What would the holidays be in Europe without a visit to a traditional German Christmas market (Weihnachtsmarkt or Christkindlmarkt)? This tradition has spread so there are Christmas markets all over the world from London to Paris (Marché de Noël) to various cities in the USA.
But the best still lie in Germany where old town squares and medieval castles are an enchanting setting for a favorite Christmas tradition. Learn about what to eat, when to go, and which are the best Christmas markets in Germany.
German Christmas Markets History
German Christmas markets date back to the 14th century. Originally, the fairs provided only food and practical supplies for the cold winter season. They took place in the main square around the central church or cathedral and soon became a beloved holiday tradition.
Protestant reformer Martin Luther was helpful in transforming the holiday to center around the 24th and 25th. Before his time, Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day) on December 6 was the time of gift giving. But Luther suggested that children receive presents from the Christkind (the Christ child) around the time of Jesus's birth. This also popularized the term “Christkindlsmarkt,” a name for the markets more popular with the religious and in the south of Germany.
German Christmas markets usually open during the four weeks of advent, from the last week of November to end of December. Others only open for a weekend. Note that markets may be closed or close early on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.) Most are open from 10:00 until 21:00 on weekends, although times can vary.
Attractions at German Christmas Markets
Strolling through festively illuminated streets, taking rides on old-fashioned carousels, buying handmade Christmas decoration, listening to German Christmas carols, and drinking hot spiced wine...Christmas markets are a traditional and fun part of every Christmas season in Germany.
Popular elements include:
- Weihnachtspyramide (Christmas Pyramids like the massive one in Dresden)
- Krippe (Nativity scenes)
- Nussknacker (Nutcrackers)
- Stollen (Christmas cake), as well as other goodies
- Zwetschgenmännle (figures made of dried plums)
- Riesenrad (Ferris Wheel)
- Ice Skating
- Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Trees, like the biggest in Dortmund)
- Krampuslauf (This unique parade takes place in certain cities in the south and celebrates the darker side of Christmas)
What to Buy at a German Christmas Market
Christmas markets are the perfect place to find a unique Christmas gift or souvenir, such as handmade wooden toys, local crafts, Christmas ornaments (like traditional straw stars) and decorations, nutcrackers, smokers, paper stars and more.
Note that while some markets specialize in quality goods, many markets offer mass-produced, cheap trinkets.
What to Eat at a German Christmas Market
No visit to a German Christmas market is complete without sampling some Christmas treats. Here is a list of German specialties that you should not miss:
- Stollen – traditional German Christmas bread with dried fruits, nuts, spices, and sugar icing
- Glühwein – mulled wine, a hot spiced wine
- Nürnberger Rostbratwürste - small charcoal-grilled Nuremberg sausages
- Lebkuchen - gingerbread biscuits
- Bratäpfel - baked apples
- Gebrannte Mandeln – roasted almonds
- Maronen – roasted chestnuts
- Marzipanbrot – A big piece of Marzipan, shaped like a loaf of bread
Best Christmas Markets in Germany
Almost every city celebrates with at least one Christmas market. The city of Berlin counts 70 Christmas markets alone. So where to start?
Famous Christmas markets are held in:
- Dresden's Striezel Markt – Oldest Market in Germany with a Stollen parade
- Christkindlesmarkt Nuremberg – Draws about two million visitors a year to its charming wood stands with red and white striped tents
- Weihnachtsmärkte in München – The Bavarian capital offers an array of charming markets
- Dortmunder Weihnachtsmarkt – Features the largest Christmas tree, over 45 meters tall
- Cologne Weihnachtsmarkt – Over 4 million visitors explore the many markets that cover all of downtown Cologne. Altogether they are considered the biggest market in the country.
- Berlin Weihnachtsmaerkte – There are around 70 markets throughout the city highlighting design, unique crafts and gifts and chic Christmas cheer.