European Christmas Market Magic

Celebrate the festive season with authentic Old World charm at a European Christmas market.

Originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of AAA Traveler.

Strasbourg, France, european christmas market

Strasbourg, France

Photo Credit: iStock

Many European Christmas markets—like Munich’s historic Wittelsbacherplatz and Salzburg’s Christkindlmarkt—date back to the Middle Ages. Surrounded by your choice of picturesque winter backdrop—a fairy-tale castle in Austria, the fetching town squares of Germany or the towering Gothic cathedral and medieval streets of Strasbourg, France—immerse yourself in the wonder of the holidays at one of the continent’s bright, cheery and cinnamon-scented holiday scenes.

Toffee apples in a market stall, european christmas market

Toffee apples in a market stall

Photo Credit: iStock

Stroll cozy rows of stalls that are covered in twinkling lights and sell colorful wooden crafts and beautiful handmade ornaments. Catch the sounds of traditional music, like crooning children’s choirs, in the crisp air. All of this is best enjoyed while noshing on local food and sipping spiced—and spiked—warm drinks. Grab a Glühwein (warm mulled wine) in Dresden and cheer on the Stollenmädchen, the “fruitcake maiden,” as she leads a four-ton Christmas stollen through the city to the world’s tallest Christmas pyramid.

Planning Your Trip

In November and December, Christmas markets light up the Continent. You can choose from a range of rail journeys, river cruises and tours to see a number of these magical marketplaces within a short time frame. Most European Christmas markets open in late November and run through early January. For the ultimate journey into holiday enchantment, board a Danube river cruise from Budapest to Vienna and Nuremberg, or take a train or a drive that hugs the Rhine from Strasbourg to Basel and on to Zürich. Once you’ve decided on your means of transportation, you’ll be ready to set off and get in the holiday spirit.

Classic European train journeys are favorites among AAA Members. By rail, the snow-covered peaks of the Alps set the tone for days filled with winter festivities. There’s nothing like spending the day in a bustling Christmas market filled with vendor stalls, which emit tantalizing smells and exude holiday cheer, then retreating at the end of the day to the warmth of your train car, which welcomes you back to rekindle your energy for the unique Christmas events at the next day’s stop.

  • european christmas market frankfurt germany

    Frankfurt, Germany
    The bustling Christmas market in Frankfurt is one of the largest and most popular in Germany. An iconic 100-foot tree, a two-tiered carousel and a life-size Nativity scene are just some of the favorite attractions that draw visitors to return year after year.

    Photo Credit: Getty

  • european christmas market salzburg austria

    Salzburg, Austria
    Steaming mugs of mulled wine are a sure sign that the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt is underway. At the foot of the Hohensalzburg fortress, the market stalls in Cathedral Square and Residenz Square welcome eager shoppers. Holiday performances, including traditional Salzburg choirs and children’s groups, and a live Nativity enactment entertain visitors throughout the season.

    Photo Credit: Getty

  • european christmas market budapest hungary

    Budapest, Hungary
    Join in the festivities on Vörösmarty Square. A larger-than-life Advent calendar, displayed in the windows of Café Gerbeaud (one of the oldest confectioneries in Budapest), counts down until Christmas. And the playhouse, where children bake gingerbread and prepare gifts for underprivileged children, is a holiday favorite among little ones.

    Photo Credit: Getty

  • european christmas market vienna austria

    Vienna, Austria
    Dating back to 1296, Vienna’s Magic of Advent market has grown from a small local holiday celebration to an international attraction that welcomes about 3 million visitors each year. Visitors cannot resist the gingerbread and other holiday treats beckoning from the hundreds of vendor stalls. But the famous decorations that adorn the trees in Rathauspark always provide a welcome distraction from shopping.

    Photo Credit: Getty

  • european christmas market regensburg, germany

    Regensburg, Germany
    Held in the courtyard of the historic Thurn und Taxis palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Regensburg’s cozy, romantic Christmas market is a family affair. Princess Gloria, a member of the royal family who resides in the castle, is known to make regular appearances at the market to mingle with guests. Each evening, the market closes with a solo trumpeter who serenades shoppers and vendors with a rendition of “Silent Night.”

    Photo Credit: Getty

  • european christmas markets nuremburg, germany

    Nuremburg, Germany
    Eager market visitors scour vendors’ booths in search of gifts and holiday treats like edible Christmas tree ornaments. Nuremberg prune people—figures made of prunes and walnuts—and gold-foil angels, both unique to the Nuremberg market, are favorites among shoppers. A lively children’s market features a Ferris wheel, a steam train and an antique carousel.

    Photo Credit: Getty

  • european christmas markets basel switzerland

    Basel, Switzerland
    With two locations—Barfüsserplatz in the heart of Old Town and Münsterplatz next to the Basel Minster cathedral—the Basel Christmas market brims with holiday spirit. Stroll past the nearly 100 illuminated trees that line the longest Christmas street in Europe. Or pick up the pace a bit and join in the Basler Stadtlauf, a seasonal run. The route winds through the heart of Basel right past the market.

    Photo Credit: Getty

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AAA Travel offers an extensive list of European tour packages. Call 877-396-7159 or contact a AAA Travel Counselor.

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David Kallas, AAA Travel Counselor, Murray, Utah

I'm all about once-in-a-lifetime trips to destinations such as the Cook Islands, Australia or an African safari. I love to plan trips that my clients return from not regretting anything.

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