In the dead of winter, bustling German Christmas markets spring up all across the country hawking a variety of wares from delectable yuletide treats to beautifully handcrafted goods. One way to warm yourself up from the deep winter chill is to wander beneath the snowy stall awnings and sidle up next to the sizzling bratwursts (German sausages) or sip from mugs of glühwein (mulled wine). For festive good cheer, there is music and entertainment in the air too, supplied by boisterous choirs and brass bands.
Known as Christkindlmarkts (literally, Christ child markets), these holiday markets have been running for more than 800 years, and many of them still draw on centuries-old traditions and Teutonic legends. They usually begin on the Friday before Advent and run through Christmas Eve on December 24, though some markets may stay open until January.
If you’re planning to coincide your visit with the opening of these markets, here are five we recommend.
Christmas Markets in Germany
1. For a strong dose of tradition: Nuremberg Christmas Market
One of the oldest and most traditional Christmas markets in Germany, the main medieval market square of Nuremberg plays host to a wide variety of market stalls, some of which date back to 1890. The angelic gift-giving figure of the Christkind (Christ Child), played by a young woman dressed in gilded garb, opens the ceremony every year. Set aside time to feast on lebkuchen (spicy gingerbread) and gobble up a few Nuremberg bratwursts at one go—only as long as your finger but seriously delicious!
When: 1 to 24 December 2017
While you’re there: Immerse in Nuremberg’s dark past at its courthouse and Nazi party rally grounds, or tour the German Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer’s house.
Find hotels in Nuremberg: Stay at Sorat Hotel Saxx Nürnberg as it only takes you a few minutes to reach the Main Market Square and St. Sebaldus Church to celebrate Christmas.
2. For a Winter Wonderland: Dresden Christmas Market
Wander down the historic market alleys of Dresden’s famous Striezelmarkt, lined with hand-carved wooden toys and decorations. As the oldest known Christmas market in Germany, Saxon tradition runs strong in the festive form of a rich fruit and nut cake called Stollen. There is also a baroque charm to be found at the side attractions: a fairytale house, a puppet theatre and a towering Christmas pyramid.
When: 29 November to 24 December 2017
While you’re there: Take a stroll by the riverbanks of the Elbe; explore Zwinger, a spectacular rococo palace; see a performance at the neo-renaissance Semper Opera House.
Find hotels in Dresden: Aparthotel Neumarkt is only steps away from New Market Square, making it easy for you to visit the Christmas market anytime!
3. For a Cosmopolitan Carnival: Berlin Christmas Markets
With around 60 markets scattered across Berlin, you might feel dizzy at the options available in the German capital. For an elegant, atmospheric experience, the Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt is set in what is said to be the most beautiful square in the city. Culinary offerings run the gamut from traditional Christmas delicacies to gourmet menus from the country’s top chefs. A plethora of entertainment awaits with daily live plays, choirs, jugglers, acrobats and fire artists—you’ll never be bored.
When: 27 November to 31 December 2017
While you’re there: Check out the always forward-thinking Haus der Kulturen der Welt for your dose of arts and culture, shop in the hip districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, and wolf down some currywurst while you’re at it.
Find hotels in Berlin: Novum Style Hotel Berlin-Centrum is a great option to stay near other attractions.
4. For an idyllic lakeside stroll: Konstanz Christmas Markets
Located on the shores of Lake Konstanz and the Rhine, you’ll be able to spot the snowy peaks of the Alps from the Konstanz Christmas market on a bright winter day. Some of the stalls spread out from the town centre onto boats moored at the quayside. As Konstanz is so near to the Swiss border, taste the influence in the city’s cuisine by chomping down on some käsespätzle, a local German twist on the classic macaroni cheese, or Stängeli cheese fondue in a baguette.
When: 30 November to 22 December 2017
While you’re there: Ascend the tower of the filigreed Münster church for sweeping views of the lake, or seek solace away from the city in the botanical gardens of the off-shore Mainau Island.
Find hotels in Konstanz: Get the lovely lake view when you stay at ibis Konstanz at the heart of Konstanz.
5. For intimate medieval charm: Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Set in a quaint, medieval Bavarian town, the Reiterlesmarkt is part of the city’s transformation into a picture-perfect winter’s fairy-tale. Against a backdrop of its beautiful town centre, sample Rothenburg Schneeballen (shortcrust pastry balls) or have a glass of white glühwein. Look out for the arrival of the Rothenburger Reiterle, a ferocious Teutonic horseman who now adopts the figure of a friendly, gift-giving ambassador to welcome the opening of the festival. The year-round Christmas museum—the only one in the country—is also worth a look for its well-catalogued history of Christmas kitsch and memorabilia.
When: 1 to 23 December 2017
While you’re there: Wander along its majestic city walls, make a pilgrimage to St. Jakob’s Church for its important woodcarving artwork, or visit the Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum.
Find hotels in Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Glocke Weingut und Hotel is a great option with strategic location — only a 10-minute walk from the square and town hall.
Keep Your Eye On…
Glühwein is a mulled wine made from a spiced blend of cinnamon, cloves, oranges, sugar, and sometimes rum or schnapps—be wary if you’re drinking on an empty stomach. Every market has its custom collectible glühwein mug, which you can keep for a small fee and is usually shaped like a boot. Not only do they make great souvenirs, but refills are cheaper too!
Christmas markets are a great way to encounter provincial regions unique to each town and area. To keep your frosty toes warm, it’s best to pack a pair of sturdy boots to brave the snow, slush and medieval cobblestone.
Look out for the free concerts in churches and palaces — follow the sound of music!