Tag Archives: Christmas markets

illuminated Christmas market in the Old town of Colmar, Alsace France

What to Know About Europe’s Christmas Markets in 2022

After closures due to Covid the past two holiday seasons, most of Europe’s Christmas markets are finally expected to fully open again this year. These festive traditions are one of the best reasons to go to Europe in winter: You can see cities and villages illuminated for the holidays and fill your evenings with charming street scenes: stalls where artisans sell handmade local crafts, open-air choral concerts, ice skating and rides for kids, and a huge variety of piping hot street food, from local delicacies to hearty winter comfort fare and endless mulled wine.

Another advantage of Europe in the late fall or winter is lower airfares and hotel rates than you’ll find in the spring, summer, and early fall.  While the weekends of Christmas and New Year’s can be crowded (especially with locals), November, Thanksgiving break, early December, and early January deliver low-season value.

Some of the most iconic Christmas markets are in Austria (Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, St. Wolfgang), Germany (Munich, Nuremberg, Regensburg, Berlin), and France (Strasbourg, Colmar, Reims), as well as Budapest, Prague, and Krakow.

Here’s how to make the most of them this holiday season.

Go early or go late—because market dates are extended.

Many European Christmas markets are running longer this year than they have in the past.  This means you can plan your trip to avoid the worst of the crowds and air-travel hassle, while still getting an undiminished dose of all that holiday cheer and charm.

“Some of these Christmas markets that once had a firm closure on December 24th are now lingering longer—some into January,” says Gwen Kozlowski, a WOW List travel specialist for Austria, Germany, and Eastern Europe. Salzburg’s main market is planned for November 17 through January 1.  The Christmas market in St. Wolfgang opens early too, on November 18.  Those lasting through early January include Vienna’s Christmas market at Schonbrunn Palace (open through January 4), Innsbruck’s and Prague’s (open through January 6), Berlin’s Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz (open through January 8), and the Jardin des Tuileries Christmas Market in Paris (open through January 8).

Mix the bigger city markets with lesser-known ones in small villages.

Every country has its big-hit Christmas markets in major cities, but the holiday spirit can be especially charming in areas you might not have considered during the winter. In France, the biggest and most famous Christmas market is in Strasbourg, but you could combine that with Metz or with smaller markets in Provence or Champagne, suggests Jennifer Virgilio, a WOW List specialist for France.

Or you could make Colmar your base and visit smaller markets from there, such as Turckheim and Kayserberg, advises Philip Haslett, another WOW List specialist for France.

Combine more than one region for different experiences and flavors.

Nothing is really that far apart in Europe, and the train network makes for easy, quick travel. So take advantage of that proximity by combining a couple of regions into a mini-Christmas-market crawl, with stops along the way to enjoy Europe’s other delights.

“I like to do a Christmas market road trip and start in Paris, then to Reims which is easily reached—and a bit of Champagne is never a bad idea!” says Philip. “From there you can take a high-speed train to Strasbourg, which takes about 1h20; and after Strasbourg on to Colmar, 30 minutes by train or an hour by car, but with some lovely stops on the way for wine tasting and a visit to the iconic Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle.”

Last year Philip planned a Christmas-week road trip for WendyPerrin.com reader Margaret Harvey, who reported back to us:

“We started off in Geneva, Switzerland, where we kicked off our trip with a Christmas market that was across the street from our hotel. Our next stop was Gstaad, which felt like a winter wonderland. After that we drove to Chamonix, where we stayed in what was my husband’s dream spot at the top of Mount Blanc. It was truly something, we had to take the most charming red train to get to our hotel. The stars there were unlike we had ever seen. After Chamonix we drove to Fossano, Italy, where we visited a castle and stayed in a suite that felt as if we were in an old Italian romance novel. Next, we went to Monte Carlo, where our hotel key gave us access to the Monte Carlo Country Club. My husband is an avid tennis fan and this was really special for us. We stayed on the top floor and had the most incredible view of the city and water. Following Monte Carlo we went to St Paul de Vence, where we relaxed in a spa hotel with a Mediterranean influence. Next was Aix in Provence, where we stayed at a dreamy chateau. After that we went to Avignon, where we stayed across from the Pope’s Palace. We ended our trip in Paris on New Year’s Eve.”

Reader Richard Goldin enjoyed his late-December road trip too, planned by Jennifer Virgilio. He reported:

“Jennifer arranged for a rental car, all hotels and recommended events and restaurants as we drove from Paris to Strasbourg, Colmar, Dijon, Burgundy and back to Paris. Each hotel chosen was extremely well located. There wasn’t a hotel that we would not go back to. We thoroughly enjoyed all of the Christmas markets, especially in a small town called Kayserberg, near Colmar.”

Book through a local fixer who can monitor the situation on the ground and rearrange your plans if necessary.

There’s always the possibility that a market could close or that any of many other speedbumps that have affected travelers over the past couple of years could crop up and impact your trip. “Plenty of markets have said that they’re opening and have already listed dates and times,” says Gwen. “But it’s important to be flexible and ready to make changes if/when something happens.” Last year, when Christmas markets in Vienna, Munich, and Salzburg closed at the last minute because of Covid, Gwen rescued reader Sarah Wade’s trip, sending her to Budapest, Warsaw, and Krakow instead. Sarah’s report:

“Our original plan had us going to Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna for 9 nights in early December 2021.  As we approached the time to depart we began to get notices from Gwen that one by one each city was cancelling the Christmas markets, and eventually Austria closed down entirely. Gwen’s team was on top of it each step of the way. They offered us alternatives, and we settled on an itinerary of Warsaw, Krakow, and Budapest.

Our three city choices were great. Some highlights:
*the gingerbread cookie baking class in Warsaw was wonderful.
*In Krakow our tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau was so moving and impactful. Our guide was incredible and we were so fortunate to have him explain the history of this terrible place to us. We found out that our guide’s father was a survivor of Auschwitz and it was humbling to have him share with us. Guides really do make or break tours.
*A private ornament-making session with a renowned hand-painted ornament business. They were even so sweet as to bake us an apple cake and our guide along with the owner sang us traditional Polish Christmas carols as we decorated our ornaments and the snow fell outside. Quite the experience!
*A fantastic meal at the beautiful castle restaurant in Egar with Hungarian wines paired to our various courses – the best meal of the trip!
*A private boat on the Danube to see the lights of nighttime Budapest.

I appreciated Gwen’s team being willing to make changes for us as we moved through the itinerary. Even though this was not the trip we had originally planned, we ended up with a trip that we all enjoyed. It was such a relief to know the logistics were handled and we had someone on call, should anything change or become difficult.”

If you’re thinking about a Christmas markets river cruise, watch the water levels in the Danube and the Rhine.

This year’s Christmas market cruises are nearly full, despite the extensive drought last summer that caused so many challenges, says Tom Baker, a WOW List river-cruise specialist. Low river levels forced a number of ships to change their itineraries, dock far from the planned port city, or move passengers to different vessels or to busses for making the journey on land.  While operations on the Danube have picked up in recent weeks, Tom reports, “the Rhine is still in bad shape, with vendors switching out guests to sister ships to make the navigational points.” The forecast for late fall and winter is not clear yet, so watch water levels or consider waiting until 2024.  Tom’s personal favorite holiday itineraries: “The Danube when it operates as Vienna, Salzburg, Passau, Regensburg, and Nuremburg—they have marvelous Christmas markets as well as vast cultural enchantment. Budapest markets are not as exciting, but the city is incredible and not to be missed. I also love the Alsatian Christmas Markets on the Rhine in Germany and France!”

Christmas tree and projected snowflake lights on a building at the Warsaw Christmas market in Warsaw Poland

These travelers are in European Christmas Markets now

Published in our biweekly newsletter on 12-12-21. For travel updates straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

This is the secret to easy travel now. Tell your friends!

You’re looking at WOW List traveler Sarah Wade and her friends in Budapest. They’ve been in Europe for the past nine days, hitting the outdoor Christmas markets, learning how to make traditional gingerbread and paint glass ornaments, and having other holiday fun. Sarah knows the secret to worry-free foreign travel during Covid: a local fixer who knows and gets you the safest options, makes testing a breeze, monitors the changing situation on the ground, quickly adjusts your itinerary and logistics if requirements change or a border closes, and basically safeguards your trip from start to finish.

Yes, you can hire someone who worries about everything so that you don’t have to worry about anything! To show you how that works, Billie is on the case. She is interviewing our travelers while they’re on the road overseas, and you can read her interview with Sarah Wade below. Billie will be bringing you more case studies over the next few weeks, and I hope you’ll share them with your friends. Far too many people are making mistakes as they attempt to navigate this new travel landscape on their own—mistakes that didn’t have to happen. There’s an easy solution to spare you logistics and zap headaches, so please help spread the word. —Wendy




Covid Couldn’t Cancel This European Christmas Trip

Hi everyone, it’s Billie, and I’ve enjoyed watching Sarah Wade’s trip evolve over the past couple of weeks. On December 3 she was all set to head out on a Christmas-market itinerary through Germany and Austria. Her plan was to focus on Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna. But you all know what happened right before she left: Covid cases spiked in Germany and Austria, many Christmas markets closed across both countries, and Austria went into lockdown.

It’s a good thing Sarah had booked through WOW Lister Gwen Kozlowski. “Gwen was in touch with us every day as this unfolded,” Sarah told me over email right before leaving home. “She began by offering some options of other places we could go and still see Christmas markets.” Using her knowledge of Central Europe and her contacts on the ground, Gwen rerouted Sarah’s group so that they could avoid Covid-compromised places without compromising on holiday cheer. “I am so excited about the new trip we have planned,” Sarah said. “We still get to have the cozy, Christmas experience just in a slightly different region.”

And so Sarah and her crew spent this past week in Poland and Hungary instead, focusing on Warsaw, Krakow, and Budapest. They still got the full yule experience—including Christmas markets, a private gingerbread-baking class, and a visit to a glass-ornament atelier where they learned how to make their own (that’s them in the photo).

Sarah emailed me again from Krakow: “The vibe has been great. Both in Warsaw and Krakow people are wearing masks indoors. We have felt completely safe and comfortable during our trip.” I asked her what kept her going through the ups and downs of the news cycle, and what her advice was for other travelers navigating this unusual time. “Having an open mind, willingness to change locations, and trust in your trip planner is essential,” she said. “Knowing Gwen is looking after things for us makes a huge difference. If we were planning this type of trip on our own, I think we would have given up.” But she’s very glad they didn’t. “Our tours are private, and restaurants and places are not as crowded as they might usually be, so no problems feeling comfortable. We have been having a great time! In many ways, it is the same trip we would take at any other time but without the crowds.”

Stay tuned for more tales from travelers! —Billie





Where to Go for the Holidays

A lit Christmas tree at night in front of Santa Maria del Fiore Florence Italy

Florence lights up for the holidays. Photo: Shutterstock

If you’re looking for a last-minute trip, check out our list of options. These aren’t merely places that have random spots of availability; these are places where the local fixers on The WOW List can still find you the most charming hotel rooms and the savviest private guides (vaccinated, of course) and can put together a Covid-safe and high-caliber trip.



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Europe’s Christmas Markets: How to Plan the Perfect Trip

When you’re looking for festive Old World holiday charm, you can’t beat Central Europe. Cities and villages decorate and light up their medieval town squares until they look like something out of a fairytale. Stalls sell unique handmade gifts and delicious regional specialties to eat. Locals gather after work to drink glühwein (hot mulled wine with sweet Christmas spices), socialize, and enjoy concerts al fresco. These Christmas Markets are great for holiday shopping too: Most of the merchandise is affordable handicrafts that you can’t find in the U.S. or in any catalog—and notably absent from the experience is the crass commercialism surrounding Christmas that you find in the States.

I’ve now gone Christkindlemarkt-hopping through Central Europe several times (by car, train, and river ship), as well as in several ways (on my own, with my husband, and, just last week, with children in tow), so I thought I’d share my hard-earned tips for how to plan an extraordinary Christmas Markets trip, illustrated with Instagram pics from last week.

1. Hit a mix of big cities and small towns—and more than one country.

It’s surprising how different the markets are in different cities—and how different the handicrafts and foods are. You might see something for sale and think, “I can get that at the next place,” but there are many unique items you won’t find again. The markets vary most by country, which is why country-hopping makes the experience even more interesting. Particularly lovely markets are in Vienna, Salzburg, Nuremberg, Passau, Heidelberg, Regensburg (specifically the Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt there), Strasbourg, and Dusseldorf, as well as in many small German towns. If you can choose only one city, make it one with several different markets; my recommendation would be Vienna.

Here’s the Christmas Market at Maria-Theresien-Platz. #Vienna #ChristmasMarkets A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on


2. Time your trip right.

Each market has different start and end dates. In Central Europe many start in late November and last till December 24, with a few even lasting into the first days of January. Your itinerary will likely be dictated by the dates of the Christmas markets in the cities that most interest you. You’ll find those dates on each country’s or city’s tourism information website.

#Bratislava #ChristmasMarkets in front of the Slovak National Theatre. A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on


3. Focus your Christmas-market visits on weekdays.

Factor into your itinerary that the markets are best visited on weekdays rather than weekends, when they can be extremely crowded. Morning is the best time for actual shopping (that’s when crowds are lightest), whereas the best time for photos is at about 4:30 p.m. (the sky turns from overcast to blue at dusk), and the concerts tend to happen in the evenings. Beware Friday and Saturday nights at the markets in big cities.

#Lights, #lanterns, and things that glow at the #ChristmasMarkets at Michaelerplatz, #Vienna A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on


4. Don’t rent a car.

Driving between cities with Christmas markets is a logistical pain. Snow conditions can make it difficult, you can’t drive close to the markets because they’re usually in pedestrian-only areas in the old city, and parking is really hard to find. Getting around by train or river-cruise ship is much easier. Train stations are usually within easy walking distance of the old city (where the market is). A river cruise is easy in that you don’t have to worry about the logistics of getting between cities (the ship drops you off in town), and you don’t have to pack things from hotel to hotel. A river cruise is, in fact, what I did last week—aboard Viking River Cruises.

All aboard! Next stop: Bratislava. #VikingCruises A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on


5. Forget restaurant reservations.

You’ll be snacking your way through Europe—it’s impossible to resist trying the many intriguing local specialties—and there won’t be space left in your belly for a sit-down meal. Much of the food at Christmas markets you can’t find in restaurants anyway—giant donut pretzels, for instance, or chimney cake. You needn’t even try speaking the local language because at each stand you can point to the food you want.

Have you ever seen a bigger #pretzel? #Salzburg #Christkindlemarkt #gobigorgohome A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on


6. Consider going over Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanksgiving is low season in Christmas-market cities (it’s not a holiday that’s celebrated in Europe), and some of the markets kick off the weekend before Thanksgiving. Last week, on our Danube cruise over Thanksgiving, we managed to hit 12 holiday markets in 6 different cities. If you’ve got kids, depending on their school schedule, Thanksgiving might be the only break that works for your itinerary, timing-wise.


7. See if there are low-season offers.

Some hotels run promotions throughout the period of the holiday markets (with the exception of New Year’s Eve, which is generally expensive).  Sometimes those offers are available only through a destination trip-planning specialist with clout. I booked my pre-cruise hotel stay in Budapest and my post-cruise hotel stay in Salzburg through my Trusted Travel Expert for Central Europe because she negotiates reduced rates that include tax, breakfast, and benefits (e.g., free upgrades based on availability). In Budapest, for instance, she had winter promo rates at the four-star Le Meridien (where I stayed, as one of the Christmas Markets is right downstairs). In Salzburg (a very expensive city), she put me in the five-star Hotel Sacher, where midweek rates in November and December start at $350 (again, that includes tax, breakfast, and certain amenities).

Aerial view of the @hotelsacher’s front desk. I’m not sure hotels get any more polished than this. #LHWtraveler A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

Look what you can expect in your room at @hotelsacher in #Salzburg. #seriouschocolate #INeedToTakeHomeASacherTorte

A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on


Stay tuned for my advice for choosing the right Christmas Markets river cruise, based on last week’s Danube trip on Viking River Cruises (and the five other European river ships I’ve sailed on).

And if you’ve got any questions about travel to Europe during the holiday season, by all means ask below!