If you’re looking for an alternative to Germany’s excellent Christmas markets, then why not head over the border to Austria? Salzburg is one of Europe’s most elegant cities, and during the run up to Christmas, it’s bedecked with festive lights and crammed full of stalls. I spent the weekend exploring its Christmas markets and experienced Advent Austrian-style. Here are my tips for getting the best out of a pre-Christmas trip.
Make the most of public transport with a day pass
An extensive network of buses and trolley buses makes getting around easy. Day passes are available, as is the more expensive Salzburg Card which includes free admission to visitor attractions as well as free transport. It does cost 24 euros for the day, however, so you need to be sure you’re going to get your money’s worth for the extra 20 euros you’ll be spending per person. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time at the markets it’s unlikely the Salzburg Card will represent good value for money.
But if you buy regular, transport-only day passes from a machine they cost just 4 euros a day, compared to 5,70 euros if you purchase them from the driver of the bus. If you’re arriving in Salzburg by train or plane, you’ll find these machines in the main bus station or at the airport. They are valid for a complete 24 hour period rather than by calendar days, so you’ll most likely be able to use them the following morning too – good to know if you’re going to be starting your day somewhere there’s no machine. Print off or download maps before you go to make sense of the network; there’s also an app featuring timetables and mobile ticketing.
There’s an English option available, but if not these are the maps you’ll find most useful:
City: Liniennetzplan Stadt Salzburg Region: SVV Zonenplan
Wrap up warm
You might not get a dumping of snow as I did, but if you’re visiting Salzburg in December, it is likely to be very cold. Temperatures during my visit hovered just below freezing, but if like me you’re tempted out onto the Wolfgangsee, the wind that blows across the lake is a chill one. Pack accordingly, and layer up with hat, scarf, gloves and thermal underlayers. If all else fails, drink gluhwein!
Plan your market trips
As you might expect, there’s more than just one market in the city, as well as some delightful markets in the surrounding towns and villages. I took a trip out to St Gilgen and Strobl on the shores of the Wolfgangsee. Strobl’s market featured livestock in the form of sheep, goats and reindeer and boat trips were possible too between the lakeshore villages. St Gilgen’s market was bigger and had a lot of character. A day pass on the #150 bus meant I could hop on and hop off all day for a fare of 17,60 euros.
In the city itself, the largest market is the Christkindlmarkt in Domplatz. As the name suggests, it’s right by the cathedral in the Old Town. It has its origins in a market that started in the 15th century, though in its present incarnation it’s been going since 1974. Just around the corner you’ll find an ice rink. The Christkindlmarkt had a huge concentration of stalls but as a result was packed; if you’re not so keen on crowds, I’d recommend visiting this one during the day.
There is also a smaller market at Mirabellplatz, which is handy if you need to kill time or grab a hot drink before your bus leaves as it’s right by the stops. This year the market up at the Hohensalzburg fortress is closed due to renovation work, but well worth checking out next year.
My favourite of all the city markets was that at Hellbrunn, a short ride away by #25 bus and included in the 4 euros day pass. Nestled in the courtyard of this attractive palace, there are plenty of artisan stalls so a lot of choice if you plan to do some gift-shopping. The inclusion of hundreds of trees festooned with red baubles and the use of the palace shutters to turn the palace into a huge Advent calendar makes this one extra special.
There is a 3 euros entrance charge at the weekend (it’s free on weekdays) but this is redeemable for a mug of Gluhwein which would have cost 3,50 euros. If you have kids with you, it’s good to know that this is the place where they have the trick fountains and although they used to be a summer-only attraction, for the last couple of years these have been opened during Advent too.
To check opening times and other details, this is the link you’ll need:
Don’t just visit the markets
Space them out and punctuate your visits with other activities. There are carol concerts and muscial recitals at many of the markets; you’ll find schedules online, though not all sites are in English. For something completely different, I caught a train out to Oberndorf bei Salzburg to visit the Silent Night chapel, a memorial chapel in the village where schoolmaster Franz Gruber and pastor Josef Mohr composed and performed the popular carol for the first time. In the company of a band of actors and local dignitaries, I participated in a themed walk that crossed the Salzach River into Laufen, Germany. there, at the Salzachhalle, watched a play which recounted the tale of the history of those twin villages as well as the story of how Silent Night came to be. I won’t pretend I understood a lot with my schoolgirl German, but the music was heavenly.
Attending a Krampus run is also good fun and it’s worth checking out where the nearest is during your visit. If you haven’t already seen the blog I wrote about Gnigl’s Krampus festivities, check out the post here where you’ll also find some useful links if you plan to go yourself:
If you’ve already been to Salzburg’s Christmas markets and they’ve given you a taste for more, why not try these alternatives? Last year I blogged about Copenhagen and Regensburg, both of which can be visited in a day from London:
Wherever you are this Advent, have a safe and happy time!
What next after the German Christmas markets? Germany’s legendary Christmas markets draw the crowds each winter and rightly so. As I found out when I visited the Bavarian city of Regensburg a couple of weeks ago, they’re atmospheric, colourful and every bit as good as people say they are. You can read about the trip here:
So how do you top that? With a visit to Copenhagen: take the German Christmas market model, swap the Glühwein for a glass of gløgg and add a healthy dash of hygge.
Best of all, if you haven’t the time or the cash to go for longer, it’s possible to visit the Danish capital for the day. It was my second trip to the city. The first was back in the days when the cheapest way to reach Copenhagen was to fly to another country. That wasn’t quite as daft as it sounds, as the airport in question was Malmö’s in nearby Sweden, a fast train ride across the Øresund Bridge. This time, I flew direct to CPH, leaving Luton after watching the sunrise on the 8.40am flight. Ryanair uses satellite terminal F which is a long walk from the main terminals. Factor in a five to ten minute walk just to get across the airport and don’t expect a travelator.
From the airport it’s about a fifteen minute train ride into central station, with plenty of English speaking staff at the airport to help out at the ticket machines. I opted for a 24 hour travelcard (not to be confused with the expensive Copenhagen Card) which cost 80 DKK. As it turned out, I walked more than I’d intended, but had I chosen to cover more ground, the card would have been valid for unlimited journeys in the city centre by train, metro and bus. By just after midday, I was in the city.
Now like I said, I’ve been to Copenhagen before, so this blog isn’t going to be reviewing the Amelienborg Palace or the Little Mermaid. This time, I was focused solely on Christmas. Emerging from the station coffee in hand, the Tivoli theme park was right across the street and impossible to miss. I decided to save it until the end of the day and instead walked the short distance to Axeltorv Square. My first Julemarked of the day was a small affair, a cluster of stalls all bearing the names of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. It was a little underwhelming, just a few stalls selling items like sheepskin rugs, warm hats and Christmas decorations.
A few minutes from Axeltorv Square, a rather large wooden pig caught my eye. Behind it was a wooden Christmas tree which looked to be made out of broken up pallets or something like that. A few huts made out of the same material formed a crescent around them. This was a Julemarked with a difference, focused on recycling, a statement about the excesses of this festive holiday. But it wasn’t preachy: instead it embraced the spirit of Christmas on the cheap.
The huts all offered a way to help out with the expense of present-buying. There was a Swap Shop where you could leave an unwanted gift and in return got to choose something for yourself. A woodworker’s hut provided tools and off cuts for those who wished to be creative and make a gift. The lady running the plant hut gave me a small packet of tomato seeds which I shall plant when I work out when’s the best time. The largest hut of all was a recycling “factory”. Inside, piles of yarn, card and other craft materials were piled alongside glue guns. Several people were making table top Christmas trees, but what made this unusual was that most of them were adults rather than children. What a great idea!
Next up was a stroll along Strøget to the wonderful department store Illums Bolighus. This amazing store is a mecca for any devotee of Scandi-style and its products, though expensive, are the stuff of envy. Every display could have held its own in a fancy homes and interiors magazine. The question was not whether to buy, but what to leave behind. Illums Bolighus, if you’re reading this, open a store in London won’t you? I promise I’d keep you in profit.
A few doors down from paradise at the end of the street, was another Christmas market. The entrance was marked by a wall of Christmas trees ready to go home and the market itself housed more food and drink stalls than any other market. At the sausage stall, a man munched on a hot sausage in a roll. At his feet was a dog. It sat, as motionless as if it was doing the Mannequin Challenge, eyes fixed on his master’s hand. Tiny drops of saliva dripped from the wet fur around his mouth and puddled on the floor. Finally, the man was finished, save for the last half inch of sausage, which of course the dog had as a reward for his patience.
There was still more to come. Straddling a pathway opposite the beautifully decorated Hotel D’Angleterre, the Kongens Nytorv market was probably the busiest of those I visited. Located between Nyhavn and Strøget, a fat queue of tourists wound its way between stalls selling everything from churros to ham hocks, night lights to sheepskin slippers. There were craft stalls and of course, many more gløgg huts. The crowds were frustrating and as it was still daylight, the life size polar bear models looked tacky. I would return that way after dark, when they were illuminated and looked better for it.
Through Kongens Nytorv and out the other side I breathed a sigh of relief to have wriggled free of the crowd. Fortunately, I was only a stone’s throw from Nyhavn and yet another market. I sat on the quayside enjoying a glass of gløgg – not too fussed on the addition of blanched almonds but the raisins were a welcome find at the bottom of the glass. If you’re not sure if you’ll like it, ask for a free taste.
This time I decided to have a bit of food before exploring the market. I found that the further down the quay I walked, the lower the prices were for comparable dishes. A huge plate of roast pork with crackling with red cabbage and potatoes later, I had a browse round the stalls. Hopefully my husband isn’t reading this but I did come home with a very soft and fluffy cushion cover. (I am kind of banned from buying more cushion covers. It’s become a bit of a thing.) Sunset was spectacular, casting a pretty pink glow over the harbour side buildings.
As night fell, there was one more Julemarked that I wanted to see before I left and one that was worthy of the long queue outside. Yes, the queue was round the block. What did I expect on a Saturday night? Tivoli opened in 1843, making it the world’s second oldest theme park (the other is in Denmark too, but much less famous). Tivoli is expensive, with a hefty entrance fee of around £15 just to get in (the rides are extra) but it is such a charming place during the run up to Christmas that it’s worth it.
There was plenty to see, both in terms of the theme park itself – I loved the carousel – but also in terms of independent retailers and the range of food stalls. The temperature had slumped well below freezing though by this point and with so many people packed into the huts and restaurants, there were very few places where I could escape that intense cold. The lights and decorations kept me going for a while – they were superb – but by 8pm I was really feeling it despite being properly kitted out in thick padded jacket, scarf and gloves. It was time to grab a cup of cocoa from the station cafe and return to the airport in plenty of time for my 10pm flight home.
I ♥ Copenhagen
I’ve washed the smell of wood smoke out of my hair and a couple of Ibuprofen have sorted out the backache, for now at least. My latest day trip was the longest yet, but proof yet again that you don’t need to overnight to enjoy a rewarding experience over in continental Europe. This time, I had my sights set on Germany’s famous Christmas markets.
This month’s destination, hot on the heels of Budapest, Bremen, Belfast, Lisbon and Amsterdam which have previously featured on this blog, took me to Nuremberg. A flash sale on Ryanair’s website netted me return flights to the Bavarian city for the princely sum of £4.08 all in. The offer was one with limited availability, not only in terms of seats but also in validity, solely for flights on Tuesdays or Wednesdays in November. Such offers come up quite often and it’s worth subscribing to Ryanair’s email alerts if you’re within easy reach of Stansted. I also saved money on my airport parking by purchasing it through the Holiday Extras website which saved me over a fiver. My 7.35am flight from Stansted was on time and we touched down shortly after 10.15am.
I made use of the Bayern ticket which I’d learnt about on a trip to Munich. The ticket’s valid for a day from 9am to 3am the next day which gives plenty of time for sightseeing. It offers unlimited travel throughout Bavaria on all trains except ICE, IC and EC (so basically excludes high speed trains) as well as city transport in many of the larger cities. The cost? A flat fare of 23 euros if bought from a ticket machine, 25 euros if bought from a kiosk. Unfortunately there’s no train service from Nuremberg airport which means no DB ticket machines (a U-bahn service operates instead with a fare of 3 euros for a ticket with 90 minutes’ validity) so I had to buy the Bayern ticket at the Airport Information desk for the higher price. As it covers the U-bahn that was still the cheapest way of doing it.
It wasn’t long before I was in Regensburg and my first stop was the Neupfarrplatz Christkindlmarkt. Most German Christmas markets get underway on 25th November this year, but Regensburg’s begin a couple of days earlier. The market was well underway at midday, a mix of traditional market stalls and refreshment huts. Next I checked out the Lucrezia Craft Market, though that was still being set up. There were some stalls that had limited wares on display, the likes of sheepskin clothing, wood carvings and handmade silver jewellery. To reach the third of Regensburg’s markets I needed to cross the old stone bridge at the Spitalgarten. Again, setting up was in progress but the walk was a pretty one and there were sheep waiting in the wings to coo over.
I crossed back over the Danube for a lunch stop at the Regensburg Sausage Kitchen, one of the oldest restaurants in Germany. Prices were reasonable and they did takeaway, though even at the end of November, it was warm enough in the sunshine to eat at one of its picnic tables.
The main focus of my visit was the Christmas market at the Thurn und Taxis Palace. Regensburg’s Old Town has hundreds of listed buildings but this palace and its grounds are the jewel in the crown. The Christmas market is more than just a market, with live music and even visiting alpacas and camels. The latter obviously play a role in the Christmas story but I think the alpacas were just there as a crowd-pleaser; certainly every time I held up the camera, they turned their heads and posed!
But let’s get down to business: this is no ordinary market. Princess Gloria from Thurn und Taxis apparently is pretty hands-on with the organisation of the market and I did see a couple of elegant, well-dressed women who might have been her. The market, less well known outside Germany than the likes of Munich’s markets for instance, attracts a mainly local crowd, though it’s definitely worth making the journey for.
The market attracts artisans not just from Germany, but from surrounding countries such as Austria as well. The man selling delicious hot cheese bread had made the journey from the Voralberg and the journey had done his cheese no harm at all. It was cheap, filling and almost worth the market’s 6,50 entrance fee in itself.
As darkness fell, the market took on a magical atmosphere. Open fires and strings of fairylights added to the romance of the market and there were plenty of stalls to browse. It’s at dusk when you really start to appreciate the attention to detail. Stallholders decorate their huts with freshly cut branches from pines, spruces and firs: the smells as well as the aesthetics are something to savour.
The good thing about not having to pay for accommodation is that there was plenty of cash in the budget that could be used for souvenir shopping instead: I was spoilt for choice amongst a wide selection of products including sheepskin rugs, rustic Christmas ornaments, clothing and handcrafted metal ware.
The palace itself, larger than Buckingham Palace, looked spectacular as the lights came on. At six, a pair of trumpeters heralded the official start to the festivities, followed by a choir and costumed soloists. The balcony overlooking the main courtyard provided the perfect staging.
Eventually, it was time to wander back to the station for a train to take me back to Nuremberg. The seven hours I’d spent in this delightful city was plenty to enjoy it without rushing. My flight departed more or less on time at 10.35pm; I’d landed and cleared immigration well before midnight UK time.
I’m already planning my next day out to a European Christmas market – but this time, I’m off to Copenhagen and I’ll be blogging about it next month.