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Visiting German and Austrian Christmas Markets as a Family
Earlier this year, our young son proclaimed to my husband and me that he knew we were Santa Claus. Gone for good were the days of writing letters to Santa, phone calls to Santa if he was behaving badly, discretely hiding presents in various closets, and laying out cookies and milk on the 'Big Night'.
While a part of me was crushed that he had lost a bit of innocence, I felt compelled to introduce more simple Christmas traditions – ones that would negate the need for far too many presents and instead evoke relaxed family memories. The idea was visit the Christmas Markets of Munich, Salzburg and Vienna and even though it had been more than 35 years since I had been to these markets, for me, they were the same as I had remembered.
Our choice was a good one as our son absolutely loved them! We went ice skating, sampled various sweets and hot beverages, inspected many handmade and unusual items, attended some concerts and even saw Santa, who arrived on Christmas Eve in Munich to deliver some presents to the younger children.
I highly recommend what may be our new family tradition, but if you plan to go, here are some travel tips:
- When to Go: Christmas Markets run from late November through Christmas Eve in Germany and through New Year's Eve in Austria. We opted to start in Munich and after Christmas Day, travel to Salzburg and Vienna so that we could get our fill. Make sure to note the schedules as each city center holds a free concert daily and/or free children's activities.
- What to See: Each market has a distinct theme. For example, one may have a culinary theme with others will specialize in nativity scenes, medieval "toys" (think swords, chain mail armor), handmade soaps or candles. With Munich having no less than 19 different markets, you may want to get a map if you plan to hone in on certain goodies.
- What to Eat: Make time to sample some Gluhwein (very aromatic, mulled red wine), Stollen, cookies and other local goodies. Note to green travelers that beverages will be served in proper mugs allowing you to walk around and sip while you shop (you'll pay a 10 Euro deposit and get it back when you return the mug).
- Take Time out for History: Many markets are centered on historical sites, palaces or museums making it an easy diversion if you want to take a break from shopping. For example, one market was located on the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.
- Take Time out to Explore: Of course, while the markets were the main attraction, it wasn't our only opportunity to explore. While in Munich, we also visited other attractions within the state of Bavaria by train. With the 'Bavaria Card', a family of 5 can travel anywhere within the state by (Meridian) train and bus within a 24 hour period for as little as 44 Euros making family day trips extremely affordable and easy. We visited the famed Neuschwanstein Castle just outside Fussen, which was a big treat!
Check out our eco-certified vacations in Europe including hiking, cycling and rafting adventures.