Now that Thanksgiving is past and we can swing fully into the holidays season I want to share with you one of my favorite parts of the holidays that we don’t really have an equivalent for here in America: European Christmas Markets. Sure, in the United States we have all kinds of Christmas bazaars but I’ve never been to one here that rivals the magic of the streets, in Paris, Rome, Vienna and Salzburg, filled with vendors, mulled wine, treats and gifts.
As I mentioned, this tradition is one of my favorites, though I’ve only been able to explore these markets once, in December of 2012 when I was studying abroad. On a trip with Bus2Alps, a student tour operator, to Austria I got my first taste of this beautiful experience. From lollipops the size of your head, mulled cider and hot chocolate for €5 (with a souvenir mug!), lights and candles and holiday ornaments.. there’s something for everyone to enjoy!
I was able to explore these amazing markets in Vienna, Salzburg and out front of Schonbroon Palace, as well as along the Champs-Elysées in Paris, on the hill in Montmartre and in the piazzas of Rome, but they exist in many other European countries as well The sights, sounds and smells are intoxicating at these streetside markets. From fresh homemade soap and candles to roasting sausages and freshly baked bread your senses will be overloaded in the best possible way. I think a trip to the Christmas markets is at least as entertaining as any other attraction you might find — and all the while you are deeply immersed in the traditions, food and decorations of another culture.
One of my favorite memories is purchasing a little “befana” — a witch on a broom that brings presents to Italian children on “Little Christmas”. Now she hangs in my mom’s house as a reminder of our wonderful travels together.
Speaking of travels with my mom — it’s never cheap to travel, but my family has always been on a budget, so I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the way to really stretch every dollar. Enjoying the Christmas markets as a cultural escapade is definitely one way that we’ve spent our time abroad without spending a dime — except on the mouth watering sausages with fresh mustard — YUM!
Along with finding free things to do, I’m a big fan of budget airlines in Europe. Their airports don’t charge the same taxes that American airports do, so flying can be much cheaper. Specifically RyanAir is a great choice. (Insert MOAN from some luxury traveler here who just can’t fathom the idea..) Listen, we’ve all heard horror stories about RyanAir — people do actually clap when the pilot lands the flight, but that’s a part of the friendly culture, not enthusiasm for not crashing the plane (or maybe a bit of both, but you know what I mean, they’re trained pilots just like anyone else who flies). They don’t ACTUALLY charge you for using the bathroom or drinking water — but when you pay nine euros (~$13) to fly from Rome to Paris, would you really mind if they did? Many of the budget airlines in Europe offer great sales, so you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled to really maximize how far your money can go.
Check out this article from Travel & Leisure regarding the best Christmas markets in the Europe, and for more tips, tricks, advice or if you’re ready to take the plunge and book travel but don’t know where to start — consider contacting me and I would be happy to consult with you for an hour or more to help you learn ways to save money but have a blast in any city you choose.
Happy travels! I’ll be back next week talking about tropical destinations that those of us in the cold winter climes may be dreaming out. Until then, au revoir!