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On the way back from his inaugural A350 flight on Qatar AirwaysTPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig visited Munich and Nuremberg to check out Germany’s legendary Christmas markets. They did not disappoint.

I’ve connected in the Munich airport a handful of times, but I’ve never had a chance to visit the city. I didn’t feel up to braving Oktoberfest this year, so the German Christmas markets seemed like the next best reason to visit. I took advantage of the nights I earned through Starwood’s Sheraton Free Weekends promo earlier this year to book a Friday-Monday stay and made my way to Bavaria’s capital city for a long weekend of beer, mulled wine and shopping.

There’s much more to Nuremberg than the city’s Christmas markets.

My girlfriend and I spent most of our time exploring Munich, but we also made a day trip to Nuremberg, which is home to Christkindlesmarkt. Nuremberg’s market dates back to at least the 17th century, making it nearly 400 years old. The city is just over an hour by ICE train from Munich’s main station, so we booked round-trip tickets the day of for just €53 (about $58) and spent a fantastic evening in Nuremberg.

Between the two cities, we explored miles and miles of Christmas Markets. Here are 7 reasons you HAVE to go yourself:

1. The settings are unbelievable.

The Christmas market in Nuremberg
The Christmas market in Nuremberg’s main square.

My favorite market was Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt, which is one of Germany’s best-known. The market takes over the enormous city square — and then some.

Another market in a courtyard in Munich.
Another market in a courtyard in Munich.

You don’t need to go to the country’s most famous markets to have a good time. Even this small market in a Munich courtyard was a blast. Just pick a city, bundle up and wander around.

2. There’s a limitless selection of unique gifts.

A cutting board... for my cat?
A cutting board… for my cat?

Tuna the cat absolutely ist meine Welt, and since she has no shortage of holiday spirit of her own, I figured a feline-friendly souvenir was a must. This custom cutting board ran me just under $20.

3. The mulled wine is amazing.

Mulled wine with flaming rum.
Mulled wine with flaming rum.

There’s plenty of traditional mulled wine available — think warm red or white sangria, minus the fruit — but the rum-infused version really seemed to draw a crowd. Most places charge €3 (about $3.30) or less for each cup.

4. Even the wine cups make good gifts.

Keep the cup for €3.
Keep the cup for €3.

The first time you order wine in a market you’ll need to pay a deposit for your reusable cup. You can return it or swap it for a clean one when you go to get a refill, or you can forfeit the €3 deposit and take your cup home.

5. You can warm up in a German beer hall. With German beer.

One of Munich
One of Munich’s many beer halls.

Munich’s massive Hofbräuhaus is the city’s most famous, but there are plenty of smaller (and less crowded) beer halls to choose from. The beer and food is pretty much the same wherever you go, so save yourself the hassle and find a quieter place to unwind before and after the markets.

6. It’s an entirely different experience at night.

Munich’s Tollwood market by day.

One of Munich’s larger markets, called Tollwood, is located at the Theresienwiese — the same enormous venue used for Oktoberfest. The market is open from the morning until late in the evening each day of the week. Naturally, it’s quieter if you visit earlier in the day.

And by night.
And by night.

Once the sun goes down, Tollwood can get packed. There’s as many food and drink vendors as there are gift shops, so it’s best to come hungry (and thirsty). Don’t forget to bring some Euro coins for the bathroom!

7. These things.

Munich’s creepy Christmas troll.

Terrifying creatures typically don’t go hand in hand with holiday spirit, but Germany takes a different approach to its Christmas characters — just check out these animatronics at a market in Munich.

Getting to Munich

I flew Qatar from Doha to Munich and United back home to Newark. Both airlines offer daily nonstop flights, as do dozens of other carriers. With plenty of flights into the major German hub, there are countless award options to choose from, whether you’re traveling from the US or anywhere else in the world. AA currently offers the lowest rates to Europe, at 20,000 miles for off-peak economy or 50,000 miles each way for business. United’s your next best option, at 30,000 miles each way for economy or 57,500 for business on United (70,000 miles if you’re flying a partner, such as Lufthansa). Meanwhile, you may also be able to find awards on Delta for as little as 30,000 miles in economy or 62,500 miles each way in business, though low-level redemptions can be hit or miss.

A sea of stalls at Nuremberg
A sea of stalls at Nuremberg’s main square.

Most of the stalls at Germany’s Christmas markets only accept cash, so be sure to withdraw some Euros before you head out to shop. For other purchases, I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to earn 2x on travel expenses (such as my DB ICE train ride to Nuremberg) and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express for incidentals at the Sheraton Munich Westpark.

Many markets only run through Christmas Eve, so if you want to visit this year, you’ll need to make your way to Europe now. Otherwise, you can get a head start on planning a trip in 2016!

Have you visited Europe’s Christmas markets?

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