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Post by International Military Life Community Manager, Courtney Woodruff


From large city events like Strasbourg’s French Le Marché de Noël to smaller village festivals like the Bernkastel-Kues Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany, no matter where you’re stationed in Europe, you’re never far from a spectacular Christmas market during the holiday season.


Ready to experience the childlike magic and wonder of these vintage winter postcard scenes come to life?


Here are a few tips for making the most of your European Christmas market experience. I highly recommend:


Taking the train.


Instead of attempting to drive home after a long day of feasting, consider staying overnight at a hotel within walking distance of a train station. Christmas market parking tends to be both costly and scarce, not to mention the combination of delicious food and beverages, hours of walking and burning plenty of energy to stay warm are the perfect recipe for exhaustion. When you’re ready to head back, hop on the train and rest up in the warmth and comfort of a hotel room before safely getting back on the road the next day.


Dressing in layers.


The weather in Europe changes at the drop of a hat. It’s a good idea to prepare for the possibility of rain or snow, even if it isn’t in the forecast. Even if you don’t need them right away, consider bringing along a waterproof coat, hat, gloves and scarf. I’ve learned from experience, no matter how magical the market is, trying to enjoy the festive atmosphere is tough when chilled to the bone.


Having an emergency plan.


Recent events around the world have significantly heightened security at European Christmas markets. Even though it is important to steer clear of paranoia, it’s imperative to know who to call, what to do, and where to go in the event of an emergency. The U.S. Department of State advises Americans living abroad to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to stay up to date with local alerts and warnings.  


Bringing your appetite.


It’s true, there’s nothing like the atmosphere of a European Christmas market to make your spirits bright, but my absolute favorite thing about holiday festivals is trying all of the local street fare. The smell of roasting meat, simmering spiced drinks and freshly baked pastries will have your mouth watering in no time. My favorite treats include traditional German bratwurst (with plenty of mustard or Senf), crispy Pommes with curry ketchup or mayo for dipping, and chimney cake, which is also called Kürtőskalács or Baumstriezel depending on where you are.


Carrying plenty of small bills and coins.


If you do plan to eat your way through the markets like I do, I suggest bringing plenty of small bills and coins. Fair food is not as expensive as it is in the States, and it is more difficult for the vendors to break large bills. We like to keep a jar of spare change at home for fest food funds. It’s also important to note that the use of public restrooms in Europe generally costs a small fee. Having a stash of 50 cent coins is always handy.


Skipping the stroller.


If you plan to attend many fests with little ones during your time in Europe, I believe investing in a good quality baby carrier is well worth the expense. Crowded, narrow walkways and cobblestone streets can make maneuvering a bulky stroller frustrating at best and practically impossible at its worst. Skipping the stroller is an easy way to improve the Christmas market experience for the whole family.


What has been your favorite Christmas market experience in Europe? Which festivals do you plan to attend this year?


Additional information:


Check out the USAA – International FAQ


5 Ways Strategic Volunteering Can Help with Job GrowthAbout the Blogger: Courtney Woodruff is a military spouse, mom, writer, editor and web content manager currently living in Germany. She has a heart for our troops and their families and hopes to share what little she has learned along the way to help others overcome the unique challenges of military life. You can follow her adventures at her blog, Courtney At Home, or through her social media: InstagramFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest

Top Contributor

I was stationed in Germany for six years and in Italy for three years. Europe is beautiful at Christmas time.

First priority has to be staying security conscience, unfortunately. Don't make it obvious that your an American, stay low key, blend in, and just stay aware of what's going on around you.

If you're not stationed in Europe and want to travel there, consider Space A flights. Once you understand the process it's a free plane ride there and back. Then stay at lodging at local US military bases. A European trip can then become very affordable.

As mentioned above the trains in Europe are great and safe. Avoid renting a car, keep it as a last resort. If your not familiar with driving on the German Audoban or Italian Autostrata, just remember to Stay Right except to pass. There is no speed limit along many sections and that left lane is flying.

There on many Language Apps on your mobile phone that allow you to type in the phrase you want to say, then tap the button, and it translates that phrase into German or Italian. It's a great tool to use when dining or just going about your day and you need to communicate with the locals.

I found the best place in Europe for Christmas is Rome.

Stand United,

What an amazing experience! Fantastic tips about traveling in Europe by way of Space A and the extensive train system. You're right - security is of utmost importance. Thank you for taking the time to share. I would love to visit Rome at Christmastime. Wishing you happy holidays!- Courtney Woodruff


Just returned from a wonderful visit to Riga, Latvia over Christmas.  Many people speak English.  The hotels and restaurants are extremely reasonable.  If you want to go off the well-beaten path, I highly recommend it.  Stay in Old Town, get a charming inn with breakfast included (the blini are delicious) and walk easily to their lovely Christmas market.  Hearing the church bells peal while snow fell after the Christmas Eve service was magical (hearing familiar Christmas music, sung in Latvian, was wonderful).



Dear Gonavy5,

That sounds like a wonderful trip! Thank you for sharing and offering some tips to make a trip to Latvia even more special!