The heavenly smell of candied roasted almonds, and the romance of enjoying mulled wine outside near a bonfire are two of my favorite things about Christmas time in Germany. It’s all so very festive, so traditional… so German… so, the way it should be! and I love it.
Here are my favorite German Christmas Markets. I am eager to hear from you and your experiences too! Have you visited any markets in Germany? if so, which ones did you enjoy best and why?
We’ll start with Munich, because that’s where I am currently living:
- Signs of a Christmas market in Munich date back to the 14th century. Today, there are several small markets dotted throughout the city, but the main market is held in Marienplatz (where the famous Glockenspiel can be seen and admired every day) underneath a 27 meter high tree recently cut down in Bad Kohlgrub (*tear*). During the month of December, live advents music will play from the balcony of the Town Hall in Marienplatz, every day between 17.30 and 18.00. Families may be interested in knowing that the Children’s Museum sponsors free Christmas workshops in the town hall for children aged between 6 and 12. While they’re there, don’t forget that the Christkind (Christchild) is accepting mail from the 27th of November through to the 8th of December between noon and 18.00 in the inner courtyard of town hall. Rumor has it that the Christkind even replies!
A few steps from Marienplatz you will find a small market along Neuhauser Strasse that specializes in wood carved figures and everything else you would need to create a Manger.
Another notable market can be found by the Chinese Tower in the English Garden. Nikolaus will be there on December 6th, there’s a carpenter who will show your kids how to carve something out of wood in his workshop (think: gifts) (think: creativity), and horse drawn carriages depart from this market for a romantic one hour ride through the stunning English Garden. What’s not to love?
Other Christmas markets can be found at Sendlinger Tor, Schwabing (features many artists and also live music), Wittelsbacherplatz (with a Medieval theme), Rotkreuzplatz, Kaiserhof der Residenz (near Odeonsplatz. Very traditional with live music daily), Weißenburger Platz, Rosenkavalierplatz (Bogenhausen; also specializes in artisanal crafts), Stephansplatz has a “Pink Christmas” (gay/lesbian). And of course, the famous ice skating rink in Karlsplatz.
Last but certainly not least: don’t forget the Winter Tollwood festival on the Theresienwiese (yes, where Oktoberfest is held) which showcases organic ethnic food specialties, live shows, concerts and other unique treats!
- If you are already in Munich, then it’s worth a stop in nearby Augsburg. Not only is the city charming, but there is a lovely Christmas market in front of the Rathaus (town hall) which is an impressive and historically significant renaissance building whose windows showcase an “angelic” display every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night at 6pm. It’s worth a stop for some Bavarian specialties while watching the angels!
- About an hour outside of Munich you will find some famous tourist traps such as the Neuschwanstein castle, and other romantic road stops, and notorious towns such as Garmisch Partenkirchen or Oberammergau, which is home to the legendary Passion Play. While these towns are definitely worth a stop to admire the woodwork, and handpainted houses, you may want to drive a few kilometers further to see the small Christmas market in Ettal which is most famous for its stunning rococo monastery adorned with a marble Madonna which came from Rome in 1330. In addition, the Monastery distills its own herbal liquor and local cheeses are available too. (Note that the market is only open on 2 weekends during December)
- Nuremberg is host to one of the most charming markets in Germany, which is opened every year (and this year on the 29th of November at 17.30) by the Christkind (Christ Child) herself, in the main market square. Between the 3rd and 20th of December, children can visit the Christkind (with the exception of Saturday thru Monday). The 13th of December sees a traditional and heart-warming children’s’ lantern parade which starts at the Christmas Market and ends at the Castle. Specialities in Nürnberg, are the Nürnberger Bratwurst (sausage) and the Nürnberger Lebkuchen (gingerbread) which are true signs for the advent season, and really not to be missed. Punch and mulled wine are traditional Christmas markets drinks, but in Nuremberg, you will find the biggest Feuerzangenbowle in Germany which contains a glorious 9,000 liters of red wine punch! Make sure to check the market’s website for a calendar of events listing the many live advents music concerts, which are truly enjoyable.
- Cologne is one of Germany’s largest cities, and in my personal opinion the best. Perhaps I am biased since I was born here, but Cologne has an energy to it. People are open, energetic, amusing and quite laid back for German standards. Life in Cologne is generally enjoyed with a vitality that is incomparable to other German cities; (something that can be witnessed every February for “Karneval”) and the city is rich in culture and history. The busiest market takes place in front and alongside the imposing Kölner Dom cathedral. Other markets can be found along the Harbour, which is near the chocolate museum (a must stop), in the Stadtgarten (Cologne’s oldest park), am Neumarkt, in Rudolfplatz (Brothers Grimm themed) near to which is also the “Christmas Avenue” (gay/lesbian Christmas market). Cologne also happens to be a fantastic shopping city. Alaaf!
- Aachen is best known for its Dom which is truly a magnificent Cathedral; and also the burial place of Charlemagne. The Cathedral’s treasury houses Charlemagne’s bones, clothes used by John the Baptist, a loincloth that is said to have belonged to Jesus Christ, and pieces of Mary’s cloak. Religious or not, the cathedral and its treasury are certainly something to be seen and valued. From there, you can visit several Christmas markets scattered around the City. Don’t leave without a good supply of Aachener Printen (type of Gingerbread).
- Goslar is an enchanting little UNESCO world heritage town laced with cobblestone alleyways and traditional German Fachwerkhäusern (timbered houses with slate roofs) and nestled near the Harz mountains. In addition to a festive Christmas Market, there is also a Christmas Forest where you can enjoy a regional specialties in-between 60 lit Christmas trees in a Forest atmosphere. Climb the stairs of the Himmelsleiter for a cozy and festive view over this beautiful little town. The market opens on the 27th of November with a traditional Latern parade for children and their parents at 17h (starting at the Volksbank). The town of Goslar offers a calendar of events which lists opening times and musical performances. In addition to the Christmas market booths, the town of Goslar offers over 200 little stores and an artisanal market in the Großes Heiliges Kreuz building.
- Dresden’s Christmas market is known as the Striezelmarkt and is the oldest in Germany, dating back to the 1400’s. Along with Dresdener Stollen (a famous dry Christmas time bread with dried fruits and marzipan), the market is also famous for hand carved traditional and treasured ornaments from the Erzgebirge region. The Christmas market has caught up to the times and is also known for the world’s biggest nutcracker, as well as the world’s biggest Christmas pyramid (a candle-powered pyramid featuring Christmas scenes, all hand carved out of wood in the Erzgebirge).
- Close to Dresden, on the banks of the Elbe river lies a small city (founded in 929) notorious for its porcelain; Meissen. An advents calendar adorns the Rathaus and the market is opened on the 29th of November this year with a 2 meter long Stollen to sample. The medieval finesse and the rich history and culture of this region, make the Christmas markets in both Dresden and Meissen a very memorable experience.