I am not talking about the new Hallmark Christmas movie; although, I do think they did an amazing job capturing the city. I am talking about my first experience with Christmas markets in Europe, namely Austria and Budapest.
My mother and I decided we would have a girl’s trip for Thanksgiving break 2018. We were told about Vienna’s Christmas markets. I had no idea what they were, but it sounded perfect for our girl’s getaway. After booking the trip, I started doing a little research on the markets.
The markets started in the Middle Ages at the beginning of Advent. Vienna’s Dezembermarkt (December Market) dates back to 1296 and is believed to be the precursor to the Christmas markets. Winter markets began sprouting up all over Europe to allow townspeople to stock up on supplies to last through the cold months ahead. It was the winter markets that evolved into the markets of today. Germany laid claim to the first Christmas market in Munich 1310, but Dresden’s 1434 Strietzelmarkt is supposedly the first real Christmas market. (www.fiveminutehistory.com/a-brief-history-of-christmas-markets)
Our first market upon arriving in Vienna was the Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz (square in front of City Hall). We were greeted with delicious aromas, sounds of joy, twinkling lights, and festive decorations. The square hosted row after row of quaint wooden huts adorned with Christmas decorations and selling unique gifts. Walking the streets to the Christmas markets, from our hotel, was like stepping back into the time of Mozart and Freud, but visiting these markets was medieval history come to life. I truly felt I was experiencing Christmas traditions at its finest.
The first hut I approached was a roasted chestnut stall. I mean, come on, it is roasted chestnuts on an open fire! They were served in a paper cone and honestly, mom and I had no clue how to eat them. Being from Mississippi and Louisiana, we were familiar with pecans, peanuts, and walnuts, but we had no clue what to do with these fuzzy things. I am glad we tried them, but next time, someone needs to show us how to eat them. The stall also served thinly sliced roasted potatoes and I had no problem enjoying these.
Most of the stalls sold handmade or one-of-kind gifts and very rarely did you see prepackaged or mass-produced products. Also, the market served some of the best foods and pastries I have every put in my mouth. After walking around the market in the brisk, winter weather, mom and I found the “gluhwein” or mulled wine hut. What is fun about these huts is you can “rent” the mug or you can keep the mug as a souvenir. If you choose to keep the mug, you will just lose your mug deposit. Every year, each market has a mug designed especially for their market. In Vienna, there were markets all over the city and due to the cold weather, we frequently visited the gluhwein stalls to warm up. Well of course mom and I did not sell our mugs back. We had little mugs stuffed in our socks and rolled in shirts all throughout our suitcase so they would not get broken on the flight home. If you are not a wine drinker, you can try the kinderpunsch (non-alcoholic punch) and it was delicious too. These little, warm wine huts made walking outside in the snow so cozy and warm. I quickly realized why I heard so much joyfulness when I first entered the markets, all the patrons were enjoying the gluhwein as much as mom and I were enjoying the kinderpunsch!
The markets are all over Europe and usually start around Thanksgiving to after the New Year. The time frame is different for each market so if you have a particular market in mind, make sure you double check the dates. Also, plan to attend the markets at night to enjoy all the lighted decorations. Some of the markets even had outdoor activities available, such as ice skating. I am such a foodie that I recommend going to the food stalls and trying everything! My philosophy is “you won’t know if you like it, unless you try it!”
Vienna was a great destination not only to experience some of the best markets, but also to use as a hub to take day trips. Mom and I took the train to Salzburg for the day. We tasted the famous Sacher-Torte and visited the sites made famous in “The Sound of Music.” On another day, we took a guided bus tour to Budapest, Hungary. While visiting Vienna, plan to tour the museums, the palace, and be sure to reserve a ticket for one of the many concerts.
I hope you enjoyed my first experience at the Christmas markets. I cannot help to reminisce about this trip especially with Christmas quickly approaching. If you are planning to visit Vienna, I have left a few suggestions on souvenirs and a recipe at the bottom of the page.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Blue Marble Travel!!!!
Souvenirs: Sacher-Torte, German mustard (I bought a tube from the local grocery store), Mozartkugel (Mozart balls), Christmas market mug (some stalls sold the punch spices), and Manner Schnitten cookies. They are many more souvenirs you could purchase, but these were the ones I brought home to family. Plan on attending an apple strudel demonstration and tasting at the Schonbrunn Palace and you will receive a free recipe card and can also purchase gifts for family and friends.