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How to Plan a Trip to the Germany Christmas Markets

Every year at Christmas time, people plan entire holidays visiting different European Christmas markets, but a Germany Christmas market trip is extra special. That’s because Germans originally invented the traditional Christmas market that is popular today across the world!

How to Plan a Trip to the German Christmas Markets

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How to Plan a German Christmas Market Trip

Beginning around the end of November, town centers across Germany transform into a winter wonderland with sparkling lights, evergreen garlands, and Christmas decorations. Aromas of gingerbread, sausage, and glühwein fill the air, as friends and family stroll past wooden stalls celebrating the season.

Have you been curious about how to plan a trip to the German Christmas markets? Below I’ll share everything you’ll want to know before you book those tickets.

My Guide to Planning a German Christmas Market Trip

When you plan a German Christmas market trip, it’s best to have as much information as possible. Get all the details here, and then you can read about the best German Christmas markets to visit by town.

Whether you’re planning a Christmas market hopping trip or plan to stay in one German town or city and enjoy the Christmas markets there, you’re about to have the best time!

History of Germany’s Christmas Markets

The city of Dresden claims Germany’s oldest Christmas market, Dresdner Striezelmarkt, dating back to 1434. In that year, the Saxony Prince, Friedrich II, allowed the permanent establishment of a market in the Dresden Altmarkt Square.

Originally, these markets were spaces for people to stock up on supplies for the winter and could be found in small towns and larger cities alike. Over time, the focus shifted to celebrating the festive season. The tradition spread across Germany and beyond, becoming a beloved part of the holiday season.

Stollen with marzipan

A staple of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany is stollen, and trying it is an essential part of any German Christmas market trip! The word “striezel” is the Middle High German word for “stollen”, also known as German holiday fruit bread.

Each year a giant stollen is baked for the Dresdner Stollenfest to mark the beginning of the Christmas market season. There’s a parade through the city celebrating the delicacy and the giant cake is sliced and sold to market attendees! Today stollen is found throughout the country, and it would not be a German Christmas without it.

When Do Christmas Markets Start in Germany

When you plan a trip to the German Christmas markets, you’ll want to aim for the month of December. The Christmas festival season in Germany typically begins the Friday before Advent (usually the end of November) and runs until a day or two before Christmas Eve.

Different cities and markets within a city have different dates that they run, so it is important to check the event calendar for each destination before planning your visit. You can check the dates and times at the official website for each of the different Christmas Markets in Germany.

Germany Christmas Markets guide

How to Get Around to the German Christmas Markets

 Germany is quite easy to navigate by car or public transportation. Walking is always an option in smaller towns.

If you plan a full day of market hopping or a day trip, public transport is your best bet. You’ll find a train station in almost every city center, and major cities will have a metro (U-Bahn) or buses. Just try to book train tickets in advance when traveling during the busy Christmas season. 

Consider a rental car only if you’re venturing to smaller towns without robust train connections. Book a hotel room for the night if your Christmas market tour extends into the next day. This way, you can fully enjoy the experience without worrying about rushing back.

Also, if you’re driving in Europe, know that most vehicles will be manual transmission unless you pay a premium. You can use your US driver’s license when renting a car.

What to Wear When Visiting a German Christmas Market

The weather in Germany in late November and December will be cold, and possibly wet, damp, and gray. In northern Germany (Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden), temperatures usually hover around freezing (32°F or 0°C). In southern Germany (Munich and Konstanz), you might see highs around 45°F (or 7°C).

Since these are outdoor markets, it’s a good idea to pack clothes that can be layered. I recommend a winter coat, a warm hat, gloves, long underwear, and hand and foot warmers.

Christmas market weather-Kids Are A Trip
Be prepared for all types of weather.

Be sure to bring comfortable walking boots. Use this Germany packing list to ensure you have what you need. It might not be a bad idea to bring an umbrella as well. (If you’re staying at a hotel, odds are they will have umbrellas you can borrow.)

Basically, since you’ll be spending time outdoors, you want to be prepared for all types of weather. It’s easy to get into the festive spirit on German Christmas market trips, but the last thing you want is for the weather to ruin the mood!

Best Food at German Christmas Markets

German Christmas markets offer an array of delicious food and drinks traditional to the region. Adults can dive into the word of German market hot drinks by warming up with a cup of the iconic glühwein, a spiced mulled wine that embodies the festive spirit. Kids and adults alike can enjoy a rich and creamy hot chocolate!

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At Christmas time, a must-try is lebkuchen, which is similar to gingerbread. Indulge your sweet tooth with stollen, a festive fruitcake that’s a Christmas market staple. Or grab a cone of candied nuts, which you can find in a variety of flavors, whether sugary sweet, covered in spices, or dipped in chocolate!

German Christmas market food

Another traditional market treat is wurst (German sausage), and no visit is complete without sampling kartoffelpuffer, golden and crispy potato pancakes.

Be sure to come to the market hungry because there is plenty of food. My advice for those with food allergies is to bring an allergy translation card (if you don’t speak German) and check before sampling the treats.

What to Buy at the Christmas Markets

You’ll probably want to buy one of everything at the German Christmas markets! The sound of festive music and a constant stream of glühwein tends to make people spend freely. This isn’t always a bad thing because there are some beautiful handicrafts to take home as souvenirs.

If you find yourself overwhelmed, or you just can’t make up your mind what to get, I have a few suggestions for the best things to pick up at the Christmas markets in Germany.

Wooden Christmas handicrafts Germany
Hand carved wooden Christmas pyramids and ornaments are great souvenirs.

Stick to the more common finds that are iconic to Germany, like hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments, beeswax candles in all shapes and sizes, wooden nativity scenes, strings of glass lanterns, and wooden Christmas pyramids.

Also, if you’re visiting multiple markets, you’ll find these items available at almost every market. So, just wait to purchase until your final days of travel, when you’ve seen enough to know what really catches your eye.

Which German Christmas Markets Should You Visit

There are Christmas markets in most German cities and towns throughout the country. To plan a trip to the German Christmas markets, you’ll want to think about what part of the country you want to explore, and if there’s a specific market you want to visit.

Not sure where to start on your German Christmas market trip? This is where I’ll go over each of the best Christmas markets worth visiting. Use this list to create your perfect European Christmas market itinerary!

Berlin

Berlin is the German capital city, and it can be quite a challenge for families to visit, as it has close to 80 different Christmas markets! But Berlin is also known to have some of the best German Christmas markets.

The most popular Berlin Christmas market is the WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt with local artisans showing off their wood carvings, traditional crafts, and culinary delights. Visitors can also expect spectacular entertainment from acrobats, choirs, and dance groups.

If you’re lucky enough to get a reservation, don’t miss one of the upscale wooden huts where top chefs serve culinary delights. This is definitely a unique take on the traditional German Christmas market.

Another fun market is Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz, where families can enjoy a large toboggan run and skate in an outdoor ice rink. Plus, this market tends to run from the end of October. So, if you’re planning a trip to Berlin earlier in the season and want to visit a Christmas market, you’re in luck!

Cologne

The Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market is hands down one of the most beautiful Christmas markets, set against the beautiful backdrop of the ancient Cologne Cathedral!

Cologne Christmas market

Booths spread out from a giant Christmas tree in the middle of Roncalliplatz, creating a massive and magical scene.

This market is the largest, but there are six other smaller markets to explore throughout the city. If crowds aren’t your thing, try a different Cologne Christmas market or just explore the city. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Cologne with kids.

Dresden

As I previously mentioned, the Dresden Christmas market was the first Christmas market in Germany, making it the world’s oldest!

Dresden Christmas market

The Dresden Striezelmarkt is located in the main market square and features traditional handicrafts from the surrounding villages. It’s also home to the largest Christmas pyramid (measuring 46 feet tall) and over 200 vendors.

Special events during the season that shouldn’t be missed are the Stollen Festival and the Pyramid Festival. If the crowds are too much, be sure to check out one of the city’s twelve other markets.

Heidelberg

Heidelberg might be one of my favorite settings for the Christmas markets. That’s because there are markets to be found all over town, surrounded by beautiful historic buildings, all underneath the watchful eye of Heidelberg Castle.

Heidelberg Christmas market-Kids Are A Trip

Wooden huts run from Karlsplatz (with its wonderful outdoor skating rink), along the main street (Haupstrasse), through the major town squares of the city. It’s not one of the larger markets, but it’s definitely worth a visit.

Frankfurt

The Frankfurt Christmas market, Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt, also claims to be the oldest Christmas market in Germany, dating back to 1393! It’s one of the largest and most popular markets, featuring 200-plus stalls in the historic Römer district.

This market is known for crafts and local food, including Frankfurt sausages and marzipan sweets. At the center of it all is a towering Christmas tree dripping with thousands of lights. The Frankfurt market’s charm comes in its mix of tradition and festive vibes, set against the backdrop of medieval buildings.

Konstanz

The Lakeside Christmas Market in the small city of Konstanz is one of the most unique markets. It sits on the shores of Lake Constance, the largest lake in Germany.

The market stretches from the Old Town right to the harbor where there’s a Christmas Ship, complete with market stalls for holiday shopping. Lights reflecting off the lake as carolers sing their holiday songs make for quite a memorable experience.

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Leipzig

The Leipzig Christmas Market is almost as old as the ones in Frankfurt and Dresden. Dating to 1458, this is one of the largest Christmas markets in Germany with over 250 market stalls in the city center! There are six different areas to explore, each one decked for the festive season with Christmas lights and Christmas trees.

Leipzig Christmas market

Don’t miss the Finnish Village with its Scandinavian vibe, luring visitors with its unique offerings of reindeer meat and glögi mulled wine. Another favorite area is the Fairytale Forest where children can find mythical creatures and meet Santa Claus.

Munich

The main market in Munich is Munich Christkindlmarkt. It takes place at the Marienplatz (main square), and it’s as magical as they come!

The main Christmas tree is covered in over 3,000 lights, and sparkles like a beacon in front of the Rathaus (city hall). There are dozens of different markets throughout the city.

There’s also Weinachtsdorf (Christmas Village) at the Residenz. This is a smaller Christmas market, but equally festive. Plus, it’s contained, lending itself to families who might be visiting with children.

There’s also a medieval Münchner Adventsspektakel  und Mittelaltermarkt, where you’ll feel like you stepped into the Middle Ages! It’s tons of fun, with vendors dressed in period clothing and mulled wine is served in chalices.

Nuremberg

The Nuremberg Christmas market is one of the most famous Christmas markets, and dates back to the mid-16th century. Today, the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt takes place in front of the spectacular Church of Our Lady, which rises majestically skyward.

The market stalls spread out into the square and surrounding streets covering the majority of the downtown area. Visitors can expect live music and Christmas carols to add to the festive atmosphere.

Christmas Markets in Germany Kids Nuremberg-KIds Are A Trip
Photo credit: Nürnberg Tourism Office

There’s a special Christmas market for children in Nuremberg that the whole family can enjoy! Kids can make their own candles and gingerbread cookies, ride the carousel and mini-Ferris wheel, and play games.

When you visit the Christmas markets in Nuremberg, don’t miss the famous Nuremberg sausages and lebkuchen. Then, pick up a Rauschgoldengel (a gold foil angel) and a prune man, both souvenirs that are unique to Nuremberg’s market.

Ravenna Gorge

The Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market might be one of the most unique Christmas markets in all of Europe. Vendors set up their stalls at the base of a railway viaduct. The market is set within a gorge in the Black Forest and feels right out of a fairy tale!

Rothenbug ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber celebrates Christmas all year long. A great place to start is Käthe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Village in the middle of this walled medieval town.

This store is like made to feel like an indoor Christmas market, with over 16,000 square feet of Christmas goodies and even a Christmas museum. It’s the perfect place to buy some exquisite Christmas gifts for those special people in your life!

Rothenburg Christmas market-Kids Are A Trip

And while you can enjoy the festive spirit all year round, people descend on the town in mass every year during Advent. That’s because of Reiterlesmarkt, a market that hasn’t changed much since it began 500 years ago.

The small, walled, medieval town is enchanting, and the Christmas market is very manageable. Keep an eye out for the region’s famous schneeballen, as well as the Franconian wine and sausage. Use this Rothenburg ob der Tauber guide to help you navigate!

Stuttgart

Every holiday season, millions of visitors descend upon Stuttgart to view what is billed as one of the most beautiful markets in Europe. The Stuttgart Christmas Market boasts over 280 wooden stalls decorated with lights and evergreen garland.

Stuttgart-Christmas-market-Kids-Are-A-Trip

The stalls spread out in front of the beautiful Old Palace along the town square. Don’t miss the additional stalls in the palace’s inner courtyard as well as the ice-skating rink and miniature railway for kids.

Trier

The city of Trier is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest city in Germany. A visit to the Trier Christmas Market can be the highlight of the Christmas season. It’s a bit smaller, making it easy to manage with children.

Trier Christmas market night
Photo: Creative Commons

You can indulge in delicious treats like potato pancakes and flammkuchen (pizza with crème fraîche, onions, and bacon – my favorite). Grab some food and soak in the magic of the holidays!

My Top Tips for Visiting German Christmas Markets

Bathrooms might be scarce: The markets can be quite crowded, and bathrooms tend to be on the outskirts. After drinking 1 or 2 cups of glühwein or eierpunsch (similar to egg nog) you might find yourself needing one. Most public toilets are pay toilets, so bring your Euros, otherwise, you may be out of luck.

Mugs: Each Christmas market has its own mug. These are made of glass or ceramic and decorated with the name of the town, the year, and a festive picture of the market.

When ordering a drink, a deposit is paid on the mug. You can either return the mug and receive your deposit back or keep the mug as a souvenir.

Heidelberg Christmas markets

Bring cash: Vendors might not accept cards (especially in smaller towns), so bring cash.

Expect crowds: Christmas markets will be crowded, especially as it gets closer to the holiday. Try to visit during the week, as markets are more crowded on the weekends. If traveling with a group, have a meeting place in case you get separated and above all, have fun!

Every Christmas market is unique and deserves to be explored. Hopefully, these tips will help you successfully plan a trip to the German Christmas markets. Fröhliche Weihnacten!