I admit it. I have a problem. I am a Christmas market junkie. I have been to many over the years and I definitely have my favourites (find them here) but to be honest, there are so many great Christmas markets out there, so why limit yourself! I have laid out a few itineraries that should keep any Christmas lover happy.
Aside from the first itinerary, I have deliberately not included time frames. They are all suitable for 5 to 7 days. It really depends on who is travelling, what your actual travel days look like and how much travelling time cuts into your days on the ground. Also, your tolerance for a crowd as the big markets can be hectic. All of the itineraries are designed to do by train.
For the bigger markets, some people love the hustle and bustle and aren’t worried about the crowds, others like to get in and out early before the crowd builds. For the smaller markets, the pace is slower and it is easier to stop and linger for longer. This keeps some people coming back but makes others feel like they have seen it all and are ready to move on.
These are all good starting points for anyone wanting to spend a week or so overindulging in all things Christmas. Most of them are easy to adapt and to either extend or cut short depending on your time frame.
A weekend away
Cologne – Dusseldorf – Bonn – Siegburg – (add Aachen if you have time)
If you live in Europe then this is a good one for a long weekend. It is easy to get cheap flights and train tickets in and out of both Cologne and Dusseldorf. Both airports have good public transport into Cologne, Dusseldorf and Bonn. It is very easy to do day trips between the different locations. I suggested staying in Cologne so you can take easy, short train trips to Bonn and Dusseldorf.
Download the Deutsche Bahn (DB) app for the trains and you are good to go. It has up to date timings, delays and cancellations making it really easy to organise your travel. You can also access their website here.
Take Friday to explore Cologne. It is a bigger and more popular market area so it should be a little quieter on a Friday than on the weekends. The three most festive markets in Cologne are all walkable from the train station. The Angels’ Market at Neumarkt, Rudolfplatz Market and Cologne’s largest and most popular market at the Dom (Cathedral). There is also the old town Christmas market (Heinzel Wintermärchen) across from the Dom that is worth visiting if you have time. It has a large skating rink and curling. It’s a fun place to go in the evening for a drink and something to eat.
On Saturday head straight to Siegburg. It is about 25 minutes from Bonn by tram and has a fabulous medieval market with possibly the world’s best outdoor bakery. You catch the tram from the train station so it is very easy to get there. It is small but fun and really does have some of the best food around.
Once you are done there head back into Bonn and spend the rest of the day and evening wandering around. For a smaller market, it is great. The stalls are festive and well decorated and the food is also excellent. Look out for the Flamlachs – it is worth queuing for!
Head off to Dusseldorf on Sunday. They have a number of markets but they all kind of run together so it is easy to meander around and cover most of it without even following a map. If you make it to the Angel Market then be sure to try the flammkuchen.
There are baggage lockers in Dusseldorf, Bonn and Cologne train stations so it is very easy to manage your travel and to include any one of them on arrival or departure.
Aachen is just under an hour from Cologne on a direct train. The market winds it’s around all the churches. Truly a magnificent setting. It is well worth the train ride if you have time. They are famous for printen which is a type of lebkuchen (gingerbread) that has been made in the area for centuries. When you see it all piled up in the bakery windows it is irresistible. If you do make it to Aachen be sure to take a look inside the stunning Aachen Cathedral.
Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Dresden
If you are flying then try to fly into Frankfurt and out of Dresden (or you could go onto Berlin and fly out from there) to save yourself having to go all the way back to Frankfurt to fly home.
Frankfurt is a crazy, big, bustling market so it is ideal if you can visit on a weekday to avoid the weekend visitors from around Europe. There are lots of smaller markets that are mostly frequented by locals which can be hard to find but are worth the effort if you are up for it. If you are childfree and looking for something out of the ordinary try the City Beach Market – you will find a Christmasy NYC vibe and they even have a curling rink.
Trains leave regularly from Frankfurt to Nuremberg so you should easily find a time that suits you. The trip is only around 2 ¼ hours. In general, the earlier you book the cheaper the ticket but that isn’t always the case – sometimes you get lucky and find a super cheap last-minute deal. Children are usually free between cities in Germany. Put your DB app to use!
Nuremberg isn’t top of my list of favourites mostly because it gets so busy. The main market is in front of the Nuremberg Cathedral which makes for a stunning setting. Get their early to avoid the crowds and again if possible avoid weekends. Be sure to try the ‘3 im Weggla’! Three small Nuremberg sausages in a roll.
It is just a two-hour hop to get to Rothenburg ob der Tauber from Nuremberg. Once you get off the train in Rothenburg it only takes a few minutes to walk into town. It is the fairytale version of a Christmas village. Leave at least two full days for exploring and night time drinking with the locals. Do not miss the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas museum/exhibition/shop in the centre of town, it is spectacular.
Lastly, head to Dresden. This is a slightly longer trip so you may want to ensure you have tickets booked in advance to secure the timings that best suit you. The Dresden markets are somewhere between the big city ones and the smaller town ones. The markets have a very regional feel to them and offer up some beautiful Christmas pyramids with their tiered candle carousels and lovely handcrafted wooden decorations.
If you can not fly directly out of Dresden then it is only a couple of hours by train to Berlin. There is one market there really worth visiting if you have time. It is the Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt. It’s situated between impressive Deutscher Dom, the Konzerthaus and the Franzozische Friedrichstadtkirche.
Stuttgart, Esslingen Medieval Market, Colmar, Strasbourg, Basel
This might be my pick of itineraries. For most of it you are in the Alsace area of France but you start in Germany and end in Switzerland. This itinerary includes some of my favourite markets (you can find a full list of my favourites here)
Stuttgart is a great place to start because it is easy to get to from most major cities and has a good train system allowing you to easily get to Alsace. The Stuttgart market is a big city market with elaborately decorated stalls and a meandering layout that makes it easy to wander all day without backtracking. Make sure you look up at all the beautiful rooftops of the stalls.
Take a day trip from Stuttgart to Esslingen to visit their Medieval Christmas Market. It is only 20 minutes on local transport and well worth it. Esslingen´s medieval half-timbered houses create a unique backdrop for the market and it is bigger in size than most similar medieval markets. It has something for everyone including fabulous medieval-style rides for the kids.
My recommendation is to go directly from Stuttgart to Colmar and base yourself there for a few days. If you are flying in and out of Stuttgart then base yourself in Colmar for the rest of your trip and do day trips to Strasbourg and Basel. Alternatively, you can move onto Basel and fly home from there.
Colmar is another fairytale town. The main market area is in la Petite Venise and is dreamy and romantic. Aside from the market stalls, there are some lovely shops to look at and of course the Marche Covert (Covered Food Market) which is filled with delishiness. Don’t miss the Koïfhus Marché Intérieur – the indoor arts and craft market in the majestic Koïfhus (the old customs house).
A day trip to Strasbourg is sensible for a couple of reasons. Firstly, accommodation is usually a lot cheaper in Colmar than Strasbourg and secondly, they are so close to each other to pack up and change hotels just isn’t necessary.
Strasbourg is probably one of France’s most popular Christmas markets and for good reason. It is stunning. Everything from the street decorations to the shop windows to the market stalls is perfect. You can end up strolling around in a big loop just admiring it all without even looking at what is for sale.
Due to its popularity, it can be very hard to get accommodation in Strasbourg so if you have your heart set on staying there book well in advance or be prepared to take out a second mortgage. Some places are fully booked up to a year out.
The last stop on this itinerary is Basel. I am particularly fond of the Münsterplatz market here. This is the one in front of the Basler Münster, the historic cathedral. It feels magical and Christmasy while at the same time being low key and relaxed. They have a great set up for kids around a big firepit.
As I mentioned earlier you can easily take a day trip from Colmar to Basel. It is only a 40-minute ride. Accommodation in the city can be pricy so if you can avoid that why not. Or you can make this your last stop and fly out of here. Trams are easy to use to get around while you are in the city.
Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest
The Christmas markets in the eastern part of European are gaining in popularity and for good reason. They all have amazing backdrops dripping in history and if you are lucky you even get snow to make it truly magical.
Again I recommend flying into one city and out of another, this time into Prague and out of Budapest. All the train rides between these cities are quick and easy. It means you can travel earlyish in the morning and arrive at your destination before the markets are even open.
The main markets in Prague are just a few minutes walk from each other – the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. It is best if you can stay somewhere near that area because it can be very cold and its good to be able to nip back to your room for a bit (especially if you have children with you) – that or keep topping up on svařák (Czech mulled wine) and hot chocolate.
Of all the Christmas Trees at all the markets the most impressive one of all might be the Christmas tree at the Old Town Square that is transported from the forests of the Liberec region. They even have a platform you can walk up onto to get a better view.
From Prague to Vienna is a little over 4 hours. It’s a picturesque ride if there is snow on the ground. The trains are nice and warm! It’s best to leave early in the morning so you are in Vienna by lunch as the markets there are opening.
Leave yourself plenty of time in Vienna. There are lots of picturesque markets along with amazing museums, fabulous food and don’t forget the huge skating rink in front of the Rathaus. Vienna is not the place to wing it. Do some research and figure out exactly what you want to do. You don’t want to find out later you missed out on something that you would have loved. It is a stunning city with so much to offer.
There are officially over 20 markets in Vienna so you need to figure out what ones appeal to you and weave them into your day. Mix them up with museum visits and other site seeing. My favourite market is the Arts & Crafts on Karlsplatz which is located in front of the Karlskirche. It is understated and low key with some great stuff for kids.
Vienna to Bratislava is just a quick train ride. It should take just over an hour. You can realistically go for the day although the train station in Bratislava isn’t close to the action so you’d need to walk a bit on that end or catch a taxi. If you are going on to Budapest it doesn’t make sense not to say a night in Bratislava as it’s on the way.
Bratislava’s Christmas markets are located on Main Square and Hviezdoslav Square which are close to each other. There are lots of small ice skating rinks dotted around too. They are new to the Christmas market scene and have only had one since 1993 but you wouldn’t know that from visiting. It feels authentic and the food is great. I think the best hot chocolate I have ever had was at the Bratislava Christmas market.
Beware it can be cold and snowy so pack your warm clothes and make sure you have decent boots to keep out the cold and wet.
Last stop on this itinerary is Budapest. It is about a two and a half hour train trip from Bratislava. Be prepared for lots of goulash and chicken paprikash! And again leave yourself plenty of time as there is lots more to do than just Christmas marketing.
You can’t go to Budapest without visiting the Fisherman’s Bastion or the Gellert Baths. The National Ballet Institute usually performs a season of the Nutcracker at the Hungarian Opera House in the lead up to Christmas. Be sure to book tickets well in advance. There is also an ice rink in Budapest park that is huge and a lot of fun if you are up for it.
There are a number of markets in Budapest with the most popular one being in front of the impressive St Stephen’s Basilica. You can climb up the Basilica tower while you are there to look out over the thousands of Christmas lights.
Of course, there are hundreds of other markets you can visit all over Europe but I wanted to focus on some of my favourites that you could do using the very efficient European train system and to try and limit travel time between any two places. If you have any specific questions about markets or itineraries than jump on over to our Facebook Forum and ask away and I will do my best to answer them and if I can’t answer them then hopefully someone else will be able to.
Happy Christmas Marketing!