From Nuremberg and Hamburg to Dresden and Cologne, the run-up to Christmas sees town squares all over Germany filled with festively decorated huts selling handcrafted goods and delicious food. Discover the 14 best German Christmas markets to visit this year.
When people think of German Christmas markets, the one that stands out in terms of history, lore and tradition tends to be Nuremberg. Though its direct origins are murky, historians believe it began during the early 17th century. A key custom that marks its commencement is the parading of the holy cherub Christkind (‘Christ child’) – the traditional giver of gifts at Christmas time, played by a child in the city – through Nuremberg’s central square, the Hauptmarkt. The Christkindlesmarkt (‘Christ child market’) opens at the start of Advent and runs until Christmas Eve. The unique souvenirs on sale include specialities from the Franconian region, such as brandies, fruit jams and clothes made from local wool.
Berlin’s many Christmas markets are as diverse as the city itself. Many diverge from the traditional to champion multiculturalism or environmental sustainability, such as the Christmas edition of the Green Market vegan lifestyle event. While markets like the famed Gendarmentmarkt deserve an honourable mention, a favourite among locals is the Lucia Christmas Market that is presented at the Kulturbrauerei in the eastern district of Prenzlauer Berg. Here, visitors can enjoy a fusion of German traditions and Scandinavian influences: Nordic flags wave from the stalls, traditional songs sound across the market square and vendors prepare traditional foods, including elk bratwurst.
Held on Munich’s famous Marienplatz, surrounded by historic buildings including the Neo-Gothic New and Old Town Halls, this market sees hundreds of wooden stalls turn the main square into a veritable winter wonderland. Decorated with lights, ornaments and garlands, these stands offer quintessential Christmas treats like stollen, chestnuts and berry mulled wine, while traditional Bavarian handicrafts include hand-painted glass ornaments. Who says Oktoberfest is the best time of year to visit Munich?
Christmas market activities in Dresden date back well into the 15th century. The name of the renowned Striezelmarkt derives from Strüzel or Stroczel, the name of a type of cake sold at the market, now known as Stollen. Set among the grand architectural gems of Dresden’s Old Town and with the River Elbe flowing in the background, the market square is bathed in the gentle glimmer of festive lights and lures visitors with unique features such as the Plaumentoffel – decorative figures made of prunes – and the largest Christmas pyramid in the country, which stands at 14 metres (46 feet) high.
Cologne’s most famous Christmas Market is situated at the foot of the city’s most prominent landmark and UNESCO World Heritage site, the Gothic Cathedral. The festival centres around an enormous Christmas tree decorated with lights, red ribbons and ornaments. Sip on some Glühwein while browsing the market’s stands as live-music acts perform Christmas tunes, before sampling some Currywurst or South Tyrolian ham.
Most of the markets on this list have historic origins, but for the most part, the cities surrounding them have been modernised. For a truly immersive experience, head to Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Bavaria, a quaint village where you feel as if you are stepping back in time. This picturesque place draws tourists every year during the Christmas season, as the gabled roofs and cobblestone streets are dusted with snow and illuminated by twinkling Christmas lights. The entire town takes on a festive spirit as residents decorate their windows with garlands. Be sure to try Rothenburg’s trademark Schneeballbiscuit, a kind of fried dough covered in powdered sugar or melted chocolate.
Those interested in a more traditional Christmas market experience should head to Stuttgart, where the city’s five major squares are transformed each year to bring visitors a taste of some of the country’s longest-standing Christmas bazaars. Some even say that Stuttgart itself is a Christmas city, thanks to its cobblestone streets and myriad historic buildings. The main market worth visiting is the one situated in front of the striking Old Palace, known as Wintertraum Markt. Munch on roasted chestnuts and Lebkuchen as you get lost in a sea of wooden chalets adorned with festive decorations.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, hundreds of wooden huts move to the historic old town squares surrounding Frankfurt’s Römerberg. The market stalls are set in the midst of the area’s timber-framed houses, contrasting with the glitzy high-rises of the financial district in the background. As one of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets, with records suggesting it dates back as far as 1393, the market at Römerberg is a sure-fire was to enjoy some traditional goodies and Christmas spirit. Handmade trinkets and crafts make for fantastic souvenirs and gifts, and the local culinary specials – from hot apple wine to Bethmännchen marzipan cookies – will give you the full Franconian experience.
Just an hour west of Dresden and its famous Striezelmarkt, visitors are discovering Leipzig’s lesser-known Old Town Christmas market. More than 300 exhibitors set up shop on the market square and in the nearby streets and transform the city centre with lights and evergreen garlands. Vendors in the Old Town offer a mix of traditional German handicrafts and food, while Augustusplatz is where the Christmas flair goes international with Finnish products, Swiss cheese and South Tyrolian decor. The musical entertainment on stage is just as varied, and younger guests can explore the fairy-tale forest or meet Santa Claus.
Heidelberg enchants visitors year-round with its quaint Old Town, picturesque river views and the imposing ruins of a 13th-century castle towering over the city. Towards the end of November, the market squares fill with wooden huts and stalls illuminated by twinkling lights. The Heidelberg Christmas market is one of the most romantic you’ll find in Germany, and your afternoon is best spent shopping for handcrafted gifts, souvenirs and decor, indulging in Glühwein and going for a spin on the Karlsplatz ice rink.
In Düsseldorf, sumptuousness is combined with distinct attention to design and aesthetics to provide a truly dazzling Christmas market experience. Start the day by heading to Königsallee, Düsseldorf’s famed shopping street, which comes alive at Christmas market season. Many markets are situated nearby, with a favourite being the one at Heinrich Heine-Platz known as Engelchen Markt. This market goes far beyond the traditional Christmas goods to include the exchange of speciality car parts, clothing, vinyl records and more.
Christmas markets spring up across Hamburg in November and December, encompassing a wide range of themes. The main Christmas market, Weihnachtsmarkt, takes place around a colossal Christmas tree next to the City Hall. While Weihnachtsmarkt has a feel akin to the traditional Christmas markets found in town squares throughout Germany, Hamburg’s central Mönckebergbrunnen shopping district transforms into a magical Christmas forest to host the Winterwald (‘winter forest’) market. If you’re looking for a Christmas market experience with a difference, Hamburg also hosts a range of smaller themed markets, including the Saint Pauli festival – the world’s first erotic Christmas market.
The spa city of Aachen, set close to Germany’s border with Belgium and the Netherlands, turns into a winter wonderland in the run-up to Christmas. The quaint streets and squares surrounding the City Hall and cathedral are decked out with coloured lights and around 120 stalls, selling everything from mulled wine to handmade wooden toys. Kids will love the festive carousel, while friends back home will enjoy an authentic souvenir of Aachener Printen – a type of Lebkuchen local to Aachen, made with caramelised sugar and spices.
Bremen is a city of two halves when it comes to Christmas markets. Around 170 wooden stalls pop up around the Weser Renaissance-style Rathaus (‘town hall’) and St Peter’s Cathedral, where visitors can enjoy traditional festive treats such as Glühwein, Lebkuchen and sizzling Bratwurst, with the added bonus of being served by staff clad in medieval get-up. For a Christmas market with a nautical twist, head to the Schlachte-Zauber on the banks of the river Weser. Here, mulled wine gives way to mead, and visitors are taken back to the Hanseatic era – against a backdrop of historic ships, expect to meet jugglers and minstrels, and to pick up unique Christmas gifts from an army of skilled local craftspeople.