Plan Your Trip

Flying to and within Germany

First things first. If you live in North America–or Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or other English-speaking corner of the globe–and want to visit Germany at Christmas, you are going to have to take a plane. If you reside in the UK, you do have other options, but flying is so quick and inexpensive. And if you’re in Ireland–well, I think you’re probably going to want to fly.

Above all, you need a good flight search engine. For Americans and Canadians, I quite like Hipmunk. It’s user friendly, has good graphics and includes the main European budget carriers, which are not always listed on other search engines. (Conde Nast Traveler and Travel+Leisure like it too.)

Rail Travel in Germany

For years, Rail Europe has been the go-to booking agency for European rail passes. Christmas-market travelers from North America can buy a German Rail Pass, which offers from three to ten days of unlimited travel in Germany within a consecutive 30-day period. Passes are available in either first or second class and can be booked online. Since seat reservations are required for a number of trains, these can be booked at the same time as your rail pass.

The German Rail Pass offers a substantial discount to two people traveling together on an identical itinerary. There are also smaller discounts available for small groups. Having a rail pass is undeniably convenient and, for longer-distance itineraries, can be a good value.

You can also buy local transit passes for several German cities from Rail Europe. These city welcome cards cover travel on local buses, trams and subways and include maps and either discounts or free-entry to a variety of attractions.

That said, I urge anyone contemplating a rail journey within Germany also to consider booking their tickets through Deutsche Bahn, or DB BAHN, as it now seems to be named. Why? Well, for one thing the price of a standard point-to-point ticket is cheaper than with Rail Europe, and if you book the savings fare, which is generally available up to three days in advance of travel, then you will really save. And the further out you book, the less you will pay.

DB BAHN also offers several other types of discounted fares, which can be found on their website. Click on “Offers” on the top menu bar of the Home Page, and then look under “Offers in Germany.” Definitely check out the “Regional Offers Overview.” The site is very user friendly and has an English-language version. Not only can tickets be booked online, but they can be printed at home any time before departure.

Where to Stay

Where to stay in Germany at Christmas is a vast subject worthy of a website of its own and I hope at some point to write about it in greater depth.

German hotels at Christmas are frequently nearly as Christmassy as the markets themselves. Lobbies are literally decked with boughs of holly and evergreens. There are Christmas pyramids, nutcrackers, toys, candles and most likely a huge Christmas tree festooned with lights and brightly colored glass ornaments; frequently there’s an elaborate gingerbread house, prominently positioned. Breakfast buffets and afternoon tea trolleys are laden with Stollen, Lebkuchen and other traditional Christmas temptations.

When deciding where to stay, one thought is to visit the website of the destination where you’re headed because a number of cities and towns offer well-priced Christmas market accommodations packages at selected hotels.

If I’m visiting a city for the first time, I know I generally start with Trip Advisor. I appreciate its scope and the fact that it lets you instantly compare prices on the various hotel booking engines. I’ve certainly discovered and subsequently stayed at a number of hotels I’ve found online through them. And I’ve almost always been pleased with the results.