As Christmas nears, city centers in Germany transform into sprawling beacons of Christmas cheer, otherwise known as Christmas markets (or Weihnachtsmärkte in German). While every town seems to have at least one, Berlin is filled with them until it becomes one big interlocking grid of markets. There are almost 100 markets in the city, some pop-up events and others that run from late November to just after the New Year.
That said, some markets are definitely better than others. And while Berlin has the most markets in the country, it is commonly accepted that they are not the best in Germany. That is changing as the many markets up their game and new alternative markets offer something different from the standard fare.
The Kulturbrauerei in Prenzlauer Berg was once a brewery, but now caters to all aspects of the arts. There is a movie theater, a free DDR museum, pool hall, grocery store, and even a few nightclubs. It hosts many pop-up events throughout the year, including the Lucia Christmas Market in winter.
This popular Scandinavian-themed Christmas market (hence the name of Lucia, Nordic goddess of light) sells local crafts, unique food options, and charming decorations. There are log fires with coat-hanging seats to stay warm, a children's crossbow shooting range, and antlers galore. You can order an array of beery-based glühwein (German mulled wine), as well as Norwegian fiskekake (fish cake) and deer burgers.
The market is enclosed on both sides with entry from two ends and it can get quite crowded. It is best to grab a drink on a weekday night, or prepare to shuffle through with the crowds on the weekend.
Elegant twin cathedrals and the concert hall look over one of the most beautiful squares in all of Berlin. For Christmas, the square is occupied by an equally lovely Christmas Market.
Over 600,000 people brave the crowds for this market every year. Inside the ticketed entry, there are the finest crafts and food stands in any market in Berlin. Little shops crowd the busy space and heated interior halls make way for comfortable, coat-free shopping. There are delicate works of origami, organic soaps, glass blown objects, and fanciful artworks. Over a 1,000 fairy lights offer a warming glow.
There are hearty chunks of salami from pigs, cows, or donkeys that you can sample before you buy. Rich chocolates and hand-crafted sweets are plentiful. Glühwein keeps you warm while you watch live plays and performances that happen at regular intervals. Or you can match the fine setting with a sit-down meal of sekt and lamb.
This is one of the few markets that charge entry, but at just one euro it is not much of a barrier. You can even avoid the charge if you arrive on a weekday before 2 p.m. The enclosed sides do make it much more crowded than other markets so try to avoid peak hours if you don't like being shoulder-to-shoulder with other market goers.
Unlike most of the other markets on this list, Old-Rixdorf Christmas Market is a one-weekend only affair. Taking place in the center of international Neukölln, this area was once the village of Rixdorf. Like walking back in time, you'll arrive at the marketplace awash in white lights and gas lanterns. If you would like a little more light, you can check out one of the classic lanterns to carry around the market.
Stalls are all highly-unique, featuring local businesses and charities with one-of-a-kind goods. Visitors can enjoy a full program on the central stage of choirs and performances, as well as exploring this tiny old marketplace. There is a traditional smithy along with antique carriages.
This is also a magical market for children with visits from the roaming Three Wise Men on their camels, pony rides, and games.
Because of the limited time frame of this market (usually a weekend in early December), expect it to be most crowded after dark when it is also most atmospheric.
You can shop like royalty at this market in front of the Berlin palace, Schloss Charlottenburg. White tents sit in perfect lines leading up to the palace gates, illuminated from their tips.
Food stalls serve upscale takeaway items like pork belly with plenty of ready-made meals to eat on the spot. Climb to the second level of the pagodas for an elevated seat and unparalleled view of the festivities. There are carolers, over 250 stands, and a nativity scene.
While the look is quite grown-up, this is also a great market for children with kid-sized fairground rides like a carousel and merry-go-round.
The Christmas market at Alexanderplatz demonstrates why Berlin markets get a bad rap. While the setting is spectacular (and convenient at a major transport hub in the center of the city), the stands are similar to those they put up for any festivity from Oktoberfest to Easter and the trinkets are mass-produced.
However, on the other side of the Fernsehturm (TV tower) there is a much better market between the Rotes rathaus (town hall), church, and a massive 50 meter Ferris Wheel. A brilliant display of lights welcomes you to "Berliner Weihnachtszeit" and over 100 stands decorated in the style of the early 1900s offer everything from food to toys to ornaments. At the center of the market, there is a 6,500-square-foot (600-square-meter) ice rink free for use (with skates for rent for those who didn't come prepared).
Get a mug of glühwein or hot chocolate to settle in and wait for Santa. He arrives every day (three times a day at 4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) to soar over the celebration and give his good tidings.
Weihnachtliche Kerzenwerkstatt at Domäne Dahlem
On the outskirts of the city, Domäne Dahlem is a 16th-century manor complete with family farm. For 30 years their Adventsmarkt has featured a country feel with locally crafted food and gifts on their working organic farm. Accessible by public transport, this country estate offers the perfect escape from city chaos. On weekends everyone is at work operating the smith, practicing pottery, and working in the weaving mill.
Children love the chance to pet the animals and explore the stables, or take a ride on the carousel. And don't miss a visit with Santa, available to listen to Christmas wishes several times during the market's run.
Musicians add to the festive environment where you can feast on grilled goat and finish with Bio-Glühwein (organic Glühwein). Handmade marzipan, nougat, gingerbread, roasted almonds, jams, and honey are all available for purchase. You can purchase the perfect Christmas tree here, certified organic and of German origin. There is a 3 euro admission to the market.
If you need relief from the freezing December weather, gather around the bonfire or you can go into the museum and discover what life was like for the privileged class back in the day.
This Christmas market in the west combines the old-school glamor of West Berlin with some tragic modern history.
The center of the market is the Gedächtniskirche (memorial church) left in partial ruins since WWII. Around it spring cheery neon-lit stalls with games, food, and drink. Located just off Kurfürstendamm (or Ku'Damm for short) this is the place to shop.
This market was where terrorists attacked on Dec. 19, 2016. A truck was driven directly into the crowds, killing 11 people and injuring many more. In a show of resilience the market reopened days after the attack and it still runs every year. You can spot the enhanced reinforcement when you visit now, as well as a memorial to the victims.
It is worth a trip out to old town Spandau to experience one of the most historic and largest markets in the city. There is a historic section fully decorated in the medieval style; even the people dress period-appropriate. Old school garb, wooden sword play, and rudimentary gifts and instruments are available to use and purchase. There are over 400 stalls to explore in this sprawling market like a Christmas-themed Renaissance Faire. The area around the church is the most charming, with more modern attractions near the Rathaus like funfair rides and games.
The full entertainment program includes sing-alongs with Santa, jugglers, crafts, and live music. Keep up your strength for a marathon visit with many mugs of glühwein, perhaps with a shot of blueberry juniper vodka, and order some smoked salmon cooked over a fire.