The official start of the holiday season for Germans is on the first of four Advent Sundays. This year, these are December 2, 9, 16 and 23. Families gather around a decorated wreath with four candles, called "Adventskranz," and light a new candle every Sunday until all four are burning. The afternoons are an opportunity to enjoy an "Adventskaffee" (coffee) with cake or home-baked "Weihnachtsplätzchen" (Christmas cookies).
Many of the world's most beloved seasonal traditions originate in Germany, such as the Christmas tree and the Advent Calendar. For Germans, however, nothing compares to the unique atmosphere of an authentic old Christkindlmarkt in a traditional setting.
German town squares, normally dark early in winter months, are lit up and buzzing with activity during this time. Townspeople gather together, listen to brass band music, drink beer or hot mulled wine (Glühwein) or hot chocolate, and enjoy the hearty traditional fare of the region. Vendors peddle baked goods, including gingerbread hearts, sugar-roasted almonds, and crepes.
In the Alpine markets, St. Nikolaus is often accompanied by a scary looking hairy figure called Krampus. (There are usually several of them). With a din of cowbell jangles, they dash through the markets, chasing giggling children and adults alike, swatting them with switches made of straw or twigs, and scaring some with the realization that they were naughty this year.
The most common way to wish someone a merry Christmas in German is to tell them, "Frohe Weihnachten. (FRO-eh Vi-NAKT-en).
The German Christmas tree, "Tannenbaum" (yes just like the song) is traditionally put up and decorated on Christmas Eve, and will remain up until Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings, 12 days after Christmas.
Glühwein (glue-wine): The literal translation for Glühwein is "glow wine;" people get warm and "glow" with the consumption of mulled wine. Traditional Glühwein is a hot drink made with red wine, sugar, sometimes citrus, and spices including cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom.
Punsch (poonsch): Very similar, but some will be flavored with berries (beerenpunsch), peaches, or even amaretto. If you prefer to steer clear of alcohol, but still want the Weihnachtspunsch experience, no problem. It's usually available in a non-alcoholic version (often called Kinderpunsch, literally Children's Punch).
Haven't finished your holiday shopping? Advent calendars make a great gift for yourself or friends, and easy to bring home in your suitcase. Hand-painted ornaments, and wood carvings from Oberammergau are two other popular options, and you'll find them in most of the markets.
And if you have forgotten anything before leaving for home, there is even a Christmas Market with ice skating facilities at Munich's international airport.
Upon arrival enjoy a comfortable private transfer to your city center hotel.
After checking in to your hotel, there's ample time to explore the Bavarian capital in the afternoon. In early December, holiday traditions light up the season in German cities, and Munich is no exception. Marienplatz is the central square in the heart of Munich and holds the New Town Hall of Munich. It's a good place to get your bearings as you wander through the narrow streets and lanes. At 11am you will hear (and see) the Glockenspiel, a beautiful chiming clock that is over 100 years old and watch the 32 life-sized figures reenact historical Bavarian events.
In addition to the largest Christkindl market at Marienplatz, you'll find over 20 more located throughout the city of Munich, including the Medieval Christmas Market, Sendinger Tor, and Schwabing.
After breakfast, take time to explore in the morning, and duck into a cafe for a typical Bavarian lunch.
At 2pm, meet your guide in the hotel lobby for your Private Christmas Market Walking Tour.
Munich has been hosting Christmas markets for 600 years, and every year the medieval center of town is transformed into a winter wonderland cluttered with charming stalls selling every variety of classic decoration and gift in a happy atmosphere with the scent of roasted nuts and hot spiced wine. You will be taken on a festive stroll through the colorful markets clustered around Marienplatz and its surroundings.
And what's that enticing aroma? Cinnamon, cardamom and sugar... your nose will tell you that the season is underway as you wind your way through the markets.
After working up an appetite walking through the markets, this evening you'll enjoy dinner at the historic Ratskeller, a Bavarian style restaurant. It's located right at Marienplatz.
A typical Bavarian dinner will include a starter soup, choice of chicken, pork or vegetarian main dish, followed by warm apple cake with ice cream.
(Breakfast, Dinner & Accommodations, Munich)
After a leisurely breakfast, take the short 90 minute train ride to Nuremberg. With almost 1000 years of history, this ancient city is known for its medieval architecture and timbered houses in the Altstadt (Old Town). The city's narrow alleyways, bridges, and picturesque half-timbered houses date back to the Middle Ages. And just to the north of the old town, lies the Castle of Nuremberg; one of the most important surviving medieval fortresses in Europe.
After checking in to your centrally located hotel, meet your guide at the hotel at 2pm to visit Germany's most famous Christmas Market. Arrive at the Hauptmarkt, home to the aptly-named 14th-century "Beautiful Fountain" with its ornate decorations and figures. It's here that Nuremberg's famous Christmas Market is held. The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt was named one of the Top 100 attractions in Germany in a survey by the German National Tourist Board, and holds almost 180 wooden stalls, festooned with wreaths and garlands.
Let yourself be enchanted by the special and festive atmosphere of the city. With its hundreds of years of history, the traditional market has too many things to do and enjoy. Don't forget to try the famous Gingerbread - "Lebkuchen" (LEEB-kooken) have been baked for more than 600 years in Nuremberg. At the Christmas Market you'll get them in every size and with different coatings like chocolate and sugar. They make the perfect souvenirs for the loved ones at home, packed in beautiful tin boxes. And of course, a warming mug of Glühwein will be on the agenda.
Tonight, you'll enjoy dinner at the historic Bratwurst Roeslein. Since 1431, this Bavarian landmark combines tradition with cozy atmosphere and is conveniently located in the heart of the medieval district.
(Breakfast, Munich; Accommodations & Dinner, Nuremberg)
After breakfast at your hotel, leave your bags in Nuremberg and take a 1.5 hour train ride to Regensburg, with one of Europe's best-preserved medieval city centers. Have lunch in the Historic Sausage Kitchen restaurant, which served workers who built the 12th-century Stone Bridge next to it. Run by the same family for generations, the restaurant features potato soup and Regensburger sausage, considered by some to be the ultimate Wurst accompanied by sweet mustard and sauerkraut. At 3pm embark on a private guided walking tour of the beautiful old town of Regensburg. This tour will not only introduce you to the Old Town, with its wealthy merchants' houses, the Old Town Hall, and cathedral (all from the outside), the Stone Bridge and the Porta Praetoria, but the guide will also accompany you to the Romantic Christmas Market in the inner courtyard of the Castle Thurn und Taxis. Enjoy the beautiful atmosphere, while drinking a glass of mulled wine.
In the evening take the train back to Nuremberg.
(Breakfast & Accommodations, Nuremberg)
After breakfast, transfer to Nuremberg train station or airport for your next Avanti destination.