Strolling Through Europe’s Christmas Markets

The unique Christmas markets of Germany, Austria and Luxembourg.

Snow falls on the Luxembourg Christmas Market in the main square. (c) PRIDE Travel / S. Nathan DePetris

Europe’s Christmas markets are winter wonderlands waiting to be explored — sometimes, more than a hundred booths are set up in the town square. With the smell of gluhwein (mulled wine) and gingerbread in the air and the sight of Christmas lights twinkling and reflecting off tree ornaments, which create a kaleidoscope of colors, it’s easy to lose yourself. Toys and gifts of all kinds decorate the stalls and delight the senses. In my experience, some of the most remarkable markets are found in Germany, Austria and Luxembourg.

Nuremberg, Germany
Nuremberg’s Christmas market is so renowned that even locals make the effort to visit. Tourists from other parts of Germany and Europe also journey here to see, smell, shop and sing. Behind the stalls, though certainly not out of sight, is the Church of Our Lady’s Mannleinlaufen, a mechanical clock that commemorates the Golden Bull of 1356, a decree issued by the Reichstag assembly in Nuremberg. During market time, the clock tower gets company in the form of the traditional Christmas pyramid: a rotating diorama sculpture of the nativity scenes made from wood by local craftsmen. If this isn’t enough, Nuremberg features the Nuremberg Castle, which will keep clients busy in between shopping, eating and drinking.

Regensburg, Germany (Thurn and Taxis)

Saint Nicks are to be found at each of the stall in Europe's Christmas Markets. (c) PRIDE Travel / S. Nathan DePetris

In the charming and small town of Regensburg, the small palace of the Thurn and Taxis royal family is the setting of another Christmas market, filled with high-quality goods. World renowned, the market is held annually by the princess of Thurn and Taxis, with proceeds benefiting children’s charities as well as other charities. The market, known for its high-end crafts and goods, is one of the few held inside a residential palace, which was formerly the Abbey of St. Emmeram. Agents should note that this isn’t Regensburg’s primary Christmas market, but it is probably the most unique. Aside from shopping, there’s great food, and the palace provides temporary covered seating, some with bonfires, to add to the atmosphere. Suggest that clients walk around the palace grounds and interior courtyards, if open, as the palace itself is worth a stroll.

Vienna, Austria
In contrast to Thurn and Taxis’ charm and elegance, the Christmas market in Vienna — located in front of Schonbrunn palace — reflects the opulent richness for which the city is famous. And if the market stalls aren’t enough, Vienna itself is a shopper’s paradise. Street upon street of boutiques and shops line the city, offering luxury goods. One shop that caught my eye offered a men’s jacket, subtly lined with fox fur, in typical Viennese fashion, for nearly $1,440.

Luxembourg, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
Where Vienna is Grand, Luxembourg exudes a quaint charm, and its market is no different. Set in the heart of the Grand Duchy’s main square, the market is remarkable not for its stalls or wares, but for the feeling of camaraderie, almost like a neighborhood tavern or eatery where, perhaps, someone may just know your name. This is remarkable considering many who frequent the square work for the European Union or transit through. Nevertheless, for charm and a unique small town feel, make sure clients include a visit to Luxembourg.

Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace plays host to a popular Christmas Market. (c) PRIDE Travel / S. Nathan DePetris

The Details
Austrian Tourist Office
Germany National Tourist Board
Luxembourg National Tourist Office

While different Christmas markets have slightly different opening days, most of them close on Christmas Eve. This means that, in most instances, clients traveling the week of Christmas may miss some or most of the markets. Often, this can be remedied by adding extra nights in starting cities such as Nuremberg, allowing for leisurely strolls through the markets to make up for any lost opportunities during a late-season cruise or tour.

Travel Insider
Marc Kassouf is owner and CEO of Pride Travel, which specializes in catering to the needs of gay and lesbian clientele. Kassouf holds numerous industry certifications, most notably as Master Cruise Counselor by Cruise Lines International Association, the Travel Institute and various destination visitors’ bureaus including Europe, Asia, and the Americas. He sits on two board committees of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association. Kassouf has traveled to nearly four dozen countries and sailed on more than 60 cruises.

First published: TravelAge West magazine, June 22, 2011