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10 Top-Rated Christmas Markets in Germany

Written by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
Oct 16, 2019

Thousands of tiny lights illuminate rustic cabins filling squares and winding streets in towns and cities all over Germany, and the scents of roasting chestnuts and spicy gingerbread fill the frosty air. Local choirs sing, trumpets sound from balconies, and sounds of laughter blend with the jingle of bells. Big or small, a German Christmas fair-Christkindlmarkt-engages all the senses as tourists mingle with locals to shop, browse, and graze on local food specialties that are one of the prime attractions of the Christmas market experience.

The other draw, of course, is the extravaganza of decorations and gifts for sale in the cabins and tents. These vary with individual craftsmen, but will always include colorful nutcrackers, dolls, creche set miniatures, handmade soaps, brightly painted wooden toys, embroidered table linens, woolen hats, puppets, marzipan fruits, woven straw stars, and festive candles. St. Nicholas appears in every shape, size, and medium.

Christmas ornaments, too, are in every possible medium, from pewter and wood to paper and wool. Delicate glass balls are hand-painted with intricate designs, wood is carved into fantastic shapes, and bright painted wood figures represent everything from tiny angels on skis to miniature nutcrackers.

Shopping and eating aren't the only things to do during these December celebrations. Markets offer diversions such as skating rinks, concerts, carousels, parades, children's play parks, even miniature villages to explore. Dates may vary, but most markets are open from late November through December 24; some last into January. Plan your travels with our list of the top-rated Christmas markets in Germany.

1. Nuremberg

Nuremberg Christmas market

In northern Bavaria, Nuremberg's large Hauptmarkt becomes a bright wonderland of Christmas lights and treats, highlighted by a double-decker carousel with Santa and prancing reindeer. The market is believed to have originated in the time of Martin Luther, when the custom of giving children gifts on Christmas Eve originated, and today it is probably the best known in Germany.

The signature product here is the famed Nürnberger Lebkuchen, a rich, spice-filled gingerbread that's made into cookies, figures, and entire houses. Vying with the fragrance of Lebkuchen are sizzling Nuremburg Bratwurst, the city's other gastronomic specialty. Don't leave town without sampling both.

The market's setting in the medieval square, with its beautiful fountain and façade of the cathedral, creates a magical and unforgettable scene, and adjoining the main market, on Hans-Sachs-Platz, the Children's Christmas includes the carousel, a mini Ferris wheel, and a steam railway for kids.

Along with the traditional German crafts that fill the nearly 200 stalls, look for the bold contemporary designs at Fresh Design Pop-Up, where the works of the students at the Nuremberg Academy of Fine Arts are shown. Along with shopping, there are carriage rides, a lantern-light parade, concerts of Christmas music, and traditional nativity plays in churches.

Official site: https://www.christkindlesmarkt.de/en/

2. Munich

Christmas market in Munich | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

The Christkindlmarkt under the neo-Gothic spires and medieval towers of Munich's main square, Marianplatz, goes back at least to 1642, and according to records from the time, many of the goods sold were the same as those you'll see here today. Lebkuchen from Nuremberg, woodcarving from Oberammergau, and crèche figures filled the stalls just as they do now.

But Munich's markets go far beyond Marianplatz: there are markets all over the city, each with its own character and appeal. Two blocks away, at the Rindermarkt, the Kripperlmarkt (crib-market) overflows with figures and props for crèche scenes. Shepherds, wisemen, angels, animals, and holy family are in all sizes and media, from the delicate Alpine woodcarving technique of Oberammergau to modern molded ceramic and plastic. This market is one of the largest of its kind in Germany.

Near Oedonsplatz, a medieval Christmas Market at Wittelsbacher Platz is filled with stalls replicating market architecture of the Middle Ages. Traditional ovens produce authentic period breads and baked goods and craftsmen sell arts of the time in leather, metal, wood, calligraphy, and pottery.

In Schwabing, the artists' and students' quarter, there's a market at the Forum Munchner Freiheit and another in the nearby Englischen Garten, at the Chinesischen Turm (Chinese Tower).

For contemporary arts and cutting-edge design in contrast to the more traditional wares in the other markets, cross the city to the Tollwood cultural festival. And for a last bit of holiday shopping as you leave, allow time to browse in the Christmas market in the atrium at the airport, Flughafen München. Its 40 stalls are surrounded by 300 real Christmas trees, and an ice rink is free, with inexpensive skate rentals.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Munich: Best Areas & Hotels

3. Dresden

Dresden's Striezelmarkt

Eastern Germany's long tradition survived through the Communist era, and Dresden's Striezelmarkt, one of Germany's oldest dating from 1434, is one of the best. It has a special place in German traditions as the home of Germany's favorite holiday bread, the buttery, fruit-studded Dresden Christstollen. At the Striezelmarkt, the world's largest Dresden Stollen, weighing in at four tons and 13 feet long, is paraded through the streets, then sliced and sold for charity.

No electric lights or plastic break the spell of the Middle Ages in the courtyard of the Dresden Royal Palace, as craftsmen of different guilds demonstrate and sell their handmade pottery, woodenware, leatherwork, felt hats, and wrought ironwork at Medieval Christmas in Dresden.

Under the Baroque Frauenkirche, the Neumarkt is turned back a century or two to replicate fairs of the 1800s. The merchandise is limited to high-quality traditional and hand-made items, sold by craftsmen and artists in period dress. Entertainment follows the theme, with traditional singers strolling through the market playing lutes.

The Augustusmarket stretches along the wide tree-lined Hauptstraße, ablaze in white and gold lights and just across the river. The market adds an international touch, selling foods from Italy, France, and Scandinavia along with local foods and handcrafts. In any Dresden market, you'll find blown glass, woodcarving, and painted wood ornaments made in the villages of the nearby Erzgebirge mountains.

4. Stuttgart

Stuttgart's Christmas market | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

Hundreds of wooden cabins fill the squares and streets of Stuttgart to create one of Germany's largest Christkindlmarkt scenes. It is also one of the most visually pleasing markets in Germany.

These cabins are not only filled to the brim with foods, decorations, gifts, and crafts, but each is topped by a rooftop scene. Competition is keen among the vendors for the most lavish and most original rooftop, so you will see elves, Santas, oversized wrapped gifts, even a giant candle carousel, all surrounded by fragrant fresh evergreen boughs. Mingling with the piney scents are those of spiced cookies, roasting chestnuts, and spaetzle-the local specialty-sizzling in butter.

A large skating rink (with skate rentals) adjoins a separate section of the market that's designed for kids. A Ferris wheel spins with its seats enclosed in giant sparkling Christmas tree balls, and booths are set up for children to mold candles and bake cookies. As if this weren't enough, there is a giant tent housing an antiques market.

About 20 minutes by train is another market in Ludwigsburg, where the Baroque Christmas Market fills a lovely square and nearby streets. Many of the nearly 200 market stalls are decorated in the Baroque style of the surrounding buildings and the magnificent Ludwigsburg Palace, only a block away. This market is particularly known for traditional German crafts, such as papercutting, woodcarving, and straw work, as well as glass Christmas tree ornaments.

5. Cologne

Christmas market in front of the Cologne Cathedral

Like Munich, the famous cathedral city on the Rhine has several different Christmas markets, each different from the rest. The largest are those under the soaring Cologne Cathedral and in the Alter Markt, a cobbled square in the Old Town. The latter is augmented by an ice-skating rink and a Ferris wheel.

The oldest of the city's Christmas markets is at Neumarkt, where the cabins are decorated in angel themes; the merchandise is a mix of handmade and manufactured goods and foods. Rudolfplatz is the realm of children, a fairy-tale market under a medieval gate that casts magic spells with its giant Advent calendar and scenes from favorite fairy tales.

The woodland Christmas village at Cologne's Stadtgarten (City Gardens) reflects a more contemporary take on Christmas shopping, with imported Fair Trade goods, bio-foods, contemporary craft designs, and less traditional renditions of holiday songs. The most distinctive is the Harbor Christmas Market in the Rheinauhafen, Cologne's river port. The theme is ships, seafaring, and maritime arts, and the stalls are in white tents designed to be reminiscent of ships' sails. Refreshments are served on a three-masted ship, and entertainment includes sea shanties and juggling "pirates."

6. Hamburg

Hamburg's Christmas market

Even the normally businesslike industrial cites of the north get caught up in the holiday spirit, and residents look to the more than a dozen Christkindlmarkts throughout the city to find the work of contemporary craftsmen and designers, as well as the traditional holiday decorations.

Viennese Circus Roncalli's creator Bernhard Paul designed the cabins used by the 100 merchants at Hamburg's main Christmas market, the Rathausmarkt in front of the town hall, where only hand-made items are allowed and a carousel adds to the old-fashioned atmosphere.

Even larger is Hamburg's Weihnachstmarkt, on the Mönckebergstraße, with 150 stalls. Christmas light shows on the Jungfernsteig continue until New Year's Eve, with a 2am fireworks display.

International food and music fill the Gansemarkt, where you can hear bands from all over the world. Fairy tales rule on the Binnenalster, where boats each offer a different fairy-tale experience for kids. In HafenCity, the port neighborhood, market stalls take on a maritime air at the Fleetinsel Weihnachstmarkt.

The far less traditional-and edgier-Santa Pauli market is held on the infamous Reeperbahn, putting a diffferent spin on the Christmas theme with live music and variety acts. On each Saturday in Advent, a colorful parade of elves, gingerbread men, Father Christmases, and angels escort colorful floats through the city.

7. Leipzig

Christmas market in Leipzig

Christmas markets in this Saxony city date from 1548, the largest of them filling the magnificent Marktplatz in its historic center with more than 250 cabins. Trumpeters play daily from the balcony of the Renaissance Town Hall, one of Europe's finest examples, overlooking the market.

More markets scatter throughout the city: a cozy one in the Naschmarkt behind the Old Town Hall features traditional local crafts, and a Finnish Village of cabins with crafts and foods from Finland springs up in Augustusplatz, where there is also a giant Ferris wheel. A beautifully lighted double-decker carousel highlights Salzgässchen, and an indoor market in the Kupfersaal features young regional designers and artists.

Not far from the Marktplatz, the grounds of St. Thomas Church are transformed into a Fairy Tale Forest, bringing childhood favorites to life. The church is famous for the St. Thomas Boys Choir, which performs Christmas concerts. South of the central city, the factory grounds of Werk 2, now an arts center, feature Weihnachten am Kreuz, focusing on handmade gifts in modern materials, as well as traditional crafts. A special children's lounge features Christmas carols and fairy tales.

8. Baden-Baden and Black Forest

Elves for sale at the Esslingen Christmas market | Photo Copyright: Stillman Rogers

At the gateway to southwest Germany's Black Forest region, Baden Baden is an elegant spa town filled with distinguished villas and public buildings. Its Christmas market stretches in a long promenade known as the Lichtentaler Allee, through a park near its famous spas.

More than 100 wooden cabins line the way, selling high-quality handmade gifts, traditional and contemporary crafts, holiday decorations, and local foods. A carousel, a children's bakery, and entertainment on the outdoor stage keep little visitors happy.

The relatively small Black Forest region in Baden-Württemberg is filled with postcard-perfect, half-timbered medieval towns, each with its own charming Christkindlmarkt; you can tour these easily on a single trip for a wide variety of experiences.

In the Middle Ages, Esslingen was a thriving market town for traders from the Mediterranean, and its center of original medieval buildings provide the stage-set for the Mittelaltermarkt, an authentic medieval street market. Craftsmen, merchants, and minstrels dress in authentic medieval clothes, and even the children's rides are authentic to the period. Watch blacksmiths, bakers, basketmakers, and leatherworkers in the evening by the light of torches and lamps, and feast on roasted meats.

The 200-year-old façade of the town hall becomes a giant Advent calendar in Gengenbach, and the villagers gather each evening to see what charming scene hides behind the shutter of a new window.

The narrow stone streets and tiny squares of medieval Tübingen become a very sweet market as the town hosts Germany's largest chocolate festival, Chocol'ART, the first week of each December. Nearby Burg Hohenzollern, a fairy-tale castle that's the ancestral home of the Prussian Royal family, is the setting for the Royal Christmas Market. The Great Hall is filled with carefully selected crafts all by local artisans.

9. Berlin

Christmas market in Berlin

No German city has more separate Christmas markets than Berlin, each with its own vibe and entertainment.

For an international atmosphere begin with WeihnachtsZauber (Christmas Magic), in front of the Konzerthaus in Gendarmenmarkt, one of Europe's most beautiful squares. Craftspeople and manufacturers from all over the world bring crafts, art, and foods to sell here. There is a 1 Euro entrance fee for this market in the afternoons, evening, and weekends, but along with the market stalls there are frequent music and dance performances.

It's easy to spot the Berliner Weihnachtszeit, at the Roten Rathaus because of the giant Ferris wheel rising about 50 meters above the market stalls, which are decorated in styles of the early 1900s. There's an ice-skating rink here and a small petting zoo for children. Entertainment is the big draw to Potsdamer Platz, where Winterwelt features a giant tubing hill.

The Lucia Christmas market is held in the two brightly lit courtyards of Prenzlauer Berg Kulturbrauerei, a former industrial complex. The market has a Nordic theme, with Scandinavian music, foods, and crafts; there's a historic carousel for children.

The beautiful Charlottenburg Palace is the backdrop for Berlin's most romantic Christmas market, with old fashioned rides for kids and a wood-fired oven turning out warm treats. Real reindeer, musicians in historical dress, light shows, and a chance to see the palace rooms decked for the holidays add to the more than 200 carefully chosen vendors to make this more than the usual Christmas market.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Berlin: Best Areas & Hotels

10. The Baltic Hanseatic Towns: Wismar, Rostock, and Stralsund

Christmas market in Rostock

A trio of towns on the Baltic coast that were once ports in the powerful Hanseatic League combine as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their outstanding medieval architecture and remarkably tall brick churches. The main squares of these three towns-Wismar, Rostock, and Stralsund-are perfect settings for their respective Christmas markets, surrounded by gabled buildings in the distinctive Hanseatic style.

In Wismar, the region's largest market square is filled with cabins, and each day one door of a giant Advent calendar opens to delight children. In their own market, children can make gingerbread and crafts such as candles. Delicious fresh fish sandwiches are the favorite market snack, and in addition to local crafts and treats, you'll find vendors from across the Baltic selling traditional Swedish and Finnish crafts and foods.

Santa arrives at Stralsund's festive Christkindlmarkt by boat from the Baltic Sea, fitting for a historic seaport. The market extends from the soaring St. Nicholas' Church and Gothic town hall in the Alter Markt, along streets to the Neuer Markt.

Rostock has Northern Germany's largest Christmas market, highlighted by a 20-meter-tall Christmas tree. Even taller than the tree is the Christmas pyramid, said to be the world's largest. Fire jugglers and other medieval entertainers perform at the historical market, where you can feast on authentic period dishes.

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