ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

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wije
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ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by wije » Mon Nov 26, 2018 1:28 pm

My wife always wanted to see what Christmas in Germany is like, so I booked a flight where we arrive at Munich on the night of December 20th. We're departing Munich on the morning of January 2nd, so we have about 12 days to see things. We'd like to see Prague, Vienna, and possibly Venice but haven't made solid plans yet.

Also how far in advance should we get train tickets?

curmudgeon
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by curmudgeon » Mon Nov 26, 2018 7:11 pm

It can be a fun time of year, though weather can be a challenge. We got lucky the year we did the German Christmas markets, and got just enough snow to make things look very attractive, but not so much as to create transportation headaches (or rain to make things soggy). Normally buy train tickets no more than 60 days in advance. Check out www.seat61.com for excellent advice on various European train options (though he's an enthusiast, so he'll sometimes recommend train when you might be better flying a discount airline. Buying international train tickets, or even seeing the schedules can be surprisingly clumsy, though the German train system (bahn.de) is probably the easiest to navigate.

I would have done "open-jaw" flights rather than circling back to Munich in that much time, but that may not be changeable now. Munich has a fun Christmas market in the old town, as well as the "victualienmarkt" food market nearby. Staying in walking distance would be most convenient, but the S-bahn and U-bahn give good connections as well. Motel-One Sendlinger Tor is a decent option for good access, modern rooms, and moderate cost. From Munich, you can do a day trip to Neuschwanstein to see the castle if you like. Another day trip option would be Salzburg, though if you train to Vienna you would go that way in any case. For day trips in Bavaria (including to Salzburg), there is a nice discount option called the "Bayern ticket" which is great for groups.

Venice is a bit awkward to fit in to the other parts of your trip, though possibly workable. To fit it in, you would probably want to do sleepers on night trains. I personally have a hard time getting good sleep on the overnight trains, even the better quality ones, so I'd be hesitant to try doing several nights that way, but it may be an option (sleeping car night trains seem to be less common these days, not sure about those routes).

Vienna is big on New Years celebrations, but that may mean challenges for tickets and lodging if not already arranged. Christmas Eve, day, and even day after may have limited services and things open, so do some research before assuming you can see tourist attractions or get meals conveniently on those days. Great symphony and opera options in Vienna, but expensive (except for the standing room spots at the opera). The tourist-oriented concerts aren't as good, but can still be a fun way to see certain venues. Vienna has good train connections to Munich and Prague, but Prague to Munich is longer and not as comfortable (and awkward to book, bahn.de wants to do it with 4hrs bus + 3 hrs train); this leg might be better flying.

Prague has quite good music options as well. Not quite Vienna quality, but about 1/5 the price.

PaleoWorx
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by PaleoWorx » Mon Nov 26, 2018 8:37 pm

In addition t Prague, I would suggest visiting Budapest and Paris and Amsterdam.

gtd98765
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by gtd98765 » Mon Nov 26, 2018 10:59 pm

Nuremberg has a great Christmas market, and is an easy train ride from Munich. Salzburg is another nearby destination that is worthwhile, especially if you like Classical music. Make sure you know when the Christmas markets you want to visit close down. For some of them, Christmas Eve is the end; others may extend to New Year's.

Getting to and from Venice to your other destinations might take more time than you want to spend. It's also a lot more pleasant when the weather is warm, since so many of the interesting things to do in Venice are outside.

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Raymond
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by Raymond » Mon Nov 26, 2018 11:32 pm

PaleoWorx wrote:
Mon Nov 26, 2018 8:37 pm
In addition t Prague, I would suggest visiting Budapest and Paris and Amsterdam.
In a twelve-day trip?

Not sure if serious...

Or do you mean the next time OP and his wife go to Europe? :happy

-----

OP, in my opinion, twelve days divided between two locations would be best (including day trips to nearby sights), maybe three if they're not too far apart.

Otherwise you'll be spending too much time in planes, trains or automobiles.

I'd vote for Venice as a destination on a future trip, in a warmer season.
"Ritter, Tod und Teufel"

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Watty
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by Watty » Tue Nov 27, 2018 10:07 am

Be prepared for short days, one thing I always take with me even in the summertime is a small flashlight.

https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/germany/munich

curmudgeon wrote:
Mon Nov 26, 2018 7:11 pm
I would have done "open-jaw" flights rather than circling back to Munich in that much time, but that may not be changeable now.
+1

Even if the change fees are significant they might be worthwhile since that could also save you paying for a return train or flight and there would be less chance that there would be weather disruption on the return trip to Munich. You would also have one less travel day.
Raymond wrote:
Mon Nov 26, 2018 11:32 pm
OP, in my opinion, twelve days divided between two locations would be best (including day trips to nearby sights), maybe three if they're not too far apart.
Another +1

To me that schedule only looks like 11 days when you exclude the day they return.

When you are in a city you can also do a day trips or overnight trip to some place a few hours outside the city.

euroswiss
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by euroswiss » Tue Nov 27, 2018 6:34 pm

Lots of good advice already. I agree with skipping Venice - its too far out of the way and better visited in Spring or Summer.
Also, be aware that many (or most) places/shops/events other than specific Christmas events are closed on the 24th, 25th AND 26th (Stefanstag), and again on New Year's Day, especially if these connect with weekends, in Germany/Austria, so plan on a lot of self-guided sightseeing.
As far as weather, yes, you could hit a mild spell, but you could also run into some seriously cold weather (especially farther east such as Vienna or even Prague), so bring some layering options.

retired recently
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by retired recently » Tue Nov 27, 2018 9:19 pm

Last year, my wife, son and I went to Florence for 2-3 days, train to Rome for 2-3 days, incl a day trip to Pompeii. We then flew to Oslo for 3 days to see family for Xmas. Next we flew to Barcelona for 2-3 days, then train to Madrid for 2-3 days. It was great. I cannot recall the exact amount of time in each location but not more than 3 days for sure. Weather was fine, a bit chilly but not bad. Crowds were very manageable except Madrid.

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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by NoHeat » Tue Nov 27, 2018 10:33 pm

wije wrote:
Mon Nov 26, 2018 1:28 pm
My wife always wanted to see what Christmas in Germany is like, so I booked a flight where we arrive at Munich on the night of December 20th.
Visit Munich’s central square, Marienplatz, for two spectacles: Christkindlmarkt (outdoor market) and the mechanized display of stuffed animals in the windows of the Kaufhof department store — there’s nothing like it anywhere else.

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baconavocado
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by baconavocado » Wed Nov 28, 2018 12:57 am

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a very interesting medieval German town about 3 hours northeast of Munich by car or train. We were there in the middle of summer and some parts seemed to be decorated for Christmas, so they must have something big going on there during the holidays. And even if they don't, it's still a really cool place to visit.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothenb ... der_Tauber

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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by NoHeat » Wed Nov 28, 2018 11:18 pm

gtd98765 wrote:
Mon Nov 26, 2018 10:59 pm
Nuremberg has a great Christmas market, and is an easy train ride from Munich.
That’s right, and the Christkindlesmarkt is actually grander in Nuremburg than in Munich.

red5
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by red5 » Thu Nov 29, 2018 4:33 am

Munich is a wonderful city. Nurnberg definitely has *the* Christkindlesmarkt, so go there for that, although many other towns and cities will have very good ones as well. The Christkindlesmarkt's are what I miss most from my days in Germany.

You could probably spend all your 12 days just visiting Bavaria. But if you want to stretch it out to another city or two (or more) then Vienna, Prague, and/or Budapest are all within a reasonable distance and are nice cities to visit. Just dont cram to much in.

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stickman731
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by stickman731 » Thu Nov 29, 2018 5:25 am

You already got some good suggestions - I liked Cologne / Dusseldorf particularly visiting the Cathedral. With the Christmas markets, take your time and experience slowly.

In Vienna, I recommend St. Stephan's Cathedral and taking a tour. I took the Bells and Bones tour climbing the bell town down to the catacombs - it was extremely fascinating with the history of the church and the rituals. http://www.stephanskirche.at/visit.php. In addition, the square near the church has many good pastry shops - sit down have a cup of coffee and a pastry and enjoy the world go by.

PS: Bring good waterproof winter shoes just in a case there is snow on the ground - you do not want cold wet feet all day.

autolycus
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by autolycus » Thu Nov 29, 2018 2:22 pm

As you plan your itinerary, definitely pay attention to the market schedules. Some of them close up for the year earlier than the others. There are several websites with the calendars for all the main cities.

Munich, Rothenberg ob der Tauber, and Vienna would be a good set of 3 places to see. Could easily fit in Nurnberg also.

If you go to RodT, spend a night and do the Night Watchman's Tour, if he's still running for the year, but be aware that the town closes up earlier than the cities. RodT in the snow looks straight out of Disney, but it's the real deal.

The Austrian train company (OBB) runs a high speed train fairly frequently from Munich to Vienna. That's a great way to get back and forth (or to Salzburg as well). ~4 hours each way. Book that as soon as you have your hotel plans/schedule lined up. The prices are cheapest further out. Vienna's a great city even if the markets are closed up for the year, but it also has some very nice markets.

EDIT: In Munich, pick a hotel close to Marienplatz. You'll be able to get there very easily on the S-Bahn from the airport, and you'll be able to get to the inter-city train station (Hautbahnhof) as well. The neighborhood around the train station has tons of hotels, some of which can be very cheap, but it's not the nicest neighborhood.

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wije
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by wije » Mon Dec 03, 2018 11:05 pm

curmudgeon wrote:
Mon Nov 26, 2018 7:11 pm
Buying international train tickets, or even seeing the schedules can be surprisingly clumsy, though the German train system (bahn.de) is probably the easiest to navigate.
Thanks curmudgeon. How about the GoEuro website? It seemed more straightforward, with bus and plane options as well.

I appreciate the info from everyone. We're dumping Venice but might add Budapest.

curmudgeon
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by curmudgeon » Tue Dec 04, 2018 12:14 am

wije wrote:
Mon Dec 03, 2018 11:05 pm
curmudgeon wrote:
Mon Nov 26, 2018 7:11 pm
Buying international train tickets, or even seeing the schedules can be surprisingly clumsy, though the German train system (bahn.de) is probably the easiest to navigate.
Thanks curmudgeon. How about the GoEuro website? It seemed more straightforward, with bus and plane options as well.

I appreciate the info from everyone. We're dumping Venice but might add Budapest.
Some of the tourist-oriented rail websites (like EuroRail) have significant markup on their tickets and may not show all of the available routings. But on the other hand they may be easier to navigate. I've always bought our tickets from the most direct source possible (the national rail system for the starting station). On the websites if you look, you will almost always find a little british flag emblem to click in a corner to let you change the website to English (though you may still need to use local versions of city names). You can sometimes get significant discounts for advance purchase if you are willing to commit to the specific train (non-refundable).

I usually get basic train connection ideas on seat61.com, and look at train timetables on https://reiseauskunft.bahn.de//bin/query2.exe/en

For flights, I scope them out using flights.google.com to see what is available from various cities, then look at the specific airlines. For some of the discount airlines, you have to look closely at terms and conditions to avoid expensive surprises; it's easy to have your flight cost much more that the headline rate if you get caught by one of the gotcha's.

rich126
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by rich126 » Tue Dec 04, 2018 7:50 am

I've been to Germany and other parts of Europe often for the Christmas markets. Sure it gets cold and at times snowy (we had some wonderful 6-12" storms in Cologne and Rotheburg) which just made it more Christmas like. Usually we go a bit earlier (late Nov/early Dec) since the markets start earlier.

Rothenburg is certainly one of my favorites and well worth a couple of nights despite the train ride and connections. Cologne I thought was too big. Munich is a great base camp. Vienna and Salzburg are also wonderful. Brugges in Belgium is another excellent place to visit.

The best thing to do with train tickets is to read the info on a web site https://www.seat61.com

Usually it is cheapest to buy point to point tickets ahead of time. Passes usually aren't the best option although in the right circumstance can be ok. For high speed trains (e.g., Cologne to Brussels, etc.) it is best to have seat reservations since those trains get busy. Second class is fine for most travel.

You can also find some experienced travelers and advice over at the Rick Steves forum.

friuli_croatan
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by friuli_croatan » Tue Dec 04, 2018 8:25 am

I did Vienna last week it was great. Lots of Christmas markets. Zagreb, Croatia and Ljubljana, Slovenia (small) are also nice. I would skip Venice all together, it has become a tourist trap. I would also avoid Paris.

I can’t speak much for Germany, but I hear most towns including Munich are great for Christmas.

open_circuit
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by open_circuit » Tue Dec 04, 2018 10:11 am

Stop by the Eisbachwelle in the English Garden while you are in Munich for the spectacle of some very cold surfing far from the normal waves.

bungalow10
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by bungalow10 » Tue Dec 04, 2018 12:11 pm

ooh! We did a similar trip last year. We were living in Amsterdam, so we obviously started there. I wouldn't make Amsterdam part of your trip though, we found the city lovely, but nothing special for Christmas.

We rented a car, there were five of us (DH, me, and three kids - 10, 8, and 4 1/2) so it was cheaper than trains, and afforded us more flexibility to see the countryside and stop at mom and pop restaurants as we drove.

We went to Belgium first and stayed at a Centre Parcs (water park - we have three kids) with friends. Then on Dec 23, we drove across Germany to Dresden and stayed there for three days (through Christmas) at the Hilton downtown. The service at the hotel was phenomenal, we loved it there, and we went to a half dozen markets within walking distance, plus museums and restaurants. A truly memorable way to spend Christmas.

From there we drove to Prague for a day (a very very cold day) and went to some markets there. Prague was beautiful, but for some reason (maybe the weather?) we enjoyed it less than Dresden.

Then we drove back to Amsterdam :sharebeer
An elephant for a dime is only a good deal if you need an elephant and have a dime.

PaleoWorx
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by PaleoWorx » Tue Dec 04, 2018 12:17 pm

Raymond wrote:
Mon Nov 26, 2018 11:32 pm
PaleoWorx wrote:
Mon Nov 26, 2018 8:37 pm
In addition t Prague, I would suggest visiting Budapest and Paris and Amsterdam.
In a twelve-day trip?

Not sure if serious...
if you carefully plan ahead of time, you can do it. But then again, no one likes doing that so people end up googling once they get there.
But I am serious. I visited Paris, Prague, Budapest, Vienna and Amsterdam- all in one trip - in 15 days.
Saw every single thing I wanted to see, and did every single thing you wanted to do.

If you're spending more than 3 days in ANY city (IMO), you are wasting your time and money.

bungalow10
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by bungalow10 » Wed Dec 05, 2018 8:25 am

PaleoWorx wrote:
Tue Dec 04, 2018 12:17 pm
Raymond wrote:
Mon Nov 26, 2018 11:32 pm
PaleoWorx wrote:
Mon Nov 26, 2018 8:37 pm
In addition t Prague, I would suggest visiting Budapest and Paris and Amsterdam.
In a twelve-day trip?

Not sure if serious...
if you carefully plan ahead of time, you can do it. But then again, no one likes doing that so people end up googling once they get there.
But I am serious. I visited Paris, Prague, Budapest, Vienna and Amsterdam- all in one trip - in 15 days.
Saw every single thing I wanted to see, and did every single thing you wanted to do.

If you're spending more than 3 days in ANY city (IMO), you are wasting your time and money.
I agree, doable in 12 days. These cities are not very far apart.
An elephant for a dime is only a good deal if you need an elephant and have a dime.

Mister A
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Re: ideas for a Xmas holiday in central Europe

Post by Mister A » Wed Dec 05, 2018 8:56 am

For my own travel style, I'd feel like Paris is a little too much of a time commitment, but do consider Strasbourg if you can make it work. It's a classic Christmas destination. The cathedral at Aachen is an interesting day trip if you're heading in that direction, as well.

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