This year it seems like my Facebook feed is full of Scrooges, and it’s really ruining my buzz, you know? I don’t know if people literally can’t embrace their Christmas spirit or it’s now the cool thing to hate on the holiday (did I miss that memo?) but I’ve decided to combat it the only way I know how: by cranking up my own holiday intensity to a 20 out of 10! That means singing Christmas carols to Ryan while he works, drinking hot beverages out of my festive mugs and begging to watch a different holiday-themed movie every night. It also means embracing my newest and most favorite holiday tradition: the Christmas market.
I remember when people were a bit shocked that we were travelling around Europe in the winter. This right here is reason #1 out of, well, a lot.
In all seriousness, we went to our first Christmas market a few weeks ago while we were in Budapest. To say I was magically overwhelmed was an understatement. The lights! The smells! The sights and sounds! I had to make Ryan just sit with my for thirty minutes until the sensory overload ebbed and I could continue on. And the best part is that every city we’ve been to has had their own version of a Christmas market(s). I’ve been to a few and every single time they get better.
So if you’re new to Christmas markets like I was, this post is for you! This are our tips to embrace and enjoy your first experience. If you’re already a pro at these things, skip ahead and tell me all about your favorite experience/specific market/stall/whatever. I’ve still got weeks of markets left to go.
Get into the Christmas Spirit!
Probably the must obvious tip. But also, I think, the most important.
Obviously as an American abroad I had zero idea what a Christmas market was (does anyone know if we have any in the States?). I saw pretty pictures on Pinterest and couldn’t wait to go to my first one. I thought they were mostly a German tradition that occurred only in December. Who knew that they started in November and we’d be able to go to some in other countries!
I was pining away for Thanksgiving when we first stumbled into Vörösmarty Square in Budapest, only to be greeted by the opening day of their Christmas market. When I realized what was happening, I needed some moments to myself; I had to switch gears pretty quickly, but after I did the Christmas spirit was easy to embrace and fully commit to.
My advice to you: even if you’re a Grinch, get with it. Think back to when you were a kiddo and could barely sleep the night Santa came. Think about when you woke up on Christmas morning (or whatever morning Santa gets to your house) and saw those presents waiting for you. Go back to the place where you left your childlike wonder, and just let yourself feel it once again.
Be prepared for the crowds at your Christmas market.
Christmas markets are a big deal, probably because once you go to one you’ll want to set up a tent and live there until December 24.
There are so many people who come out to visit these markets, both locals (from what I could tell) and tourists/travellers alike. We were there for the opening day of the market in both Budapest and Bratislava, and they were both fairly mild. But we also happened to come back the day after and WHOA it was busy. All of our market experiences in Vienna were a bit crazy, but in a good way. If you don’t go right when they open, prepare yourself for a lot of people who want to enjoy this awesome tradition too.
Also, be smart and watch your stuff closely. We were in Vienna and saw two different girls on two different occasions rushing towards the police in tears, their stuff having been stolen. Seeing that made me grab a hold of my bag just a little bit tighter in general.
Indulge in the Glühwein or punch.
Full confession: the mulled wine, hot wine and punch are absolutely my favorite parts of markets. They smell so good and they taste even better! I love walking around, looking through all of the stalls with my wine snuggled in my hands. It’s like a delicious hand warmer.
Plus at some markets they come in the cutest little mugs. Well, now that I think about it we did only see these mugs in Vienna, but they may be a tradition elsewhere. If not, get the wine anyway; the cups they come in will look and feel festive simply due to their contents!
Come hungry, leave with a stomach full of goodies.
During our week in Vienna, we might have eaten at a different Christmas market every single day. And when I say we might have I mean we definitely did.
I’m a big fan of street food in general. If I had to choose between eating with my hands and walking around versus eating in a restaurant I’d choose walking and eating every time. There are some really great food options at Christmas markets, so make sure you either come hungry or stay long enough to eat some food. And save room for dessert, because each new city had plenty of stalls featuring local desserts!
Search for the perfect gift.
According to Ryan: “They’re better than the Christmas windows at Macy’s.”
You can find all kinds of goodies at markets. There are stalls upon stalls full of glittery, beautiful, multi-colored ornaments. Hand-carved wooden kitchen tools. COOKIES. But once you adjust to this modern-day Santa’s workshop, it really proves to be the perfect place to find yourself (or your loved ones) unique, handmade gifts for the holiday of your choice.
We ended up finding tiny presents to exchange on Christmas morning, as well as some presents for family back home. It’ll double as a memory of our time spent in Europe in December, which to me is important.
Don’t leave your camera at home.
Seriously, it’s the most photogenic thing you’ll ever see. You’ll want to capture all of the moments that you encounter, from beautiful ornaments hanging all in a row, to your first bite of a Käsekrainer, your hands being warmed by your apple and Amaretto punch.
What I love about these markets is that each one has it’s own distinct feeling, which translates so well to your camera. Some feel more classic, others newer and more fun. There are small markets and large markets and every size in between! Bring your camera, you’ll enjoy looking back on these snapshots, trust me!
If you can, head back to the Christmas market at different times.
I thought the markets had different atmospheres depending on the time of day. It felt more local to me in the morning; vendors were still setting up their wares, locals came and chatted with each other and moseyed around. Friends waiting for each other at their appointed meeting spot, children grinning while eating their sweets. The markets were slow to start up, which I found really wonderful; it was easy to enjoy the little moments that were happening.
Once night set it, everything changes. The crowds have been growing during the day, and with more and more people it seems even more festive. But there’s another layer to it, and that layer is romance! It’s all so much more romantic! The twinkly Christmas lights shine brighter, everyone is bundled up a bit more, and you can see the steam rising from mugs of hot drinks. Couples cuddled together, super loved up.
I know I can’t do them justice, but trust me when I say you can get very different experiences depending on what time of day you decide to visit your Christmas market!
Now let me hear your favorite parts of Christmas markets! Are you a seasoned pro, or was this your first season just like me? Are you still waiting to go to your first market?
I hope you’re all getting festive and looking forward to the holidays! I know I’m counting down the days until Christmas morning! Do you have any plans for the big day?