By now, my regular readers would have known that N and I made a trip to Bavaria (Germany + Austria) last winter, to “chase” the Christmas markets that were featured high on many travel articles. The trip was the result of months of planning, so that we could cover as much magic as we could in a limited time.
I had, over the course of 2017, published my reviews of the various places we visited during the trip. This article will present an overview of the trip, so that anyone of you intending to carry out such a trip has an easier time planning for yours!
But first, you may need to convince your travel partners why you should make this trip. The answer is simple: with the threat of climate change and global terrorism, we really don’t know if the Christmas-sy ambience we experience today will be the same in a few years’ time. Therefore, it is all the more urgent (and important) for you to plan for your Christmas Wanderlust trip this coming winter!
My blog’s target audience tend to be in South-East Asia, and since I’m a Singaporean, I support our own flag carrier. My recommendations revolve around Singapore Airlines, but you can always look for your own mode of transport to fly into Munich.
Also, when you plan a trip during holiday season, it would mean crazy crowds and long lines at the customs. Unless you splurge on a Business Class ticket (which may give you priority at immigration and security), my recommendation is for you to start the trip on a weekday, preferably Monday or Tuesday (the load tends to be lower on these days) and return on Christmas day (many people, especially Europeans, do not travel on Christmas day). For me, Christmas fell on a Sunday, so I planned my trip from 15 – 25 Dec, leaving Singapore on a Thursday. For 2018, with Christmas on Monday, you can do a similar 15 – 25 Dec (or fly there earlier, if you can afford the money and time).
Like I mentioned, I recommend flying to Germany on SIA. First, one pays for a premium to fly SIA not just for comfortable seats and award-winning cabin services; you can rest your mind when it comes to delays (minimal delays, with adequate arrangement/compensation for when it does happen) that tend to happen especially during travel peak and crazy winter weather. And since SIA has a close relationship with Lufthansa, any delays/flight cancellation means it is easier to plomp you on an alternate flight to and back from Munich. Last, but not least, timing. SIA’s flights are also known to have superb timings. You arrive early morning so you have plenty of time to explore Munich, and you get to check out of your hotel as late as possible to catch that mid-afternoon flight.
Base Yourself in Munich
Germany is a very well-connected country and public transport operates like clockwork. Munich itself houses a big Christmas market that tops the list regularly. Similarly, nearby Nuremberg also hosts a highly rated Christmas market touted to be the first in history.
However, the best reason to stay in Munich was its status as the capital of the Bavarian region, an area rich in history and source of inspiration for many fairy tales and pop symbols we see. And in the midst of it all, the beautiful, magical Neuschwanstein Castle (loosely translated at New Swan Castle), is just a 2-hour coach trip away! Therefore, it makes sense to base yourself in Munich, to minimise the hassle of moving and changing hotels.
Our itinerary can be summarised in the following:
Stay in Munich to explore the city and its Christmas markets, go on day-trips to Neuschwanstein Castle and Salzburg; Move to Nuremberg to visit its castle and Christmas market; Travel to Obertraun, neighbour to the scenic Hallstatt, for a leisurely 2N stay by the lakeside, before moving back to Munich for final shopping prior to taking a flight back.
While In Munich
Munich is known for its beer, pork knuckles, Schnitzels, Prince Regent Cake and Christmas markets.
Visit my entries for my trip reports on various sights and tastes in Munich!
Schneider Bräuhaus München – Pork-ulicious
Steinheil 16 – Fabulous schnitzel
Cafe Arzmiller München – Quaint tea break
Andy’s Krablergarten – It’s BIG. It’s JUICY. It’s Andy’s!
Deutches Museum – Great for the kids
Others – Nespresso capsules are dirt cheap in Munich; try the Prince Regent cake from the creator at Prinzregententorte; walk the English Garden, hear the choir sing from the Town Hall balcony at 5.30pm everyday.
Munich is a good launchpad for day trips to castles based in the Bavarian alps, as well as to Salzburg, home of Mozart. Even in its city fringe, you can find the charming Neues Schloss and Deutches Museum Flugwerft Schleissheim.
Read my posts for my trip reports on how to make these day trips and the things you should not miss while you are there!
Neuschwanstein Castle – Just being at the foot of the magical castle invokes an adrenaline rush. Also, visit Linderholf Castle too, by booking through Grayline Sightseeing
Deutches Museum Flugwerft Schleissheim – Satisfy your inner aviation geek, and visit Neues Schloss on the way
Salzburg – Look for Mozart, but also catch that scenic riverside view!
While In Nuremberg
Nuremberg can be toured for a short, 1N trip. Nuremberg-musts include its signature 23g sausages, old town and Christmas market. If you have spare time, you can visit the old site of Nazi parade ground just off the city’s fringe.
Nuremberg Castle, Christmas Market & Steiff bears – Look for the droolsome kebab in the market!
Bratwursthäusle bei St. Sebald – Taste Nuremberg’s signature sausage!
While in Hallstatt / Obertraun
As I mentioned in my posts, Hallstatt is an expensive town to stay in even during off-peak season. Therefore, settle down in Obertraun, which is just a 15-minute shuttle bus ride (or take a train to Hallstatt station and take a ferry across the lake, which is a 30-minute journey in total). Not only is Obertraun cheaper, it is super-peaceful for one to rest his mind with an all-surround view of the snow-covered mountains.
Remember that Hallstatt is already too commercialised; your objective there is to take the “standard” photos of Hallstatt, soak in the medieval ambience, and then get out. By afternoon, it will be overrun with tourists even in lull season!
Hallstatt – Get that postcard view! Visit the first thing in the morning, trek straight to the designated Postcard View spot, before you even think about doing any other thing in the town
Obertraun – A quiet twin to Hallstatt, you can choose to stay here (and avoid paying hefty hotel prices found in Hallstatt). It’s a great place to unwind; if you need that break, allocate more time to explore the quiet neighbourhood!
Read my reviews on the various hotels I stayed during the trip, including how to get to the hotels.
Aloft Munich – Conveniently located across Munich Hauptbahnhof
Holiday Inn Express Munich City West – On hindsight, stay here for whenever you are in Munich!
When travelling between cities, like to Nuremberg and Salzburg, it is inevitable to travel on train. After all, it is the most effortless mode of transport.
Germany, like I mentioned, is known for its precision, so her trains are as punctual as a Japanese train. However, once outside of Germany, do not expect the same guarantee.
Trains from Salzburg (either back to Munich or towards Hallstatt) are not punctual, so keep that in mind when planning your journey reserving your tickets.
If possible, book Business or First class – they give assurance of a seat onboard (especially if you are travelling in groups, you get to choose to seat yourselves together). There was a mad rush to board the train at Munich and Salzburg, and with Business/First class, you will need to fight with less people to get onboard. Of course, on the leg from Munich to Salzburg, we even got a 4-seater cabin.
Read more here for tips on travelling within Bavaria via rail.
Munich and the big German cities are well-heated; the build-up nature of the cities slows down bone-chilling winds. However, for trips outside of Munich (even to its suburb) and if your day’s plan include visits to open plazas, dress with thicker layers and bring along your mufflers and scarves!
Christmas markets are beautiful at night, but it’s also when everyone comes out, which sort of becomes a security issue. Sometimes, even though the temperature difference between day and night may just be a few degrees, what feels warm in the day becomes intolerable at night. The best strategy is to plan to return to your hotel room before your dinner. Change into warmer clothes and change the battery of your camera (or pick up the flash/selfie light). Pack light, lest you become a thief-magnet; and it’s easier to move through the crowds without a big backpack.
Most German merchants accepts credit cards, so there’s no need to change wads of Euros. Just remember that they do have shops that require you to enter your credit card’s PIN instead of just signing off the receipt, so prepare for your PIN!
In my research, it seemed difficult to get an SIM card for when you are in Germany, when you are in Germany. Either activate your mobile operator’s roaming services early, or buy one at Changi Airport itself. There are vending machines in the transit area of Changi that sells overseas data SIM cards for travellers. The machines are found at the ends of the terminals, and are painted in tiffany-blue.
As at 06 Jan 2018, the flight tickets on Singapore Airlines (as shown in the screenshots above) cost as low as S$1,209.50 per pax. It comes with the perks of a minimum of 30kg baggage allowance, free selection of seats during Internet check-in up to 48 hours before travel, which are not found in many full-service carriers nowadays.