of free time and general sightseeing opportunities. Come nightfall each evening, you’ll rug up and head to the markets to eat, drink and peruse the stalls.

Here are our top tips for the best things to eat, drink and do at the European Christmas markets.

Munich

All the handmade decorations. Image by anna.q via Shutterstock.

Munich is home to over 20 Christmas markets, so you’ll definitely want the expertise of your local leader to help you determine which ones are worth your time. The Kripperlmarkt is the perfect market for Christmas traditionalists – it’s literally a ‘manger market’, where you can buy everything you would ever need to recreate the perfect nativity scene. We’re talking three wise men figurines through to farm animals and of course, the stable itself.

Tollwood is touted as the ‘market of ideas’ and is the place where different ethnic groups from around Germany come to share their diverse Christmas traditions. All the international food served is organic, so you can enjoy delicious global cuisine as you browse the toys, woodcrafts, candles and more.

Even outside of the official marketplaces, there is plenty of festive cheer to be enjoyed around Munich. Wander over to the Town Hall and watch the daily Christmas concert that runs while the markets are on – or simply grab a hot gluehwein, a traditional mulled wine, and watch the rugged-up crowds strolling by.

Salzburg

Christmas in Salzburg. Image by LianeM via Shutterstock.

Possibly most famous for being the setting of the Sound of Music, Salzburg’s hills really do come alive at Christmas time. The Christmas Market in Cathedral Square is a crowd-pleaser, with plenty of sugary snacks to sustain you as you explore the stalls and listen to the sweet sounds of the Salzburg choirs performing live around the market. Grab a cinnamon-dusted baked apple or some roasted nuts and let yourself relax and soak up the magic of Christmas.

If you want to experience the festivity on a smaller-scale, the iconic Hohensalzburg Fortress hosts a more intimate Christmas market, called the Advent Market. You have to reach the fortress by cable car, but once you do, the stunning Christmas lights in both in the courtyard of the fortress and the distant city below make it all worthwhile. Snack on local treats and do your Christmas shopping to the soundtrack of the local trumpeters.

Vienna

Vienna. Image by S.Borisov via Shutterstock.

Vienna’s old-world charm is the perfect place to enjoy your own Christmas fairytale, with plenty of different Christmas markets to choose from. If arts and crafts are your thing, head to Christmas Village located in the old Vienna hospital and shop for or admire the handmade wares from craftsmen and women all over the country.

The market in front of Schönbrunn Palace is an excellent place to soak up a bit of local culture and grab dinner. Here there are plenty of opportunities to indulge in Christmas snacks and seasonal Viennese food including a variety of hot grilled sausages, maroni (simmered chestnuts) and a range of pastries such as donuts, pretzels and waffles. Don’t forget to grab a cup of punsch, a local spiced liqueur served hot.

Or, if you’re looking for a bit of everything – shopping, delicious local cuisine and a picturesque part of town to explore – then head to the Spittelberg Markets. This market is located throughout the historical Biedermeier quarter, which is known for its beautiful architecture.

Budapest

Traditional langos in Hungary = YUM! Image via Shutterstock.

The grandeur of a city like Budapest is pretty special at any time of year but visiting during the festive season is even better. Head to Vorosmarty Square to see the biggest and brightest Christmas market Budapest has to offer – and when I say brightest, I really mean it; the whole area is decorated with Christmas trees and quaint fairy lights.

There hundreds of stalls to explore, and a range of Hungarian fare on offer to keep your tummy happy while you shop – from dodolle, a traditional potato dumpling to langos, a deep-fried flatbread served with various toppings, sour cream, cheese and garlic butter. Or, if you’re more of a sweet tooth, you can’t miss trying Kurtoskalacs, a cinnamon Hungarian chimney cake that goes perfectly with a local mulled wine.

Do you want to uncover local secrets at Europe’s Christmas markets this winter? Book your place on Intrepid Travel’s Christmas Markets of Central Europe trip.

Hero image by S.Borisov via Shutterstock.

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