Christmas in Germany is difficult to imagine without Christmas markets. Christmas markets have been held in Germany for around 700 years. But which ones should you visit? We look at the tradition and at which ones are the best and most unusual.
Europe,  Travel

The best German Christmas markets

It’s the holiday season in Germany which means German Christmas markets! The perfume of the caramelised sugar and cinnamon from gebrannte Mandeln (roasted sugar almonds), Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and Glühwein (mulled wine). Cold noses and warm hands wrapped around a steaming mug. Christmas gifts and ornaments for the tree.

Christmas markets are one of my favourite things about Christmas in Germany.

Where did the German Christmas market tradition start?

Christmas markets in Germany and Austria started out in the late Middle Ages as one-day markets to let citizens buy the meat and other needs to make it through the Winter. In the 14th century, other craftsmen and artisans started selling their goods at these markets. Toymakers, basket weavers and confectioners, for example, sold gifts for children for Christmas. There were stands with roasted chestnuts, nuts and almonds at that time too.

The first official mention of the Nicholausmarkt in Munich is in 1310. In 1384, King Wenzel gave the city of Bautzen (near the Polish border) the right to hold a meat market each Saturday from St Michaels Day (29 September) until Christmas. With time, this tradition spread throughout Germany and all German-speaking areas. During the 20th century, they became a fixed part of the German traditions during Advent (the four Sundays before Christmas).

From Germany, the Christmas market tradition also spread to many other areas of the globe. Prague, Hungary, Strasbourg, Brussels and even New York, Toronto and Australia.

Shopping for Christmas tree decorations at the Düsseldorf Christmas market

When do the German Christmas markets start?

Christmas markets have become more commercial over the years, so much so that they now often start in November. This year, the first markets started on 15 November.

In most places, the Sunday before the First Advent is Totensonntag (the Sunday to commemorate the dead), which is one of the rare holy days, where the laws do not allow certain celebrations to take place. In many places in Germany, therefore, the Christmas markets may not open on Totensonntag or may only open later in the day.

Some Christmas markets in Germany, especially in the bigger cities, are also open until after Christmas. Some stay open between Christmas and New Years Eve, while others are open even into the new year.

In smaller towns, the Christmas markets in Germany are often only open for one weekend during Advent.

Which German Christmas markets should you see?

If you are going to be in Germany in the weeks leading up to Christmas, you MUST visit at least one Christmas market. But which are the best German Christmas markets? Which ones should you see?

Just a note before we get into our list: While I have been to these Christmas markets, for some of them, it is many years ago. I don’t have many photos, let alone digital photos of a decent quality. This time, therefore, most of the photos are not mine.

The big German Christmas markets

Munich Christkindlmarkt

The Christkindlmarkt, the biggest of the Christmas markets in Munich, covers the Marienplatz in front of the Neue Rathaus. In the centre is the Christmas Tree.

Each day, live music is played from the balcony of the Neue Rathaus. Apparently, Monday is ‘international day’, whatever that means.

The Munich Christmas market is particularly famous for the nativity scenes. The Kripperlmarkt (or manger market) in front of St Peter will have 12 stands devoted to the sale of carved nativity scenes.

The Krampus run is another highligh. Krampus is St Nicholas’ scary and assistant. On 8 December, around 300 people dressed as the two-horned Krampus will ‘run’ through the market, rattling their chains and scaring visitors. These costume cost between EUR 1,800 to 2,500 and weight 10 kg.

Nativity scene at the Nativity market in front of St Peter's church in Munich. Photo: Katy Spickaal via muenchen.de.
Photo: Katy Spickaal via muenchen.de

Berlin Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt

In the historic setting at Gendarmenmarkt is one of Berlin’s best Christmas markets. Glowing stars top each stall. These encircle a large Christmas tree in the centre of the square.

Artisans, including wood carvers, brushmakers, and tailers showcase their skills. You can buy original handmade candles, toys and decorative articles, among others.

Unlike many Christmas markets in large cities, entry to the market at Gendarmenmarkt costs EUR 1. Part proceeds go to various charities in the city.

Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin. Man dressed up as Prussian soldier in front of German or French Dom.
Photo: https://www.weihnachtsmarkt-berlin.de/galerie. Photographer unknown.

Cologne market next to the Dom

The Cologne Christmas market is so romantic. Nestled next to the Cologne cathedral, you can find many regional specialities (Reibekuchen!) and gift ideas from Germany and Europe. The market also has the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland.

Nearby in Colognes old town (Heumarkt and Alter Market) the Cologne house gnomes (Heinzelmännchen) are holding their own Christmas market.

Originally, the house gnomes performed all sorts of work for the people of Cologne while the people slept. They prepared the sausages for the butcher, made furniture for the carpenter, sewed clothes for the tailor and baked the bread and rolls for the baker.

The alleys of the market are named after the Heinzelmännchen and their skills. The stands on each alley also reflect the guild to which the Heinzelmännchen belonged.

The recent completion of tram lines also means that the Christmas market is about 4 times the size of what it was. The market is particularly lovely for children with a merry-go-round, puppet theatre, Santa Claus’ quarter and many toy stands.

The entry to the Christmas market of the Cologne house gnomes (Heinzelmännchen) at Heumarkt and Alter Markt in Cologne.

Stuttgart

Can you see that I have a special fondness for Christmas markets that are in a lovely settings? Stuttgart is no exception.

It is also one of the biggest Christmas markets and stretches from the “Neuen Schloss” and “Königsbau” to the “Altenschloss” and then via the “Stiftskirche” and on to the “Marktplatz” with 290 stalls and rides.

Stuttgart’s Christmas market also has special opportunities for children to make some Christmas gifts themselves. For a minimal fee (which goes to charity), children can decorate gingerbread, design candles with coloured wax, make stained glass and bake Christmas biscuits.

The market also has a live nativity scene with animals provided by local farms.

Check out the short film about the market.

Nuremburg

The Nuremburger Christkindlmarkt is one of the most famous Christmas markets in Germany and has been voted the best German Christmas market many times over.

One of the highlights has to be the chance to meet the Christkind. In Germany, the Christkind (or Christ child) brings the Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. She is easy to recognise with her golden curls, large crown and gold dress. You can even give the Christkind your Christmas wish list.

Take a ride on a stagecoach or admire and laugh at the traditional prune men made out of dried prunes and figs. If you like to take in the view (as we often do), climb the stairs of the Church of our Lady to view the market from above.

Nuremberg also has a special ‘Sister cities’ markets, with gifts such as Scottish kilts, Czech wooden angels and French marmalade from its partner cities. There is also a children’s market with an old merry-go-round, a Christmas bakery and Santa’s house.

Of course, you can’t visit the Nuremberg Christkindlmarkt without trying some of the local specialities: Nuremberg sausages (3 im Weggla or 3 in a roll), Nuremberg gingerbread (Lebkuchen) and the hot mulled wine (Glühwein).

The 'Christkind' at the Nuremberg Christkindlmarkt, with her golden curls, large crown and gold dress and cape.
Photo: Steffen Oliver Riese via https://www.christkindlesmarkt.de

For a 360 degree panorama of the Christkindlmarkt: https://www.christkindlesmarkt.de/der-markt/360-grad-panorama-tour-1.8344454

Striezelmarkt in Dresden

Dresden is famous not just for its Christstollen but also for its Christmas markets. And the Striezelmarkt is one of the oldest in Germany – this year is the 585th (2019) Christmas market. Incidentally, the Striezelmarkt gets its name from Christstollen, a pastry or cake filled with dried fruit shaped to resemble a swaddled baby – Christ.

Like Nuremberg, Dresden has a special area designed just for kids. It has a bakery and craft shop, where children can take home what they create (for a small fee), a cinema and a small train connecting them.

Dresden also has prune men – well little prune chimney sweeps, known as Pflaumentoffel. They were first mentioned in a document stemming from 1801. While the outfit has changed a little over the years, Pflaumentoffel is still sold at the Sriezelmarkt as a lucky charm.

Alternatively, you can visit the Christmas market in the Neumarkt in front of the Frauenkirche. This market is famous for its traditional medieval handicrafts and goods.

The Striezelmarkt in Dresden, one of the oldest and best German Christmas markets. Photo LHD/Sylvio Dittrich via striezelmarkt.dresden.de
Photo: LHD/Sylvio Dittrich via https://striezelmarkt.dresden.de/

German Christmas markets in special surroundings

If you would rather a more unusual Christmas market, rather than some of the big cities, why not try one of the markets in special surroundings? Not that the surroundings of some of the big markets aren’t special…

Please note: A small entrance fee applies to many of the following markets (normally <EUR 10 for adults, children free).

German Christmas markets at a castle

Numerous German Christmas markets have beautiful castles or palaces as their backdrop. Here are some of the best that I know.

Schloss Burg

Each year, Burg Castle in Solingen hosts a very popular Advent Basar with a wide range of artisanal goods from leatherwork to cheese. Tour the castle and shop at the same time!

Burg Satzvey

The highlight of the historical Christmas market at Burg Satzvey must be the live Nativity with medieval costumes. Around the castle, artisans sell their goods, from wooden toys and Christmas tree decorations to Nativity scenes, soap and regional food specialities. There is also an area for children to work on their handicrafts.

Looking for a romantic Christmas market at a castle? Try the Burgweihnacht at Satzvey Castle
Photo: https://www.burgsatzvey.de/, photographer unknown

Burg Hohenzollern

The Royal Christmas Market at Hohenzollern Castle (near Stuttgart) on the first two weekends of Advent is one of the prettiest Christmas markets in Germany. Sitting 900 metres above sea level on the Zollern hill, the imposing castle serves as the backdrop for a lovely Christmas market. The stalls are spread between the castle garden and carriage courtyard, while others are inside in the Family Tree Hall and the Count’s Hall. You must try the local delicacies. Glühmost (like warm cider) is made from apples sourced from the estate. The lentil soup uses lentils from local farms. Meanwhile, the wild boar used in the wild boar burgers and sausages were hunted on the estate and in the surrounding area. Georg Friedrich Ferdinand, Prince of Prussia and head of the Hohenzollern House, even officially opens the Christmas market.

Schloss Guteneck

Located near Nabburg between Nuremberg and the German-Czech border, the Christmas market at Guteneck Palace has been voted the No. 1 German Christmas market more than once. The palace forms a wonderful backdrop for the romantic, traditional and middle ages-themed markets. There are shows in the warm Knights’ Cellar and falconry demonstrations, as well as a petting zoo and camel rides for children. Bands and choirs provide the music. The Nativity in the woods is an artistic masterpiece.

Christmas market (and snow) at Guteneck Palace, which has been voted best German Christmas market more than once.
Photo: https://www.schloss-guteneck.de/, photographer: unknown

German Christmas markets in more unusual surroundings

German castle Christmas markets are great, but there are a number of markets that even more special because of their unusual surroundings.

Graefenthal Monastery

In Noch, near Viersen is the historic Graefenthal Monastery. This weekend, the grounds of the Monastery will glow with the fires of braziers, torches and with candlelight as the Monastery holds its Christmas market with traditional specialities and some from the middle ages. Minstrels and fire shows, choirs and brass bands help provide the Christmas mood.

Old-German Christmas market in Bad Wimpfen

This is one of the oldest and most beautiful Christmas markets in Germany, held in the old town square of Bad Wimpfen and surrounded by half-timbered buildings (Fachwerk). Lights and firs sprigs and garlands adorn the square. The booths line the square and the neighbouring narrow streets and sell handicrafts and Christmas specialities. The tower trumpeters help get visitors in the mood with music from the Town Hall balcony. St Nicholas and the Christkind roam the streets, handing out gifts to children. Later in the evening, the night watchmen takes visitors with him on his nightly rounds.

Bad Wimpfen Christmas market, the half-timbered houses of the town square make it one of the prettiest German Christmas markets
https://www.badwimpfen.de/, photographer unknown

Lichtermarkt in the Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord

This Christmas market was a chance find last weekend and one that we will visit again (it has only been held five times and is only on one weekend a year).

The Landschaftspark is the site of the former Thyssen ironworks. Much of the old buildings and infrastructure still remain, creating an inspired backdrop for a Christmas market.

An artisans market nestles between the blast engine room and the illuminated smelting works. Food stands run by local charities have their own area.

An unexpected highlight was the underwater world out of 12,440 balloons – which now also holds the world record.

Lichterfest in the Landschaftspark-Nord in Duisburg. With small booths nestled among the old industrial backdrop, the market is intriguing and special. We expect it will become known as one of the best German Christmas markets very soon.

Spreewald Christmas markets

This experience starts with the harbour Christmas market at the largest harbour in the Spreewald. Try the smoked fish, the small Christmas pancakes (Plinsen), grog and Glühwein.

Then catch the winter trip with the barge (and storytelling) to the open-air museum in Lehde and celebrate Christmas, “the way it used to be”. You can take the barge back or go on a hike by torchlight.

Michelstadt in Odenwald

I loved this Christmas market and am disappointed that I haven’t had an opportunity to visit again for many years. The Michelstadt Christmas market is located in the old town, inside the city gate. It has 100 wooden stalls with fir garlands and lights everywhere. The real highlight, however, is the life-sized wooden figures. These are made by the students of the local Technical Academy (Holzfachschule). They are so well done – you almost want to ignore the stalls just to find the next figure.

Carolers carved out of wood by students at the local Technical Academy at the Michelstadt Christmas markets. These and other carvings are spaced throughout the market and make it one of the best German Christmas markets.
Photo: dasoertliche.de, photographer unknown

Ravenna Gorge in the Black Forest

This relatively small Christmas market is set in a tiny village of illuminated wooden houses nestled among the steep hills of the Ravennaschlucht and the imposing 40metre high railway viaduct.

Christkindlmarkt on the island of Frauenchiemsee (Fraueninsel)

The location of this Christmas market is particularly romantic: a 38 acre car-free Island with a Benedictine convent. The Christkindlmarkt is on the first two weekends of Advent.

Fantastic Light Christmas market in Dortmund

This year, we made it to the Phantastische Lichterweihnachtsmarkt

in Fredenbaumpark this weekend and we weren’t disappointed. Think medieval fair meets pirate extravaganza meets Christmas market, with a lovely lake setting and lots of candles. There are jugglers and magicians and an adventure playground for kids and a giant ball bath for adults. The best bit (at least according to our Little Dinosaur Aficionado)? Life-sized dinosaurs in the woods.

The only difficulty was the lack of signage from the car park.

One of the more unusual Christmas markets: medieval fair meets pirate extravaganza meets dinosaur park meets Christmas markets, with lots of candles. The Phantastische Weihnachtsmarkt in Dortmund.

Which German Christmas market are you going to visit?

Do you prefer a big, beautiful and traditional Christmas market? Or would you rather something in a beautiful setting? Or one of the more unusual market?

The good thing is that there are so many to choose from, you are bound to find more than one that you love. We hope you enjoy the regional specialities and get all your last minute Christmas shopping done!

Happy Holiday sign off
Christmas in Germany is difficult to imagine without Christmas markets. Christmas markets have been held in Germany for around 700 years

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