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Advice Europe Insider Tips

5 European Christmas Markets to Visit for Maximum Holiday Cheer

One of my favorite travel experiences is finding those traditional wooden huts that seemingly pop up out of nowhere in December and fill a city with holiday cheer.  Starting and ending my days at the Christmas markets promises the ultimate holiday cheer. The Christmas lights come on, music fills the air, and the smell of delicious treats lead you through the market. Despite cold temperatures, the Gemütlichkeit will keep you warm when visiting these 5 European Christmas markets.

Nuremberg, Germany 

For more than 700 years, Nuremberg has been the destination for Christmas markets.  It is the first market I visited and it’s first on my list for both of these reasons.  There’s a reason why famous places are, in fact, famous. Steeped in tradition, the Nuremberg Christmas market is opened by the Christkind, a local woman who is elected to serve the community for two years.  In addition to local specialties (my favorite is the Nuremberg sausage) and gifts, Nuremberg offers a unique opportunity to experience Christmas around the world through a smaller sister cities market with international offerings.  To warm up, you can take a class to learn how to make your own gingerbread.  

Bonus: If you can’t make it to Nuremberg this year, there are numerous sister city Christmas markets held all over the world.  

Salzburg, Austria 

Salzburg feels postcard perfect at any time of the year, but it really shines at Christmas time.  With Christmas markets on both sides of the Salzach River and flanking the castles and palaces, every Salzburg site will be dressed in holiday cheer.  From schnapps to handblown ornaments, from aromatic bath salts to soaps, from spices to flavored vinegars, you’re sure to find something for everyone on your Christmas list in Salzburg.  Whether you are standing in Residenzplatz or standing on the edge of Hohensalzburg Fortress, you can hear music celebrating the season from every corner of Salzburg.         

Bonus: Head to the chapel where Silent Night was first performed for a special performance on Christmas Eve.  

Prague, Czech Republic

With a towering Christmas tree, continuous musical performances, and the perfect medieval backdrop, it feels like Old Town Square was made to host the world’s Christmas party.  With stalls providing kielbasa, various types of potatoes, fresh trdelnik, and Pilsner to wash it down, the Prague Christmas market is my favorite meal in Prague. The Prague Christmas market is the perfect place to pick up more Christmas décor.  Smaller but equally magical Christmas markets can be found below the Charles Bridge in Mala Strana and at Prague Castle, for the ultimate fairytale experience.  

Bonus: Escape the crowds and see the Christmas market from above by taking the elevator to the top of the Astronomical Tower at Old City Hall.  

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Whether you make it to Rothenburg ob der Tauber for the Christmas markets or not, between Käthe Wohlfahrt and the Christmas museum, this medieval village can feel like Christmas all year round.  The entire town seems to celebrate the advent season with daily concerts, presentations by local bakers and chocolate makers, and various tours through the city and its landmarks.  Day trippers fill the cobblestoned streets throughout the day, so I recommended booking at least a night or two in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.  You’ll have the locals and the Christmas markets all to yourselves in the evenings.  

Bonus: Take advantage of the area’s wine tasting and send a few bottles home.  You can find beautiful wine glasses at the Christmas market to finish off the perfect Christmas gift.     

Montepulciano, Italy

We didn’t expect to find a Christmas market in Tuscany, but a late lunch reservation forced us to wander the hilly streets of Montepulciano.  As we emerged onto the Piazza Grande, Feliz Navidad blasted through the air.  Hosting a nativity scene, Santa’s workshop, and an ice rink, Montepulciano’s Christmas village is perfect for and everyone. A stroll up to the fortress reveals a Christmas food fair with plenty of vendors, tables, and places to play.  With local meats, cheeses, and plenty of handmade gifts, the Montepulciano Christmas market is a delicious stop on any Italian itinerary.      

Bonus: This market stays open until the Epiphany on January 6, so you can start in the north and make your way south for more holiday cheer after Christmas.


Feeling festive? You can also check out our favorite holiday posts here!

 

Journal

Christmas From The Window Seat

It had been twenty five hours since she last slept. Two days since she last showered. Her change of clothes were somewhere in transit. (She was praying that they make their way home – even with this unexpected, extended slumber party at Gate 32E.) “It’s Christmas. It’s Christmas and I’m here. In the middle of nowhere… on a layover,” she thought to herself.

No sign of holly jolly Santa Clause. Not an inkling of holiday cheer. No stockings by the chimney. Just a peppermint mocha keeping her eyes from shutting before departure and the repetitive melody of “White Christmas” echoing through the halls. No family, friends. No present exchange or lighting the tree.

“Worst Christmas ever,” she grumbled.

By the time she sat herself in the stiff, cold window seat she could barely wait to close her eyes. As she situated her little belongings, she glanced around the plane. A mother and child ushered their way closer to her seat. “Great,” she thought. “How do I always get seated next to the most annoying children on flights?” Like clockwork, the toddler plopped next to her. She shuffled closer to the walls of the plane.

She was an absolute professional on a plane. She knew the exact seat to book to ensure the most comfortable naps and could fight jet lag better than anyone possibly should be able to. (Sadly, even the most skilled traveler can get trapped on a layover from you know where!)

Needless to say, it was game time. Finally. A place to rest her head. Hopefully by the time she awoke, she’d be home. Finally home for the holidays! “Then Christmas can really begin,” she thought.

“I’m so sorry,” whispered the mother with a sincere tone. “I hate doing this to people. But would you mind switching seats with us?”

“Is this lady serious?” 

Noticing her less than positive response to her question, the mother lovingly petted her daughter’s head.

“No. I mean… Sure. Sorry. I’m so tired, I can barely think straight,” she grumbled. It was true, the lack of sleep was really getting to her. She started fumbling around with her stuff, groaning internally with this added annoyance. “Am I ever going to catch a break?” 

By the time she switched seats, the child had already whipped open a bag of cookies and was comfortably sprawled out in her former seat underneath a blanket. And before she knew it, takeoff had begun. She uncomfortably positioned herself in her new aisle seat. She hated aisle seats. This was royally throwing off her routine sleep plan. Meanwhile, the child’s face couldn’t be closer to the window itself – blocking her view of the night skyline below. As the plane hit altitude, she had dashed aside any and all dreams of sleeping.

“I’ve never seen anyone so excited to have a window seat before,” she chuckled.

“She’s beside herself,” the mother laughed. After a pause, she added. “I’m sorry to ask you leave your seat. We’ve been stranded at the airport for over 24 hours. It’s been tough.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” she lied. “I’ve been here all day too.”

She paused.

“She’s looking for Santa,” the mother stated.

After another pause, she laughed. “Wait, really?”

“Yeah,” the mother nodded confidently. “I told her she’s a thousand times more likely to see Santa tonight in the air than on the ground like we normally are.”

She appreciated the mother’s creativity.

“She’s at the age where I always wish I could have stayed,” she whispered. “You know… filled with wonder. So curious. So wholeheartedly believing in the fantasies we all gave up a long time ago. She’s so wonderstruck, she believes in all of it. It’s amazing to see. I wish I could escape back to that time.”

She nodded in agreement, glancing through the open cracks of the window. Her daughters’ fingers spread across the glass, eyes glancing towards the blues of the evening sky. She looked so hopeful, eyes glimmering from the city below’s afterglow.

“I’m still filled with wonder. I’m still curious,” she admitted to herself.

“Thank you, again, for giving up your seat.”

“Of course.”

“I hope you both have a merry Christmas… or at least something a little more cozy than this airplane!”

She laughed. And in that moment, she glanced back at the daughter, still magnetized by the sky above.

It was in this sight that she felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. She felt a kinship to the wonder across the face of the young girl. She understood her curiosity. For it wasn’t that long ago that she also felt wonderstruck and filled with awe and fascination. Her travels had shown her that astonishment was not something left for children. Her explorations showed her a world filled with mysterious and ancient tales and sights beyond her wildest belief.

Wonder is not something just for a child’s Christmas. No. Wonder is everyday. And what a precious and beautiful thing it was that she was able to know this.

Journal

Christmas Traditions From Around The World

It’s Christmas Eve! And we’re feeling festive. Today, we’re taking you on a trip around the globe to see some of the unexpected, quirky and cozy Christians traditions from around the world!

Iceland: “The Christmas Book Flood”

Fun fact! Iceland publishes more book per capita than any other country on the world. That being said, it’s no surprise that books play a huge role in Icelandic holiday traditions. Jolabokaflod, which translates to “The Christmas Book Flood,” is celebrated on Christmas Eve, when family members will exchange books and spend the rest of the night reading and eating chocolate. So cozy!

Sweden: St. Lucia’s Day

Christmas traditions begin on December 13th in Sweden. St. Lucia’s Day, the first day of celebrations, honors the patron saint of light. Traditionally on this day, the eldest daughter of a family wakes before sunrise and dresses as “The Queen Of Light” in a long white dress and a crown of leaves. She then will go room to room to serve coffee and treats to each person in the home. An act of service and love.

Japan: Kentucky Fried Christmas Dinner

Most Japanese people will tell you, Christmas is not a widely celebrated holiday. The streets of Japan may be decked with lights and Santa Clauses, but most families do a small gift exchange and do not acknowledge the Christian beliefs tied with the holiday. However, in recent years, a new Christmas tradition has begun! On Christmas Day, people of Japan will feast on none other than Kentucky Fried Chicken! Yep, you read that right. Healthy? Not so much. Quirky? Absolutely.

Philippines: “The Giant Lantern Festival”

Ligligan Parul Sampernandu, or “The Giant Lantern Festival,” is celebrated amongst Philippinos on Christmas Eve in San Fernando. The festival brings families and friends from all over the country to take part in elaborate lantern creation competitions. The lanterns are lit by candle and sparkle throughout the city – illuminating the area and bringing joy and fun to the city.

Colombia: The Day Of Little Candles

Día de las Velitas, or Little Candles’ Day is the start of the Christmas season for Colombians. To honor the Virgin Mary, Colombians adorn their windows, yards and homes with candles and lanterns. But in recent years, the tradition of lighting candles as really exploded. Now, neighborhoods throughout Colombia create incredibly elaborate displays with their candles and lanterns. Some even compete with other neighboring cities to see who can create the most magnificant display! Nothing brings neighbors together like a health competition!

Hawaii: Decorating Palm Trees

Christmas in Hawaii is anything but snowy and cold. But that doesn’t stop the Hawaiians from celebrating the holiday their own way! Although some locals buy imported pine trees from the mainland, others choose to decorate the palm trees surrounding their homes and host a family luau with roast pig and colorful Christmas leis.

Ethiopia: Ganna 

Did you know that Ethiopia technically celebrates Christmas on January 7th? On this day, Ethiopians wear white, attend church and look forward to a game of hockey later in the day. Quite like Japan, Christmas is not a widely celebrated holiday in Ethiopia. In fact, most Ethiopians actually call Christmas Day Ganna or Genna after the hockey game they play annually on Christmas afternoon!

Germany: Advent Wreaths 

Germany is the home of many Christmas Markets, so there’s no doubt that the country really loves its traditions when it comes to the holiday! However, most people don’t know that four Sundays before Christmas, Germans like to make advent wreaths of pine branches with four colored candles atop. Each Sunday following, they’ll light one candle, sing Christmas carols and eat delicious cookies.

Syria: Gifts From The Wise Men

In Syria, children receive gifts from an unexpected source! According to folklore, the youngest and smallest wise men’s camel fell, exhausted from its long and tiring journey to Bethlehem. This character in the Nativity story is said to push himself, despite his struggles, to make it to see baby Jesus. Today, Syrian children receive gifts one of the camel to honor his loyalty and receive blessings from him.

Poland: Wigilia

In Poland, Christmas feasts begin with a “Wigilia” dinner on the eve of Yuletide. At this feast, honored guests invited for the meal begin by sharing a piece of Oplatek, a wafter stamped with holy symbols, and then carry on to a delicious meal of fried carp, fish soup, dumplings, cabbage rolls and more. Bringing guest into their homes, hosts love to share tidings of good joy with those they love most!

Denmark: Nisse

The Danish love some good mischief for the holidays! Nisse, an elf, is said to play pranks and practical jokes throughout Christmas. All in good fun, this character is said to live on a farm and wear grey wool clothing. Children of Denmark like to leave a bowl of rice pudding outside on their doorstep so Nisse doesn’t give them much trouble!


Wising you the happiest of holidays, Dame Travelers!

Advice

How To Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas When You’re Halfway Across The World

They say there’s no place like home for the holidays. But what’s a girl to do when it’s Christmas time and you’re halfway across the world and very, very far from home? Whether you’ve intentionally decided to not return home or if you’ve stranded in a layover from you-know-where, we’ve got your back. Here are some simple what’s to get in the holiday spirit when you’re halfway across the globe.

Bring The Holiday Traditions To You

Christmas music, light a candle, bake something, dress cozy… do whatever you typically do around the holidays at home. That’s right. No matter where you are, take some time off of your travel itinerary to enjoy taking part in holiday traditions. Whether it’s a stop at the local bakery for warm cookies and milk or spending a moment or two before bed to watch a holiday classic… enjoy the little things that add up to holiday cheer.

Nest

If you’re a digital nomad with a temporary home base, spend your Christmas making your digs into something cozy. Buy some twinkle lights to decorate your room or some garlands to hang by a window.

Atmosphere has a lot to do with getting in the right mood. And you’ll be surprised how quickly a tiny space can become a cozy little den of holiday cheer with some thoughtful additions.

You may not be home for the holidays, but it’s not too hard to create your own little haven.

Add A Twist To Your Traditions

Find yourself in the tropics around Christmas? First, know that you’re going to have to embrace a different outlook on your holiday traditions. When you’re outside of your elements, it can be tricky to embrace your holiday cheer. So, it’s time to create your own!

If you typically trade gifts with relatives who are far away, why not volunteer to serve a hot meal for the homeless? Maybe you normally have Christmas ham, but why not find something delicious and savory in your location? Embrace the unusual circumstances you’re in and have fun with it. Make your own little unique traditions and save them especially for the holidays.

FaceTime, Phone Calls & Christmas Cards

And the most obvious of ways to have yourself a merry little Christmas when you’re halfway across the world… connect with others! Take an hour or two to call and leave voicemails to your closest friends and family expressing your love for them. Send postcards to your loved ones. Schedule a FaceTime call with your siblings around the time you typically sit down to eat a meal. Take the initiative and connect – it’s what the holidays are all about after all!


No matter where you are this holiday season, Dame Travelers, we’re sending you love and lots of holiday cheer!

Travel Planning

11 Of The Most Magical Places To Experience Christmas Around The World

It’s getting to be that time of year. You know, that time in the season when we’re fully embracing the holiday spirit. The smell of pine and the warmth of a cozy fireplace sound like heaven. We’re starting to get out our decorations and choosing wrappings and bows for our presents to our loved ones. Yep – it’s Christmas time alright! Today, we’re getting in the holiday spirit and sharing a round up of some of the most magical places to experience Christmas around the world.

Nuremberg, Germany

Germany is well-loved for its famous Christmas Market – and Nuremberg is the king of them all! Visit the stalls right in the middle of the city to collect one of a kind gifts for your dearest loved ones. Gingerbread houses, quaint, snow laden cottages and aged churches ringing holiday tunes. Nuremberg has been titled “Germany’s Christmas City” for a reason… time to see why for yourself!

 

Lapland, Finland

Is there a snowier, more magical location in the world to experience Christmas morning? We think not! Imagine seeing the sky enveloped in the northern lights as Santa’s sleigh dashes across the sky. It’s what dreams are made of… and what adult vacations are made for.

 

Zurich, Switzerland

Around Christmas time, Zurich adopts a warm glow, the smell of cinnamon and the ringing tones of carols around the corners of every avenue. Zurich’s Lichterschwimmen candle-floating event is not to be missed… but neither is its adorably picturesque town squares covered in snow!

Vatican City, Rome

Attending Christmas Mass in the Vatican City is quite a bucket list item, if we do say so ourselves! Candlelit vigils, magical songs and families from around the world celebrating the reason for the season. Need we say more?

 

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo might not be the first city on every Christmas holiday vacation list… but we truly believe it should be! The city is covered with incredible light displays, stores are stocked with quirky, cool gifts and well-lit trees tower over the modern city scape.

Reykjavík, Iceland

Another dream destination for anyone wishing to see the Northern Lights over the holidays! But we are even bigger fans of Reykjavík’s tradition of reading books the night of Christmas Eve. Talk about cozy! Iceland may be the land of fire and ice, but we’d love to rest our heads here for a seriously charming and frigid Christmas.

 

Vienna, Austria

Austria is incredibly sweet, almost like a Christmas village come to life. See it around the holidays and you’ll see Vienna in its prime. Visit its Christmas Markets, drink mulled wine, visit a chestnut stand, and just try to stop yourself from snapping all the photos your phone can handle!

New York City

Bright lights, big city! Experiencing Christmas in NYC is unlike any other holiday. The grand scale of the store front decorations, enormous tree lighting, holiday music playing on the subway stations, snow falling over the fluorescent lights of Times Square or the quiet corners of Central Park. We believe New York City is in its prime around Christmas time.

 

Bethlehem, Jerusalem

To experience the real meaning of Christmas, a visit to Bethlehem would be the ultimate experience! A pilgrimage to Jesus’ birth place around the holidays is filled with so much energy. Visit Manger Square, attend a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and light a forest of Christmas trees in the Old City.

Copenhagen, Denmark

The capital of coziness (hygge!) is a great place to rest your head over the holidays. Christmas around the world can wait. Nestle into a buzzing coffeeshop wearing your warmest knits and read a book!

 

Orlando, Florida

Disney knows how to bring the magic. Add Christmas traditions and any one would get in touch with their own sense of childlike wonder. Seeing the Magic Castle illuminated by crystallized lights and fireworks is quite a sight!


Hope you are getting into the holiday spirit, Dame Travelers! Wouldn’t it be magical to experience Christmas around the world every single year? A girl can dream, right?

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