Are you visiting a European Christmas market for the first time? You’re in for a treat! We spent Thanksgiving week on a European river cruise from Prague to Budapest and explored markets in many cities along the route, including Salzburg and Vienna. Here are my tips on getting the most enjoyment out of your visit.
Establish a meeting point if you’re visiting markets with others.
European Christmas markets vary greatly in size and a city or town can have several sprawling down a network of streets and alleys. It’s a good idea to establish a central meeting point for everyone to meet if separated, or at a designated time. We were always able to pick out a central Christmas tree that everyone could easily find.
Have local currency on hand as credit cards may not be accepted.
I didn’t see any vendors accepting credit cards at all the markets we visited, so I suggest being prepared with local currency. Remember that not every European country accepts the Euro and may have their own local currency. While the Euro might still be accepted, you could also get charged a surcharge for not using local currency. Try to have the local currency on hand to make it easier for yourself.
Explore food and drink options. Don’t grab the first thing you see.
The food and drink are VERY tempting in these markets, but it's worth your time to explore your options. It's fun to try things from different vendors, food from one, drinks from another, dessert from another. You get the idea. Have fun and explore.
The most common foods we saw in the markets were varieties of mulled wine and punch, beer, sausages, potato pancakes, sauerkraut, potato salads and vegetables to name a few.
And don’t forget about dessert! The most popular sweet treat we saw in every market is something called a chimney cake. It’s a bread-like dough wrapped in a spiral around a spindle, baked over hot coals and then coated with cinnamon and sugar. The treat gets its name from the steam bellowing out of its top when served in a wrapper for holding. We saw people eating more of these than anything else.
Try a spiced hot wine or hot punch, but take note of souvenir mug pricing.
Hot spiced wines and punches are available everywhere and do a great job warding off the seasonal chill in the air. Grabbing one of these upon first arrival at a market became routine for us. When these drinks are served in souvenir mugs, there is usually an additional deposit for the mug. The idea is that you can return the mug after you’ve finished your drink and get the deposit back. The displayed price doesn’t always include the deposit, so be prepared if you’re asked to pay more than the price shown. This threw me off a few times when I was preparing my cash to pay and had to recalculate amounts.
Larger markets will have their own signature mugs and make great souvenirs, so skip the return for your deposit and keep the mug. We kept our mugs from the Salzburg and Vienna markets and they’ll remind us every Christmas of our visit to the markets.
Be mindful of your belongings as you would in any large city.
Christmas markets are an explosion of holiday cheer, but also large crowds. It’s always a good idea to be aware of your belongings in situations like that no matter where you are. I never keep anything in my back pockets and try to limit carrying anything extra like a large backpack or camera bag. You’ll move about more freely and securely.
And most importantly, have fun!
My time in the markets felt like I was strolling through a world devoted to Christmas. The laughter, good cheer, tasty treats and celebratory atmosphere really kicked my holiday spirit into high gear.