European Christmas Market Itinerary by Train

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If you are a regular reader then you already know that I LOVE Christmas markets. Ever since I discovered that they existed way back in 2011 when I travelled for the first time, I’ve been kind of obsessed. The holiday season may be cold in Europe, but it’s so darn magical and hands down one of my favourite times to visit. The lights, the decorations, the cute mugs full of delicious gluhwein, sausages, cookies, and other snacks and treats. European Christmas markets are basically the adult version of Santa’s village and I love everything about them. However, having been to many markets over many years, I realize that planning a Christmas market itinerary can be a bit overwhelming.

Europe has no shortage of Christmas markets so which ones do you choose? How do you get there and travel around? When should you go and what should you see and do? If these are questions you have then this is for you. I’m sharing the exact 2-week European Christmas market itinerary that I did by train through Germany and France. If two weeks is too long, you can easily cut it into one week in a single country. Ready to get festive? Here we go!

Why Explore European Christmas Markets by Train?

Christmas tree and half timbered buildings in Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber

As you can see from the title, this European Christmas market itinerary is designed for train travel! Trains in Europe are amazing (so much better than in Canada). It’s a lot more relaxing than driving and still allows for more flexibility than an organized tour like a Christmas market cruise. Plus, they are more convenient, affordable, and environmentally friendly than flying.

For this itinerary, I used a mobile Eurail pass for the first time which was gifted to me by the company. I had 7 travel days to use within a 1-month period and complete freedom over my itinerary. It was super convenient because it allowed me to plan the big journeys in advance but could book my day trips day-of. This was handy for a number of reasons including affordability. Typically, the longer you wait to buy a train ticket, the more expensive it gets. With the Eurail pass, it’s a one-time fee that you pay upfront. So, unless you are on a train that needs a seat reservation (more on that later) then you can leave planning the smaller day trips to fit the weather and/or your mood when you are there.

European Christmas Market Itinerary  

As I said above, I did two weeks but you can also turn this into a one week European Christmas market itinerary very easily by choosing just one country to explore. For my two weeks, I chose a mix of big, well-known destinations and smaller, more local markets. If that sounds like your kind of European Christmas Market itinerary, then here’s how to plan.

Day 1 & 2: Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg Christmas market stall selling decorations in front of the big church

Nuremberg Germany is my favourite Christmas market. The setting is beautiful in front of a huge gothic church. The stalls are lined with red and white striped paper to look like a candy cane and the first time I went I even had some snow which added that extra magic touch. Mostly though, I love the quality of the products here. One thing you will note about European Christmas markets is that they can get repetitive, but the Nuremberg Christmas market stands out to me as one that has different, interesting, and plenty of local products.

Where to stay: I loved Hotel Sorat Saxx. It’s right on the square of the Christkindlesmarkt, the main Christmas market, and only about a 15 minute walk (or a quick taxi ride) from the train station. 

I have a full guide for Nuremberg Christmas markets which I suggest you check out for more in-depth reading, however, since this is the start of your tour I recommend spending 3 nights in Nuremberg. That way you can rest up a bit from the jetlag if you are coming from overseas and not feel too rushed. Although for one of those days, I will suggest a day trip which I will get to next.  

Day 3: Day trip to Coburg OR Augsburg

Christmas market stall in Coburg, Germany

After two days exploring Nuremberg, I suggest hopping on a train to nearby Coburg or Augsburg. I visited both during my recent trip and both have their perks and advantages depending on what you are looking for.

Coburg is a gorgeous little town only about 1 hour and 15 minutes by train to Nuremberg. The city centre is a 15-minute walk and full of beautiful old buildings in a range of pastel shades. The Christmas market here is tiny and mostly food based but, set up in the old square it is hands down one of the prettiest Christmas markets I’ve been to. I visited as a half-day trip but I do wish I went earlier in the day because the town is also home to an impressive fortress (one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses in all of Germany!). Coburg really gives fairy-tale vibes which makes it a fun pick.

The other option is Augsburg, which is about 1 hour and 30 minutes from Nuremberg. A little further away, this market is also much bigger although the town isn’t quite as pretty. However, Augsburg is known to have one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany thanks to old gingerbread baker markets during the holiday season. Like Coburg, you can walk to the market from the train station in about 15 minutes.

What I loved about both options is that they felt so local. I didn’t hear anyone else speaking English during my time at either of these German Christmas markets. 

Day 4 & 5: Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber, Germany

Hannah looking in the window of a Christmas shop

If you are familiar with Germany at all you have no doubt heard of or seen photos of Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber. The medieval walled city is a popular stop on Germany’s Romantic Road route. It’s absolutely stunning at any time of year but it’s really something special during the holiday season. The Christmas market here has grown over the years but, truthfully, as far as markets go, it’s not the most exciting. However, what the Christmas market lacks the town makes up for. The decorations, the lights, and of course the two massive Käthe Wohlfahrt shops which are winter wonderland fairy tales in their own right are some of the highlights here.

Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber is quite small, but because it takes longer to get to I suggest spending two nights so you have one full day. Most people come here just as a day trip so it can get quite busy late morning/early afternoon. But, when they leave or early in the morning before they arrive is a really magical time to explore and have more of a local feel.

Stay at: Hotel Sonne, located in the Old Town. It also has a great restaurant. 

Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber is about 2 hours from Nuremberg and 3 hours from Munich including transfers. The Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber Train station is an easy 10-minute walk from the Old Town Walls, but the streets are cobblestone which can make it tricky if you have lots of luggage.

Day 6: Munich, Germany

Christmas market stall in front of the Marienplatz in Munich

Next up is Munich. Munich has a number of Christmas markets including the Pink Market (run by the Queer community), the Medieval Market (complete with knights), and the big market in front of Marienplatz. Now, Munich will hold a special place in my heart as being the place where I first discovered that Christmas markets existed but, in relation to other cities and destinations, Munich’s Christmas markets are just, well, average. I don’t love them and they get very busy and crowded. For this reason, I suggest only spending about 24 hours in Munich. I managed to visit 6 Christmas markets in that time which kept me plenty busy and entertained before moving on. For a central location, stay at Mercure Hotel Munchen Altstadt.

At this point, depending on your schedule, you can end your European Christmas market itinerary in Munich on day 7. That will have given you 1 week of German Christmas markets. But, if you have the time, then I suggest moving on to France to continue.

Day 7 & 8: Strasbourg, France

teddy bear decorations on a building in Strasbourg, France

Take the time to explore a little more of Munich in the morning then take an afternoon train to Strasbourg, France. It’s a long train journey compared to the rest on this European Christmas market itinerary (around 4 hours, with at least 1 transfer) but worth it!

Located in the Alsace region of France, Strasbourg is one of the prettiest places for European Christmas markets. The houses, the businesses, the lights- Strasbourg does decorations beautifully!

There are 13 Christmas markets in Strasbourg. You can check out my Strasbourg Christmas market guide for all the details but many of them are smaller and some are themed. What I like about the Strasbourg Christmas markets is that it really feels like a mix. The larger markets are big and busy while smaller ones had that smaller, more local feel.

Everything is located within the old city making it an easy walk from the train station. I recommend stating at BOMA Easy Living, which I loved. Plus, it was only an 8-minute walk from the train station.

Day 9: Day trip to Colmar, France

Hannah sitting at a table outside a building in Colmar decorated for Christmas

Another must-see in the Alsace region is Colmar, known for being the inspiration for Belle’s village in Beauty and the Beast. Magical at the best of times, Colmar rivals Strasbourg when it comes to the most decorated Christmas markets in Europe. It’s only 30 minutes by train and a 15-minute walk to the Old Town area from the train station.

It is a very popular day trip option so expect it to be busy, but it’s worth it. I usually go a little earlier in the day to enjoy the market during daylight hours when it’s warmer since I head back to Strasbourg for the night. However, it looks pretty gorgeous in the dark with all the lights and I expect it’s a lot quieter in the evening when the day trippers leave.  

For more, check out my guide to Christmas Markets in Colmar.

Day 10, 11, 12: Reims, France

Hannah holding a glass of champagne

Time to take a break from gluhwein and vin chaud and head to Reims, the capital of champagne. Some of the best-known champagne cellars in the world are located here and offer tours and tastings. I spent two days exploring major international champagne brands and a couple of smaller, local ones. In the evenings, after learning about (and drinking) bubbles, I’d wander through the Reims Christmas Market and grab some delicious raclette from a vendor. Since Reims is known as the champagne area, it wasn’t busy at all with Christmas tourists which means that it had that local authentic feel. Although I do have to say my Canadian heart burst with happiness when I saw a couple of Quebec tents selling Canadian maple syrup, beer, and other Canadian liquors. While not as decorated or atmospheric, I found this to be a really friendly European Christmas market as a tourist.

I loved MM Suites Cathedral which was a really cute apartment (up 2 flights of stairs, no elevator). If you’d prefer a hotel try Grand Hotel de Templiers.

Day 13-14: Paris

Christmas tree in Galleries Lafayette

Last but not least is beautiful Paris, the ending point for this European Christmas market itinerary and only 45 minutes by train from Reims.

Paris has a number of markets including some small weekend-only pop-up ones. There are also plenty of decorations and light displays around the city. The Christmas windows of department stores like Printemps and of course the famous annual tree at Galleries Lafayette. Check out my full guide on Christmas in Paris for the holiday highlights and if you are looking for central places to stay try Hotel Crayon Rouge or Snob Hotel. If those are a bit above your budget, take a look at my list of affordable hotels in Paris. 

Using Your Eurail pass

Nuremberg Christmas market tents lined up in front of a gothic church

The 7 travel days within 1-month Global travel pass was perfect for the above itinerary. With the mobile pass, I was able to map it out in advance on the app under the ‘My Trip’ section. When I was happy with the results, I confirmed my travel days by tapping the icon to add the journey to my pass. Then, under my pass, I had the QR code with the ticket to show the conductor when they came to check. It’s simple and convenient!

A couple of things to be aware of. Not all trains have WIFI, so you’ll want to make sure that you have a sim card with data so you can pull up your pass on the train. Additionally, some trains do have seat reservations which cost extra and need to be booked in advance and, in my experience, printed as a paper ticket. This added an extra $90 CAD total to my itinerary since I booked a few high-speed trains through France.

Last but not least, if travelling with a friend you’ll want to order your seats together through the website. I did this trip with my mom and we both booked seats individually but there was no option to choose seats so unfortunately, we didn’t get to sit together. Once booked, your seats cannot be changed. If you need help figuring that out, get in touch with the Eurail team who can walk you through the steps.

Check out Eurail and their pass options here.

Final Tips for Your European Christmas Market Itinerary

If you love the holiday season as much as I do then this European Christmas market itinerary is sure to get you into a festive mood! Just keep in mind that it is one of the most popular travel times and therefore things do book up quickly. I suggest planning out your route and booking hotels and any big train journeys in advance to ensure you get the places and times that you want.

A Note on Travel Insurance in Europe

Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.

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