Tips for merry market memories
You couldn't ask for a better place to enjoy the most wonderful time of year. To make the most of the magical Christmas markets across Europe, consider these helpful hints from seasoned festivalgoers.
Before you go
Dress in layers and prepare for cold, rain and wind. Almost all markets are outdoors, which means you will be exposed to the elements. It may not seem chilly the first half-hour, but you are likely to get cold after standing around. Put on several layers you can take off if you get too hot while you're out. Wear thick socks, tall boots, gloves and a hat to protect your extremities. If it isn't cold enough for snow, you may have to contend with rain. Pack an umbrella and opt for a waterproof coat with a hood.
Get an extra set of mittens. The cobblestoned streets are lined with inviting booths — and orphaned mittens. It is difficult to eat bratwurst, answer your cellphone and fish out euro coins with gloves on. Often the removed glove is lost, and you are left with one cold hand.
Bring Wet Wipes, bottled water and tissues. Your hot crepe with oozing Nutella is going to be a mess, so have Wet Wipes for the aftermath. Still water is difficult to find, and you'll need to hydrate to prevent an ugly Glühwein (hot, spiced wine) hangover. Tissues are good for two things: runny noses, which every one gets after a while in the wind, and unstocked portable bathrooms.
Put necessities in a purse, reusable shopping bag or small diaper bag. In light of recent terrorism in Europe, many Christmas markets have tightened security and no longer permit large bags and backpacks.
Leave strollers, pets and valuables at home. Stalls are tightly packed, and the remaining paths are narrow, making it difficult to navigate if you have a stroller or pet in tow. The crowds are also the opportune location for pickpockets, so don't bring the credit cards and IDs you do not need.
Get plenty of euros in advance. Most vendors do not take plastic payment, and ATMs at the markets (if there are any) often have long lines.
Double-check opening hours, and jot down directions to the market and parking. In tiny towns, you can follow the throngs of people to the giant Christmas tree — not so in major cities. Make sure you know how to reach the fest of foot, whether from a train station or parking area. It is also a good idea to have the address and phone number for the local tourism office and a brochure for the market, if available.
Or take the train. Driving and parking can be expensive and stressful, plus you may have difficulty convincing a friend to pass up tasty, warming Glühwein.
Best option? Stay overnight. Choose a two-star hotel or AirBNB property near the festivities. If those are booked or too pricey, look for one near a transportation stop.
At your destination
Show up early on a weekday. Some markets are only open on weekends, and going during the day is best. Stick around just long enough to see the beauty after dark and toast one last mug of Glühwein.
Remember where you parked. If you have a smartphone with GPS, drop a pin so that you can locate your car later. Also ensure that you understand the signs and rules for where you have parked. You don't want your car to be ticketed, towed or locked in a garage overnight.
Set a schedule and meeting location. It is easy to get separated when you go out with a group, so designate a place and time to reconnect. Cellphone reception is frequently non-existent, and it is difficult to hear ringing over the merriment.
Peruse before purchasing. You can easily window shop before decided what you want to eat and buy at small markets. Of course, this isn't the best plan for a market with 200 or 300 stalls. Mouth-blown, hand-painted glass ornaments and wooden holiday items make great souvenirs and gifts.
Get perfect holiday card photos. Almost every market has a central Christmas tree that makes a lovely backdrop for your family selfie. Dortmund's is over 150 feet tall with 48,000 lights, and Strasbourg's 100-footer is decked out with a different color scheme each year. Locate a giant version of the Christmas pyramid, a hallmark of holiday décor in Germany. Originally from the Ore Mountain region, the pyramid-shaped wooden decorations have multiple levels with spinning figurines. The tallest one is said to be at Dresden's Striezelmarkt.