At this time of year, travelers throughout Europe flock to traditional German Christmas Markets (Christkindlmarkts). If you're looking for delicious food and drink, handmade crafts and lively company, they're worth seeking out. The following markets in Germany, Austria and France are highly recommended by TripAdvisor travelers. Looking to stay closer to home? There's also a fantastic one in Chicago.
Cologne hosts not one but seven Christmas markets, each with a different theme. The most famous, though, takes place right behind the Dom, the city's cathedral. Bring your appetite, because as one TripAdvisor traveler writes, "The food is fresh, hot and tasty." Reviewers particularly recommend the bratwurst. (But here's a practical tip from another TripAdvisor traveler: bring a German/English dictionary if you want to know what you're eating, as English menus aren't readily available.) Also, don't miss the gluhwein, "a delicious hot spiced wine which is a perfect remedy to the damp chill of November/December."
Strasbourg may be in France, but it's close to the German border, and you'll find a strong German influence in many local traditions, including the city's Christmas Market, the Christkindelsmarik. Strasbourg "goes all out in its decoration of buildings and lights along the streets," in the words of one TripAdvisor reviewer. Another spotted "Baccarat chandeliers suspended in cheesecloth enclosures" illuminating one street. This market is also very family-friendly. You might even spot "Father Christmas with his donkey walking though the crowds."
"Among brightly lit streets and stalls, carolers roam the streets and Munich becomes alive with fun-loving people," wrote one TripAdvisor reviewer who was clearly enchanted with Munich's Christmas Market. Another said, "A real highlight are the drink stalls—they serve an array of drinks I'd never seen before (like hot wine and apple beer)." If you're feeling sociable, another reviewer recommends taking your food and drinks to "the high topped tables near the gluhwein stalls where you can set you glass down and chat with friends or make new friends."
"Even in a damp snowless cold, Christmas cheer was all around me," wrote a TripAdvisor traveler who attended the Christkindlmarkt in Vienna. You'll find all manner of drinks to warm you up—in addition to the ubiquitous gluhwein, you can try apfel-punch mit rum, which another reviewer called "one of the best experiences on a cold winter night." There's also a live advent calendar and activities for kids, including cookie-decorating in the city hall.
In the words of one TripAdvisor traveler, "The Christmas spirit abounds in Salzburg and the streets and stores are brilliantly decorated... and are especially beautiful at night." Buy a mug of gluhwein here and get a couple of euros back for returning it at the end of the day—or keep it as a unique souvenir. Lastly, don't leave without tasting some "'Mozartkugeln,' a candy confection that is a local specialty."
If you can't hop a plane to Europe this holiday season, take heart—German-style Christmas markets are popping up in cities around the United States. One favorite of TripAdvisor travelers takes place in Chicago. According to one reviewer, "Every turn smells of bratwurst and stollen." Another says visitors will find a "wonderful selection of ornaments, beer glasses/steins, hand carved beeswax candles, European candies and more." And don't worry, you won't miss out on the gluhwein. Try some here in a souvenir boot cup.