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Munich versus Salzburg: Which city does Christmas better?

Michael Stuchbery
Michael Stuchbery - [email protected]
Munich versus Salzburg: Which city does Christmas better?
There are numerous connections directly into and out of Salzburg without having to go through Vienna or Munich first. Photo: Pixabay / Werdepate

Separated by less than 150 kilometres, Munich and Salzburg are cultural destinations attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. However, when it comes to Christmas, which puts on the better performance?

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We compared the two Germanic winter destinations to find out which does a better job at delivering the Christmas spirit. 

Munich: Winter wonderland offering a little of everything

Bavaria’s capital is one of Germany’s most prominent tourist destinations, boasting several world-class museums and palaces, in addition to the beery delights of the Oktoberfest. It should also be noted that the city is a great place to visit at Christmas when the traditionally hardworking Bavarians let their hair down for various activities. 

Munich offers a wide range of Christmas markets each year, each with its own take on the season. The most famous and prominent Christkindlmarkt takes place on Marienplatz and has been for around 500 years. With the gorgeous town hall building as a backdrop, there’s a toy workshop for children, brass bands playing folk music, and the occasional visit from Krampus. It takes place from November 27th to December 24th

Meanwhile, the historic food market, the Viktaulienmarkt, is especially popular at Christmas. There’s a wider selection of Christmas treats and handcrafted decorations to give the whole area a magical atmosphere. The Christmas festivities, known as the ‘Winterzauber am Viktualienmarkt’, last from November 20th to January 5th

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Finally, those with a particular penchant for mulled wine and axe throwing will want to check out the Mittelaltermarkt at Wittelsbacherplatz, where the German fascination for all things medieval is turned up to 11. While we don’t recommend mixing alcohol and 15th-century weapons, you can enjoy a little time travel here between November 27th and December 23rd.

It’s not just Christmas markets that Munich offers at Christmas. Ice skating is a big deal in the city, with the frozen canal by the Nymphenburger Schloss and the Eiszauber at the Stachus being the core destinations. The Eiszauber also offers a range of stalls and tasty treats and runs between November 24th and January 14th

It’s also worth noting that many famous museums and galleries, such as the Alte Pinakothek and the Residenz, remain open for visitors during the Christmas season. However, it’s a good idea to check opening hours for the locations you’re heading for. 

The Christkindlmarkt in front of Munich's old town hall. Photo: München Tourismus / Sigi Müller

Salzburg: Magic, music and centuries of tradition

Munich meets strong competition in Salzburg. With a dramatic mountainous backdrop, a strong musical heritage, and centuries of folklore to unpack, it has been luring visitors long before ‘The Sound of Music’ - heck, even Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself - was conceived.

Salzburg seemingly goes into hyperdrive at Christmas, with the city being transformed and a huge number of events taking place.

Christmas markets are the most famous aspect of a Salzburg yuletide. The Christkindlmarkt on the Domplatz is one of the world’s oldest, potentially a century or two older than Munich’s. With a spectacular backdrop in Salzburg’s cathedral and lighting that makes it appear like the sky is full of stars, it’s been described as one of the world’s most atmospheric. It’s open every day from November 27th to January 1st

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For an even more spectacular Christmas market, the centuries-old fortress of the prince-archbishops hosts its own 'Advent at the Hohensalzburg' every weekend between November 24th and December 18th. Alongside artisan gifts and gourmet food, visitors can enjoy fantastic views across the city. Time your visit for sunset for a truly exceptional experience. 

Alongside the Christmas markets, a comprehensive programme of choirs and brass bands perform outside the cathedral. The city's website has an overview of who is appearing. 

Fans of the Christmas carol ‘Silent Night’ also have the opportunity to visit the chapel where it was first performed on December 18th. Just 20 kilometres from the city centre by public transport, it’s been drawing tourists for over one hundred years. The writer, Salzburg priest Joseph Mohr's influence can still be felt throughout the region through statues, street names, and museum exhibits. 

Speaking of museums, few cities have such a Christmas pedigree that they boast their own museum on the subject. Salzburg’s Christmas Museum on Mozartplatz replicates Christmas interiors, full of decorations, covering the period from 1840 to the present day. The museum also hosts seasonal exhibits on various Christmas traditions. 

Salzburg's Christkindlmarkt with the dramatic Hohensalzburg in the background. Photo: redit: Salzburg Tourismus

While we’re hesitant to back one city over the other for a more atmospheric experience, we don’t think you can beat Salzburg for atmosphere, tradition and sheer aesthetics. The alpine sounds and the ‘Silent Night’ factor make it a must-see for any serious Christmas fanatic. 

That said, Munich, being a larger city, has a broader selection of Christmas markets and winter activities for those who are looking to fill their valuable time with festivities. 

Have your own opinion? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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