When I was a young girl, okay.. technically I’m still young.. But, when I was a much, much younger girl.. (way before Pinterest existed), I would sit on my bed and flip through magazines, sip hot cocoa.. journal and pen in hand.. planning for my epic European Christmas..
I experienced the most magical sceneries I had never seen before…
Historic towns with twinkly lights and garlands decorating the streets, little bakeries and shops with big wreaths on the doors… snow covered chalets and cottages…
As if that weren’t enough to enchant me for life… they topped it off with charming Christmas markets complete with carousels, skating rinks, ornate steins of glühwein and hot cocoa, delicious sweets, and shoppes with handcrafted ornaments and nutcrackers.
And that’s when I fell in love with Christmas in Europe.
Had I actually been to Europe? No… only through my magazines.. but, that’s basically the same thing, right?… lol. At least it was to me.. Then again, I was like..10. It was enough to inspire me.
If I came across something cutesy and Christmasy in the magazine, I’d scan the page for the name of the city and write it down..
As if I were planning a real trip.. ha! More like a “When I Grow Up…” dream than an actual plan…
Remember when we were that adorable? I couldn’t wait for the day when I was grown up enough to actually plan a trip.
An American Girl Dreams of a European Christmas
I was living in sunny Southern California at the time.. Which as you can imagine.. is the furthest thing from a White Christmas.. (my favorite Christmas movie btw) So, can you blame a girl for dreamin?
You look across the street and instead of seeing your friend build a snowman, you see her in her bikini, hopping in the car with her family to go to the beach.
Then, in my teens, I moved across the country to New York.. a whole different world.. practically a new country compared to Cali… But, I was excited thinking I’d finally get the holiday I had always envisioned…
But, is NYC a cozy Christmas town in Europe? Nope…
Where were the storybook villages I had seen in my magazines when I was little? Did they even exist? If so, where the heck were they?
Yes, as a matter of fact they do exist! As it turns out.. the pretty pictures I saw in my magazines as a young girl were not just staged for a photoshoot. Well.. at least not the Christmas markets. 😉
“My Christmas present to myself each year is to see how much travel can open up the world and take me to places as far from sheltered California … as possible.”
And Then My Little Girl Dreams Came True…
With the holidays being in full swing, I thought I’d recap one of my best Christmas trips abroad that led into the New Year. It all started with my then boyfriend and I heading to his home in Germany for the holidays.
One of the great things about having a European boyfriend is that I always had many great opportunities to visit Europe, particularly Germany.. and at Christmastime. 😉 It’s so interesting to see how the US and Germany’s Christmas traditions compare to each other.
Not to mention, having him speak the language, everything was much easier.
Berlin, Here I Come!
I was so excited at just the thought of going to Berlin. I had heard a lot about the city. And the Christmas markets I looked up online beforehand looked amazing.
Whether you enjoy arts & culture and want to stop by a gallery or museum, are a big foodie like myself and want to eat your way through every street vendor and Ratskeller in the city or, are a history buff and enjoy exploring the streets and its many historical sites, there’s something for everyone….
I’ll get to all of that in another blog. Right now I’m just gushing about the Christmas markets!
FACT: Real Girls Have Dreamt About Holidays Abroad Since They Were Little
My boyfriend would fly over a week before me to get a head start on celebrating the holidays with his family in Germany and I would take a solo flight and meet them there.
I have so many horror travel stories I could tell you about Amsterdam.. just bad luck I guess.. I’ll save that for another time but let’s just say I was relieved at finally having a smooth layover.. just 1 hour as promised..
When I finally arrived at Dusseldorf Airport, I was pleasantly surprised to find how festive it was! They even had a skating rink!
In Germany at Last…
After visits with family in his hometown and catching up with all of his friends, we hopped on a train and headed to Berlin where we’d be staying for several days to celebrate the holidays and welcome the new year!
So, my Christmas Berlin story will start picking up here. But, I’ll already give you a little hint as to how it ended…
Pssst… Berlin is now my absolute favorite city in Europe! 😉
What’s a Holiday in Berlin Like?
Although I wouldn’t know from personal experience, I hear that Berlin is great anytime of year… I can see why. It’s one of those cities I found myself not wanting to leave..
So much so that I found myself asking whether I wanted to become a Berliner one day… 😉
But, Berlin over the holidays? Even more fun… and pretty. I loved how the city came to life with charming Christmas markets all over the city, each unique to its location.
New Years Eve was equally spectacular but in a completely different way.
The city has a massive party at Brandenburg Gate every year that goes on for a mile! It’s basically the equivalent to watching the ball drop in NYC’s Time Square.. only, fireworks all over the city as well! It’s pretty spectacular.
Arriving in Style
How did we get to Berlin? By train of course! Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Berlin Central Station) is Europe’s largest train station.
We caught a cab from the train station to the hotel which was only a few minutes away.
A German Tradition, Christmas Markets
A thing about the Germans? They know how to do Christmas! It’s an amazing spectacle to witness. They really value tradition especially at Christmas.
If you’re in Germany at Christmastime without having stopped by a Christmas market, were you even there at all?
Their Christmas markets have been around since the 16th c. Many Germans argue what constitutes an “authentic market”.. It’s a whole east vs. west vs. south vs. north thing.
Who’s Christmas markets are better in Germany? I can only speak for the ones I’ve experienced in Berlin… But would love to go to markets all over the country one day!
There are so many names for Christmas markets in Germany… Christkindlesmarkt, Christkindlemarkt, Adventmarkt, Christkindlmarkt, Glühweinmarkt, Striezelmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt…
Now that I’ve been to the real thing, it’s silly to think how excited I was when I saw that one.
Prior to 1920, each of Berlin’s districts were separate towns. Therefore, unlike other German cities that have 1 central Christmas market, Berlin has many scattered across the city.
Christmas & Winter Markets I Went to…This is what “little me” was dreaming about all those years ago… But, if someone you’re traveling with is not a Christmas enthusiast like you and me… (eye roll)… later in the blog, I mention Non Holiday Related Activities Near Westin Grand Berlin that you can do. I also share my Google Maps list as well so you can plan your trip. I love how a lot of Berlin’s markets are open even after Christmas. If you’re like me, you enjoy stretching out the holiday for as long as possible! If you want a classy and elegant Christmas market…Gendarmenmarkt is located on a lovely square that houses the German and French Cathedral as well as Shinkel’s Konzerthaus, Berlin’s national theatre and a famous concert hall.
When is the Market Open?From Advent until New Years.
Special Offerings:The market had everything it seemed! From live performances like plays and a choir. Foodie finds like cafes and little popup fondue restaurants in heated tents with white fur throw blankets to keep you warm and tables set up nice. They had a very cozy interior that made you feel like you were in a ski chalet. You’d never think it was a pop-up. There was no shortage of foodie finds in the market… fresh cheese assortments… desserts… cafes with traditional German fare and vendor booths throughout serving gluhwein. I also saw rotating grills hanging over a fire which seems to be a popular thing throughout German Christmas markets. It had different meats.. bratwursts, schnitzel, krakauer (Polish sausage), etc… It all smelled so amazing.. like BBQ heaven. They also had an abundance of craftsmen, dress makers, and local artists selling hand carved wood trinkets and signature German souvenirs. To go with it, I also got some Mutzenmandeln (little German almond donuts) a.k.a. “Mutz”.. which is far cuter to say, don’t you think? They were warm, sugary, and delicious. Perfect chilly evening treat. I ate them while watching a show. They had cute Christmas performances you could stand and watch for free which was great! One of them was a funny dance routine.. and there was singing too. There was also a woman dressed in costume walking around the market on stilts and giving little gifts to children which was super cute.
For More Info:Visit their website here. If you want a Christmas market that’s less elegant and more fun and sporty:Mall of Berlin and SONY Center (which is has a pretty cool set up in itself, more on that later). Potsdamer Platz used to be a wasteland. Now, it’s a popular nightlife and shopping district with lots to explore! After taking a stroll, I stumbled upon their two holiday attractions, Christmas Market and Winter World (“Winterwelt”). I absolutely loved the Wintery set up! It was a nice change in scenery from the Gendarmenmarkt.
When is it Open?Beg. of December to beg. of Jan
Special Offerings:If the last market was charming, this market was sporty and fun! They had a lot of fun things to do.. Like an open-air ice rink (free of charge), curling, a large toboggan which you better believe I did! It’s actually the largest toboggan in Europe! It brought out the kid in me! Sadly, I did it all alone… Since my bf refused to act 5 years old with me. ☹ But, he did make up for it by getting some gluhwein.. which you can’t get enough of at a German Christmas market. 😉 It was just as delicious as the ones I had before. Of course, I saved the mug as a souvenir as well. The one thing each market had in common is gluhwein!! The market also had a lot of foodie options to choose from.. schnitzels, pretzels, baked goods, sweets, candies, souvenirs.. You can hang around in the evenings for the apres-ski party and live DJ on the weekends. You could also enjoy Austrian delights in one of the Schmankerl or Salzburger Stiegl Alm wooden huts which was very authentic experience.
Gluhwein literally translates to “glow-wine”.. You’ll totally be glowing in the chilly night’s air after a mug of this delicious mulled wine.
They also had a very traditional German restaurant.. as well as food vendors and little shops that sold sweets and souvenirs.
They had kiddie rides too!
One of the songs they played at the market was Cisco’s “Thong Song”.. as the kids were riding the carousel, you could hear it. No one seemed to care.. We couldn’t stop laughing though!! It was in English so I wonder if all the words were understood by the locals…
For More Info:
I was curious to see what else Potsdamer Platz had to offer… Afterward, my boyfriend and I went to the SONY Center since it was right next door…
Turns out, it’s super cute! They had a very festive display which was great for a quick photo op.
Then, we went to The Mall of Berlin. I was dying to stock up on some German candies and cheeses.
It never ceases to amaze me how freaking inexpensive European food is compared to the US.
I once went to a German grocery store and was able to get food for a charcuterie & cheese platter that usually would have cost me anywhere between $6 & $9/cheese and salami.. I could get 5x the amount of food for the same price. SO crazy!
After shopping, we checked out the streets of Potsdamer Platz. The area has been redeveloped as the new center of Berlin. There’s so much history. Part of the Berlin wall is on display there.
My boyfriend told me I should touch the wall.. and I thought, “Hey.. that’s cool, I can say I got to touch the Berlin wall!” and then I touch it and I’m like, “It’s so much softer than I thought it would be”…
Then I look closer and it’s freaking gum! Ucckkkk… I was so grossed out. 😜 Meanwhile, he couldn’t stop laughing.
Alexanderplatz has a lot of tourist attractions in the area and a bucketload of history. You could easily spend a whole day there walking around.
The Christmas Market however.. I spent all of 5 minutes at as I wasn’t too impressed with the environment or the offerings. It wasn’t unique in my opinion.. and not as charming as the last 2 markets.
But who knows.. you may disagree with me and absolutely love it.
I’d say, the big draw here was the ice skating rink.
I also saw that they had a restaurant nearby. It was very commercial in the area.. tourist shops and what not.. Maybe that’s why I didn’t fall in love. It didn’t feel like a Christmas atmosphere.
When is it Open?
Beg. of Dec to end of Dec.
For More Info:
Visit Alexanderplatz’s Christmas market website here.
My Christmas Market Experience Overall…
I’d say that if you’re looking for a Wintery destination to spend a lovely Christmas, Germany is an amazing place to be.. especially Berlin.
You can’t go to Germany without going to at least one Christmas market though. I’m not ashamed to admit that I would travel there just for the markets.. It’s truly special.
I can see why “little me” planned for this moment in her journal all those years ago.
She had freaking adorable travel goals.. still does. Sky was the limit… 😉
It’s what makes being an adult so awesome… Now, we can let our imagination run wild and turn our dreams into plans.
I may not be that little girl anymore but, having traveled all over, I realize that each destination has its own charm during the holidays.
A Cali Christmas is different from a NYC Christmas which is different from a German Christmas.
I now appreciate them all. And that’s what I love about travel. Different sceneries allow you to experience the same event in a way that’s totally unique to that destination.
It’s what makes Christmas special in each part of the world!
I’m a bit biased when it comes to my Christmases… There must be snow! Which is why I’ve loved living in New England.. it’s the closest thing I can get to Europe’s charming small towns and countrysides.. without living there. Not to mention, snow, snow, snowwww!
No matter how many times I’ve been back to experience the magical wonders of Europe at Christmastime, I will spend the rest of my life so excited to do it again and again. It never gets old.
Where We Stayed: Westin Grand Berlin
I have two main deciding factors when choosing my hotels.
The first, is whether the hotel is a Marriott property, where I’m a member.
He and I both collectively have Marriott Bonvoy points so, we try to utilize them as often as we can. Since Marriott has over 6,500 properties for us to choose from, we always have a lot of options and are usually really satisfied with our hotel choice.
My second deciding factor is whether the hotel is close to attractions. I don’t know about you but, I like to spend my time enjoying a place rather than getting to that place… lol.
So, I was happy with our stay at Westin Grand Berlin for location alone. We were very close to many of the city’s main attractions which I mention below.
Where is Westin Grand Berlin located?
On the corner of Friedrichstrasse & Unter den Linden in the center of Berlin.
You would think my first stop would be Brandenburg Gate since it’s right around the block. However, I would be staying through New Years so there’s no way I was going to spoil that experience in advance.
But would have no shortage of fun activities until that moment came.
Every morning, we sat down in the dining room for breakfast overlooking the city as we planned our day’s activities.
It was lovely, lots of different food options presented in a nice setting. The buffet set up was quiet elegant. You had your selection of different charcuterie, cheeses, fresh squeezed juices, fresh made omelets, breads, mimosas..
Whatever you’d like, they most likely have! I love European breakfasts.
It was a great way to start off everyday. I find European Marriotts to have better selection of food in general.. which appeals to the charcuterie & cheese lover in me!
Breakfast is always complimentary for us thanks to our Marriott status through Marriott Bonvoy.
Our room was simple, modern, and clean.. which is Marriott’s signature style for most of their properties. It wasn’t particularly posh or anything but it did the job. We chose the hotel based on location and the fact that it was a Marriott property.
The bed was comfortable. We had a balcony too.
They have an elegant pool with lights that change colors.
They also have a locker room and shower nearby. The gym was very tiny.. They also have a spa.
Westin’s New Years Eve Party
The hotel had a NYE party downstairs which was great. I caught the end of it…
Downstairs in the lobby, there’s a restaurant, club, and bar all rolled into one. Quite a few movies such as Bourne Supremacy have been filmed here.
The hotel offers a New Year’s Eve dinner in a lovely setting which you can enjoy while listening to the piano.
At the end of the night, closer to the New Year’s countdown, they have a DJ, champagne flowing, and dancing!
During our stay, we enjoyed some drinks and patisserie while listening to music in the lobby.
Just in case you’re in Berlin and you’ve dragged your friend to every festive venue in the city but they’re so over it, here are some activities that are non holiday related.
5 Attractions You Can Walk to in 10 Minutes & Under
- Galeries Lafayette 3 min walk
- Gendarmenmarkt 5 min walk
- Brandenburg Gate 10 min walk
- German Historical Museum 10 min walk
7 Attractions You Can Walk to in Under 20 Minutes
- Checkpoint Charlie 12 min walk
- Berlin Cathedral 13 min walk
- Friedrichstadt-Palast 13 min walk
- Pergamonmuseum 13 min walk
- Museum Island 14 min walk
- Reichstag Building 16 min walk
- Topography of Terror 16 min walk
My Berlin Google Maps List
To help you plan your activities, check out the Berlin Google Map I created marking each destination I’ve mentioned in the blog.
I’ve also included attractions that are over 20 min walking from the hotel which you can take a cab to or trek there!
The German Stereotype is True!
There are a lot of stereotypes that are absolutely true about Germans. I’ve experienced them firsthand in my relationship as well, lol…
Germans are often known around the world as being a bit cold, disciplined, hard working, a lover of rules, structure, organization, practical, efficient, and at times as SNL’s hilarious skit “Coat Store” makes fun of..
But, having known the people firsthand through my German boyfriend and his people, I can tell you honestly that the Germans are also warm, kind, hospitable, caring people.
Now it's time for....
Real Girl Reviews
The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly
I've always liked flying with Delta/KLM. It's not as luxurious an airlines as Singapore Airlines or Lufthansa First Class.. but I've found them to be better than the other airlines leaving from the US. Plus, Delta got me to my destination safely and on time over the holidays so no complaints.
It wasn't a luxurious stay but we were very comfortable and happy with the customer service. The big benefit here was the convenient location. Also, the breakfast was fantastic and it a lovely setting. They had a Christmasy atmosphere in the hotel. Many amenities.
The train ride was comfortable. They also had a food counter with decent food actually. I got a curry sandwich and a beer.
The train station was beautifully decorated for Christmas and very big! Lots of stores and food options. Located in the heart of Berlin, close to many tourist attractions on foot.
I was really happy with this market. It was elegant, classy, festive and had many special offerings like foodie finds and Christmas shows. The square that the market is held in is lovely. The whole experience was charming.
Potsdamer Platz: Winter World & Christmas Market
I loved how they were both located next to other activities such as Mall of Berlin and SONY Center.
Was festive.. had gluhwein, souvenirs, and food. I enjoyed Winter World more than the market however.
Winter World: It's absolutely wonderful if you want a little something fun to do, not just Christmas related. I enjoyed the Winter set up. It was festive but also gave a little something unique that I wasn't expecting in a Christmas market with the tobbaggan which was so fun!
I was very unimpressed.. actually, that's an understatement.. it killed my Christmas mood. I'm happy this wasn't the first market I went to or I would have been very disappointed.
I hope I’ve inspired you to have a European Christmas one day. It’s truly spectacular! What is your favorite Christmas memory?
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Thank you for your continued love and support! I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.
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