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How to Plan An Epic Christmas Market Trip to Europe: Step By Step Guide

Last year, Caleb and I went on an EPIC Christmas market adventure across Europe, where we covered more than 25 cities and 50+ Christmas markets in less than 2 months. Hitting up that much Christmas in a short time required us to do a lot of planning in advance! Honestly, I’m tired just thinking about it.

In this guide, we’re sharing literally every single thing we did to plan our Christmas market trip, including the tips that we *wish* we would have known before because our festive vacay would have been a lot smoother and enjoyable!

Let’s get into the festive deets!

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Step 1: Choose Kind Of Markets You Want To Visit

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

The first and most important step that no one told us about when we were planning our European Christmas market extravaganza (which is why we are telling you) is to choose the STYLE of Christmas markets you want to visit.

Do you want to hit all the huge, over-the-top, most famous markets that have tons of people and ALL the food, drink, and entertainment options you can imagine? Or do you want to go to small, local markets that may have fewer options but are quieter, more authentic, and romantic?

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

Do you want to make sure you are in the main European cities so that there are *other* things to do than see the markets? Or, is your main focus on Christmas market-ing it up, and you’re fine staying in small towns that don’t have a lot of other “attractions?”

TAYLOR’S CHRISTMAS MARKET TIP:

We didn’t know that not all Christmas markets are created equal, so we visited all the ones you hear about the most, which was a mistake. Many of them felt over-commercialized and were crazy busy, so we wished that we had done more research and seen more of the smaller, more authentic markets (which we will see this coming Christmas!)

If you have NEVER done any markets, we suggest you pick a couple of the most famous markets, like Nuremberg, Dresden, Prague, Vienna, or Budapest, just to visit so you can experience what they are like

A quaint Christmas market stall in Esslingen, decorated with greenery and pink ornaments, offering a variety of sweets and treats with a gothic church spire in the background

Step 2: Research Possible Markets Using Blogs AND City Websites

On that note, once you’ve picked the kinds of markets you want to visit, it’s time to get researching.

While blogs are GREAT (obviously. I AM writing one), we found that a lot of them said the same thing, and most just sang the praises of every single Christmas market in existence instead of being an honest guide about what to expect or sharing which markets to avoid. This is why ours is that honest guide because we wished we had more realistic expectations going in, to be honest.

A variety of wooden Christmas decorations and toys, including nutcrackers and snowmen, are artfully displayed at a market stall, evoking a traditional festive spirit.

So, we recommend starting your research with blogs and other articles to start narrowing down the markets where you think you could see yourselves drinking so much mulled wine that you forget how cold your face is.

THEN, search for X Christmas market (where X is the city) and find the official Christmas market website for that city (most have them) to really drill down into the offerings and events.

This will help you figure out what markets sound the most like you guys among the sea of general “BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN EUROPE” posts that you will find that all say the same thing. Just being honest.

A person stands contemplatively in front of a traditional German Christmas market, with wooden stalls selling handcrafted goods, against the backdrop of a striking half-timbered building in Esslingen

Step 3: Pick The Best Month To Visit

This one will take you less time than it takes to drink a glass of mulled wine (can you tell what’s on my brain?) because you just have to choose between November and December.

If you’ve done your research, you should already know the opening dates of the markets you want to visit and can plan accordingly.

TAYLOR’S CHRISTMAS MARKET TIP:

We find early December to be the best month. All the markets will be open, and they won’t be as crazy as right before Christmas

A festive Christmas market stall at night selling seasonal treats with the illuminated Gothic spire of the Frauenkirche in Nuremberg as a backdrop.

Step 4: Choose How Long To Stay At Each Christmas Market

Now that you know which markets you want to visit, you have to start setting your itinerary by planning how long you will stay in each city to experience the said market.

While Caleb and I usually don’t plan anything in advance because we’ve traveled enough to know how to do it on the fly, we don’t recommend this for a Christmas market holiday. So, having an idea of when you’ll be where is key.

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Our general rule of thumb is to plan about 2 days/2 and nights for BIG cities that have lots of markets (like Berlin, Dresden, Nuremberg, etc.) We stayed one day in some of these cities and felt too rushed.

If you are going to a small town, like Heidelberg or Esslingen, you really do only need one day/night.

TAYLOR’S CHRISTMAS MARKET TIP:

These day recommendations assume that the *main* reason you are going to the cities is for the markets. If you want to explore the cities beyond the market, add more days!

A miniature winter village scene complete with snow-covered houses, figures, and trees, on display at a Christmas market.

Step 5: Set a Budget

Chances are you guys are so excited about all the magical festiveness that you are going to see that you haven’t realized that traveling at Christmas is EXPENSIVE.

One of the reasons we say that the Christmas markets are not worth visiting is because they were WAY MORE expensive than we planned, so a tip for you when visiting is to factor this into creating a budget.

We found most mulled wine to be around $7-8 (cheaper in some Eastern European countries like Poland or Bratislava) and “meal” food like sausages, noodles, etc, to be anywhere from $10-$20!

Sweet snacks will probably run you $5-$10.

Hotels also get more expensive, so do your research on accommodation options in the cities you plan to visit. We always use Booking.com to save the most money.

The warm, rich colors of historic half-timbered houses in Colmar are illuminated by festive lights at night, with a bustling Christmas market adding to the lively atmosphere.

Step 6: Create Your Itinerary

Now that you know when you’re going, where you’re going, how long you’ll stay in each city, and your budget, you can start laying it out in an itinerary.

TAYLOR’S CHRISTMAS MARKET TIP:

When planning your trip, make sure you factor in any travel time you need. 2 days in Vienna is different than 2 days when you don’t get in until the evening of the first day, you know?

You’ll either be flying between countries/cities or taking the train, depending on how widespread you’re making this whole Christmas market extravaganza. We use the Trainline app to see what kind of trains might be available and how long it takes when we plan our trips.

A bustling Christmas market during daylight with shoppers walking among festively decorated wooden stalls under a soft winter sun.

Step 7: Make a List of Must Try’s/Must Do’s In Each Location

Something most people miss when creating a Christmas Market itinerary is making a list of the food, drinks, and activities in each location! If you just *hope* you remember everything in each city, you run the risk of missing stuff, and we don’t want that!

We always add some bullet points for any special food, drinks, or activities in each town and then review them before going to those markets to make sure we don’t miss out.

TAYLOR’S CHRISTMAS MARKET TIP

Write it in a note on your phone or a Google doc with the Google Docs app so you can refer to it throughout the day!

Elaborate Christmas market stall selling gingerbread cookies and confectioneries, with a 'Piernikowa Kusica Originals' sign in Krakow

Step 8: Track Flights Using Open Jaw

The whole purpose of a Christmas market trip is to see lots of Christmas markets! So, unlike other vacations you may have taken, you may start and end in different cities or even different countries.

Once you’ve nailed down your travel dates and itinerary, you can start tracking flights. Our insider tip is to use an “open jaw” flight, meaning you arrive and depart from different locations. This gives you one extra day to enjoy the markets instead of having to get back to your starting location.

They are usually almost the same price as a round trip ticket + the cost of transportation to get back to your arrival city!

We use Skyscanner or our membership for Going.com to track flights and highly recommend them.

A bustling Christmas market booth in Berlin offering traditional grilled sausages and meats, with a visible price list and festive decor.

Step 9: Book Hotels In Advance

Whew – you’re almost done planning! Now, the second to last step is just to book hotels on Booking.com!

The Christmas market season in Europe is VERY busy, and this is one time you don’t want to leave booking to the last minute. We did this in Colmar and almost had to pay $800 for one night…10/10 do not recommend it!

Once you know all the things, start booking and LOCK IT IN BABY.

A bustling Christmas market in Nuremberg with traditional decorations and a variety of gingerbread on display under a sign for 'Lebkuchen Schmidt'.

Step 10: Make a Packing List & Get Clothes 

So, hate to burst your bubble here, but you’re going to be cold in Europe at Christmas. More excuse to drink mulled wine, though, we say!

Caleb did a TON of research on what to wear in Europe, and we were very happy with our choices because we were mostly pretty warm and super happy with them.

TAYLOR’S CHRISTMAS MARKET TIP:

Invest in a good layering system, like a base layer, mid layer, and fleece, as well as a GOOD jacket and waterproof shoes. I did not bring the latter and had to buy them in Europe.

We wrote a guide to packing for the Christmas markets to help you out!

Boom – you’re done! Now you know all the steps you have to take to plan the most amazing Christmas market vacay! If you have any questions, just let us know in the comments and we’ll get right back to you!

Now that you know how to plan your trip, you need to know which markets to pick! Check out our guide on the most beautiful Christmas markets so you don’t choose the wrong ones!

Other Helpful Christmas Market Posts:

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We’ll show you how to plan an epic vacay, have amazing experiences, eat the best food and save some $$!
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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