A few years ago we made a spontaneous decision to head to Paris for Christmas and the New Year. Originally we were a bit hesitant about the idea since it was our first time traveling away from family and traditions during the holiday seasons. We may have also gotten some flack from our family too. However, it was one of the best decisions we made and highly recommend it. Experiencing a different culture, people, and food, especially during a festive time of year has become a family tradition for Kyle and I. It didn’t hurt that we fell in love with Christmas markets and mulled wine. Why the US doesn’t embrace hot mulled wine as our European friends baffles us, especially when it’s just as bloody cold here as it is there. I digress. Back to visiting other countries during the holidays.
This year we decided to visit one of the top 10 Christmas markets in the world, Vienna, Austria. We tacked on Prague and Budapest because we’ve always wanted to go there and they’re relatively close to Vienna, so it just made sense. Plus they both have Christmas markets and hot mulled wine. It was a no brainer. It was a whirlwind of a two week trip and I’ll be sharing more of our experiences in each city, especially the food and drink, but first wanted to share a few things if you are planning an an entire trip based around Christmas markets, like what we did.
1. Not all countries are as organized as the US.
Despite having researched each cities Christmas market schedule, all our planning did not prove helpful while in Vienna. After having traveled thousands of miles to spend most of our time in Vienna, we found out that a majority of the Christmas markets closed despite saying the would be open. One day, we walked across the city to three different markets only to find empty stalls in front of open museums. I’m not gonna lie, I was devastated…and fuming. It was the main reason we were on this trip, spending a majority of our trip in one of the top Christmas market cities in the world. And they were closed.
2. Be flexible.
If you travel, you know that no trip is perfect; point made above. You need to learn to roll with the punches and be flexible. For most trips I can say we succeeded, though I’ll be honest, this trip was a little tougher for me. I had to remind myself I was still in a beautiful city with amazing food and sights. Don’t let the little disappointments consume your trip and attitude. Trust me, it’s not worth it.
3. Plan to drink a lot of hot, mulled wine.
You will not be disappointed. Ever. It’s also one of the best ways to stay warm. We found that each city had their own take mulled wine. Prague’s wine was a bit simpler, with less spices. Vienna won the creative, living-green approach. You put down a deposit and end up paying between 6-6.50 euro and if you keep the mug, you don’t get any money back. If you return the mug, you can 3-3.50 euro back. Budapest’s wine was strong in comparison with a bit more spices that Prague but less than Vienna. We attributed the strength of the wine with how freaking cold it was. You needed it to survive the walk to and from the Christmas markets to your hotel.
4. Indulge in the Christmas markets
The way to find the best food in any city is to find out where the locals eat. And Christmas markets are the easiest way to do so. It’s also the least expensive. Locals and tourist mingle together in front of beautiful palaces and churches while dining on some of the best food in the country. Plan to carry cash as these merchants take only cash and no card.
5. Best places to find local gifts
These local merchants are hawking their homemade gifts to tourists and locals alike. Come into it with expectations that prices may be a bit higher, but walk around and compare prices. Also, don’t hesitate to negotiate with them either. The worse they can say is no, but most likely be open to it. And seriously, we where else can you find a unicorn christmas ornament? We loved seeing each city’s tradition tchotchkes; Budapest was known for their leather and chocolate, Vienna was glass figurines and a lot of food, and Prague was various gourmet almonds and carp. Yeah, the latter was confusing for us but we’ll tell you a bit more in a later blog post.
6. Early Riser
This is probably one of the only times you will hear anyone tell you this, but if your main priority is Christmas markets, sleep in. Seriously, take advantage of your beauty rest because the earliest they open is 10 am. If you’re up early with no other plans let’s just say you’re screwed. That said, if you are an early riser like we are, I’d highly recommend keeping to an early morning schedule. Get to the museums and palaces as soon as they open in the morning. By the time you’re done with the tours, the Christmas markets are open and you can enjoy a wonderful meal and hot wine while you observe everyone else wishing they were as smart as you.
Have any Christmas market questions or stories to share? I’d love to hear it!