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Are Christmas Markets Worth It, Or Are They A Gigantic Tourist Trap?

Visiting the German-style Christmas markets all over Europe had been on my and Caleb’s bucket list for over a decade, so when we finally did a 2 month Christmas trip across 10+ countries, we were so excited. However, it wasn’t entirely what we had thought it was going to be.

The truth is that the answer to whether the Christmas markets are worth visiting or not really depends on what you’re looking for and where you go.

Let’s jump into our guide so you know *exactly* what you can expect, starting with a video of 7 markets we made so you can get the vibe!

YouTube video

Reasons To Visit The Chrismas Markets in Europe

1. The Atmosphere Can Be So Magical

Chances are that you’ve seen photos on Instagram of Christmas markets, and you know that they are full of twinkling lights, half-timbered little chalets, Godzilla-sized Christmas trees, and red and green decorated everythingggg.

Christmas markets in Europe really understand the assignment when it comes to all things festive. We found some of the smaller, off-the-beaten-path markets we visited to be INCREDIBLY magical. There is truly nothing like them in terms of “Christmas cheer,” especially in the USA.

Some were NOT this case, though…more on that shortly. *DUH DUH DUH.*

2. Two Words: Mulled Wine

This boozy, spiced, and sweet alcohol is literally everywhere at the markets, and Europe basically smells like mulled wine during November and December. ←Exaggeration, but you get it. At one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Bratislava we got to taste cherry mulled wine, blueberry mulled wine, traditional, white, honey, and so many different flavors. 

It’s also socially acceptable to drink mulled wine at 10 am (❤️❤️❤️) during the Christmas season AND drink it out of a shoe. Caleb and I came home with 20 different shoe mugs after 2 months, so make sure you leave space in your bag. They’re SO stinking cute, and you’ll want to collect them.

3. Some Of The Food Is Epic

I MEAN, LOOK AT THAT PHOTO OF ME WITH A POTATO PANCAKE THE SIZE OF MY HEAD. Sorry for the caps, but they are needed. We really can’t write an article answering the question “are German Christmas markets worth it?” without talking about the EATS.

The European Chrismas Markets are not the time to be on a diet. We pretty much existed on cookies, sausage, waffles with Biscoff, crepes, and cheese and were not mad about it. If you like “fair-style” food here in the USA, your taste buds will fall off your head when you see the Christmas market foods!

The food quality leaves something to be desired, but we’ll share our thoughts on that in a second.

4. Unique Souvenirs/Crafts/Gifts

Visiting the markets was really special to me because it’s been my Grandma’s dream to visit them forever (and she never could), so I was able to find some really beautiful, unique, and hand-crafted Christmas tree ornaments to bring her back instead.

And that is the beauty for you, too. In the smaller towns, you will see many chalets where locals sell their handicrafts, and you can get some unique gifts or things to bring home. I particularly loved some of the hand-carved wood ornaments and some wreaths made of a blend of pine needles and pine cones.

5. They Can Be Romantic and Beautiful

I mean, what could be more romantic than strolling hand-in-gloved-hand through twinkly lights, swiping mulled wine, sharing cookies for dinner without shame, and listening to hark the herald angels sing? I know it sounds super cheese, but that’s the plot of every Christmas romantic movie for a reason…. IT’S ROMANTIC.

Some of the markets are also really, really beautiful, like the Christmas markets in Prague. You’ve got dark wooden chalets wrapped with dark green wreaths, sparkly ornaments, and fairy lights everywhere, surrounded by Europe’s gorgeous old towns.

When the markets are in front of some beautiful European churches, like we saw at St Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, or buildings like the market in Wroclaw in front of the Museum of Bourgeois Art, it’s so beautiful you might weep.

Maybe that’s just us, though.

6. You Get A Taste Of Other Cultures

Literally, because many of the different Christmas markets in various countries have their own unique foods to try. But we felt like we got to experience the whole community and vibe of a city in a way that we never had by traveling during the “normal” times.

We loved seeing all the various Christmas traditions for each country at each market, like Krampusnacht in Austria and the Christkind in place of Santa Claus in Germany. 

7. You Can Get Some Great Photos

Honestly, if you guys want to win the completely fictional “cutest couples Christmas card” awards or make basically everyone on your Instagram feed jealous, you’re going to do that in spades at the Christmas markets. This is especially true at the markets in Strasbourg!

Case in point: some of the photos in this post. With twinkling lights, adorable show mugs, candy canes, reindeer, wooden chalets, and all the other “Christmas-ness” around, you’ve got a lot of options for great photos.

TAYLOR’S TIP:

DO NOT expect to get cute photos in the evenings. Besides the whole “it’s dark” situation, the markets get SO BUSY that you will be taking “romantic” photos with a bunch of randos in them. Not ideal. We found going right when the market opened in the morning to be the best photo time.

A festive wooden Christmas market booth festooned with twinkling garland lights, with people queueing up to place their orders, against the backdrop of a grand illuminated building.

8. Many Are Catered to Adults

While Christmas markets in Europe usually have a “kiddie area” and lots of things for kids to do, we’ve found that they are *mostly* there for adults to have a good time. It’s nice to be able to do something festive as a couple without kiddos running around, which adds to the romance of the markets. We’ve noticed that, during the Christmas season, the bars are less busy because everyone is just chilling (literally) at the market, hanging out over mug(s) of mulled wine!

TAYLOR’S TIP:

“Have a good time” does NOT mean “get drunk.” While there are PLENTY of delicious boozy bevvies to choose from, you don’t see people getting sloshed. Please don’t be a lame tourist couple and give us all a bad name okay?

Reasons Not To Visit The Chrismas Markets in Europe

Patrons gathered around a wooden stall at a Christmas market, enjoying drinks and conversation under a roof adorned with festive greenery and lights.

1. The Crowds Can Be Overwhelming

While some of the smaller markets are magical, romantic, and beautiful, we have to keep it real with you: the big, more “famous” markets, honestly….kinda sucked.

It was not what either of us were expecting because it’s wall-to-wall people. You can’t walk around, you’ll probably get separated from each other, and maybe even lose cell service because everyone is pinging the cell towers like we did. You may just want to get out of these as fast as you can.

I have to say, I was really let down by the big, famous markets, and I never want to go back to them. Caleb and I were cranky and needed to whip out our couple’s survival tips a few times. If you want the best atmosphere, look for small towns with small local markets, go during the day, and try to avoid weekends.

A close-up of a woman in a beige beanie sipping a hot drink from a festive cup, with the Christmas market lights softly blurred in the background.

2. It’s Cold

I know you’re like, ‘Thank you, Captain Obvious, it’s winter,” and you’re right. But you don’t realize just *how cold* it gets when you’re standing outside for hours at the Christmas markets. Sometimes it’s also rainy too! We were lucky that we researched how to pack for Christmas markets beforehand, so we avoided being too miserable!

But that also gives you more reason to drink mulled wine, so perhaps this is a pro? I’ll let you decide.

A unique wooden Christmas pyramid decoration towering over a market, with intricate details and warm lighting, set against a cloudy sky with market activity below.

3. Some Of Them Are Huge Tourist Traps

As we had never done any Christmas markets in Europe before, we started with ALL the big, famous markets, and we thought 99% of them felt like Christmas-themed theme parks that were tacky, busy, and total tourist traps. We’re talking about the ones in places like Nuremberg, Paris, Dresden, Budapest, Vienna etc.

If you want a feeling of authenticity, go to small towns, especially in Germany. We loved small places like Tubingen, Heidelberg, and Esslingen. 

Additionally, while some stalls had gorgeous, hand-crafted items, many of them had the opposite. We visited over 10 countries for the Christmas markets, and I saw SO many of the exact same things for sale. A lot of the wares are mass-produced, low quality, and expensive.

Cheerful market stall offering raclette and croissants, with a clear view of the melting cheese and bottles of wine

4. They’re EXPENSIVE

Okay, this shocked us. When we left for our 2 month Christmas market extravaganza we were so pumped because we thought it would be our cheapest European vacation ever! I mean, mulled wine must be like $2, and a sausage like $3, right?

WRONG. Most places had mulled wine for $7+ (for less than a one-cup serving), and a lot of the food was $10+. We were especially surprised by the price at the markets in Budapest, which our research told us was the “cheapest.” Lies, we say.

There are outliers here, like some of the markets in Poland where we had mulled wine for $3, but everything is way more expensive than we thought because the markets are SO touristy now.

A tray of duck legs at a christmas market in Budapest

5. Food Quality Is Not Great

On that note, the food is expensive, honestly? Not great quality. Yes, it’s absolutely fun to eat some of the over-indulgent food there, and we made sure to try literally EVERY POSSIBLE thing so we could report back to you about what is worth the calories.

This means we also got Christmas market food-ed out quickly. We existed almost entirely on market food for 2 months, and we don’t recommend it. If you’re going to Europe for the food like we do, make sure you plan to go to some actual restaurants or cook at your accommodation so you eat some real, quality food, too. That’s one of our top Christmas market tips!

a tacky Chrismas market in colmar with gaudy christmas decorations

6. Many Are Commercialized

While you find the true, authentic Christmas spirit in some markets, a lot of them just feel like an excuse to make money off the holiday season. The emphasis is on making a sale instead of celebrating Jesus’ birth.

So, pick your markets wisely. Just because it’s one of the biggest or most famous does not mean it’s the best. We learned the hard way.

Well, now you know our honest answer to the question, “Are Christmas Markets worth it?” It really depends on where you go and what you’re looking for. If you want a magical Christmas experience and go to small, lesser-known towns, then YES, the markets are absolutely worth it. We’re going to go back to these styles of markets this year because we loved them so much!

However, if you go to huge markets looking for authentic holiday vibes, the chances are high that you will be disappointed like we were.

Now that you know if they’re worth it or not, the next step is to determine the best time to go to them! We can help with our ultimate guide to the best time to visit the Christmas markets!

More from our Christmas market files:

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A couple embraces while watching the sunset behind the Crystal Palace in Madrid's Retiro Park, a moment of romance and tranquility by the reflective waters.

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4 Comments

  1. Well, read your article because we plan to go ‘25. But I was disappointed you didn’t share the smaller cities. So can you tell me how to find them. I am not interested in the big touristy ones and like your grandmother have always wanted to go so some friends and I are going for our collective 70th birthdays in 25. Suggestions. We considered river cruise but that would only likely hit the touristy ones.

    1. Hi Helene! I am actually just starting a whole series on the Christmas markets! I’ll have 3-4 posts a week on them for the next month or two, so you’ll be able to get ALL your market questions answered and I’ll be sharing my favorites, do not worry!

      While I have not been on a river cruise, I would definitely think that they would hit the touristy one. I’ll have a post on our favorites, but a quick overview:
      1. Bratislava (it’s a bigger city, but we found very few people went)
      2. Heidelberg
      3. Esslingen
      3. Tubingen (only open for one weekend the entire year though, so it might be hard to plan)
      4. Copenhagen
      5. Wroclaw (busy, but not as busy as others and well priced)

      I hope that helps! Stay tuned for more posts!

  2. Thanks for responding so quickly, how do I follow your upcoming market reviews. I don’t do instagram or x or any of the notable sights. Do I just look at culturecravingcouple.com?

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