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. 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.
St Mary’s Cathedral (left) and St Severus’ Church (right) provide a striking backdrop to Erfurt’s Weihnachtsmarkte.
In December 2017 I visited Lübeck, the Medieval capital city of the Hanseatic League. Although I was there to see the European Hansemuseum and the Medieval architecture, I was quite taken by the Christmas market. Far from being a commercial, end-of-year add-on, as is the case where I am from, Christmas traditions seemed to be a part of the fabric and history of the town. And I found this to be the case too when I moved on to nearby Wismar, a Hansetadt on the Baltic Sea.
There is something special about Weihnachtsmärkte in Germany, as many people know. I have come to appreciate that the history of a town contributes to the unique character of each Christmas market. And so during December of 2018 I will be visiting some towns and cities that have popular Christmas markets and fascinating history. SO whether you are still thinking about visiting yourself in 2018, or planning a trip for 2019, bookmark this page and return for updates, or follow my progress through Germany on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Towns and cities I will visit: Aachen, Koblenz, Trier, Wiesbaden, Hameln, Hildesheim, Osnabruck, Potsdam, Berlin.
Get Your Guide brings the best experiences around the world to travellers like us. And for Germany, in December this still true. Besides an incredible range of walking tours, tickets and passes, and services, there are wonderful festive themed experiences throughout Germany. Take a look at these:
Most Christmas markets start in the last week of November and run until Christmas Eve, or a day or two before. In 2018 most of the Christmas markets open on 26 or 27 November.
There are a number of airports in Germany allowing visitors to fly into the country. Many of these allow direct access to Deutsche Bahn’s rail and service networks. Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich airports have connections to all major German towns and cities.
For visitors to Germany who live outside of Europe, Turkey and Russia, the German Rail Pass offers a number of special deals for unlimited travel across Germany. Travel for two, three or seven consecutive days, or two, three or seven days in 1 month, with 10% and 20% discounts available this autumn.
For visitors to Germany living in Europe, Turkey or Russia, you may consider one of the BahnCards on offer.
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 50! 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 50 markets, Berlin is undoubtedly the Christmas market capital of Germany. For the ultimate urban experience head to the ChristmasRodeo for contemporary design and streetfood. Get a chance to see the largest palace in Berlin and the most romantic Christmas market at the Charlottenburg Castle, or the more modest 16th century Jagdschloss at Grunewald provides a perfectly historic backdrop for a very traditional Christmas market. If you think you will be spoilt for choice from the list of Christmas markets in Berlin, then being a historyphile here is much like being that proverbial kid in ye olde sweet shoppe. Where to start! Visiting remnants of the Berlin Wall is a popular activity, and if December is too cold for outdoors, there are some of the world’s finest museums to visit.
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 25 Christmas markets. The city’s celebrated Christmas market is on Rathausmarkt. The 19th century town hall provides a spectacular backdrop for craftsman from around Germany; Woodcarvers from the Tyrol, gingerbread bakers from Nuremberg, potters from Lausitz. 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. Popular for galleries and theatres, and the proximity to the harbour with historic ships, the Fleetinsel Christmas market should not be missed.
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. Since 2015, Lübeck has been home to the extraordinary European Hansamuseum, where state-of-the-art technology tells the story of the rise and fall of the Hanseatic League.
In a town where history goes back to at least the 11th century, streets lined with wonderfully 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. On an island towards the edge of Lake Schwerin is the magnificent Schweriner Schloss, a palace to the dukes and grand dukes of Mecklenburg since the 12th century. At only an hour by train, Schwerin is an easy day-trip from Hamburg.