Star-shaped biscuits, the smell of cinnamon and wafts of hot mulled wine whirling around in the air – Christmas in Germany is truly magical. And Berlin has some fantastic Christmas markets to get you in the festive mood.
With merry traditions such as cookie baking, glühwein (mulled wine) drinking and candle lighting on Christmas trees, Germans know how to make the season bright. After all, Germany is the birthplace of the world-famous Christmas markets, the first of which reportedly opened in Dresden in the 13th century. Today, people gather across Germany and its surrounding countries at Advent time to stroll around stalls selling all sorts of comfort foods and drinks, as well as handcrafted goods to gift on Christmas Eve.
Though the capital’s Christmas markets may be a little overshadowed by those that take place in cities such as Nüremberg or Munich, Berlin is far from behind. From the oldest market in town to the most authentic and hipper, more modern options, here’s Culture Trip’s guide to help you navigate Berlin’s best Christmas markets and make the most of the festive season.
Berlin counts a few places in which its imperial past can still be witnessed. The splendid 17th-century Charlottenburg Palace is one of them, and it makes a glorious setting for a Christmas market. Consider spending an afternoon visiting the historical landmark itself, before heading to the nearby Christmas market to warm up with a glühwein when the sun has gone down and the illuminated palace in the background renders the whole experience even more spectacular. Alternatively, try out some traditional orangenpunsch, a white-wine-based orange hot wine, alongside a plate of the deliciously cheesy käsespätzle noodles.
Lucia Christmas Market makes for more than just a seasonal food and drinks trip. The 25,000-square-metre (269,078-square-foot) listed building in which it is located, with its red bricks, is emblematic of Berlin’s industrial late-19th century and hosts a range of cultural events within its walls. The Christmas market itself focusses on Scandinavian cuisine and goods, and its name refers to Holy Lucia, patron and goddess of light, who is celebrated across Scandinavia every 13 December. The Lucia Christmas Market is designed to radiate Scandinavian cosiness, often described as hygge, a feeling created here through lights and cinnamon-sprinkled treats. While at the market, don’t miss the chance to slip on a coat made warm by a wood-fired oven at the ‘open-air coat heater’, and there’s even the chance to say hi to Santa each evening.
A newcomer to Berlin’s Christmas markets map, on 25 November 2019, the Christmas Avenue opened its LGBTIQ* Winterdays at Nollendorfplatz. While bathed in a specially designed light concept, visitors to the market can delight in some high-quality cheeses and wines. Don’t miss the award-winning glühwein here, which has been produced solely for the Christmas Avenue. A daily show starts at 7.30pm with a programme ranging from Drag Bingo, rock and classical concerts to the market’s Face of Christmas Avenue show. You’ll find various donation-based stalls too, at which everyone is welcome to support the market’s social initiatives.
Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt is great for arts and crafts | Courtesy of Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market
Between Berlin’s Konzerthaus and the city’s German and French twin churches lies the big and beautiful Gendarmenmarkt. In the heart of Mitte, this square is ideally located for visiting Berlin’s major sights. The market makes for a perfect festive lunch, afternoon or dinner break, with a wide range of gastronomical food and drinks on offer at its various stalls. And it’s a particularly great market for arts and crafts, as local artisans sell wood and leather creations as well as candles and stoneware. The small entry fee of €1 (£0.90) goes to social and cultural projects.
Among the galleries and high fashion shops of the city’s hip Mitte district lies the pretty and historical street of Sophienstraße. On this, one of the oldest streets in Berlin, tourists and residents gather in the run-up to Christmas to savour an organic bratwurst or vegan sausage accompanied by a hot wine. As a leading city in all things ecological, it’s only natural that Berlin has an eco-friendly Christmas market. Not only will your conscience be a little lighter, this market is also a good one for Christmas shopping, as young creatives from Berlin sell quality designs from individual stalls. From organic chocolates, unique ceramics and Scandinavian wooden toys to home accessories and natural cosmetics, there’s plenty to choose from here.
The Christmas market at Kollwitzplatz is also ecologically conscious in its outlook. Located in the heart of former East Berlin district Prenzlauer Berg, Kollwitzplatz’s square is a popular place to take a break when visiting this family-friendly neighbourhood. Only organic and Fairtrade products are on sale here, and most of the food served is locally sourced. “There’s really something familiar about this market. Everything that is being offered in the stalls comes from close by. The sense of nearness to the production and manufacturing of the consumed good is so rare these days for the consumer – it’s a good feeling to get it here,” one of the market’s organisers tells Culture Trip. Choose from vegetable pies, sourdough bread and sweet crêpes made with milk and eggs from a local farm.
The southwest region of Berlin might not be on everyone’s itinerary, but during the winter season, Dahlem’s neighbourhood Christmas market makes for a pretty good reason to venture farther away from the city for a cosy afternoon. Glassblowers, goldsmiths and silversmiths, potters, florists, hatters, silk painters, papermakers, puppet makers and more make this market one of the most atmospheric and authentic in Berlin. And all this takes place in Domäne Dahlem, a former historical manor that is now a year-round family favourite. The magical scenery and delicious food, such as organic winter salads and hot waffles, as well as punsch for both kids and adults, are best enjoyed after a visit to the manor and its adjacent organic farm.
Market, Food Stall, Food Stand, Food Truck, Street Food
Merry Markthalle is the most foodie Christmas market in town | Courtesy of Merry Markthalle
Famous for its numerous street-food trucks and stalls, Markthalle Neun is a wonderful place for food in Berlin all year round. Every Friday and Saturday during Advent though, Kreuzberg’s market transforms into “the most foodie Christmas market in town”, as a market stallholder selling Berliner Winter, a hot drink made of spiced apple juice and vodka, tells Culture Trip. “You’re at the heart of Berlin’s independent and creative food life here,” he says. Indeed, the merry markthalle (market hall) offers everything you’d want when it comes to winter savoury and sweet treats: cheese fondue, gingerbread, hot chocolate with marshmallows, oven-warm pretzels and butter cinnamon crêpes. The list is long, and the atmosphere is truly merry.
Christmas markets can be a tricky place to visit as a vegan, but as one of Europe’s most vegan-friendly cities, it’s perhaps no surprise that Berlin hosts a Christmas market dedicated to plant-based food. Expect meat-free organic burgers, vegan German sausages, waffles and spiced biscuits. There’s also a range of vegan gifts on display – think cosmetics, handicrafts and even plastic-free jewellery. While in the area, perhaps after a cup of glühwein, walk north to stroll around the chic Charlottenburg area and its famous avenue, Kurfürstendamm, which is decorated with lights for the season.
Looking for a place to Christmas shop away from the more commercial avenues in Berlin? The annual Christmas Rodeo Design Market might be what you need. As the name suggests, this market is all about design, and you’ll find everything from fashion, jewellery and unique handcrafted goods to Berlin-made delicacies. More than 200 talented designers, artists and creatives come together to create this fun shopping experience, with a friendly atmosphere and DJ beats in the background. It’s all housed in what used to be Europe’s biggest cold storage house; built in 1901, the former cold store is now a listed building. However, there’s nothing cold about this market; it’s one of the only Christmas markets in Berlin taking place inside, making it the perfect place to take a break from the cold after a visit to the nearby open-air East Side Gallery.