The Magic of the Christmas Market Season

December 2019

The Christmas Markets in Europe capture the magic of Christmas like nothing else. There is pure sweetness and joy that is felt getting together with your family and friends, drinking Glühwein, listening to music and strolling the booths of homemade ornaments and goodies in the fairy tale like settings. It slows the season down and is a great reminder of what is truly important during the special time. There are a lot of things that Europeans do well and the Christmas Markets are something that they do with perfection. As an American, Christmas for me had become simultaneous with craziness. A mad rush of gift buying, more gift buying, stressing over gift buying and then feeling guilty over not enough gift buying. Needless to say, I had lost the magic of the season in my heart. Wandering the Christmas Markets here I feel like a child feeling the joy of Christmas for the first time. This past Christmas was even more special because I was able to share the markets with my Mom and Sister who were visiting from the States. Below is a list of the different markets that we visited: Erlangen, Nuremberg, Vienna, Regensburg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Erlangen is currently my hometown so I have had the treat of getting to know the markets very well over the past couple of years. There are three markets in town with the largest being the Erlanger Waldweihnacht which translates to Christmas in the Forest. It is probably the one we go to most often. The large central square in town is transformed into a forest with real fir trees and wood chips for the floor. You can enjoy food, drinks, crafts and a small performance stage. There is also a small carousel for the little ones and a great ice skating rink that the kids love. It’s a nice market for both adults and kids as there is something to do for everyone and the size is small enough to feel intimate but large enough to keep the family happy.

If a smaller more adult market is what you have in mind, The Historical Christmas Market on the Neustädter Kirchenplatz is your place. It has a Middle Ages theme with open fire pits, live entertainment including music, magicians and fire breathers. The setting feels cozy and the Glühwein with rum is quite a treat.

The third market is The Altstädter Weihnachtsmarkt (Old Town Christmas Market) located on the Altstädter Kirchenplazt. It is the newest of the three and the smallest. We actually haven’t been to this one so can’t give an advice but I do know that you can buy a Christmas tree if you fancy!

All three markets are within walking distance of the train station and each other so if you have time you could easily check out all three in a day. The Erlangen markets open at the end of November and close at 2:00 PM on Christmas Eve.

Nuremberg is a quick 20 minute train ride from Erlangen and hosts one of the biggest Christkindelsmarkt in Germany and most famous in the world. The train station is directly across from the old town of Nuremberg and walking through the old walls into the city is quite dramatic. My favorite way to enter into the old town is over the bridge and through the Handwerkerhof Nürnberg which is a small medieval area with shops and restaurants. It is a charming area and sets the tone for discovering Nuremberg and its fascinating history. Once you pass by the Frauentorturm (one of the four round main towers of the Nuremberg city fortification) start looking for the red and white striped tents that will lead you to the Christmas Market which takes place in the Hauptmarkt, the central square in Nuremberg’s old town, and in adjoining squares and streets.

Once you reach the Hauptmarkt you will get lost in the endless booths of sweet treats and smells. It is a beautiful site and an immediate sense of holiday spirit sparks your soul. The crowd can be a bit overwhelming so going early in the week in the late afternoon or early evening can help avoid the masses. There are also smaller markets that take place on the streets surrounding the Hauptmarkt. These little markets can be a nice break from the busyness of the main market. The Kinderweihnacht or Children’s Market is very well done in Nuremberg with hands on booths for the kids and sweet rides and of course plenty of sweet treats! My absolute favorite side market is The Feuerzangenbowle village which is located below the Fleischbrücke. The Feuerzangenbowle is a special red wine and rum punch that warms your belly and is 110% delicious. We have spent many nights sipping the warm drink overlooking the river and taking in the energy of the lights and holiday excitement that may or may not seem a little more magical with our rum induced filters.

A couple of days for the Nuremberg markets is probably a good idea as there is so much to see and do. I would highly recommend spending time wandering the side streets of Nuremberg and getting lost in the beautiful city.

Vienna had been on my list to visit during the Christmas season and it was the perfect opportunity for a long weekend away with my Mom and Sister visiting. Vienna is a little over four hours on the train direct from Nuremberg. We packed a picnic lunch with yummy snacks and of course a bottle of Prosecco (or two) and set out for a relaxing journey to one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

After arriving at the main train station in Vienna we grabbed a taxi and went straight to our hotel. I booked us at the Hotel Altstadt Vienna located in the 7th district which is considered one of the “artsy” or “bohemian” sections of Vienna. The hotel was an apartment building that has been transformed into a boutique hotel decorated with beautiful artwork and different themed rooms. We stayed in Suite XL #85 – Harry’s Room and it was a perfect setup for the three of us and we immediately felt at home. A delicious breakfast is served every morning as well as a cake and tea time in the afternoon and self serve drinks from the honesty bar. The hotel’s location is ideally within walking distance of most major sites in neighboring District 1, the Innere Stadt.

We dropped our bags and immediately headed out. Our first stop was the Christmas Village on Maria Theresien Square a ten minute walk from our hotel. The market is beautifully located between the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art. We strolled the market, warmed up with some Glühwein and then popped into a pizza place for a late bite before wrapping up the night.

The next morning we called a taxi and headed out to Schönbrunn Palace about a 15 minute drive. Our thought was to take a tour of the Palace and then explore the Christmas Market. We did not plan this well and were disappointed to discover that the tours were booked for the day. Luckily the sun was shining and the grounds were open so we went on a nice walk and then hit the Market. The Christmas Market Schönbrunn Palace is pretty special centered around a massive Christmas tree with the Palace as a backdrop and a performance stage with a live chorus. The booths have really high quality gifts and goodies and we did quite a bit of shopping. Our next stop was one of the main Christmas Markets in Vienna – The Viennese Dream Christmas Market located in front of City Hall. We got there at dusk as the lights were turning on and the crowds were gathering. The ice skating “path” winding through the market and the “heart” tree are two must sees while at this market. Because it is such a large market, we spent our time looking at the lights and casually strolling through the booths not really shopping but just enjoying the sites and the people. I knew that we were going to need to refuel so I made a dinner reservation at Melker Stiftskeller not too far from City Hall. The restaurant is traditional Austrian located in the cellar of an old Abbey. The service was great, food was filling and was great to sit for a bit. After dinner we hit our third and final market of the day, The Altwiener Markt (Old Vienna Christmas Market), located just next to the restaurant. I have to say, this is one of my favorite markets in Vienna and we just happened to run into it. The market is tiny but lined with high quality booths showcasing local artists’ jewelry, art, woodworking, etc. So glad we found it! After shopping and our last Glühwein of the day we decided to take a taxi back to the hotel as we were all wiped out and ready for bed.

On our final day in Vienna we focused on the Innere Stadt walking the decorated streets and catching a peek inside St. Peter’s Catholic Church and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We ended our Vienna market tour at The Stephansplatz Market which wraps around St. Stephen’s and has a really nice variety of booths but is more about the ambiance of the great Cathedral that is its namesake. It was a perfect way to end our tour.

Vienna is a breathtaking city and even more so during the Christmas season. I’m tempted to say that it is one of my favorite Christmas Market experiences!

Regensburg is a city with a well preserved medieval core on the Danube River located about an hour from Erlangen. I had heard how fabulous The Thurn and Taxis Christmas Market was so I knew that we needed to check it out. We decided to take the train so we didn’t have to worry about parking and knew the market was located within walking distance of the train station. We caught the regional train in Erlangen and had a quick transfer in Nuremberg. Arriving at the Regensburg HBF it was easy to know where to go as there were plenty of signs pointing us in the right direction.

The walk to the palace was around 10 minutes. The “Romantic Christmas Market” at the Thurn and Taxis palace is one of the only ones I have gone to that charges an entrance fee. We went on a Monday and the rate was 5€ and goes up throughout the week with the weekend entrance fee being 10€. They do this to preserve the quality of the market and vendors and I’m sure to bring in a little money for the palace. I bought our tickets online which saved time in the queue and we headed straight in to wander the grounds.

Ok…I can’t even begin to describe how special this market is. I was blown away in Vienna, however, this market takes the top spot as my absolute favorite. The booths are big and spread out nicely so it feels like there is plenty of space and no rush. There are indoor places to eat with different themes and menus and are a nice place to warm up and rest your legs. There are also “bar” areas set up with open fire pits and plenty of drink options. The inner courtyard of the palace is decorated with a beautiful Christmas tree and open fires to keep warm and of course lined with more booths. One of the coolest features is the champagne hut that is located up on a little hill that overlooks the palace and has specialty cocktails. We loved sitting up there sipping fancy cocktails and watching the world go by below at the market. The quality of the vendors is top notch and for sure a step up from the more traditional offerings at other markets. We enjoyed the variety of shopping and buying gifts and goodies.

There are daily live concerts performed and the market and the Fürstliches Christkind (translated as Princely Christ Child) appears on the balcony above the main courtyard at 5:00, 6:00 and 7:00 to read a poem and then sprinkle stardust and slip away. It honestly is like an angel appearing with this magical voice. Everyone, young and old, stops what they are doing to gaze at the Fürstliches Christkind. If she can’t make your heart jump with joy and believe in the magic of the season I honestly don’t know what will! In addition to the live performances, tours of the palace are available for 10€ and are offered every hour. I would suggest going on the tour which is full of interesting information about the area and history of the palace which is still occupied by the Thurn and Taxis family.

I could go on and on about The Romantic Christmas Market at the Thurn and Taxis Palace because it truly is fabulous. If you have the opportunity, please go, I guarantee you will fall in love!

Rothenburg ob der Tauber was the last Christmas Market we explored and a great way to end our 2019 tour. The quintessential German town is known for its half-timbered houses and cobblestone lanes and carries the magic of Christmas throughout the year. It is located about an hour West of Erlangen. We parked just outside the town wall and set out to explore our final destination.

Walking through Rothenburg ob der Tauber is just about as charming as it gets. A light snow started to fall as we wandered the markets which added to the excitement. The entire center of the town is turned into a Christmas Market from City Hall to St. Jacob’s Church. In addition to the open air Market, all of the shops are open and decorated for the season. There is actually a Christmas Museum that you can tour and year round Christmas stores. They take Christmas time pretty serious!

We spent time exploring the booths and of course tasting the Glühwein and decided to walk down to the Plönlein which is the square where the famous crooked yellow house sits. It was quite a site with the snow coming down and holiday lights all around.

The Christmas Market in Rothenburg ob der Tauber is really about the town itself and spending time in what feels like a town that stood still in time. It is for sure worth a trip during Christmas or any time of the year.

What had such a fun adventure on our 2019 tour. This is just the tip of the iceberg of a look into the Christmas Markets. From small villages to large cities, every market has its own feel and specialty. I can’t wait for the 2020 season to explore even more. Until then, I will hold all of these memories in a special place in my heart with anticipation for the next season. Ho ho ho!!

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