6 tips for tackling European Christmas markets

Christmas market in Frankfurt
Christmas market in Frankfurt

6 tips for tackling European Christmas markets

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

“Christmas markets are a magical and amazing life experience.” Living in Europe, chances are this phrase has been uttered by you or to you. For the record, it’s true—they’re both amazing and magical. Strands of soft lights twinkle above small chalets selling everything from mugs of steaming glühwein to intricately carved wooden nativity sets. It sounds pretty close to perfect. But don’t let the festive sights and delicious smells fool you. There is an art to tackling these magnificent markets. Here are some essential tips to know before you go.


Come up with a plan of attack. With so many markets to choose from, it’s easy to throw in the towel when you feel overwhelmed by the choices. Take a little time and plan your visit. While many markets are similar in the goods they sell, they usually have something unique or a special theme. If you’re traveling around Europe during the season, you’ll find each country has a slightly different take on the traditional Christmas market.


Start by consulting our good friend Google. Most markets have websites that include the dates, hours, possible fees for entrance and often a map or list of vendors. If you’re planning on taking public transportation, consult a map of the area to ensure it’s within comfortable walking distance. If you’re driving, check the parking options nearby. Some garages have specific hours, so you’ll want to make sure your car doesn’t end up locked in overnight. Traveling with little ones or friends? Designate an area within the market to use as a meet-up spot in the event someone gets lost or separated from the group.


Public transportation is your friend. Circling the parking lot for a spot isn’t a harbinger of holiday joy. Leave the driving to someone else and hop on the train. European Christmas markets are often located near a transportation hub in city centers, making them easily accessible. You can kick back, relax and enjoy the scenery without sitting in aggravating traffic. If you happen to imbibe in one or three glasses of glühwein or other alcoholic beverage, you’ve got a safe ride home.


Pack your patience. Pre-pandemic, most Christmas markets (even the smaller ones) were crowded. The famed markets of Nuremberg and Dresden were often packed with wall-to-wall people. With many markets shuttered for the past two years, vendors and shoppers will be out in gusto this year. Be sure to pack your patience. There will be long lines, glühwein-induced shenanigans and disorganized chaos. If crowds aren’t your thing, visiting midweek during the early afternoon will likely be your best bet.


Make sure you’ve got a few euros on hand. While more and more vendors are moving to cashless transactions, quite a few stick with the mantra of “cash is king.” Bringing euros with you (small bills and coins) will help alleviate any awkward payment situations. If you’ve chosen to drive, there are also places where you’ll need some cash to pay for parking. Don’t worry if you forget; most markets have ATMs.


Wear comfortable and warm attire. European Christmas markets are an Instagrammer’s dream. It can be tempting to wear a super cute yet slightly impractical outfit for the perfect pic. Leave the fashionable, high-heeled boots at home and lace up the sensible ones instead. Many markets are constructed on top of cobblestone streets, which are notoriously uneven. The last thing you’ll want to do is faceplant while holding a mug of hot chocolate or mulled wine. You may want to consider wearing some comfy (stretchy) pants. Christmas markets are a foodie’s paradise, and trust me—you’ll want to sample all the things. Don’t forget to bundle up either. Whether there is sunshine, rain or snow, it’s still December and you don’t want catching a chill to force the end of a beautiful day at a Christmas market.


Strolling through a Christmas market during the holiday season is a rite of passage for anyone living in Europe. The festive revelry and atmosphere is a one-of-a-kind experience you won’t want to miss. With a bit of planning and patience, you’ll be battle-ready in no time.

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