Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.
– Norman Vincent Peale
Since work has lulled to a dull roar, it was high time to catch up on muchly-enjoyed globe trotting and what better time to talk about Christmas in Germany (& Austria & Slovakia) then July – the halfway point of the year to one of my favorite holidays. Bear with me because this will be a three-part blog post on the wonder and awe that is the Western European Christmas Market. While perhaps best known as a German tradition, I will note that Austria brings a fair game to the table in this right (among others). It really is the most wonderful time of every year and one of the best ways to really get into the season’s spirit is a quick trip to Western Europe. Glug some gluh wein, check out some amazing market stalls, feast on brats and amazing street food only to close the day with the mesmerizing smell of cinnamon, wine and pine to ease you off into blissful slumber.
How we got there:
Flights from all over Europe are usually quite reasonable, even during this peak event season. Word to the wise, book well in advance to take advantage of lower fares. While it may be tempting to do a short jaunt during the week, I’d caution against this in early December as some Christmas markets are not yet in full-swing and – while still delightful – are much better later in the season or on a weekend. Ryanair often offers a number of routes throughout the region and other carriers, likewise, offer great deals as well. Word to the wise for the thrifty traveler on a budget airline, pack a duffle in your carry on and then pack any breakables accordingly on the way back. It saves you the checked baggage fee on at least one leg of the journey. Munich is a incredibly connected city and you can reach almost any destination using the S-Bahn at the airport. So skip the taxi and take the local transport.
Where we stayed:
H’Otello B01 | Baaderstraße 1, Ludwigsvorstadt, 80469 Munich, Germany
And back to booking.com This is a lovely, modern little hotel just off the Isartor stop on the S-Bahn (so about a 40 minute train ride from the airport). It’s on a quiet side street and very close to the old city, with the main Christmas market right on Marianplatz. I neglected to take photos – or perhaps I did take them, but have since deleted them. Plenty to recommend it – for those traveling in groups, they offer very comfy single rooms. There are numerous breakfast options nearby, so I would encourage you to try those rather than spend it on the hotel breakfast.
Where we ate:
Though brief, I do not have much to add beyond my suggestion in I dream of Germany but I will add one to the angst of some readers – yes, it’s another burger restaurant.
HANS IM GLÜCK – Burgergrill | Isartorpl. 8, 80331 München, Germany
I’m a sucker for a good hamburger, what can I say. But this chain -it’s something else. They do nothing but burgers in an extremely cool setting (a forest restaurant – see photos below). Amazingly fresh ingredients, condiments you can buy in bulk to take home with you (wherever that may be – literally, I have a friend that is ga-ga for their sweet mustard), and a lovely drink menu. The order was a PFEFFERSACK burger and the FEURIGER burger. Be warned – do not order multiple portions of fries – they are MASSIVE.
The Christmas Market Break Down
For the hard core enthusiasts, the official list and webpage for all Munich Christmas Markets is amazing. You can plan your entire trip based on the info they provide, so I’ll limit myself to snippets of my favorite haunts – and here is a handy map which includes all the sites below among some others I intend to try someday. I tend to map my journey out by market furthest from the hotel and go from there. A note that some (myself included), love to keep the gluh wein mugs so I can remember each market at a later time. They also work marvelously when you wish to host a German themed Christmas happy hour and need extra receptacles for the gluh wein.
Weihnachtsmarkt am Chinesischen Turm | Chinesischer Turm, Englischen Garten
An easy jaunt from the historic center, this is a lovely Christmas market. The park itself is a short ways from the S-Bahn stop, but it’s well worth the walk. For those with children, they offer a small Santa’s workshop with Mr. and Mrs. Klaus where kiddos can participate in arts and crafts. Lovely trinkets are available at this one – the best finds here are the traditional Christmas Pyramids, stunning candle holders and extremely tasty brats. Most vendors do not appreciate you photographing their stalls, so please be mindful and respectful – this holds true at all the markets. If you go in the evening on weekends, there is often a live brass band playing Christmas carols within the Chinese tower itself. It makes for quite a magical atmosphere. (thanks to my stellar in-laws for the photos below – yes, we “dragged” them along this adventure.)
Mittelaltermarkt |Wittelsbacher Platz (near Odeonsplatz), Briennerstr. 6-10
This is a Middle Ages themed market, conveniently on the S-Bahn route back towards city center. (Don’t worry, use that map from the beginning to plot your course). It’s fairly small and contained within one courtyard within the city, but has some exceptional gluh wein (with even better goblets). I highly recommend buying fur products here (gloves, slippers, etc.) as well as candied nuts and roasted coconut chips. A big thank you to my brother-in-law Todd, who let me snap this – where else can you walk around in public with a drink that is, literally, on fire (okay well the sugar cube is)? That is the question and the Mittelaltermarkt will treat you right.
The Kaiserhof Christmas Village | Munich Residence, entrance Residenzstrasse, Odeonsplatz
So at this point, why not just amble away from the Middle Ages market (your pockets undoubtedly stuffed with coconut chips and warm candied nuts), feeling pleasantly cozy from all the mulled wine and walk a short ways to the Kaiserhof for another incredible market. Again, this one is not huge – it’s all contained within a very historic courtyard – but it is breathtaking. With no real method to the madness, I often find myself buying honey, gingerbread and cookies at this market. Be sure to take in the Christmas displays (as well as the giant christmas pyramid – which makes a for a fabulous back drop) before you float away from all the merriment.
Christkindlmarkt |Marienplatz 1, 80331 München, Germany
At this point in the day or night – you’re usually tired. Your feet are cold. You might be hungry and a bratwurst is not yet in sight. At this point, I direct you to the jewel in the crown – the Christkindlmarkt in the old town, just below the glockenspiel. Here be sure to look for pewter ornaments (which are expensive, but quite honestly worth it and it can be hit or miss seeing them in other markets – buy them now). There is also an incredible vintage stall which has all the traditional Christmas crafts in all their vintage-y wonder. Last year, I bought a phenomenal little sculpture of a deer from East Germany. Prices are higher but – quite honestly – you will not find this kind of quality elsewhere.
And on that note, my friends, I leave you. Stay tuned for part two…. when we embark for one of my favorite cities in the world…. Salzburg.