Europe is opening back up to vaccinated Americans this summer! Now is the perfect time to plan your winter European holiday! Don't just spice up your egg nog, spice things up this holiday season with some gluhwein and skiing! If you've been waiting to plan a winter holiday in Europe, below is a two week Christmas trip throughout Germany, Austria, and Hungary from before COVID that I took in 2019. As I'm uncertain whether the Christmas Markets will open back up for Winter 2021, I still hope this gives you an idea of things to do for your future vacation!
European Christmas Markets
Some of you planning a Christmas Market holiday may be a bit overwhelmed with deciding which ones are the best. I put together a map of some of the BEST Christmas Markets in Europe and when they closed (2019 dates). When you are planning, I highly recommend placing them all on a map with the dates that they close in the year that you plan to go. It's up to you which cities you want to hit up, but since I had never been to Germany before, I wanted a larger variety of European/German cities. Below, I'll dive into my itinerary for my two-week Christmas Market holiday.
Two-week Christmas Market Trip
Cities seen: Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Münich, Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Vienna, Budapest
I flew into Frankfurt, Germany (cheapest flight) mid December to begin my Christmas holiday and worked my way through the Christmas Markets for two weeks trying to hit as many cities as I could.
Plane Tickets. To find the cheapest plane tickets, ensure you are searching incognito. On MacBooks (shift+command+N) for an incognito web browser. This prevents your computer from collecting cookies, site data, or information you enter in forms. Then hit up Google Flights or Scott's Cheap Flights. Google will allow you to see a wide variety of airlines and dates with the cheapest tickets, and Scott's Cheap Flights will send you deals. I also found my cheap flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt through Twitter cheap flight groups.
Transportation. Once I arrived in Frankfurt, the train was the best way to travel. I bought the Eurail Youth pass (age 12-27) for 15 days which was up to USD $400 for unlimited trips. I don't recommend buying a pass in advance, I'm pretty sure I could have saved money had I not gotten a pass. Plus, it made it a little inconveniencing because I couldn't get my login to work for their website and couldn't reserve a seat. 0/10 don't recommend the Eurail pass.
Frankfurt, Germany is the hub for traveling around Europe, and by far my favorite Christmas Market. If you are flying into Europe from the U.S., Frankfurt has some of the most direct and cheapest flights available. Frankfurt was an easy first stop on my trip. Once at the airport, Frankfurt city is just a 12 minute direct subway ride away.
The market was open from November 25 to December 22, 2019, which was another reason why this was my first stop. It was also by far my favorite Christmas Market (see first picture in blog). This was my favorite market because of the historic looking Germany houses and carousel all lit up. This market did not disappoint with the abundant wursts and gluhwein (mulled wine).
What to do?
Frankfurt is so beautiful, and full of history and great food. A few ideas of things to do, see the Opera house, get a tour of Old Town, visit Goethe House, visit Skyline Plaza, visit a flea market on a Saturday, visit one of the many museums, or my favorite, visit Eiserner Steg, the bridge with love locks.
Where to Stay?
My favorite place to find hotels are on Booking. Make sure to stay near the city center, closer to the Opera House. Beware of hotels in the red light district, which is typically near the biggest train stations. I stayed in the Moxy Frankfurt City Center. It also wouldn't hurt to get a hotel credit card (Hilton) and save up for a couple of free nights!
From the Frankfurt Main Train Station, Nuremberg is just a 2.5 hour train ride away. If you decide to fly, with arriving at the airport early, going through security, and taking the hour long flight, I think flying and taking the train take about the same amount of time. However, the train is cheaper than flying. Rome2rio is a great website to help you figure out how to travel from one place to another.
The market was open from November 29 to December 24, 2019. This was the IDEAL Christmas market, it had so many stalls, which in turn meant so many people (eeks)! Located in the Old Town, right in front of the old historical Catholic church, it was the perfect location. But they did not disappoint on the delights of Christmas; gingerbread, sausages, roasted almonds, and sweet treats. Hmm don't go without their famous Nuremberg Bratwurst, I could use some bratwurst right now! It's been a tradition for more than 700 years. Unfortunately 2020 was the first time they canceled the markets since World War II. Let's hope they open back up soon!
What to do?
If you are a history buff, Nuremberg is a MUST SEE! In the city of Nuremberg, there were 13 trials held in 1945 to 1946 that tried 24 political and military leaders for war crimes, including crimes of the Holocaust. You can check out the many museums, but my favorite was walking around the Old Town (Altstadt) inside the Historic City Walls. I also really enjoyed Konigstrasse and the St. Lawrence Side, which is a historic old street with many shops and restaurants.
My favorite restaurant that I went to was (pictured below) Hausbrauerei Altstadthof. This brewery in Old Town had some of the best beer and food I've ever tasted. This meal was life saving after walking around all day in the cold. I 10/10 recommend checking it out.
Where to Stay?
I recommend staying in the Old Town. Since I was on a budget, I stayed in the Five Reasons Hostel. This hostel was by far THE. BEST. HOSTEL. I've ever stayed in. It was super clean, cute, well kept, and safe. I would have stayed there for my full two weeks, but I had to keep moving. In addition to Booking, you can check out Airbnb and VRBO. If I had to do it again, I'd check out the Hotel Victoria Nuremberg.
Moving south to Münich! From Nuremberg to Münich, it's only a two hour train ride!
Münich's Christmas Market ended December 24, 2019, on Christmas Eve. Located in the center of Marienplatz, it's surrounded by Neo-gothic architecture and Bavarian charm. In addition, Münich is home to Germany's largest Kripperlmarkt "Manger Market". Although nativity scenes aren't the most popular in the US, all over Europe, families collect and organize their own unique nativity scenes. The Münich Kripperlmarkt is where you will find all you need to create your own! Lastly, if you have young children, the Münich Christmas Market hosts the Himmelswerkstatt, a mini-paradise for young children filled with fun, games, and animals!
What to do?
If you're a true foodie like me, once you are done checking out the Christmas Markets, Münich is home to the world's most famous tavern Hofbräuhaus München! This is a 3-floor beer hall dating back to the 16th century, with a Bavarian restaurant, shows, and an upbeat vibe. Make sure to check their website to see when they will open back up again. I'm very excited that this fall I will be moving to a town in the US that has their own Hofbräuhaus!
Where to Stay?
Although I stayed in the Wombat's City Hostel, I don't ever recommend staying in a hostel if you're over 30 years old, especially post COVID. If I were to do it over again, I would pick Hotel MIO by AMANO. This is also a popular hotel for solo travelers.
Alright, here we go. So, traveling from Münich to Saalbach-Hinterglemm in Austria was probably the most challenging thing I planned on this trip, and I still fucked it up. In a car, this trip would take 2.5 hours. I took the Holiday Shuttle from Münich Airport to Saalbach Hinterglemm. I didn't even know if I was in the right place, this company has a small, random booth at the airport. I was the only one there, and they didn't even arrive at the booth until the time I was supposed to depart on the shuttle. They ended up leading me through the airport to a van parked outside. A van. After a 2 hour drive to Salzberg, they dropped me off at that airport alone for another hour or two, until the next shuttle came and got me. I was alone, no one else was on that 4 hour shuttle ride through Austria. The shuttle ended up being 100 euros, which was not at all bad for a 4 hour taxi service.
What I would have done, was taken the train from Muenchen Hbf to Zell Am See, and a taxi or bus from there to Saalbach. That would have been a little quicker, with much better scenery, and it wouldn't have felt like I was being "Taken".
What to do?
SKI. SKI. SKI! This is a very popular Austrian Alpine resort town, known for its ski areas and mountain bike trails. After a full day of skiing or snowboarding, in the evenings, skiers flock to the bars in the town for some beer, food and lively music. And after a long day on the slopes, some of the resorts have great spas and hot tubs to unwind at.
Where to Stay?
I stayed in the Hotel Alpine Palace, and highly recommend it. This hotel had complimentary mid-day snacks and wine. Nothing tasted better than a mid-day warm soup after a morning on the slopes. What's interesting about this place is that it's actually two hotels, a newer building and the original more historic side of the hotel. Each one shared the same common areas. I stayed in Stammhaus Wolf Im Hotel Alpine Palace, the more historic side, while the more modern, and more expensive side is just called the Hotel Alpine Palace. The restaurant in the hotel had a buffet style breakfast and dinner, with the most DELICIOUS food. In the bottom level of the hotel, it holds a ski room, where each room has a designated locker to store your ski gear. The ski room has easy access to the street to head to the slopes. And the best part, is the spa! Outside, the hotel has a couple large hot tubs which are open during the winter months, and a few steam rooms, saunas, water beds, etc. If you happen to be traveling alone, the historic side of the hotel does have one bedroom options (see picture above). The room I had also had its own balcony! This hotel was the highlight of my trip, I could have lived there forever. 10/10 I will come back!
Sadly I didn't make it in time to see the Vienna Christmas Markets since I arrived the day after Christmas. But once Christmas is over, the New Years Markets pop up! The one Christmas Market you must check out though is at the Belvedere Palace. Vienna hosts a wide variety of different markets spread out all over the city so you can't go wrong with hitting up Vienna! Just note, Christmas is one of Vienna's busiest times.
What to do?
Note for your planning that most places will be closed on Sunday in Vienna. Vienna is very centrally located in Europe, so if you want to extend your stay in Vienna, there are many day trips which you can take! If you love history and traveling to new towns, I would highly recommend extending your stay in Vienna. There's just so much to do! A few things to do are to visit the Schloss Schönbrunn, the Justizpalast (Palace of Justice), the Austrian National Library, and the Museum Hundertwasser.
Where to Eat?
You honestly can't go wrong with eating in Vienna! But if you need a few places to start looking, I recommend getting a coffee at the Cafe Central Wien. For drinks, I recommend checking out a rooftop bar, Lamée Rooftop. And for dinner, I recommend checking out this beautiful arboretum, Palmenhaus.
Where to Stay?
Ideally you should want to stay in the 1st district in the city centre but that can get expensive. Since public transportation around the city is so accessible and easy, don't hesitate to stay a little outside of the city centre. I stayed at another Wombats Hostel Vienna Naschmarkt.
If I were to do it over again without a budget, I would stay in Hotel Bristol, a Luxury Collection Hotel located right next to the Opera. What drew me to their hotel was the abundant and delicious breakfast spread you can get delivered to your room to eat in bed or on your balcony overlooking the Opera. They also serve a wide array of tea time sweets such as their Bristol Schnitte. With their romantic Austrian architecture and decor and delicious food, I think this hotel is worth the bang for your buck.
Budapest was my one day trip from Vienna. Although you can go to and from Budapest from Vienna in a day, I highly recommend giving Budapest a couple of days. Note that Budapest will be vastly different from Germany and Austria, due to its history of being under Communist rule. It's a little rough around the edges which I think adds to its charm. You will find many delicious restaurants, coffee shops and beautiful history and architecture in Budapest, but watch out for scams and pit-pockets.
What to do?
The highlight of my trip was visiting Fisherman's Bastion and the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Be careful if you do end up going around Christmas time or during busy hours, there were many people in each of those places which kind of took away from the charm. If you go to Fisherman's Bastion, make sure to wake up extra early.
From Budapest, I returned to Vienna on the last train. From there, I flew home December 30 to make it home in time for New Years. Had I stayed in Europe, I would have flown to Berlin to spend New Years there. However, I wanted to return to Hawaii to finish out the year with my friends and to have a more relaxing and warm New Years.