Germany’s Christmas markets are especially magical, drawing visitors from all over the world annually to soak in the smells of gingerbread and mulled wine while strolling merrily with friends in the crisp winter air. We’ve partnered with Kirsten Maxwell of Kids Are A Trip, who explored eight different German Christmas markets with her kids to bring you the scoop on tackling the markets yourself.
Germany’s Christmas markets have been a holiday tradition since the 15th century, and it is difficult to imagine much has changed since then. Cobblestone streets, vendor stalls, festive decorations, and smells of gingerbread and glühwein fill the air in hundreds of towns throughout the country. Visitors mix with locals as they celebrate the season and count down the days to the Christmas holiday. There are over 150 markets throughout Germany, so before you go, read up on these tips on how to have an amazing time at the German Christmas markets.
Photo credit: German National Tourism Board
1. Check the dates and times
Germany’s Christmas markets start on different days in different cities. They also have different opening and closing hours. Most markets begin the last weekend in November (typically the weekend after American Thanksgiving) and run until Christmas Eve or a day or two before. The calendar fluctuates based on the Advent season. Typical daily hours are 10 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m., but again this is different for each market. This Christmas market website is helpful for searching all of the markets, or simply search the tourism board for the city you wish to visit.
2. Find out the locations in advance
In smaller towns, markets will typically be located in the main square, so they are easy to find. In larger cities like Munich or Nuremberg there will be multiple markets, so give yourself plenty of time to explore. Sometimes there are markets only locals know about, so don’t be afraid to ask; these can be the best markets because they have fewer people and feel more authentic.
Photo credit: Kirsten Maxwell
3. Try the regional food specialties
Be sure to come to the markets hungry because there will be plenty of food to eat. Most markets will have a variety of crepes, sausage, pretzels, and candied fruit and nuts, but they also have regional dishes. In Freiburg, don’t miss the Alsatian tarte flambée, a flatbread pizza with fromage blanc, onions, and bacon. In Nuremberg, it’s all about the lebkuchen, the city’s famous gingerbread, which is found everywhere, in different sizes and flavors—it’s hard to miss! In Dresden (and many other towns) there’s stollen, the Christmas cake made from dried fruit with a marzipan center. If you’ve tried it before and think you don’t like it, try it in Germany—it tastes better!
Photo credit: Kirsten Maxwell
4. Expect crowds
During the week and earlier in the day there tend to be fewer people at the Christmas markets, but as it gets closer to evening, the crowds will come. The closer it gets to Christmas, the more crowded it gets. With crowds come spilled drinks, pickpockets, and losing people in your group, so have a plan. Keep important items close to your body and know what to do in case you get separated.
5. Dress for the weather
It sounds amazing to spend time outside with friends strolling through the markets, eating and drinking while enjoying the festive scene, but it will be miserable if you are not dressed for the weather. This is where layers will be your best friend. When packing, bring long johns, jeans or thicker pants, long-sleeved shirts, a sweater, a fleece, a raincoat, a down coat, gloves, wool socks, a hat (or earmuffs), and a scarf. Odds are you will use them all at some point during a visit.
I think we wore every piece of clothing we owned on this day! Photo credit: Kirsten Maxwell
6. Go easy on the glühwein
When it’s cold outside, it’s easy to use glühwein to warm yourself up. Not only does it smell delicious, it tastes pretty good too. It also comes in a variety of flavors, so you might want to try a few different ones. Then there’s coffee with flavored liqueurs, mulled apple cider, and other warm alcoholic beverages. All of these drinks go down very easily, so drink with caution because it’s easy to have too much of a good thing.
7. Join in the fun
Each market will have entertainment in the form of bands, choirs, performers, ice skating, and the like. At times the crowd will be asked to join in. Don’t be afraid to partake, even if you don’t know the words or the dance. The locals will appreciate it, and you will have a great memory to take home!
8. Restrooms might be hard to find and cost money
The markets are fabulous, they feed you food and drink—but then there’s rarely anywhere to go to the bathroom that’s convenient. Be sure to plan for this and give yourself plenty of time to find a restroom. Also, know that you might need coins to use the restroom, so keep those Euros handy.
9. Bring an extra suitcase
If you can’t bring an extra suitcase, at least bring an extra bag. Each Christmas market sells drinks in a souvenir mug. You can return these mugs and get back your deposit, or keep them as a cheap souvenir. There are also amazing handicrafts at the markets, from nutcrackers and ornaments to wooden pyramids and painted eggs. Whatever your heart desires, you can find it in the markets, and you might find yourself not only buying gifts for others, but a few things for yourself as well.
These lanterns are quite popular! Photo credit: Kirsten Maxwell
10. Leave the kids at home (or not)
It can be difficult to tour the markets with kids in tow, but bringing them along can certainly be enjoyable for everyone. When exploring the markets with children, find smaller ones that might not be as crowded, or find one that has a children’s section. The Nuremberg Christmas Market has a Kinderweihnacht, or Children’s Christmas Market, that has a carousel, a play area, and a hands-on area where kids build their own gingerbread men and make their own candles. Families will find the markets are more manageable in the daylight when it is easier to see, but if you decide to visit at night, be sure to have a meeting place in case someone gets lost.
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