If there is one thing that Germans know how to do well, it’s organising Christmas markets. Many places in the country turn into cosy Christmas towns, with stalls selling German delicacies, Christmas ornaments, candles, glassware and other gifts.
Big cities as well as the smaller places light up in fairy lights and are full of Christmas trees, nutcrackers and angels and the streets smell like cinnamon, roasted chestnuts and warm pastries.
If you are looking for a little getaway at the end of the year, one of Germany’s Christmas markets is a great place to go to. Do some Christmas shopping, warm up with Glühwein, admire the display windows of the stores or go ice-skating on one of the ice-skating rinks. If Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas that has been playing on the radio already and hasn’t given you Christmas feelings yet, then certainly one of these markets will…
While you're getting festive, pair your Christmas market adventures with these other fun activities to do on your trip:
1. Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market
The Christmas market in Cologne is the biggest one as well as one of the most popular ones in the country, and for a good reason. It is located in the historic heart of the city and surrounded by beautiful authentic buildings, among which the Cologne Cathedral, one of the tallest cathedrals in the world.
Besides this, the market in Cologne does a fantastic job with the decor. There are endless stalls decorated with magical lights and fir branches that sell Christmas ornaments, gifts, traditional candy, hot chocolate, and glühwein (a warm red wine that you have to try, and it will also keep you warm!).
A fun thing about the markets in Germany is that they serve their warm drinks in unique mugs that usually have the name of the city and the year on it. When you get a drink, you pay a small deposit for the mug, and you decide if you want to return the mug or keep it as a souvenir.
Another really popular Christmas market is the one in Dortmund. What makes the market so special is that it has the most enormous Christmas tree in the world! The tree is 45 metres high, weighs 40.000 kilograms, and has 50.000 lamps and ornaments hanging in it (of which one is an angel that weighs 200 kilograms).
The market has over 300 stalls to look through, so there is enough to see. If you want to try a popular Christmas drink, try Eierpunsch, which is made of egg yolks, white wine, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and citrus juice. A traditional snack that you will smell from a mile away is Gebrannte Mandeln, or roasted almonds, which are very hard to resist.
3. Berlin’s Lucia Christmas Market
The capital doesn’t just have one market, but over sixty! Which ones are you going to choose to go to? If not all, then you should definitely check out the Lucia Christmas Market. Known for being the perfect combination of German traditions with Scandinavian influences. This market has a variety of different things: from art, fashion and jewellery to traditional street food and Scandinavian handcrafts.
You don’t have to worry about getting cold here, as there are coat heaters and many firelogs to keep you warm. Even for children, there is enough to do: a bungee trampoline, a historic carousel and Santa visiting the market in the evenings.
4. Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the most picturesque locations to go to when it comes to the Christmas market. Coloured German houses, cobblestone streets, narrow streets… When people say it feels like a fairytale or a Disney movie, it looks like it literally is, as it was the inspiration for the village of Pinocchio. The city is located on a plateau overlooking the river Tauber.
Compared to other German Christmas markets, the stalls in Rothenburg are much more spread out over the square, which makes it feel a lot more spacious. Apart from a Christmas market, Rothenburg also has popular local Christmas boutiques that will get you into the Christmas vibe.
You can’t leave Rothenburg without trying the delicacy the city is known for: Schneeball (snowball). It is deep-fried pastry dough rolled up into a ball, dusted with powdered sugar, dipped in chocolate or other toppings.
The Christmas market of Trier is located on two different squares: Hauptmarkt and Domfreihof, that are connected by a short street. At the Hauptmarkt, the stalls are surrounded by beautiful historical buildings that were all built in different times. Their architectural styles range from Gothic to Romanesque and Baroque.
At the Domfreihof, the Trier Cathedral will catch your eye immediately: this castle-looking cathedral is the oldest one in the northern part of the Alps and is definitely worth viewing from the inside. Of course you will find stalls here that sell the most beautiful ornaments, candles, snowglobes, and the most delicious delicacies (try the gingerbread!).
In Düsseldorf you can find different markets throughout the city as well. Go to the one with a Ferris wheel located along the river the Rijn, have Glühewein at an après-ski-like bar overlooking an ice skate rink at Königsallee or visit the Little Angels Market (Engelchen Markt), a small market decorated with beautiful angels. When you are at this little market, make sure to try Flammkuchen, kind of like a pizza, but a very crispy, thin base topped with cheese, cream, onion and bacon.
7. Frankfurt Weihnachtsmarkt
There are a couple of Christmas markets in Frankfurt, where you will find some of the more crowded ones. It is home to one of the oldest markets, dating back to 1393 and spread throughout the Old Town.
In the middle of the square, there is a huge Christmas tree (not as big as the one in Dortmund but equally beautiful) and a classic carousel. Everywhere you will smell roasted nuts, baked apples, and gingerbread. With over 200 stalls of ornaments, delicacies, artworks and honey-based products, there is lots to choose from. Make sure to try some hot apple wine here!
Just like in other big cities in Germany, Hamburg has several markets during the festive season: from traditional ones to a sensual adult-only market (think of striptease tents, dragqueens and spicy Christmas gifts), called the Santa Pauli Christmas Market.
The biggest market in Hamburg is located on Rathausmarkt Square. Another beautifully decorated one with endless stalls that sell handmade toys, jewellery, delicacies, glassware and more. Make sure to try Currywurst here, fried sausage with curry sauce.
The different markets in Stuttgart have a lot to offer. Apart from many stalls with delicious delicacies and beautiful Christmas gifts, they turn the Town Hall into a huge advent calendar. All the windows have numbers on them, and every day one image is revealed until Christmas.
Something else that the stalls in Stuttgart focus on, are the roofs: every year, there is a competition hosted for the most beautiful rooftop. So make sure when you’re visiting to look up!
You will find stalls with big teddy bears, Christmas trees, lights and other decorations on top of them. There is even a little Finnish village set up on Karlsplatz, with Finnish delicacies and cute wooden stalls.
Every year the medieval city centre of Erfurt turns into a winter paradise. On the main square, Domplatz, there is a Ferris wheel and a mini-train for the kids as well as bumper cars. This is where the biggest Christmas market takes place, but there are more stalls spread throughout the city. Take a guided tour led by Christmas angels or try the speciality Riesenbratwurst, a sausage served in a baguette for the optimal experience.
Not into big Christmas markets with endless stalls and people walking around? Then the market in Madgeburg might be a good option for you. It is one of the smaller Christmas markets, but a very traditional one that is perfect for families. There are stunning decorations, activities for children, an ice skating rink and a Ferris wheel.Size aside, it’ll guarantee you the magicalness of what German Christmas markets are still known for!
Go back to the Middle Ages in Esslingen, not too far from Stuttgart. The Christmas market here is in medieval style: the traders are dressed up, there are medieval performances, and you can follow workshops in style, such as fencing, falconry and archery.
There is even a children’s area where kids can play medieval games or follow craft workshops. If you are feeling cold you can take a bath in one of the hot tubs (in the medieval style, of course), something that makes this market even more unique.
13. Dresden Strietzelmarkt
Many Christmas markets claim to be the oldest one, but the Strietzelmarkt in Dresden really seems to be the one that was first. Germans even refer to the city as the ‘unofficial Christmas capital of Germany’. The word Strietzel refers to a seasonal cake called Stollen, a bread with raisins and a sweet almond paste, topped with powdered sugar.
Something that the market does in Dresden every year, is creating a Schwibbogen, literally meaning ‘hanging arch’. It is an arch-shaped candle holder, representing the entrance to a mine hung with guiding lights, a connection to the area’s mining past.
14. Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt
In Nuremberg the Christmas market (Christkindlesmarkt) has their own symbol: the Christmas Angel, or Christkind. Children get excited to see her at the market that consists of three different ones, all focused on something else. The largest market, the Hauptmarkt, has a wide variety of different Christmas decorations: from Christmas villages, candles, lanterns to a traditional man figure that is unique to Nuremberg, called Zwetschgenmannle. They are available in many different colours, and there are even Zwetschgenmannle as musicians and politicians.
The Sister Cities Market sells traditional items and food that come from sister cities across the world, such as Antalya, Prague, Atlanta, San Carlos and more. The coolest thing is that some of the stalls are non-profit and that their proceeds go to charities in the sister cities!
And then there is the Children’s Market, dedicated to the little ones, with a mini Ferris wheel, a steam train, a carousel and more.
And last but not least, the Christmas market in Leipzig. As one of the oldest ones, dating back to 1458, it has six areas and more than 250 stalls. With cosy lights, a big Christmas tree and a 100-year old carousel and a Ferris wheel, the market in Leipzig is known to be very kid-friendly. When in Leipzig, try their round shaped Leipziger Linden-Taler chocolate or the Leipzige Lerche, a cupcake.