Weihnachtsmärkte in Deutschland, or Christmas markets in Germany, are a magical tradition that stretch back hundreds of years. Mouthwatering aromas of glühwein, grilled sausages and hot chestnuts add to an ambience created by some of Europe’s most iconic architecture in Medieval town centres. Whether it is the Baroque and Gothic architecture of the south or the Medieval Hansestädte of the north, each town lends its own character to this intangible national heritage. For those who are looking for an escape from the commercialism of the festive season, try something different and explore fascinating histories while experiencing a unique Christmas tradition.
The information was last checked and/or updated on 15 October 2021.
St Mary’s Cathedral (left) and St Severus’ Church (right) provide a striking backdrop to Erfurt’s Weihnachtsmarkte.
While some towns and cities have announced dates for their Christmas markets, others have yet to confirm dates. In Berlin, for example, where the Medieval Christmas Market will kick off the season on 18 November, but many others have yet to announce their dates or have decided not to go ahead. In Hamburg, another city with many different Christmas markets (normally around 30), has not confirmed the dates for any of their Christmas events. It appears Potsdam has decided not to hold their Christmas market this year. Instead they have published tips on how to get into the Christmas spirit Potsdam-style, including publishing the recipe for a typical Christmas Eve dish in Potsdam: sausage and potato salad. Whereas Nuremberg and Dresden have published their dates.
In the bigger towns and cities you will find Christmas markets cover the entire Advent period. They usually start in the last week of November and continue up until a day or two before Christmas day. The first Sunday of Advent in 2021 is 28 November. Many of the bigger Christmas markets start the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent – that is, on Friday 26 November in 2021. Some towns and cities open their markets as early as the Monday before the first Advent Sunday, that is 22 November 2021. Smaller towns and villages also have their Christmas market traditions, where local shops and artisans come out in force to celebrate Advent. Although smaller fairs, they are still fun nonetheless – these are usually held over a single weekend during the run up to Christmas.
One of my best experiences was a weekend I chose to visit Nuremberg. Besides one of Germany’s top Christmas markets, there is so much to see and do in Nuremberg – so it is the perfect destination for history seekers. I decided to stay for more than a few days, and rented a room in Wendelstein, a small town on the edge of Nuremberg. Quite by chance my visit coincided with the town’s Christmas market. I got to experience a small much more intimate market as well as one of Germany’s biggest and finest.
There are a number of airports in Germany allowing international visitors to fly into the country. Many of these allow direct access to rail and coach networks. Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich airports have connections to all major German towns and cities. For getting about Germany I use the website Omio – it is perfect for booking flights, train and bus tickets throughout Europe.
Glühwein, a mulled wine, is an essential ingredient of German Christmas markets. And most Weihnachtsmärkte have their own specifically branded and dated mugs in which it is served. These make great souvenirs. Typically a mug of Glühwein costs 3€, in some of the bigger markets in Berlin a mug can be as much as 4€. At most stands you will see tat there is a sign: pfand 3€. Added to the cost of the drink is this amount, which you will get back if you return the mug. Or keep the mug for a festive souvenir of your visit.
There are over 150 towns and cities throughout Germany with established traditions of Christmas markets. Many places have more than one market; Berlin has around 70. While I can not pretend to have been to all of them, I have been to a few – and am planning of visiting many more. As much as I love visiting Christmas markets there has to be more to the destination to attract my attention. This is not difficult with many towns and cities in Germany having a rich history.
These then are the Weihnachtsmärkte in Germany I recommend. They are places that are rich in history: the capital city of the Hanseatic League or the present-day capital of Germany. Besides highlighting what there is to see and do in each destination, I also provide travel tips and information on how to get there, where to stay, what to see and what not to miss!
With over 70 markets, Berlin is undoubtedly the Christmas market capital of Germany. Why not take a Walking Tour of the Christmas Markets. Some markets start at the end of November, while other more local markets only take place over a single weekend during advent. Get the chance to see the largest palace in Berlin and the most romantic Christmas market at Charlottenburg Castle, or the more modest 16th century Jagdschloss at Grunewald provides a perfectly historic backdrop for a traditional Christmas market. Don’t miss the Christmas lights on Kurfurstendamm or the Christmas Botanical Garden show. There is so much more to see and do in Berlin; including some of the world’s finest museums.
The spectacular Gothic cathedral provides a fitting backdrop to just one of a number of Christmas markets in Cologne. At the centre of the Christmas Market at the Cathedral on Roncalliplatz is a mighty fir tree decorated with thousands of lights that spread out around it. Not far away on both Alter Markt and Heumarkt is Heinzels Wintermärchen, With over 140 stalls and an ice-skating rink, this is definitely Cologne’s largest Christmas market. For a more maritime feel, head to Hafen-Weihnachtsmarkt on the banks of the Rhine. While you are there, do not miss the Chocolate Factory. During the day Cologne has many museums and art galleries to explore, with exceptional collections of local Roman artefacts to art from around the world.
Dresden’s beautiful Baroque architecture provides a picturesque backdrop to eleven Christmas markets. The most well known is Striezelmarkt, celebrating its 586th year in 2020 – making this the oldest recorded Christmas market in Germany. Scattered about the different parts of the Saxon capital, each of the eleven markets have their own character. At the Frauenkirche you can watch traditional crafts being made, as they have been for centuries in the Neumarkt. Experience a more medieval advent at the Stallhof, the courtyard of the Dresden Royal Palace.
Hamburg is Europe’s second largest port city, with an extraordinary maritime heritage to match. Christmas lights reflect off the waters of historic canals, while historic streets and buildings provide a magical setting for over 30 Christmas markets. The city’s largest Christmas market is on Rathausmarkt, where the 19th century town hall provides a spectacular backdrop for craftsman from around Germany. Popular with children is Spielzeuggasse, where merchants from around the world sell their handcrafted toys. Fleetinsel combines Hanseatic tradition with the city’s contemporary urban vibe.
Founded in the 12th century, Lübeck was the capital of the Hanseatic League. And despite some damage during World War Two, the Old Town has retained much of its Medieval character. With over one thousand buildings, courtyards and alleys from the Middle Ages, Lübeck is understandably a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it is the Medieval Old Town that provides the perfect setting for the Lübecker Christmas market. Here local artisans have been selling their decorations and confectioneries since 1648. Do not pass up the chance to try some Lübeck Marzipan, a local speciality with EU Protected Geographical Indication status.
Some think that Nuremberg’s Christmas Market is the oldest in Germany. Who knows whether this is true or not, but it is certainly one of the most popular. Over two million people visit Nuremberg during December, from all over the world. Standing in the picturesque Hauptmarkt Square, while savouring the aroma of local gingerbread, bratwurst and glühwein it is not difficult to understand why. The city is also steeped in history, from early in the Medieval to the 20th century. If this is the childrens’ Christmas market, Nuremberg is also the history lovers destination.
In a town where history goes back to at least the 11th century, streets lined with well preserved and beautifully decorated Medieval timber-framed buildings are the perfect setting for the Schwerin Christmas market. Walk along Mecklenburgstraße to the marketplace to see the eight metre high Weihnachtspyramide and an even taller fir tree that boasts 10,000 lights. These are dwarfed by the 117.5 metre high tower of the Backsteingotik cathedral typical of northern Germany. Among the local crafts and specialities, Glögg (a mulled wine) is a reminder of the town’s historic Swedish influence. At only an hour by train, Schwerin is an easy day-trip from Hamburg.