8 must-visit traditional German Christmas markets
It’s the most wonderful time of year again! The start of Advent can only mean one thing in Germany - Christmas market time! Cities and towns all across the country come alive with festive lights, decorations and cosy wooden stalls, bringing good cheer to locals and visitors alike.
But where does the tradition of Christmas markets come from, what can you expect from a traditional Christmas market in Germany and - most importantly of all - which are the must-visit markets in Germany? We've put together a festive round-up of everything you need to know.
A brief history of Christmas markets
Also known as Weihnachtsmärkte or Christkindlmärkte (Christ Child markets), Christmas markets date back to the late Middle Ages, when many merchants set up winter markets in early December in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The first Christmas market as we know it today is widely considered to be Dresden’s Striezelmarkt, which was first held in 1434.
Christmas markets became more popular when Martin Luther introduced new traditions for the Christmas period, which saw the day of gift-giving move from Saint Nikolaus on December 6 to December 24. On this day the Christkind, or Christ Child, a beautiful pixie-like child, usually depicted with blonde hair and angelic wings, would bring gifts to the good children. In reference to the incarnation of Jesus as an infant, some Christmas markets are still watched over by a Christkind, St. Nikolaus or Santa Claus.
What to expect at a German Christmas market
German Christmas markets are widely seen as magical meeting places for friends and family, where they can sample regional specialities, purchase handmade Christmas ornaments and decorations as well as baked goods. Expect to find vendors offering traditional items like wooden nutcrackers, nativity figures, small wooden figurines of animals, Zwetschgenmännle (figures made of decorated dried plums) glass ornaments and more, just as you would have found at a Christmas market more than 200 years ago.
The classic adult beverage usually served at Christmas markets remains mulled wine (Glühwein), with many cities offering their own version of this delectable delight in specially-designed mugs. Most markets also offer a Christmas punch suitable for the little ones; known as Kinderpunsch, it's similar to Glühwein but without the alcohol. Gingerbread cookies, toasted nuts, Bratwurst and Stollen are all snacks that are commonly found at Christmas markets.
Always richly decorated with strings of Christmas lights, decked-out Christmas trees and cute wooden stalls, plenty of markets will also have a Christmas Pyramid Carousel. Usually made from wood, they tend to have paddles or fins on top which are attached to a central pin. Lit candles on the sides send up hot air causing them to rotate - a sight to see! Don’t miss out on the iconic nativity scenes, either. Other Christmas markets have ice-skating rinks, Ferris wheels and stages where live music, dancers and singers perform.
The best traditional German Christmas markets
With every town in Germany hosting its own Christmas market, deciding which ones are worth visiting (and bracing the cold and crowds) can be a bit tricky. So we’ve made a shortlist of some of the most famous, most beautiful and most traditional Christmas markets worth visiting this holiday season!
Heidelberg Christmas Market
Said to be one of the most romantic and enchanting Christmas markets in Germany, the Weihnachtsmarkt in Heidelberg spans seven different areas of the old town. Traditional wooden huts cover the main squares and the inner courtyard of the city’s castle, which serves as magical backdrop. To fully immerse yourself in this fairytale Christmas market, try one of the walking tours on Saturdays, and don’t miss having a go on the ice-skating rink below the castle!
The oldest Christmas market in Germany, the Striezelmarkt in Dresden has been taking place in the city centre for over 500 years. With plenty of fun for the whole family, visitors can try their hand at making some regional baked goods at the bakery, visit the fairytale forest or ride the Christmas train! With numerous dance performances, choir performances and even a Stollenfest, this unique and beautiful Christmas market is surely one-of-a-kind.
One of the biggest Christmas markets in the country, the Christmas market in Munich transforms the city centre in a true Bavarian winter wonderland village! The giant Christmas tree draws in visitors from far and wide, who admire it while sipping steaming mugs of mulled wine. The Christmas market also houses the largest authentic manger market, complete with lanterns for the mangers and more!
The Christmas Market in Bamberg
This World-Heritage city is the ideal setting for a true German Christmas market! Featuring elaborately decorated wooden huts, lights and trees, this magical Christmas market is sure to help you escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Bamberg’s Christmas market is also known for its abundance of Christmas cribs, put on display on the Route of Nativity Scenes that include museums, churches and public buildings.
The world-famous Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg is best known for its Christkind, the traditional Christmas gift-bringer. A new Christkind is selected to greet visitors at the Christkindelsmarkt and to host the opening ceremony of the market each year. A truly special experience, this Christmas market has plenty of fun for children, adults and families alike.
Dortmund Christmas market
Attracting over 3,5 million visitors each year, the Christmas market in Dortmund features more than 300 traditional wooden stalls which offer everything from mulled wine to gingerbread cookies and handmade decorations. Don’t miss out on seeing the winter lights in the Westfalenpark either, where the many light sculptures transform the park into a winter wonderland.
The Christmas market in Aachen is set to host its 47th edition this festive season, welcoming more than 130 merchants who are sure to dazzle visitors with their unique handmade goods. Try your hand at curling or ice-skating at the Holzgraben Advent market and be sure to enter the Christmas sweepstakes for the chance to while a new car, a luxury shopping experience or other beautiful gifts.
Berlin Christmas markets
Hosting 70 different Christmas markets this year, the city of Berlin is sure to have a Christmas market for everyone! From the biggest Weihnachtsmarkt in the old town of Spandau by the Gendermenmarkt, to the Christmas market with the biggest Ore Mountain pyramid in Europe and the handicraft market by Charlottenburg Palace, there is more than enough festive cheer to be found in Berlin!
Enjoy the Advent season at a German Christmas Market
Get into the holiday spirit this Christmas by visiting a Christmas market with your friends and loved ones - from the decorations to the music, the atmosphere and food, they are a great way to immerse yourself in a new city or learn more about German culture.