This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.
Visiting Christmas markets with kids can be a fun experience for the whole family. To avoid a stressful trip and have the maximum amount of fun, here is a useful guide on how to survive Christmas markets with children as well as some ideas to keep them amused and entertained and make it a memorable trip for everyone.
Anyone who has visited one of the European Christmas markets knows how special these festivities can be. Laden with twinkling fairy lights, sparkling, shiny decorations, and a big tree, Christmas markets radiate joy, fun and festive cheer. Add kids to the mixture and you’ve just taken the magic of Christmas to a whole new level.
Whilst visiting advent markets with kids can add to the Christmas spirit and excitement, parents will know the daunting feeling of visiting a crowded marketplace with kids in tow. This year (2019) was our first year visiting Prague’s Christmas Markets as parents with a small infant. So whilst our experience is certainly limited, I’ve written this small guide full of helpful tips for any parent thinking about visiting Christmas markets with a baby, toddler or children.
Do some advanced planning
For a stress-free visit to a Christmas Market with kids, whether it be in Dresden, Prague or even a local Christmas market close to home, we strongly advise having a game plan and doing some advanced planning. Some things to consider include:
How will you get there?
If you’re visiting a European Christmas market on a short break, figuring out how to get to the markets in advance will be useful if you’re traveling with children. Most large and popular Christmas markets tend to be in the city center so if you’re staying in a centrally located hotel, most are within walking distance, however, if you have to take public transport or drive, knowing how to get there or if there is suitable parking and the cost is useful to know in advance and saves valuable time.
Depending on the age of your baby or children, planning the time of day you’ll visit is important. If you want to avoid the crowds visiting early morning or early afternoon is best. Considering that most European cities begin to dark around 4 pm in the winter, you can take advantage of visiting around 3 – 4:30 pm to enjoy fewer crowds but still enjoy the Christmas lights and festivities before it gets busy and the kids demand dinner or their beds.
If you have yet to book your visit to a Christmas market, consider visiting the opening week of the markets which in some destinations can be as early as mid-November. This period tends to be a little less crowded and slightly cheaper in travel costs.
Most Christmas markets in Europe have a fun-filled schedule of festive activities, shows, and rides for children to enjoy. If you aim to attend a specific workshop, or perhaps you want to see the lighting of the Christmas tree or ride the carousel, make sure you are aware of the times to avoid disappointment.
No matter how old your children are, know where the closest toilets are. If you’re a parent – I need not explain the importance of this point any further 😉
Taking a baby stroller or wearing a baby carrier? Pros and Cons
In my opinion, there are pros and cons for taking both a stroller or wearing your baby in a wrap or carrier. For smaller, less crowded Christmas markets, a baby stroller may serve you well however in a more crowded market (like Prague) having a young baby in a stroller may not be such a good idea.
Not only will you have cobblestones to attend with, crowds of people often make it impossible to get around the narrow pathways in between stalls and with so many people drinking gluhwein, it could potentially be dangerous for your baby to be so low down in a stroller where she/he could be scalded by split hot wine. On the other hand, you can store all your purchases underneath a stroller, saving you from carrying bags of Christmas gifts around (or your baby) for hours and in colder weather, your baby may be warmer wrapped up inside their footmuff.
However, having your baby in a carrier has many benefits too. Not only will you have more room to maneuver when it is crowded, but your baby will also be warm and snug against your body and have a better view of the sights. We found our son was extremely nervous in his stroller in a crowded market, so having your little one close may make them more relaxed and more likely to enjoy the new experiences around them.
Wrap up warm
European weather during wintertime is notoriously unpredictable. You could have below zero temperatures one day, snowy blizzards the next and then balmy 10-degree sunshine the day after. If you’re visiting Christmas markets with children, ensure they are well dressed and prepared for the cold. If you’re traveling with young infants or toddlers, they are more likely to feel the cold so hat, scarfs, gloves, and layers are recommended for children to keep warm. A warm fleece under a waterproof/windproof jacket is useful and for young babies, a thermal snowsuit is often used and favored by locals living in these destinations (see above). You can also carry an extra pram blanket in your bag just in case they get cold too. In regards to footwear, shoes with plenty of grip will be useful for active children in case of icy cobbles and snowfall.
It is inevitable that with so many interesting things to look at children can easily be distracted. A child only has to drag behind or stop and look at something for a split second for them to become lost or out of sight in a crowded Christmas market, turning a fun visit into a parent’s worst nightmare. Having an “I’m lost” game plan can avoid these stressful situations.
When you arrive at a Christmas market, pick out a visible large landmark such as the main Christmas tree, Christmas pyramid or shop and show your child, explaining to them that should they lose sight of you to firstly stand still for a moment (so you could potentially recover them quickly) or go directly to the chosen landmark.
Consider visiting smaller markets
If you’re worried about large crowds, consider visiting one of the smaller Christmas markets instead of the main ones that can be found in the large squares. Smaller Christmas markets tend to be located a little further out in the quieter residential areas but they are just as enjoyable. Gifts are often handmade and prices are a little bit cheaper, workshops aren’t as busy, and since many are located in the residential districts, they have a cozier, more local feel to them.
Fun activities for families visiting Christmas Markets
While the gluhwein, Christmas ornaments, and shopping is for adults, there are plenty of ways to win as a parent when taking kids to Xmas markets. Incorporating a few fun activities will keep the children happy and content
Give your children a budget
Visiting Christmas markets with kids can get expensive when you add up all the fairground rides, snacks, and purchases so giving each child a small budget or an advance on their pocket money for these things will be easier on your wallet as well as teaching them a good lesson on budgeting.
Some Christmas markets often feature a large stage that plays host to a range of festive-themed entertainment from concerts performed by children, carol singers, family orientated performances and local traditional dancing.
At some Christmas markets, you can find outdoor ice-skating rinks which are usually a big hit with older kids. Rent the skates and then either sit back and enjoy your hot wine while your kids are off skating round and round or join them for a fun family activity together and place bets on who falls over first!
Like any family vacation or memorable experience, you’ll want to make sure you capture those special magical moments, like when your children first see that huge Christmas tree, or when they sip their first hot chocolate or skate around an ice rink unaided.
These cherished moments spent as a family make for great photos (and great Christmas cards too) so instead of relying on a stranger to take your family photos, or always having either you or your spouse missing, take advantage of a vacation photographer to make sure all those fun times are captured as a whole family.
Companies such as Localgrapher are designed just for this purpose and they have photographers in over 900 destinations worldwide, so no matter what Christmas destination you choose to visit as a family, you can be sure that you can find the perfect photographer!
Interested in doing a family photo shoot on your next travels? Find a Localgrapher photographer here.
Visit the Nativity
Whether you’re religious or not, there is no escaping the traditional nativity scenes found at most Christmas markets. Often located in the main market, Nativity scenes are a great reminder of the true meaning of Christmas and some are accompanied by animal stables with sheep, donkeys, and goats to pet and feed.
Some of the larger European Christmas markets such as Vienna and London have adjoining fairgrounds complete with carousels, helter-skelter, Ferris wheels, roller coasters, and arcade games. Taking time to stop by and allow your kids a ride or two will often be a highlight of their visit, not to mention a few minutes of peace for you. If the weather turns cold or wet, fairgrounds and arcades are great places to seek refuge and keep warm and dry.