Christmas time is a magical season throughout Europe, but there’s something special about Germany Christmas Markets. Germans invented the traditional Christmas market, and maybe that’s why it’s one of the best places to celebrate. Town centers are transformed 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. If a visit to Germany is on your radar, here’s what you’ll want to know before you book those tickets.
How to Plan a German Christmas Market Trip
History of Germany’s Christmas Markets
The city of Dresden claims Germany’s oldest Christmas market, Dresdner Striezelmarkt, dating to 1434. In that year, the Saxony Prince, Friedrich II, allowed the permanent establishment of a market in the Dresden Altmarkt Square. Originally, meat was the only thing for sale, but over the years, a variety of products and food offerings emerged.
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. A parade through the city celebrates 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
The Christmas festival season in Germany typically begins the Friday before Advent (usually the end of November) and runs until Christmas Eve or a day or two before. Each market has different dates, so it is important to check the event calendar for each destination before planning a visit. You can check dates and times at the official website for each of the different Christmas Markets in Germany.
What to Wear When Visiting a German Christmas Market
The weather in Germany in late November and December will be cool, and possibly wet, damp, and gray. Since these are outdoor markets, it’s a good idea to pack clothes that can layer. We recommend a winter coat, a warm hat, gloves, long underwear, and hand and foot warmers. Be sure to bring comfortable walking boots. It might not be a bad idea to bring an umbrella. If you’re staying at a hotel, odds are they will have umbrellas you can borrow.
Which German Christmas Markets Should You Visit
There are Christmas markets in almost every German town and city throughout the country. This is our list of the best Christmas markets in Germany worth visiting:
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. The most popular Berlin Christmas market is the WeihnactsZauber 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 Potsdamer Platz where families can enjoy a large toboggan run and skate in an outdoor ice rink.
The Cologne Cathedral is a beautiful backdrop to the Christmas market festivities. Booths spread out from a giant Christmas tree in the middle of Roncalliplatz creating a massive and magical scene. The Cologne Cathedral Christmas market is the largest, but there are six other markets to explore throughout the city. If crowds aren’t your thing, try a different Cologne Christmas market or explore the city. There are plenty of fun things to do in Cologne with kids.
As mentioned above, the Dresden Christmas market is the world’s oldest. 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 might be one of my favorite settings for the Christmas Markets, as there are markets throughout town, surrounded by beautiful historic buildings, all underneath the watchful eye of Heidelberg Castle. 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 bigger Christmas markets, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
The Christmas Market in Konstanz is unique in that 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 is 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.
The Leipzig Christmas market is almost as old as the Dresden one. 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.
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 with Santa Claus.
The main market in Munich takes place at the Marienplatz (main square) and it is 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.
The Weinaachtsdorf (Christmas Village) at the Residenz is smaller, equally festive, and contained, lending itself to families who might be visiting with children. There’s also a medieval Christmas market where you’ll feel like you stepped into the Middle Ages as vendors are dressed in period clothing and mulled wine is served in a chalice.
The Nuremberg Christmas market is one of the oldest in Germany, with a history dating 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.
There’s a children’s Christmas market 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.
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.
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. There’s a Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Village in the middle of this walled medieval town, with over 16,000 square feet of Christmas goodies and a Christmas museum. It’s the perfect place to buy some exquisite Christmas gifts for those special people in your life.
People descend on the town in mass every year during Advent for the Reiterlesmarkt, an event that hasn’t changed much since it began 500 years ago. The small 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.
Every holiday season, millions of visitors descent upon Stuttgart to view what is billed as one of the most beautiful markets in Europe. Over 280 wooden stalls decorated with lights and evergreen garland 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.
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. With 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.
Food at German Christmas Markets
Every Christmas market has a regional specialty, so adventurous eaters should keep an eye out for those. Typical Christmas market foods include: sausage (wurst), lebkuchen (similar to gingerbread), glühwein (mulled wine), stollen, kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), and candied nuts (all types of nuts in all kinds of flavors). Be sure to come to the market hungry because there is plenty of food.
Those with food allergies should bring an allergy translation card (if you don’t speak German) and check before sampling the treats.
What to Buy at the Christmas Markets
It is not uncommon to want to buy one of everything at the Germany Christmas Markets. The sound of festive music and constant stream of glühwein tends to make people spend freely. This isn’t a bad thing because there are some beautiful handicrafts to take home as souvenirs.
Some of the more common finds include: hand blown glass Christmas ornaments, beeswax candles in all shapes and sizes, wooden nativity scenes, strings of glass lanterns, and wooden Christmas pyramids. These will be available at almost every market, so wait to purchase until the final days of travel.
What You Should Know About German Christmas Markets
Bathrooms might be scarce: The markets can be quite crowded and bathrooms tend to be on the outskirts. After drinking one or two 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.
Getting around: Germany is quite easy to navigate by car or rail. Most rail stations are located in the city center and major cities will have a metro (U-Bahn) or buses. Walking is always an option in smaller towns. If driving, know that most vehicles will be manual transmission unless you pay a premium. You can use your U.S. driver’s license when renting a car.
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 prepare for a successful visit to the German Christmas markets. Fröhliche Weihnacten!
Looking for more ideas? Don’t miss our post about the best Christmas markets in Europe!