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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Christmas villages in europe

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Will be in Germany for business and would like to spend an extra week with my wife doing Berlin, Prague, and austria and looking for advice on which city in Austria is the best to visit for the Christmas experience. We are traveling from December 16-24 and looking to spend 2 nights in Berlin, 2 in Prague, 2 in either Vienna, Salzburg or Innsbruck and ending up in Munich. We can only pick one city in Austria unless it's best to cut out Prague or Munich. Or should we spend more time in a certain city? Thanks.

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    >>> We can only pick one city in Austria unless it's best to cut out Prague or Munich.
    I suspect you have not looked at the routing.

    First, assuming you are doing this by train/bus, it helps to have basic facts. It took mere 2 minutes to gather these info at www.bahn.com.

    Prag-Wien 4 hrs, Wien-München 4 hrs = 8 hrs
    Prag-(via Linz)-Salzburg 6.3 hrs, Wien-München 1.7 hrs = 8 hrs
    Prag-Innsbruck 7.5 hrs, Wien-München 2.5 hrs = 10 hrs

    So you can see Innsbruck is somewhat out of the way and also smallest of these three cities you mentioned. Vienna has more markets than Salzburg corresponding to Vienna being a much larger city.

    Going back to your original assumption that you can only pick one city in Austria without sacrificing Prag or München. If "pick" means staying overnight, you are correct. You only have fixed number of nights. But if "pick" means visiting the market, you can have more than one in Austria.

    Look at train routing. Prag-Salzburg goes through on other Austrian city, Linz. ALL Wien-München trains go through Salzburg. So if you stay 2 nights in Wien, take mid-morning train to Salzburg, leave luggage at the station, visit Salzburg market during the day, continue onto to München, you can "visit" Salzburg market without consuming one night. The Salzburg market opens at 10am weekdays and 9am on weekends:

    http://www.christkindlmarkt.co.at/pdf/2016/chkm_fremdsprachenflyer_16_EN_WEB.pdf

    In my opinion, a major market you are just passing by right on your route is Dresden.

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    We live in Vienna and have enjoyed the holiday markets in each city of your itinerary and to be honest, your travel plan exhausts me. Holiday markets are enjoyable in small doses; after a couple of days, however, they all begin to feel the same absent what I call a, "special offer." So, it really pays to do your research into each city's markets. Does the market offer unique goods/foods? Is the setting of the market what makes it special? Does the market live up to the Guide Book Impression?

    Rather than offer the "best" Christmas market destinations, which is too subjective for me, I will share our impressions of Salzburg, Munich, and Innsbruck, cut from my trip reports, as well as our impressions of Vienna's markets, for your consideration. We visited the markets in Berlin and Prague between Christmas and New Year's, so those impressions might be different than ones from before the holiday.

    All of this said, if we had your 8 days, having experienced all of the markets, I would spend them between Munich, Nurnberg, Salzburg, and Innsbruck.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Salzburg Markets

    Thursday afternoon was spent between the markets at Mirabellplatz, the Dom and Residenzplatz, and a market we came upon while walking between the two, SternAdvent at Stern Brau. Light snow was falling, and the city was twinkling.

    Mirabellplatz. Small, and definitely the most traditional market of our holiday, with lovely fresh and seasonal floral arrangements at one stall that I regret not purchasing. 'Tis a problem I have, not purchasing beautiful things when I see them, then regretting not having done so later.

    The Christkindlmarkt at Dom and Residenzplatz. Refreshingly uncommercial compared to Vienna’s Christkindlmarkt. We enjoyed a small snack of Bauern Krapfen (flat, fried doughnuts topped (in our case) with garlic and a little bit of sauerkraut—an acquired taste, to be sure). One of the tall, cylindrical market mugs also came home with us.

    At this market I also found my beloved Schneeball, another acquired taste of fried dough strips wrapped into a ball and covered with sugar powder. We had discovered the Bauern Krapfen in Innsbruck last year (where it is known as “Kiachl”) and the Schneeball in Bavaria on a trip several years earlier, and were happy to meet up again with these yummy friends.

    SternAdvent at Stern Brau. Hands down, our favorite market of those we visited in Salzburg’s AltStadt. The setting was enchanting, and the stalls were filled with unique handcrafted items. Several purchases were made at this market. Walking back to our vehicle from the market, we passed a Käse Hütte offering cheeses from Vorarlberg, and combined with some Wild (Deer) Salami, a couple of baguettes and a crisp Weiss Burgundy from the grocery, dinner was born.

    Schloss Hellbrunn. Snow was lightly falling now, giving the market a romantic feel. The market offers were exceptional, we thought, and once again my tote was filled by the time we departed with felted and other handmade delights.

    Wolfgangseer Advent.

    Bavaria and the Salzkammergut should merge and become a country where it is simply impossible not to be charmed, and where everyone is required to “Go Alpine” with Dirndls and Lederhosen and felted accessories with antlers for the women. Wolfgangsee should be the capital. The three markets here (Strobl, St. Gilgen, St. Wolfgang) and the setting were the genesis for our long weekend holiday, and they did not disappoint.

    St. Gilgen was our first stop. We have been to this lovely village in all sorts of weather; the boarding school in St. Gilgen hosts a cross-country run in the fall and invites the Vienna and Munich internationals schools, and so we have taken day trips to cheer on DD and DS in rain and in shine. For this visit, the Chamber of Commerce must have paid off the weather gods. Crisp and dry air, and just enough cloud cover to make my photos of Wolfgangsee against the snow-capped mountains look Photoshopped. We and DDog wended our way through the village, snacking and shopping here and there. DDog relished a small staredown with the llamas from the living nativity—it was hard to discern which of the two animals was more curious about the other!

    Strobl was next. The smallest of the three, but also a bit “out there” by penning wild deer as part of the market! A young buck and two does were in the center of the market, surrounded, thankfully, by a fence that must have contained a slight electric charge, for when the buck caught the scent of DDog (and the other DDogs in the market) he would charge the fence, stopping just short of jumping over. We kept DDog well away from that exhibit! The market is noted for its diorama nativity scenes, too, tucked into hollowed tree trunks and scattered throughout the market, many of which have exquisite detail.

    St. Wolfgang wrapped up our Wolfgangsee triptych. Really, when a postcard-perfect Bavarian-style village is dressed up with Advent markets throughout its center, only those with hearts two sizes too small could not be charmed. And, as the visitors from the boats had just begun to arrive when we were leaving our restaurant from lunch, we felt especially fortunate to have enjoyed the village before the tourist crush. I recall my tote being rather full by the time we reached the car, so I would have to say the markets and stores had much to offer, as well.


    Munich Christmas Markets

    Christmas Village at Munich Residenz. Described as a “recreated farming village” in the courtyard, to us it was indistinguishable from any small and pleasant market we have visited. A large Christmas pyramid and the lighting made the market festive at night; and the storybook scenes were enjoyable to walk through even with shoulder-to-shoulder crowds.

    The Munich Christkindlmarkt at Marienplatz met all of the criteria of a major European city’s showcase market: a spectacular setting (in front of Rathaus), a large Christmas tree strung with twinkling lights; and striking wooden pyramids with eye-popping pricetags. Of course, the €460, five-tier pyramid was the one I admired the most, but with not an ounce of German in our heritage, we passed. If there were 10 straw ornaments to choose from, there were 10.000! But, at a mere Euro or two each, I easily added a few dozen to our tree without breaking the bank. Many, many sweets stalls to choose from, though the savory food choices were a little lacking.

    Nürnberg Christmas Market

    We have the fortunate advantage of living in Europe and are spoiled by the number and variety of Christmas markets; this makes us sometimes a little choosier and perhaps a little more critical of the market offerings than a first-time visitor. With that caveat I can write that Nürnberg did not disappoint! We arrived on a Sunday, three days before Christmas, and explored the section of the market hosted by the “Sister Cities” of Nürnberg first. Lavender products from Nice; handmade ties and scarves from Scotland; intricate Matruschka dolls from Ukraine, and so forth. The stall from Macedonia amused us; there were no gifts or comestibles from the nation on display or for purchase—the representative had merely set up a bar! Conversely, the stall from Atlanta, GA disappointed us. Thinking “Coca-Cola” products, all that was on display was Kool-Aid, M&Ms, and Hershey products.

    By this time we were near to the lunch reservations I had made, and so we sat for a rather ordinary but perfectly satisfactory lunch at an Italian restaurant on the square. The reservations were our lifesaver; by the time we left there was not an empty table available. And when we stepped outside into the market, the perfect Christmas market storm of sunny weather and the proximity to the holiday meant there was not a free cobblestone to walk upon. There was a line simply to enter the Käthe Wohlfahrt store! We heaved to and fro with fellow marketgoers, thoroughly exhausted by the time we found our way back to the car. The experience was grand, mostly because we had no agenda and were not under any pressure to find last-minute gifts.

    Garmisch Christmas Market

    Our final day was left open, and the children selected Garmisch, about an hours’ drive from Munich. The Teenage Son was a counselor at the BSA camp in Garmisch for the past two summers, and wanted to take his sister atop Zugspitze. DH, DDog and I took a leisurely walk through the city and its charming, but very small market where I somehow ended up purchasing more at than from the bigger markets! The children caught up with us and we all enjoyed some of the most delicious bierwurst we’ve ever eaten before heading back to Munich for our final night.

    Innsbruck Christmas Markets: Myths and Realities.

    The Hungerberg market as described by the Innsbruck Tourism website was to be “A Christmas Market with magnificent views over Innsbruck, a huge range of culinary delights and all kinds of Christmas souvenirs…”

    Our Verdict: We most certainly had the magnificent views over Innsbruck! In fact, the views alone are worth the visit. The culinary delights, well, not so much. The market had perhaps a dozen stalls, with two serving Glühwein; one or two stalls offering large puffed fried cakes with sweet toppings; and the remainder indeed offering Christmas souvenirs and gifts. Our advice: come for the view, and a mug of Glühwein and roasted chestnuts, but plan to eat lunch/dinner elsewhere.

    The first Christmas market of the day was the Christmas Market at Marktplatz, which also happens to be the location of Innsbruck’s weekend Farmer’s Market. The Christmas Market description reads: “This traditional, cozy, Tyrolean village-style market is an experience the whole family will love. The huge range on offer, including a puppetshow, storytelling, pony rides, petting zoo and nostalgic carousel is sure to impress visitors young and old alike. The real eye-catcher though is the glittering, over 14 metre-high Swarovski crystal tree, which this year welcomes a new star. More than 60 stalls selling Christmas products and a variety of delicious delicacies add to the market’s appeal and make it a popular meeting place.”

    Our Verdict: Absolutely delightful! The setting along the Inns River; the giant Swarovski tree twinkling in the sun; and the crowded lanes offering foods and gifts so different from the markets in Vienna filled us with Christmas cheer. The market’s location, adjacent to the Farmer’s Market, also allowed me to dilly-dally at the Bretagne Stall (and fill my tote with sweets and cheeses) and to purchases sausages to bring home.

    Leaving the market we found ourselves entering the “Fairy Tale and Giant’s Alley” of “Innsbruck’s Traditional Market,” set in the Old Town. The tourism website writes, “On a stroll through the market with over 70 stalls, you will find Christmas tree decorations, arts and crafts and a few curiosities. A visit to the viewing platform over the hut rooftops or the enchanting “Fairy Tale and Giants‘ Alley” is an absolute must.”

    Our Verdict: The crowds along the old medieval lanes were dense. Neither we, nor DDog, appreciated being jostled and bumped and pushed as we tried to enjoy the stalls and the decorations. All we recall are Speck and Käse huts, a Schneeball stall (yum!), handmade and typical glass ornaments, and several stalls offering woolen items. The viewing platform was a mob-scene, and to be honest, probably makes for better viewing in the evening when the lights are twinkling. The food stalls were four-persons deep to order wurst, so we moved along through the Hofburg, past a small flea market (where I failed to bargain successfully for an old set of cow bells, alas.) in search of something else for lunch.

    Vienna's Christmas Markets

    In Vienna it really pays to do your Christmasmarkt homework; otherwise it is too easy to be lulled into monotony. There is, of course, the "big" WienerChristkindlmarkt at Rathaus: commercial and touristy, but so merry and bright that you can't help but feel holiday cheer. For other markets, the setting is more enjoyable than the actual market offerings (Schloss Schönbrun and Schloss Belvedere come to mind, especially at night); while the reverse is true for the AltWiener Christmasmarkt and markets like the ones at Karlsplatz and Am Hof, all of which offer beautiful handcrafted items and excellent food but without a palace backdrop. Then there is the Spittelberg Adventmarkt, which combines artsy and handcrafted items in the tiny lanes of the Spittelberg area, trimmed with pretty Biedermeier architecture.

    Other markets are only open for a particular weekend, and may be in a spectacular setting (Schloss Graffenegg and Burgruine Aggstein, for example) or have a theme, like the medieval Adventmarkt at the Military History Museum or the botanic theme at Hirschstetten Botanical Garden.

    The market at the Altes AKH (Old General Hospital) is super child-friendly with small and pleasant rides and often animals to pet. Traditional craftsmen can also be seen practicing their crafts, too. The food and drink is "meh," though.

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    I hope you won't mind my interruption, kwik30. We will also be in the area 2 week from now.

    Would these Christmas markets already be opened between nov 22 to 26, fourfortravel?

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    I', sorry but what is "touristy" about a Christmas Market? Do you personally KNOW that all the people seen visiting them are "tourists" and exactly what does that mean? Somebody from another neighborhood? Another town? Another country?

    Who CARES about whether or not the visitors are "tourists" LIKE YOU?

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    Dukey1, your comments imply that you care whether visitors are "tourists." As a resident of Vienna, I offered my impressions of some of the more popular markets, nothing more.

    Vienna's Wiener Kristkindlmarkt draws approximately 3 million visitors annually (according to city data); the population of the city is about half of that, so even the simplest of calculations would suggest that half of the market goers are likely "tourists." I would guess that this year will bring even more "tourists," as the market has been revitalized with the addition of an ice skating rink and a move away more commercial tchotchke to more traditional offerings.

    prinstela, there are two or three markets opening the weekend of 11/12 November in Vienna, including the Wiener Kristkindlmarkt, but I have not checked dates for any of the other cities.

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    Fourfortravel,
    What a nice review of the markets! If you can go to one out of the option of several, it is great to have some idea of which you might prefer. Thanks for taking time to describe your experience.

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    Yes, fourfortravel's rundown of the markets is a good start point -- but my favorite market in Munich is missing from the description. I personally think it would be a mistake to miss the Middle Ages market ---

    http://www.mittelaltermarkt-muenchen.de/mittelaltermarkt_html/seiten/start_en.html

    It's held at Wittelsbacherplatz (near Odeonsplatz). It's filled with people in Medieval dress, displaying hand-made crafts like you would find from the middle ages. You can buy food similar to what people (the rich people) ate -- pork, sausage, apple fritters, etc. There are performances with lutes, pipes, & drums.

    The atmosphere is completely different from what you find at the other Munich markets, and it's entirely charming.

    Have fun as you plan!

    s

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    swandav2000, thank you for adding the market at Wittelsbach. We enjoy the middle ages markets at Burgruine Aggstein in the Wachau (especially on a clear day, as the views aver the Danube are fabulous); and the middle ages market on the Military History Museum grounds here in Vienna, so that probably factored in our decision not to drop in at Wittelsbach. The latter is set in the old arsenal, and as with both, the vendors are in period clothing, etc.

    sassafrass, in Munich the markets at SternBrau and Schloss Hellbrunn were our favorites because of the unique variety of crafts on offer; and Hellbrunn, for its setting (that light snow had begun to fall only added to the loveliness).

    The Salzkammergut markets were too charming to rank, but if I only had time for one it would be St. Wolfgang for its variety and the scenery. Innsbruck, probably the market at Marktplatz, and on a day when the adjacent farmer's market is open. We also took a late afternoon drive to Hall in Tirol, and like St. Wolfgang, a charming market in a charming city center is hard to beat.

    In Vienna the market at Spittelberg is where I almost never fail to fill my tote with special handcrafted items to put in the family's stockings, and would be the "one" I would go to if that was all the time I had. Plus, there are several "pop-up" holiday stores along the lanes at which to find gifts.

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