Top 4 Christmas Markets in Germany4 min read
Have you heard of Chriskindlmarkt? These popular, outdoor Christmas markets can be found in most German cities in the weeks leading up to the holidays, and they’re the perfect way to get into the spirit of the season with your family. You’ll find yourself immersed in festivities awash in lights, great food and beverages, and good cheer. These traditions have deep roots in German history, but each city, town and region has added its own local flavor to how they’re celebrated. They’re so popular that the idea has been exported to the United States, so you may have a Chriskindlmarkt in your own home town.
If you do have a chance to travel in Germany during the Christmas season, you’re sure to find something to put you in the holiday spirit. Today, there are over 2,500 Chriskindlmarkts (in fact, Berlin alone hosts 70 different ones). Here is your guide to the ones you cannot miss!
Hands down, if you are going to visit any Chriskindlemarkt in Germany, don’t miss the one in Cologne. It is one of the most well-known Chriskindlemarkts and is placed perfectly next to the Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It plays home to the largest Christmas tree in the region and hosts nearly 200 booths with vendors offering handmade baubles and locally-sourced foods and wines. While walking through the market, you can hear Christmas music, visit the puppet theater and there is even a Grimm’s fairytales themed play!
Expert Tip: Try the Gluhwein, which roughly translates as glow wine, named for the hot irons once used for mulling. You’ll also glow yourself if you have the version mit Schuss, or with a shot of rum or other liquor. During the holidays you’ll find gluhwein stalls set up in public places and Christmas markets. This wine is sweetened and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices, then served hot. It’s the perfect winter warmer for the cold December days in Germany.
Another of the largest Chriskindlemarkts is in Stuttgart, one of the most walkable cities in Germany thanks to its low-traffic city square. This Chriskindlmarkt is set under the shadow of the Old Palace and has over 280 stalls. Nestled in the Black Forest area, the Stuttgart Chriskindlmarkt offers up local Swabian delicacies, and seasonal gifts like hard-carved nutcrackers and felted lamb slippers.
As if it wasn’t enticing enough, this Chriskindlmarkt also has concerts in the courtyard of Old Palace, with traditional German Christmas tunes and youth choirs that brought tears to my eyes. Over 3.6 million people frequent this market every year, so book your hotels in advance!
The Chriskindlmarkt in Dresden dates back to the early 1400s, making it the oldest Chriskindlemarkt in Germany and the world. It features the world’s tallest Nutcracker and the world’s tallest Christmas pyramid. There are over 250 huts with glass-blowers, bakers, and wood-carvers in action to give visitors an idea of how much work and skill goes into each bauble. One of the most popular foods from Dresden that is sold at this market is stollen, a bread similar to fruitcake. On December 9th, Stollenfest commences with a colorful parade through the Old Town and a giant stollen bread is cut into thousands of pieces and given out to the crowd.
Expert Tip: The stollen tradition dates back to the 14th century, when it was baked to honor princes and church dignitaries. Legend has it that the lumps in stollen represent the humps of the camels that carried the three wise men on the first Christmas. You’ll find regional variations that include different types of fruits, nuts and seeds—everyone has their favorite.
The city of Aachen is near the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands and their influence on the Chriskindlmarkt in the area is seen in the foods and knickknack craftsmanship. Featured foods include gingerbread, Skepulatius (a spiced biscuit), marzipan bread, and most famously printen. Printen is a gingerbread type delicacy and is the most famous baked good from Aachen. It’s so important to the people of Aachen that a giant printen stands in the market as a symbol of the city. This market is located adjacent the Aachen Cathedral, which is lit up with sparkling Christmas lights at night to give the market a true “Winter Wonderland” appearance.
Expert Tip: One of the most cherished traditions in Germany around Christmas is enjoying a little “down time.” The hustle and bustle leading up to holidays ends like clockwork the day before Christmas and continues through the day after. Markets and shops will close as people prepare to spend time with their families. The majority of commerce stops during these official holiday days, so don’t expect to do much sight-seeing, shipping, or other tourism activities. Stores and shops will open again on December 27, so plan your trip accordingly.