Category Archives: World Travel

European Christmas Markets

A Guide to Christmas Markets in and around Germany

The origins and history of the German Christmas Markets

Nowadays, it is easy to keep warm during the winter. Thanks to heaters of all kinds, you can survive the winter months without shivering. However, this was not always the case. Not too long ago, inhabitants of cold countries had to find other ways to keep warm. Setting up fires was one option. But a significantly more celebratory one was Christmas markets.

European Christmas Markets
Christmas market in Cologne, Germany cc Image courtesy of Swiv on Flickr

Many people might think that Christmas markets came about to celebrate Christmas. However, if you really read the history, this was only a secondary purpose. The markets didn’t come about as Christmas markets as such. Instead, they were winter markets in more general terms, specifically serving the purpose of combatting the cold.

In Germany, inhabitants would come together to huddle around fires and sip “Glühwein,” literally meaning “glow-wine.” Already in the 14th century, the markets served as a place to purchase goods that would keep them warm during the long winters. From furs and hats to coats and gloves, just about any item that would protect you from the wind and snow was sold. In addition, the outdoor markets were a place where you could find handicrafts, such as woven baskets or artisan toys. To keep energized, people would stock up on baked goods, such as the typical German gingerbread (“Lebkuchen”). If you wanted something savory, simple hot meals, such as sausages and soups, could be eaten at the stands as well.

 

The 21st century version

German Christmas Markets
Lebkuchen,” the typical German gingerbread cc Image Courtesy of Patrick Ciebilski on Flickr

As time went by, the markets became an important event approaching Christmas Eve. Today, thousands of tourists flock not only to Germany, but also to Austria and Poland to visit these kinds of markets. In fact, sometimes it may be that more English, Spanish or Japanese is being spoken at the markets than German.

Over time, the markets have also become more commercialized. Glowing lights have been added, as have more modern cooking tools and heaters. But that doesn’t mean that the traditions have been overtaken completely.

It is worth noting that there are hundreds of different markets in and around Germany. Clearly, some are more well-known than others, and they also vary in size. In fact, there are even significant differences in their names. While some are explicit Christmas markets (“Weihnachtsmarkt”), others are called “Christkindlmarkt,” which refers to the angel that provides children with presents on Christmas Eve. Others, in turn, go by the name of “Adventmarkt,” meaning advent market.

Planning your trip

German Christmas Markets
Glass decoration on sale at the German Christmas markets. cc Image Courtesy of Nanand81 on Flickr

Due to the popularity of travel during the Christmas season, which includes visiting the markets, it is advantageous to plan ahead.

As mentioned above, there are a plethora of Christmas markets in and around Germany, so you might be asking yourself “where do I get started?” Here are some of the most famous Christmas markets to choose from:

Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt in Nürnberg. This market is one of the most well-known versions, especially since it includes the figure of a “Christkind,” represented each year by a young girl.

Christkindlmarkt in Munich at the Marienplatz. This market originated in the 14th century, when it was called the “Nikolausmarkt,” meaning “Santa Claus market.” With the influence of Protestantism in the 19th Century came the transition from the Nikolaus to the Christkind as the one who brings the gifts. In Munich thus happened what had already occurred in the 16th century in cities such as Nürnberg and Straßburg: the Nikolausmarkt became the Christkindlmarkt.

Kölner Weihnachtsmarkt in Cologne.

These are the most well-known markets in Nürnberg, Munich and Cologne. However, each city is also home to numerous other versions. In Munich, for example, you can head to the Wittelsbacherplatz square to go to the Mittelaltermarkt, which literally means “medieval market.” Here, you can revel in traditional goods, sold at reconstructions of medieval stands. All the vendors are even dressed in medieval clothes!

Outside of Germany, famous markets include the versions in Salzburg and Vienna in Austria, and Bremgarten as well as Lucerne in Switzerland.

If possible, come visit on a weekday, as weekends are particularly crowded. Moreover, the closer you get to Christmas, the more hectic it becomes as everyone is rushing to buy last-minute presents. If you can, buy your presents early so you won’t have to be in a hurry.

Once you are there

Visiting a Christmas market has, as already mentioned above, become more and more of a commercial event. However, you can still relish the old traditions.

Be sure to try the local foods, such as the Lebkuchen (typical baked goods) and Rostbratwürstchen (grilled sausages) from Nürnberg and the typical Maroni (chestnuts) offered almost at all German, Austrian and Swiss markets. At the latter, a Raclette (bread dipped in cheese) will surely warm you up as well.

As for drinks, adults should try sipping Glühwein and Eierlikör (egg-nogg liquor) and the children should head for Kinderpunsch (children’s fruity “glühwein” without alcohol) – there’s something for everyone! Most of all, the idea is to have a good time with friends and family.

Last but not least, dress warm. Wearing ski pants has even become an option for some, especially little kids.

All in all, the goal is to forget the Christmas stress and relax!

Dublin Lights at Christmascc image by Sebastion Doris on Flickr

Dublin Christmas – Portrait of the City as a Christmas Wonderland

Story by William Brown exclusively for Vagobond.com

Dublin Christmas Lights cc image by Sebastion Doris on FlickrA Dublin Christmas. Dublin may not be the first city you think of for Christmas or Winter travel, but the truth is – it’s a fun city to visit any time of the year. Yes, it rains in Dublin, yes, it can be cold in Dublin but are you there for the outdoors? If you are – then you’ve made a terrible mistake. Dublin isn’t the place for skiing, hiking, or other outdoor activities when it’s cold – but – it’s a city that has weathered the winter for a long time and there is plenty to do indoors at Christmas time.

More than just pubs (which are pretty fantastic anyway – there’s a reason every city in the world has an Irish Pub!) there are spas, gastronomic delights, world class cuisine and plenty of quirky, historic, or downright luxurious hotels in Dublin – like The Westbury Hotel – a five star hote in Dublin. You can relax, watch shows for a fraction of the price you would pay in London or New York, enjoy shopping, and if you are lucky enough to be there at this time of the year you can enjoy a truly Irish Christmas.

Dublin is magnificent at Christmas time. The turning on of the Christmas lights has become an annual pageant that not only switches the lights on, but also kicks up the festive Christmas Spirit like nowhere else on Earth.  More than 30 streets in the city center take part in bringing the season to life.

Whether you are old, young, with family, or on a couple’s holiday – there are numerous Christmas festivals, Christmas Fairs, and other jolly happenings from early December all the way through the New Year.

If you’ve forgotten to send out your Dear Santa letters there are special mailboxes set up just for express service to the North Pole at St. Stephens Green. Santa himself will make appearances at roadshows and malls throughout Dublin bringing elves, Rudolf, Mrs. Claus, and Frosty with him.

You can catch the Santa Experience at Dunnes Store which was voted one of the best children’s Christmas experiences in all of Ireland.  (Dunnes Stores, Henry Street, 2nd Floor, Dublin 1)

In my opinion, one of the best  Santa events is the Santa Grotto at the Dublin Zoo.  From 20-24 December kids can meet Santa, meet gorillas, meet elephants, and arts, crafts and a gift for the kids from old St. Nick himself.

For those who love European Christmas Markets, you won’t want to miss the Christmas Market at Christ Church Cathedralwhich runs for a final day on Saturday, the 22nd of December.  Handmade and festive Christmas crafts and goods are there in plenty for unique gifts and a wonderful Irish Christmas experience.  (Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin 8)

There are literally hundreds of special family Christmas events, plays, shopping center displays, and more in Dublin. Here is a pretty nice list of Christmas events in Dublin.

For the adults there are plenty of Christmas cocktail parties, Christmas jazz, Christmas spas, and Christmas events throughout the city up until the big day. And after that, they continue as New Years Events, after that, it’s St. Patricks Day events…this is Ireland after all. No shortage of excuses to grab a pint of Guinness or a fine glass of whiskey.

Wherever you are Best Wishes for Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Or if you prefer the Gaelic - Le gach dea-ghuí i gcomhair na Nollag agus na h-athbhliana! 

world travel tips

27 Quick World Travel Tips

Here are 27 quick tips to make world travel better. What are your quick tips for world travelers?

1) Say hi to other people who are traveling
2) Don’t flash your bling
3) Catch a cab and talk to the driver about cool things to do (Cabbies are almost always multi-lingual)
4) Scan a picture of your passport and give it to someone you trust
5) Get a nice padlock and use it when necessary (It takes two to steal: the thief and the one who left an opportunity)
6) Wear long pants during long transport
7) Look at the mattress…know what bedbugs look like
8) Stay where you get breakfast for free
9) Make sure hot water is included
10) Find paperback exchanges
world travel tips
11) Stay longer and get cheaper room rates
12) Fill out your couchsurfing profile completely
13) Look for free fruit on the trees
14) Look for language exchanges
15) Don’t leave your phone in your room
16) Bring your own condoms
17) Don’t get so drunk you can’t take care of yourself
18) Trust your instincts about people
19) Eat the local food
20) Always ask for a second price
21) Don’t wander around alone late at night
22) Don’t give up your passport
23) Bring your valuables to the shower with you in a hostel
24) Eat lots of cheese if you get diarrhea
25) A handful of nuts makes hunger go away
26) Get a haircut and a shave (or a wax and a style)

This last one is my personal opinion only.

27) Drink the water.

What are your quick tips for world travel?