Christmas markets in Germany stretch back hundreds of years. Mouth watering 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 Baroque and Gothic architecture in the south or medieval Hansestädte in the north, towns and cities throughout Germany each have their own ambiance during Advent. For those who are looking for an escape from the commercialism of the festive season, try something different and explore fascinating histories while experiencing Christmas traditions.
The information was last checked and/or updated on 4 January 2022.
A typical German Christmas market scene: people wandering through makeshift lanes created by rows of small wooden huts, in which a range of traditional foods and crafts are on sale, while children have fun on a carousel.
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 2022 is 27 November. Many of the bigger Christmas markets start the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent – that is, on Friday 25 November in 2022. Some towns and cities open their markets as early as the Monday before the first Advent Sunday, that is 21 November 2022. 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 hosting one of Germany’s top Christmas markets, Nuremberg has so much to see and do – making it a perfect destination for history seekers. For this reason 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 much more intimate market as well as one of Germany’s biggest and finest.
The regular German word for a Christmas market is Weihnachtsmarkt, plural Weihnachtsmärkte. Lübecker Weihnachtsmarkt then is the Lübeck Christmas Market. In the south of Germany (as well as Switzerland and Austria) the word is Christkindlmarkt, or a variation thereof, such as Christkindlesmarkt, Christkindlmarket, or Christkindlimarkt. A well known example being the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt. Literally the word translates as ‘Christ child market’. Traditionally christkind was the boy Jesus, but nowadays it refers to an angelic girl.
Some towns and cities have adopted their own individual names for the annual Christmas market. The most well known, and the oldest dated, being Dresden’s Striezelmarkt. Striezel comes from Strüzel or Stroczel, a historic term for what the Dresden Christmas market is now world famous for, stollen. A stollen in German is a tunnel. And the shape of the stollen loaf is said to represent a mine tunnel, reflecting the area’s long history of tin and silver mining.
Another unique name for a Christmas market is the Neubrandenburger Weberglockenmarkt. This name refers to a local legend in which a weaver who found his way to Neubrandenburg during a snow storm on Christmas Eve following the sound of a bell ringing in St Mary’s church.
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!
Please Note: The dates below were the dates for 2021, as a guide. When the 2022 dates are announced this page will be updated.
The city of Aachen has its origins in a Roman settlement before becoming the chosen Imperial residence of Emperor Charlemagne in the 8th century. It was Charlemagne who ordered the construction of the cathedral, making this one of the oldest cathedrals in Europe. A more historic setting for a Christmas market would be hard to come by. The cathedral is surrounded by a number of fascinating museums exploring the history of this medieval city. At the end of the year, the very same streets become filled with the typical, festively decorated stalls for the Aachener Weihnachtsmarkt. Local specialities include Aachener Printen (a kind of gingerbread), Aachen Christmas liver sausage and reisfladen or rice pancake.
Many of the decorations we see on sale in Christmas markets throughout Germany have their origins in traditions in the Erzgebirge. Or the Ore Mountains. The mountain town of Annaberg-Buchholz is the setting for one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in the area. At night the 15th century St Anne’s Church appears to hang above the town square. During advent the square has the usual features, an enormous tree, a Christmas pyramid (originating in the area) and over 80 brightly coloured stalls selling all sorts of culinary treats and traditional crafts. The perfect place to buy yourself a schwibbögen, another decoration now popular with Germans that has its origins in the Ore Mountains. Day trips from Dresden and Leipzig are available.
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.
With St Mary’s Cathedral and St Severus’ Church as a backdrop, it is hardly surprising that Erfurt’s Weihnachtsmarkte is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. The city is especially proud of its locally created, 12 metre high Christmas pyramid. Although obviously in the style of the Erzgebirge tradition, the figures represent historical people of Erfut (including Saint Martin of Tours, Martin Luther) and other notable features. One of these being Gloriosa – the cathedral bell cast in 1497, which is the world’s largest free-swinging medieval bell. Beneath the huge Christmas tree is a traditional Nativity scene, made up of 14 life size figures from Oberammergau.
For a touch of Scandinavia, look no further than the Danish/German border and the medieval harbour town of Flensburg. Making the most of the Danish connection, both geographically and historically, Nordic style huts at the Flensburg Christmas market create a ambiance of cosiness and comfort. Think Danish hygge meets convivial German Christmas markets. Situated in Germany’s most picturesque fjord, the city is famous for its Flensburger Pilsner, the Mürwik Naval School and the Flensburg Government, which only lasted for about 20 days from 1 May 1945. Brick Gothic architecture and historic merchants’ courtyards are the perfect setting for this northern-most German Christmas market.
Contemporary skyscrapers of Frankfurt’s financial district tower over the picturesque medieval façades that surround the Römerberg. A public square in front of the three-gabled timber framed Römer, which has been the seat of the city’s administration since the 15th century. At the heart of Frankfurt’s old town, the Römerberg has been a market place for merchants from all over Europe for centuries. And the same is true today each year during Advent when the square hosts the Frankfurt Christmas Market. With the earliest record from 1393, this is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany. With numerous museums in the city, Frankfurt is the perfect cultural city break.
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.
Although there are a number of Christmas markets scattered about the city, the Munich Christkindlmarkt on Marienplatz is undoubtedly the most popular with locals and visitors alike. Not only is it the biggest, it is also the oldest – thought to have originated sometime in the 14th century. The distinctive historic appearance of Marienplatz provides a perfect backdrop for the festive market. Visitors are invited to join Münchners singing carols beneath the striking Christmas tree, 30 metres high and lit up with over 2,500 candles. Nearby is the Kripperlmarkt at St Peter’s Church, said to be largest nativity market in Germany. Get everything you need to make your own nativity.
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.
When visiting Christmas markets remember to wrap up warmly and be prepared for rain and even snow. Also, as there is a lot of walking and standing around, don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes that will keep your feet warm. There is always plenty to eat and drink, more than just a mug of glühwein and a bratwurst in a bread roll. Although they are quintessential German Christmas market fare.
Most markets are free, but some do charge a small entrance fee of two or three euros.
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 that 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 as a festive souvenir of your visit.