European Christmas markets have been on my bucket list a long time. I would see articles every year about the markets. In fact, I took several of the city names from the articles I would come across, searched google maps, and then left a pretty little star on them. I love that you can star locations in Google maps. The stars are usually a reminder of where we have been. But for this purpose, the stars showed me how close some of the markets were to one another.
Since my cousin moved to Germany several years ago, it has always been in the back of my mind to return to Germany. If you wonder how I travel, it usually revolves around a friend who lives in this country or that country. I toured Europe for five weeks in this same style, only staying in a hostel for six nights. Friend stays are the best, and we LOVE to return them(*hint*hint*come visit us!*). After chatting about a visit, she sweetened the deal with an offer to house/cat sit while her family went to the states for Christmas and New Year. HUGE bonus. That meant we could have some full sightseeing days at the beginning and end of the journey(Catie’s preference), meet up and have some time with her family, and then also have some chill time around the holidays (Jason’s choice).
So how did we decide what markets to visit? My cousin suggested a few markets that were within driving distance of her house. From there, I looked at markets nearby. I found some cheaper tickets into Basel Switzerland. From Basel to Strasbourg, France, the train was only 2 hours. In Strasbourg we met my cousin since it was just a 1.5-hour drive for her. From Strasbourg, we headed to Saarbrücken, Germany by car for an hour. Then we finished our first round of markets by going to Kaiserslautern by car for 1 hour. It is all incredibly close.
Roundtrip flights from Izmir to Frankfurt were less than $500 roundtrip for the both of us. But Jason and I opted for a flight to Basel since the one ways flights were only $80 per person. I figured we could cover a little more ground with one-way tickets. This one-way option allowed us to then travel onward to Prague to meet some friends and fly back from there. Our flight from Turkey left in the morning and gave us plenty of time to explore Basel before moving on to France the next morning. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until we were halfway through our flight to Basel that I learned that Basel’s Airport was actually in France! I had a little freak out moment but realized that it wasn’t a big deal because it is the only airport for Basel. After landing and grabbing our bags, we found the bus that took us into Basel’s downtown.
Since our stay was only one night, the private room via Airbnb was a perfect, cheap option. Apparently, we are beyond a hostel life but still ok to have a private room in someone’s apartment… For those of you who may be weirded out by trying this option on Airbnb, don’t be. All the times I have used a private room have been great! It’s like staying in a friend’s home… that you may not ever see again. Ha!
Basel, a city of 165,000 people, is known for being a cultural capital of Europe with its 40 museums to explore. But we came for one sole purpose, and I am not ashamed of it. Basel introduced us to our FIRST Christmas markets, and it was(to be completely cheesy) LOVELY and MAGICAL. As Jason would keep saying (and this may embarrass him a little), ‘This is just lovely!’ And he was absolutely right.
Coming from Izmir, Turkey, there are a few decorations mostly for the new year – some snowmen, lights, and maybe a tree. But the markets in Basel were beautiful and ornate. Think of a quaint little town square newly crowded with a maze of small wooden houses. But it doesn’t stop there. Every single house is then covered with evergreens branches, ornaments, ribbons, and lights. All throughout the markets are evergreen trees creating a village-like atmosphere somewhere in a forest. The detail of the signs and displays of the vendors are all in character, even down to the price tags on every item you want to buy.
Most of our money we pulled out of the ATM was spent on food. Yes, all $50 of it. Switzerland is known to be more expensive, but it really took us by surprise how quickly our money was used up! In the chilly weather, sausages and sweets filled our tummies up, and mulled wine kept us warm! When you order your first wine at the markets, a deposit is made for the ceramic mugs. When another mug of wine is ordered, the last mug is exchanged for a new one, and you pay only for the refill. When you are ready to leave, return the mug back to any vendor that sells wine, and they will refund your deposit.
If any of you reading this know me, then you already know I kept at least one of our mugs. And may have started a small new collection of Christmas market mugs! Other than food, we found a small delicate ornament with a lovely snowy village cut into the wood as our souvenir. The vendors are diverse and unique provided lots of opportunities to meander through the markets and ‘window shop.’
So why so little time in one place? Simple, our sole purpose of these visits was to see different Christmas markets in different countries. It made deciding what to do and how to spend our time so easy. Museums, churches, and other touristy things were just a bonus to our travel if we happened upon them. Having one central theme made our trip relaxing and chill. Plus, living so close to Europe means we can go back, and Switzerland is a must!
Subscribe here to stay tuned for future posts!
PART 2 – Strasbourg, France
PART 3 – Germany – Saarbrücken, Kaiserslautern, Heidelberg, and Frankfurt
PART 4 – Prague, Czech Republic