Discovering the Magic of Europe’s Christmas Markets, by Insight Vacations Guest Maureen

by | 5 Jul 2024

As an Australian, to come to Europe and have snow was just so magical. We grow up with snow at Christmas being something from children's books, we just don't get that here.

There’s no place like Europe’s Christmas markets to experience the magic of the holiday season. Filled with twinkling lights and festive stalls, they transform cities into winter wonderlands of charm and tradition. At Insight we wrap them up with stylish hotels, delicious dining and a whole range of exclusive experiences, just to make the holidays even more special.

To find out more about what makes Europe’s Christmas markets so magical, we spoke with Insight Guest Maureen, who is based in Australia. “I say to everyone you’ve got to do one Christmas Market in Europe in your life,” says tells us. “It’s everything you see in books and films, and then some.”

Insight guest Maureen enjoys the local beer in Central Europe on a Christmas markets tour

Christmas in Central Europe

An avid traveler, Australian Maureen has been on two Insight Vacations tours to Europe’s Christmas Markets. “The first was back in 2016. The tour took in Vienna, Budapest and Prague,” she reminisces.  “I’d never been to these cities before, and I love everything art nouveau, so I did quite a bit of research ahead of time on what I hoped to see.”

A kaleidoscope of architectural styles, Prague is famous for the Gothic Charles Bridge and the historic Prague Castle. Interspersed are several stunning art nouveau buildings including the hotels Paris and Evropa. Combine these sights with the Prague Christmas Market lighting up the Old Town Square and you have quite a heady mix for the senses. Features traditional Czech treats like trdelník (sweet pastry) and locally crafted gifts, all set against the backdrop of the iconic Astronomical Clock and Týn Church.

“The beauty of this tour was that we had had a lot of free time to explore so, as well as enjoying Europe’s Christmas markets, I had time to find the places I specifically wanted to. The markets themselves were simply stunning. Mostly small and easy to navigate, especially at night, which was really special.”

Divided by the River Danube in two once autonomous cities, Buda and Pest, the Hungarian capital of Budapest is frequently named one of the most beautiful cities in the world. When lit up at night it is mesmerizing, when combined with Christmas markets its unforgettable. During the holidays the city is dotted with Christmas markets from the small and quirky to the large. Two that draw thousands of visitors each year are the Christmas Fair Vorosmarty Square and Christmas Market by Basilica.

Aerial view of Prague's central square lit up with Christmas market stalls and full of people

Snow, glorious snow in Austria

“The second and most recent Christmas Market tour was Alpine Christmas Markets, in December 2023, which visits Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland over 9 Days,” says Maureen. “This was a faster paced tour, but I still loved it all. We went to lots of markets and probably I would say too many!

Staring in Munich, Germany with Christmas Markets and Bavarian royal palaces galore, you then travel through Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, taking in a very special piano demonstration. “We were very lucky in this one in that we had snow in Innsbruck in Austria,” Maureen says of the third stop on this tour. “We took an absolutely stunning horse-drawn carriage ride through the woods, surrounded by the mountains and valleys of Tyrol.

“For me as an Australian to come to Europe to have snow was just so magical. We grow up with children’s books and things like that showing snow at Christmas and we just don’t get that here.”

The tour then heads back through Germany’s famous Black Forest, before taking in the famous Strasbourg Christmas Market in France, one of the oldest and largest and then on to Zurich for a Switzerland holiday finale.

A glass of dark red mulled with with spices floating on the surface, next to a bright strip of orange rind

Enjoy wine and local delicacies at Europe’s Christmas Markets

“At the markets you get to try a lot of the local food and wine, which is always a real treat,” says Maureen.

Adding an extra something to the experiences, Insight’s Christmas Market tours offer the chance to meet the people behind the magic, including stallholders and artisans, to bring to life the local tastes and treats.

“I must admit to liking mulled wine, or glühwein as it is often called in Europe. There’re so many opportunities to try the local treats, which are different in each country. I remember that in Germany we tasted Chimney Cakes which were delicious, and gingerbread and bratwurst.”


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I’ve taken 12 Insight Tours

Whilst Maureen has travelled to some fabulous destinations throughout her life, it is in more recent years that she has really explored her love of travel and spent more time away from her homeland in Australia. “My oldest sister has been a travel agent since she was 20 so she’s been travelling all her life. Though I‘d been to a few places including Japan, Bail and Vietnam, it was when I turned 50 that my other sister said to me “if you don’t start travelling now, you’ll never do it”. So, I went to France with her, and I’ve never stopped! “

Her daughter moved to Europe and started a family so now Maureen visits every year and combines it with a European trip, usually with Insight. “My first tour with Insight was in 2006, Easy Pace Italy, and I thought “wow, that was just so good!” Then in 2010 my husband and I went on Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley, which we both loved. From there on, I’ve done 12 Insight tours!

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..and keep coming back

“Insight has never let me down,” Maureen says with a smile, “and there’s always surprises. The knowledge of the tour guides and Local Experts is excellent. I do always research where I’m going but they always come up with something new and point out things without being too over the top, it’s just comfortable.

“Whilst I have always enjoyed doing the research and planning, I find a guided tour with the extra luxuries and comforts that Insight has is great for me. I like the better hotels close to the city, the extra space on the coach and the like-minded travelers.”

“Our Travel Directors have all been very good, very organized. And the drivers have been excellent. The last one always helped us off the bus with his arm, which was really sweet and made us feel very special.”



Solo travel with Insight is fun and easy

“I have travelled solo twice with Insight and it’s been a great experience,” Maureen tells us. “One Christmas Market tour I did on my own and Southern Italy. I think they were both about two thirds women and on the first one I met up with an American, a lady from Singapore and a couple from Australia. We all spent time together, then would go off on our own and then we would meet up again. It was always very easy to meet people as we all have a similar interest – travel.”

“I prefer my own company in a way because I like photography and want to be able to take my time taking photos. I also find I like to look for the different things than the crowd. So going solo with a group is the perfect combination. There are people to lead the way and look out for you, but plenty of opportunity to do your own thing.”


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My future travel plans

“On the bucket list, I’d like to take my husband to Northern Italy,” Maureen says. “I love Italy and have been there a few times but not really in the north. I’d also love to see more of Croatia, having visited Dubrovnik for a few days only. In the future I would like to travel with my daughters to the Canyons of the USA. No matter how much you travel, there’s still always so much to see.”

I'm a writer, editor and interview specialist with a lifetime's love of travel. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than meeting, and writing about, the world's leading destination experts and travel industry insiders. The thing I love most about writing for Insightful is that I'm always learning something new.