One of the best things about spending last December travelling through Germany, was that nearly every town we visited had it’s own Christmas market. And most of the time it was the perfect place to visit with our dog: whether to have a cheap bratwurst on a roll for lunch, or to spend the evening drinking glühwein and browsing the stalls. Even though most restaurants and many shopping centres in Germany are dog-friendly, it was still great to have this other fun option available to us. No matter whether you’re on the Continent, in the UK or in the US, visiting Christmas markets with your dog is a great idea, as long as your follow these tips.
1. Check Whether Dogs Are Allowed
While the Christmas markets that we visited in Germany had no restrictions on dogs (just like many other places in Germany), occasionally there are Christmas markets that are fenced off and charge an entry fee. In that case, there’s a chance that dogs may not be permitted, so check the rules. Additionally, in some other parts of the world outside of Germany and surrounding countries, dogs may also be frowned upon at regular Christmas markets. So, if you’re in doubt, check first.
2. Avoid Busy Markets (or Busy Periods)
One of the most famous Christmas markets is the one in the Old Town of Cologne (or Köln, in German). However, visiting the market on the first evening we arrived in Cologne with our dog was a bad idea. It was so crowded, it was difficult for anyone to move around, let alone with a dog. And that’s considering our dog, Schnitzel, is small and I could just pick him up and cradle him in my arms. I also once visited the Christmas Market outside the Town Hall in Munich, and had a similar squeezy experience.
Everyone, especially your dog, will enjoy the experience more if there’s plenty of room to move, plus find a table to stand at and eat or drink. Consider one of two options. Either visit the less popular Christmas markets, either further out from the city centre or in smaller towns. Alternatively, visit at less busy times of the day. We returned to the market in Cologne during the day, and there were far less people. Generally avoid the period from 5pm to 7pm, perhaps 8pm.
3. Look After Your Dog
The best way that you can look after your dog at Christmas Markets is to avoid busy markets where they could get trampled or get scared. But even if the market isn’t that busy, there’s certain other things you should do.
Always keep your dog on a short leash, and if it’s the local custom, considering putting on their muzzle. (Think about the rules on the local public transport, where they also come into close contact with people.) Small dogs might appreciate being carried, even if it’s not that busy.
Be cautious about food possibly dropped on the ground. Lots of people are holding and eating snack food, so some things are likely to be dropped. Try and steer your dog clear of tidbits on the ground, especially if they’re like my dog and will eat anything. If you see your dog eating something, try and remove it or get them to spit it out, if possible. Dangerous items include onions, chocolate and spicy food.
Finally, if there’s any braziers around, keep your dog away from them, to avoid the risk of burns and singes. Plus, if it’s cold enough for you to be standing around one, make sure your dog isn’t feeling the cold. It’s the perfect time for them to wear a smart coat, perhaps in a festive pattern!
My Christmas Market Recommendations
After spending two Christmas market season in Europe, these are my top recommendations for what Christmas markets to visit, with or without your dog.
Top Pick: Ulm, Germany
After visiting countless Christmas markets, my favourite market is the one in the central square of the small German city of Ulm. This market is great on so many levels. It’s in a beautiful location, next to Ulm Munster, currently the tallest church in the world. Off to one side there’s a model train set up, travelling through festive scenes, along with a larger train for children to take rides on. There’s plenty of food options, complete with a helpful list of what’s available at each stall along with prices, at the entrance to the market. And the nativity scene has real live animals.
Additionally, because it’s not one of the famous markets, frequented by tourist groups, it’s not too crowded, so it’s great to visit with your dog. Okay, it can get a bit crowded during the early evening, but it’s easy to hang around the edges and have plenty of room.
Best Shopping: Budapest, Hungary
At many of the Christmas markets the stalls often sell similar items, even markets located in different cities. I much prefer to find stalls selling unique, locally handcrafted items, even though many of the ornaments are unfortunately made from glass so not practical for getting home in a suitcase! However, at the Christmas markets in Budapest, in Vörösmarty Square, all stalls selling gifts are selected and approved by a special jury of folk art experts. At this market you’ll find beautiful ceramic ornaments, excellent notebooks, and delicate leatherwork, that you won’t find anywhere else.
Best Food: Innsbruck, Austria
There are two constants at all Christmas markets: stalls selling glühwein (mulled wine) and punsch (a slightly stronger alcoholic beverage), as well as various plates of food suitable for standing up and eating. The food on sale differs from country to country, although sausages are usually always on sale. Head along in the evening and put together dinner from the different street food, all as a reasonable price. The best food out of the markets I went to was in Innsbruck. As well as regular bratwurst, there were also Bonsa, long spicy sausages smothered in curry powder and onions. Absolutely delicious! Also highly recommended are the Kiachln, a doughnut-like fried bread with various filling, Käsespätzle, a pasta dish with cheese, and the various sweets.
Best Entertainment: Munich, Germany
When standing around and relaxing with a mug of glühwein, often it’s nice to have some musical accompaniment. At most of the Christmas markets there’s a calendar of concerts, and my pick out of the various ones I saw would be the music in Munich. Every evening at 5:30pm, Christmas carols are performed on the balcony of the Town Hall by various choirs, wind players and string groups. Because it’s on the balcony up above the square, nearly everyone can take in the beautiful music.
While visiting Munich, also consider taking a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle.
Best Variety: Vienna, Austria
Many cities have more than one Christmas market, with different markets in different parts of the city. This is certainly the case in Vienna, that has over 20 different markets, all with a different character. One of the most popular with tourists are the markets at Schönbrunn Palace, with handicrafts and original gifts. For families, the pick are the markets in front of the Rathaus, with its lights, pony rides, merry-go-round and toys on sale. Scattered around the streets of the old town are various small markets that focus on food, or else head to trendy Spittelberg for narrow streets full of revellers, jewellery and local jams and mustards.