When you read about Germany tourism a few things may come to mind: the Black Forest, Oktoberfest, castles — and Christmas markets. If your trip to Germany is during Christmas time, you absolutely must experience a Christmas market — or two, or three.
Christmas markets (or “Christkindlmarkts”) in Germany date back to the late middle ages and have maintained their popularity over the centuries with Germans as well as tourists. These outdoor markets are public celebrations of the Christmas holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, hence the name “Christkindlemarkt,” which is translated “Christ Child Market.”
When and where are Christmas markets held in Germany?
All big cities host a market, and many of the smaller towns do as well. The best place to find specific information about the markets in a particular city is the city’s website, for example Visit Berlin or Hamburg.de. Most big cities start their markets on the last week of November and they run until the 23rd of December. Smaller towns typically hold theirs for a shorter period of time, opening the weekend before Christmas.
What will you find at a German Christmas market?
At just about every market you will find a nativity scene featuring a representation of the baby Jesus, as the holiday obviously has Christian roots. As you walk through a market you will see many stands with vendors selling food, beverages and various items; there are standing tables where you can eat, drink and socialize. At some you will also see nutcrackers set up as decoration as well as being on display for sale, and some vendors have multiple tables and chairs so you can sit down to enjoy your meal. Some of the larger markets have warm-up booths to take the edge off the cold on chilly winter days. At many markets you will also find merry-go-rounds and a few other small rides, similar to those you might find in a local fair in the US or UK.
Food and drinks at Christmas markets
Though several alcoholic drinks are served and consumed in considerable quantities, the markets are generally safe and family friendly. Gluehwein, which is a type of warm red wine, is a popular beverage of choice. You will find many people drinking this beverage while standing at the many tables set up throughout the fests. Hot chocolate and “Jagertea” (an alcoholic tea beverage) are also popular beverages.
As for food, the typical German bratwurst (and other types of sausage) is sold and enjoyed at every Christmas market. You will also find various types of ginger bread, chestnuts roasted on an open fire, french fries, marzipan (a confection made of almond meal, sugar and honey), and stollen bread (a type of fruit cake bread).
Preparing for a Christmas market
Do not rely on your debit or credit card at a German Christmas market. You will want to bring cash (in euros), as most vendors are cash-only. We don’t recommend that you drive to these markets, especially in large cities, as parking is very limited; taking a bus or train will usually get you there quickly and with less hassle. If you do plan to drive, park in a nearby parking garage.
German Christmas markets always take place outside, and since they take place in the winter months, be sure to dress warm! Don’t expect to find inside areas to warm up in at a market, though it may be a possibility.
With the information provided in this article, you’re ready to successfully conquer a Christmas market in Germany! These markets are a fun way to take in the unique German culture, while experiencing something that not everyone who visits Germany is able to experience, as they happen only once a year.
Have you ever been to a Christmas market? Where would you like to go to experience one? Leave a comment below.