Europe’s Christmas markets are a fantastic way to get in the festive spirit, and nowhere does it better than Germany.
The country where they first originated continues to devote an incredible amount of time and effort to making its markets as spectacular as possible.
It seems like every city and town up and down the European nation has its own version, from the myriad locations offered in Berlin to the rustic charm of Bavaria’s many markets.
Mulled wine, bratwurst and a range of regional delicacies from destinations including Erfut will keep you warm and full, while the arts, crafts and gifts on sale in cities like Dresden provide opportunities to buy presents for all the family. To top it all off, the markets often have striking backdrops, from the viaduct at Ravenna Gorge to Cologne’s famed cathedral.
If the thought of gluhwein and gingerbread is enough to tempt you into a festive trip to Germany, read on – we’ve collated a list of the country’s best Christmas markets.
The capital may not have the best markets in the country, but it certainly has the most. There are around 80 market locations in Berlin, ranging from smaller, more intimate collections of stalls to the largest market in town, a vast – yet still cosy – collection of stalls that combines great food with plenty of gift options in the western suburb of Spandau.
Potsdamer Platz hosts a winter village of various activities as well as market stalls, while the centrally located Gendarmenmarkt puts on a traditionally styled market and Alexanderplatz is home to a funfair-type market with a few touches of the medieval. Several locations boast over 100 stalls, and with individual markets in many of the city’s neighbourhoods, just follow the smell of mulled wine and gingerbread to discover one.
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Nuremberg goes big on Christmas markets, with a focus on variety and markets that cater to different groups (something that is not always seen across Europe). The Sister Cities market is a unique example, where over 20 stalls sell produce from Nuremberg’s sister cities, including Nice, Antalya and Krakow. Another is the Children’s Market (known as the Kinderweihnacht), where kids can try out ferris wheels and fairground rides, as well as activities such as cake making.
The Christkindelsmarkt, which takes place in the central Neumarkt, is one of the country’s most famed Christmas markets. A large area known locally as the ‘city of wood and cloth’, it contains dozens of rows of stalls selling traditional food, souvenirs and gifts, all with the magnificent backdrop of the city’s 14th-century cathedral.
Rothenburg may not lie on the well-trodden path of visitors to Germany, but this northern Bavarian town is the ideal setting for an atmospheric Christmas market. Mazy cobbled streets, hundreds of festoon lights and a smattering of snow on the roofs of the timber-framed buildings provide the quintessential festive backdrop, while the Reiterlesmarkt supplies the ideal venue and the usual festive specialties.
The market is spread across the Market Square, town hall and the Green Market, featuring around 50 stalls. While exploring you’ll likely hear carol singing and other musical performances, giving this market even more of a festive atmosphere. Don’t leave without trying local comfort foods like schneeball, a fried pastry topped with powdered sugar or chocolate.
Dresden is another city with several markets dotted throughout, with the Frauenkirche hosting an arts and crafts market and the Mittelalter-Weihnacht carrying a medieval theme while also offering somewhat unique features, like the opportunity to buy gifts made using tools and materials from the Middle Ages.
The city’s main market, the Striezelmarkt, is one of the oldest in Germany, considered by some to be the original Christmas market. It is set near the banks of the Elbe River, in the city’s charming Baroque old town, and with over 200 stalls, its own ferris wheel and a giant, 14-metre high Christmas pyramid, this is one of the grandest markets in Germany.
Cologne is home to several Christmas markets, from an excellent food market and the romantic ‘Village of Angels’ around Neumarkt to Henzels Winter Fairytale, a ‘winter village’ in the old town that features an ice rink and dozens of chalet-style stalls. The Harbour Christmas Market has one of the most picturesque settings, complete with a ferris wheel that offers views from 48 metres above.
Despite great variety across the city, the largest and most famed market is the Kolner Dom, which sits in Roncalliplatz, surrounded on one side by the dramatic Unesco-listed Cathedral. The square is filled with red-roofed market stalls that sell all the usual trinkets and German delicacies, placed around a giant Christmas tree and a stage that hosts around 100 free events between 5 and 23 December.
Erfut is a city that really gets into the Christmas spirit come December, with a market spread that turns several squares into a veritable winter wonderland. It takes places in the city’s historic quarter, surrounded by the multi-coloured facades of its Gothic buildings and sprawled across the squares of Domplatz, Fischmarkt and Willy-Brandt-Platz. Domplatz is the heart of the market, adorned with a vast, 20-metre tall Christmas tree and an equally imposing ferris wheel. Alongside the 200 or so stalls (selling everything from pottery and fabrics to Thuringian bratwurst), there are plenty of attractions for both children and adults, including fairground rides, festive floral displays and life-sized Nativity scenes.
What is likely the most picturesque market in the country – and perhaps on the continent – takes place in Germany’s famed Black Forest, in a southerly section close to the border with Switzerland. Its setting is unmatched, situated at the base of a 40-metre high viaduct and intersected by its stone arches, with a sea of sparkling lights and a sprinkling of snow creating a picture-perfect backdrop.
Visit in the evening to see the bridge lit up along with the stalls, and save some room for a selection of German specialties including pork shoulder or flammkuchen, an Alsatian take on pizza. Potential gifts are sold in abundance too, from handmade glass and artisan produce to Black Forest cuckoo clocks. To reach the Gorge, take a train to Hinterzarten or Himmelreich and then board a free shuttle bus.
For something that is more intimate while offering a true taste of the quintissential German market, head to Goslar in central Germany. Christmas there is a more humble affair than in other German towns and cities, with just two markets taking place between 6 and 30 December. The main one takes place on Market Square, where around 80 wooden huts provide arts, crafts and Christmas delicacies like gluhwein or roasted almonds in the beautiful surroundings afforded by Goslar’s timber-framed medieval architecture. An enchanting Christmas forest is also set up, taking place nearby in Schuhof, where 60 large conifers are decorated with lights to provide a magical festive setting,
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