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Christmastime in Europe - narrowing down the options

Christmastime in Europe - narrowing down the options

Old Jun 25th, 2021, 09:46 AM
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Christmastime in Europe - narrowing down the options

Hi, travel lovers!

We're planning a trip abroad with our boys (8 and 6; both well-versed travelers -- at least pre-covid!), and I'm a little stuck now that I need to stop the dreaming phase and enter the booking phase. Hoping for some thoughts and suggestions on which path to take...

Background: We would either go the week before or the week after Christmas (gotta be home for Santa). Also, for this trip we're limited by Delta travel for the overseas leg. I don't want to risk booking an intra-Europe leg on a separate PNR with another carrier, so we will either be tacking on a train ride or a private car transfer to get to our ultimate destination, and that's okay. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but we'll make it work.

So here we go! My ideas thus far:

Iceland - Pros: good shot at Northern Lights, spectacular scenery, cozy Christmas vibes, ice caves, geothermal pools, easy to get to from JFK (idea would be to stay in/around Reykjavik). Cons: Just 4-5 hours of daylight that time of year could make for restless kids, it's arguably better to visit in warmer months when you can drive the Ring and see more of the island.

Chamonix/French Alps - Pros: fairytale charm, food, skiing/snow activities, daylight (ha), cable cars, Christmas markets. Cons: perhaps a bit gimmicky touristy (presumably in some towns more than others), more difficult to get to (would involve a transfer from Paris, Milan or Zurich), we're not avid avid skiers (though happy to hit the slopes for a morning or two), our last trip pre-covid was to France (different region, but still: we try to mix it up!).

I've been looking for trip reports that are similar to one of these travels, but the majority are definitely from summer travels. Would be grateful for any input from people who've been there and done that in the winter months, or if there's a better destination I'm overlooking, I'm all ears! Thanks for reading.
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Old Jun 25th, 2021, 12:34 PM
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Originally Posted by kgriff01 View Post
Background: We would either go the week before or the week after Christmas (gotta be home for Santa). Also, for this trip we're limited by Delta travel for the overseas leg. I don't want to risk booking an intra-Europe leg on a separate PNR with another carrier, so we will either be tacking on a train ride or a private car transfer to get to our ultimate destination, and that's okay. I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but we'll make it work.
Not exactly sure I understand limiting yourselves to Delta metal. AF and KLM are full partners on Sky Team so easy to get connecting flights on the same PNR.
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Old Jun 25th, 2021, 01:12 PM
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Fairytale charm, food, skiing/snow activities, daylight (ha), cable cars, Christmas markets.

Does it have to be the French Alps?

We've taken many Christmas trips to Switzerland, Austria and Germany that match your description perfectly. I've got several trip reports posted here from those various trips...but we only stuck a toe into France (Colmar) while visiting from Germany a few times.
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Old Jun 25th, 2021, 06:52 PM
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Janis, we're limited to Delta jets exclusively here. Thanks.

Melnq8, it does not have to be the French Alps! Were there towns that fit the bill in Switzerland you enjoyed? I've sadly not spent much time in the country beyond a few days in Geneva and Lausanne years ago. I love this idea -- thank you!

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Old Jun 25th, 2021, 07:40 PM
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Annecy is beautiful at that time of year but also loaded with people, albeit not as much as Chamonix.
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Old Jun 26th, 2021, 05:45 AM
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Melnq8, it does not have to be the French Alps! Were there towns that fit the bill in Switzerland you enjoyed? I've sadly not spent much time in the country beyond a few days in Geneva and Lausanne years ago. I love this idea -- thank you!

Oh wow, where to start.

FWIW, in our experience, Christmas Markets in Switzerland are not the same as Christmas Markets in Germany or Austria. They tend to be smaller and more sedate. To find markets similar to those in other countries, you'd probably want to head to the cities - Basel is a good bet. We tend to spend most of our time in Switzerland in small out-of-the way villages, and you'll not find a lot of holiday action in these spots, so just keep that in mind. Basel has a large Christmas Market and provides easy access to Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany), and Colmar, France, which both have great Christmas Markets.

A trip report from one such trip:
We're here!

Most first time Alp seeking visitors to Switzerland flock to the Berner Oberland (Interlaken, Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Murren). We did this for years, but have since expanded our Swiss exploration to Graubunden and the Engadine Valley as well as the Vorderrhein Valley in the Surselva district.

Here are a few of my trip reports from our various December visits, keeping in mind some of these spots are a bit off the international tourist path. They might give you a few ideas.

Switzerland:

Will Walk for Food: Winter Wandering in Switzerland

The Engadine calls us back...again

Summer Interrupted; Christmas in Germany & Switzerland


Christmas in Germany and Austria:

The Boomer and the Gen-Zer: A trip of firsts

On the beaten path: Tirol, Salzkammergut and Munich

Happy to help further if specific questions arise.

Last edited by Melnq8; Jun 26th, 2021 at 06:09 AM.
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Old Jun 26th, 2021, 01:06 PM
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If you go before Christmas consider Munich. We will fly from FLL and MCO to ATL and across to MUC all on Delta. The Christmas markets are fantastic and there are lots of day trips by train to small (and large) cities, also with terrific markets. That said, we love Chamonix especially in the snow. It does not, however, afford a lot of options for really good day trips as Munich does.
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Old Jun 26th, 2021, 02:12 PM
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We have gone before Christmas and during Christmas. I loved our two weeks in Germany but depending on the variant they might not have the markets. Paris is beautiful for Christmas. They really do have things the children would love. They give them little bears to skate with on the ice if they aren't up to speed. The markets there are not like German markets but still fun.
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Old Jun 26th, 2021, 02:21 PM
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I have never spent Advent in Switzerland but another upvote for Germany at Christmas. Just about any city of any size has a Christmas market, sometimes multiple if the city is big, and there's something for young and old. Lots of amazing food (including hot sugared almonds, marshmallows, huge gingerbread hearts with messages to loved ones, and various snacks and sweet treats specific to the area where the market is) and drinks (hot chocolate for the kids, with various alcoholic additions such as amaretto for the grown ups, Glühwein, Eierpunsch). Lots of Christmas decorations (to buy), often made of wood or straw; lots of socks, hats and scarves as presents .... you get the idea. There are often also rides for the children and always a nativity scene; I have also seen dioramas of fairy tales in Schwerin. Goes all day until late at night, and most of them wind up before the 24th because that is the evening that Christmas is celebrated on. Christmas Eve is usually a home affair and depending on the family, also a church thing. There are just a few cities which have markets after Christmas but I personally don't know them; I think Salzburg (Austria) might be one but certainly not many in Germany.

Lavandula
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Old Jun 26th, 2021, 05:29 PM
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A few years ago we spent part of the week before Christmas in Seefeld near Innsbruck. Although this was with our adult "children" we all observed what a beautiful place and setting it was for Christmas. (Coming from Oz it was of course a total contrast!!!)
From this smaller village we were easily able to train to Innsbruck and enjoy the market and other attractions there.
(I do not know if this is possible with Delta but we have always enjoyed train travel with younger family members if you need a specific airport.)
We did continue on through Germany and ended up in Dresden with multiple markets and sights to see but still talk about returning to this smaller village sometime when we are able to travel.
If I recall the small hotel we stayed in had a number of families spending their Christmas time there and they all seemed very relaxed and happy.
Do read Melnq8's posts and trip reports!!
Enjoy planning...
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Old Jun 27th, 2021, 03:57 AM
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Just to throw a monkey wrench in the works, here is my report about the Strasbourg Christmas market: Christkindelsmärik of Strasbourg (Christmas Market) - by K2 | Any Port in a Storm (proboards.com)
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Old Jun 27th, 2021, 07:25 AM
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Islam and Christmas...hmmmmm. We lived in the Middle East for many years and routinely escaped to Europe for Christmas. I'm not aware of any fairytale charm, skiing/snow activities (outside of a few malls), cable cars, Christmas markets in the Middle East.
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Old Jun 27th, 2021, 07:34 AM
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Strasbourg is good at that time of year
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Old Jun 27th, 2021, 07:34 AM
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The first time I had to go to Cairo for a seminar (something that I did at least half a dozen times during my career), it was December and I was booked at the Holiday Inn Pyramids in Giza (the hotel was destroyed a few years later during religious riots, and I don't think it was ever rebuilt). In the lobby, there was a huge snowy Christmas tree and Santa with sleigh. It was so completely inappropriate. From the window of my room, I could see the pyramids illuminated in the night. That was so much better.

I would never spend a holiday like Christmas in a country where the holiday is meaningless. And that includes Singapore, which is a friendly and lovely place. I have been there quite a few times during the holiday season, and I didn't want to see Christmas trees and Santas there either. However, they really do love any excuse for a holiday, because all of the decorations and twinkling lights stay up through Chinese New Year with just a few modifications to the decorations.
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Old Jun 27th, 2021, 07:44 AM
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I totally agree kerouac. I have a photo of one of those snow covered Christmas trees from a restaurant in Bahrain. Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, I had to purchase holiday decorations on the sly - random shopkeepers would approach expats - "pssst...I have Christmas in the back". Felt like I was doing something illegal.

Singapore is a zoo at Christmas! Never spent the actual holiday there, but did spend many December weeks there, as I routinely went to Singapore for food shopping and medical appointments when we lived in Indonesia. It was over-the-top festive with a carnival-like atmosphere and just felt wrong somehow.

Avoided Singapore like the plague during Chinese New Year too - just too crazy and chaotic for me.

Last edited by Melnq8; Jun 27th, 2021 at 07:47 AM.
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Old Jun 27th, 2021, 09:03 AM
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Egypt... i spent Christmas there one year. Managed to find a curry for Christmas lunch. The hotel staff very kindly gave us all a hug and cheap chocolate bunnies. Confused but a kind thought.
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Old Jun 27th, 2021, 09:40 AM
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Most Muslim families in France celebrate Christmas because they have children. Christmas presents! Decorations! School holidays! But in completely non Christian countries, it makes no sense. Before tensions became high, I'm sure that Egypt was a better place for Christmas, since 10-20% of the population is comprised of Coptic Christians. But now it a time to be more discreet, sort of like Muslims in the United States.
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Old Jun 27th, 2021, 10:00 AM
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I’ll second Melnq8’s suggestion of Basel and recommend the week before Christmas. Take Delta to Zurich, train to Basel. The central part of the city is delightfully walkable and, with the Christmas market and decorations, will be festive. The shops, markets, zoo, and a few of the 30 or so museums (including a Roman archeological site a bus ride away) can provide activities for a week for your family. Or you can take trains to towns (and more Christmas markets if you like) in Switzerland, Germany, and France. Strasbourg is about 1.5 hours away.

Do your children have any special interests or activities you would like to include in this trip?
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Old Jun 27th, 2021, 11:28 AM
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Still in moderation limbo.
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Old Jul 1st, 2021, 11:25 AM
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As a Basel resident, two caveats. Sadly, the Christmas market has been shrinking over the past few years (leaving out the covid cancellation of 2020). The Herbst Messe has been growing and stealing some of the Christmas market’s thunder.

Also some of our fav nonchain shops, restaurants and cafes have closed. Esp ones that have been around for years; Covid led their owners to opt for early retirement. On the upside, several new places have opened. I like them but most are more contemporary rather than traditional.

Just an FYI
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