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A Beginners Guide to Christmas Markets: Practical Tips and Things to Consider

Going to Europe’s Christmas markets can be a super magical experience IF you do it the right way. There aren’t any hard and fast rules, and you *could* just show up and see what happens, but then you may not have the best experience.

In this Christmas market guide, I’ll be sharing what Caleb and I wish we had known before spending 2 months in Europe in the winter and visiting 50+ Christmas markets. Since we visited SO MANY MARKETS, we have a ton of practical Christmas market tips to share as well as some lesser-known, insider guidance on things to consider and how to be more like a local.

Practical Tips For Visiting Your First Christmas Market

Christmas market stalls with traditional handcrafted goods beneath historic Viennese architecture, frosted with snow

1. Carry cash and card. 

European Christmas markets are getting more “modern,” and many of them took credit cards. However, we still encountered a ton of market stalls that are cash only, so make sure you have cash on hand. We also saw plenty of markets taking Apple Pay, so it might be worth setting that up beforehand if you don’t have it yet.

TAYLOR’S TIP:

If you run out of cash, use the ATM fee saver app to find an ATM with the lowest transaction fee. That means more mulled wine for you!

Woman in a beanie sipping a drink in a purple cup, with Christmas lights and market activity behind her

2. Ask for a clean mug.

If you are going to buy the adorable mulled wine shoe mugs to bring home as a souvenir, don’t just take the dirty ones! Go back to the vendor and ask if you can have a clean one before leaving the market for the day!

Now, you don’t have to risk getting mulled wine on your clothes when you back the mugs.

a pink mug of Feuerzangenbowle at a Christmas market with a sugar cube lit on fire overnight

3. But don’t just drink the mulled wine.

While mulled wine is good, there are SO MANY other good Christmas market drinks. Our favorite is “Feuerzangenbowle,” which is essentially mulled wine on booze steroids and ON FIRE. OH YES.

Man in a beanie enjoying a hot drink, looking out from a Christmas market stall with a picturesque view of Wroclaw's architecture

4. Eat outside the Christmas markets.

This was one of the main mistakes we made! We ate almost entirely at Christmas markets for 2 months, which means we had a ton of carbs and sugar and not a lot of healthy or real food. We felt pretty crummy at the end of it.

We suggest only spending one or two days eating all the Christmas market foods and then making sure you prioritize getting some local eats at restaurants. The food will be of higher quality, so you’ll feel better.

TAYLOR’S TIP:

food at Christmas markets is also SUPER expensive in most cases, so it won’t cost much more (if at all) to eat better at restaurants sometimes.

A Christmas market stall with a vendor selling traditional Polish bread and a sign reading 'Old Polish Style Slice of Bread' in Krakow

5. Share food.

If you can, go to the markets with someone you’re cool with sharing food with. The portions are usually pretty big, and this will allow you to try more different foods!

Visitors gathered around an elaborate Christmas pyramid decoration with lit candles, set against the historic backdrop of Dresden's architecture at night

6. Go to food stalls with a line.

This Christmas market tip sounds counterintuitive because you’re hungry and don’t want to wait, but there’s a reason some stalls have a line: they’re GOOD.

If you are choosing where to eat based on the shortest line, you’re probably going to a stall that doesn’t have the best food. The lines go quickly at most stalls anyway, so get the best eats!

7. Walk the market entirely before buying anything. 

This goes for both buying food and buying gifts to bring home. We recommend walking the entire market once so you can see what wares and food are on offer. Then, you can make an educated decision about what to buy and what to eat based on seeing EVERYTHING.

TAYLOR’S TIP:

 When shopping, avoid buying things that you see at more than 1 stall. That’s a classic red flag that it’s a mass-produced item made in China.

Red and white Christmas mugs resting on a snowy table at a Vienna market, with the cheerful hustle of the market and historical buildings in soft focus behind.

8. Scope the market for the best mugs before buying.

You might not know this, but many markets have different Christmas mugs throughout them, all sold at different stalls!

Whenever we had a hankering for a glass of warm, boozy goodness, we walked around all the stalls to see which had the cutest mugs. They’re always right on display, so it’s not a hard task!

9. Know about the Pfand.

The pfand is the deposit you will pay for the mugs and sometimes other ceramic dishes like when we got a plate of noodles in Berlin.  You might think you’re getting ripped off when the price is more than what the sign is, but it’s just the deposit.

If you return the mug/dish, you’ll get that deposit back.

Two hands holding clear mugs of mulled wine with a Christmas market and traditional half-timbered houses in Colmar in the background

10. Return your mugs ANYWHERE.

If you decide to return the mug instead of keeping it, you can return it to ANY stall that sells mulled wine in that market. It does not have to be the exact one that you got it.

Shoppers explore a Christmas market booth in Colmar, topped with a nativity scene and draped in festive garlands, offering a selection of intricate ornaments.

11. Go during the afternoon or early evening.

The best time to visit the markets is during the afternoon or right around sunset. If you go in the morning, it feels a bit “ghost townish,” and nighttime feels REALLY crazy at some of the bigger markets.

Right around sunset is when things are lively and the lights are on so the markets are all pretty, but not super crazy yet.

A picturesque street in Colmar, showcasing a variety of artisanal pottery and decorative items displayed outside a traditional Alsatian shop

12. Go during the week.

If you can, avoid weekends. This is when EVERYONE goes to hang out at the markets, and it is an unenjoyable experience. This is especially true in super famous markets like Strasbourg.

13. Bring a backpack.

You are likely going to buy some things and don’t want to have to carry them around or run back to your hotel every 5 minutes. We recommend bringing a good day backpack that is comfy and can fit what you buy.

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14. Know that the local’s “Christmas market exchange rate” kinda sucks.

In some markets where Euros aren’t the common currency (we’re looking at you, Prague), the locals have some sort of secret “Christmas market exchange rate.”   If you pay in Euros, you will get totally jipped, so we recommend getting some of the local currency and paying in that.  

15. It might be less magical than you think.

This one is kind of a downer, but it is important to mention. If you follow all the Instagram influencers who only share Christmas market photos where it looks like it’s super empty, it’s a lie. I honestly don’t know how they get those photos at some of the bigger markets.

The bigger, more famous markets can be insanely busy, crowded, and expensive. So, just prepare yourself if you’re doing the usual ‘tourist route” and hitting the famous ones. They were quite disappointing for us.

An enticing display of marzipan sweets arranged in pyramid shapes with various flavors like Brownie and Pistachio, each labeled and showcased against a backdrop of colorful macarons and a Christmas tree.

16. Some of the foods are sold by Weight.

Make sure you really pay attention to signage at food stalls because a lot of the food is sold by weight, usually in 100g.  If you don’t know, you might just order something, and the vendor will give you the biggest serving, like a whole kilogram, and then you’ll be left with way too much food and a huge bill. This also means food is usually more expensive than it sounds!

an overhead view of the christmas market in Prague

17. Set a meeting point for when you get separated.

When we were in Colmar, it was SO BUSY that we got separated in the crowds, AND the cell towers went down because everyone was pinging them too much. So we couldn’t communicate, and it was really scary.

Know where you will meet in advance just in case this happens to you.

Things You Should Be Considering

two quaint christmas market booths with wooden fronts and garlands stand side by side at a market in Prague. One sells mulled wine and one sells sweets

1. Don’t just plan to go to the biggest markets.

Many people just focus on the massive German Christmas markets when planning their trip, but we found some of them to be the least magical. We strongly recommend you do some research on smaller towns that are lesser known and go there!

We shared a few in our guide to the most beautiful Christmas markets. 

Visitors browse handcrafted heart-shaped decorations at a Vienna Christmas market stall, with architecture in soft focus in the background

2. There can be many Christmas markets in each city.

While each city usually has one or two main Christmas markets, there are usually many small ones all around, so it’s worth doing some research so you don’t miss any. Usually, we found that the smaller ones are the more local ones with the best vibes and most worth visiting.

A daytime scene of the Stuttgart Christmas market showing visitors near wooden stalls, with the Old Castle's tower and a statue in the background.

3. The dates and hours.

Make sure you are visiting the markets when they are open! Only some are open at the end of November. Don’t be like us and go to a city only to find that the markets aren’t open yet like we did in Tallinn.

A smiling woman in a winter hat holds a traditional Czech trdelník pastry, with a festive Christmas market and a glowing tree in the background.

4. Make a list of must-try foods before going.

So that you know exactly what your priorities are and you can make sure you eat the things that sound best to you. Don’t want you to waste calories or miss out on WORTH IT calories!

An assortment of colorful Christmas decorations and ornaments on display at a festive market stall

5. Make sure your hotel location is near the markets.

The best way to get around the Christmas markets is by walking, so we recommend ensuring your accommodation is close enough to the biggest markets in the city to do so.

Visitors gather in front of a festive peach-colored building in Kaysersberg, with the shop 'Meyer's Artisan de la Feutrine' decked out in Christmas decorations and a sign that reads 'Marché de Noël'.

6. Book hotels in advance.

Christmas market time is SUPER popular. So, when planning your Christmas market trip, book hotels as soon as possible. We saw some places get up to $500 a night because we waited too long.

We always use this service for booking hotels because it has the best prices and best filters. Pro tip: book on the mobile app because they have special discounts!

A couple stands close, sharing a moment and a mug of glühwein under a gazebo adorned with Christmas lights, with the bustling market and its visitors in the background.

7. Your clothes.

It’s VERY important to pack the right layering system and lightweight gloves. The layering system will keep you warm, and the light gloves will allow you to have warm hands while still holding mugs of mulled wine. YES! 

A close-up of a crate filled with ornately decorated Christmas baubles in a vibrant mix of colors and patterns, showcasing the intricate artistry of holiday ornaments.

8. How you will pack to save room for souvenirs.

You’re going to buy things, so ensure to save room in your backpack or suitcase to be able to bring them home.

A couple in winter clothing observes a Christmas market in Vienna, with historical yellow buildings framing the scene under a bright blue sky.

9. Your shoes. Make sure they are waterproof.

I did not consider this before going and had to buy boots when we got there. You don’t want cold, wet feet.

These are our most recommended travel shoes.

Cobbled streets lined with traditional half-timbered houses and festive Christmas market stalls in Esslingen am Neckar, Germany.

10. Transit time between cities or countries

Don’t fill your trip with markets that you have to waste tons of time driving or on trains/planes getting around to, or that’ll take from your experience. Prioritize cities and countries that are close together.

This is the service we always use for booking rental cars across Europe. You can compare all the vendors side by side to find the best prices and the customer service is always excellent!

How to Experience Christmas Markets Like a Local

Anytime you travel, you should prioritize experiencing the city as a local. Here are some ways you can do that at the Christmas Markets:

A beautifully decorated corner in Kaysersberg with a Christmas tree and festive ornaments, set against a historical half-timbered house with murals and wreaths.

1. Utilize the city’s Christmas market website.

Check what cultural events and performances are going on and when they are happening. Time your visit with the schedule so you can attend to these things and experience the market in a deeper, more meaningful way.

A hand holding a slice of stollen, a traditional German fruit bread, dusted with powdered sugar, with a backdrop of festive lights.

2. Look for regional food.

You’ll see a lot of the same foods all over Europe. We recommend doing research on regional specialties and seeking them out.

3. Go beyond the markets.

 Take the time to explore the surrounding area and discover hidden gems off the beaten path outside the market areas.

Deserted cobblestone street in Colmar decorated with Christmas lights and white tree ornaments, leading to an intricate wrought-iron street lamp and timbered houses.

4. Learn basic local phrases.

Saying “hi” or “thanks” to the vendors in their local languages shows respect for the local culture, and it’ll go a long way when mingling with locals.

5. Share tables.

Usually, people stand around tables eating and drinking at the markets. Don’t avoid tables with people at them! We met some cool people and made some friends just by squeezing up next to them, and everyone started chatting.

We even became email pals with a cute older couple we met in Heidelberg!

Note: this is easier to do after a few mulled wines!

Now you have all our pro tips for having the best experience! Use these and we know you will love your European Christmas adventure! If you have any questions, just leave a comment and let us know!

Now that you have all the best tips, it’s time to determine which Christmas markets to visit and which to skip! We wrote an ultimate guide on the most beautiful Christmas markets to help you.

And a guide on the worst Christmas markets so you can avoid those!

Other Helpful Christmas Market Posts:

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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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