Though Germany is beautiful to visit year-round, it’s especially magical at Christmastime. Starting as early as October, shops, market squares and streets begin displaying lights and decorations in preparation for the Christmas season. I’ll never forget the first time I experienced Germany at Christmastime. I was visiting the city of Bamberg – there was a light dusting of snow on the pointed half-timbered houses and the town square was bustling with Christmas market activity. I’d heard all about German Christmas markets and was eager to see the mugfuls of mulled wine, roasted nuts and traditional wooden ornaments for myself.
Every year, I try to visit as many different Christmas markets as I can. I love them all – the huge, sprawling markets that weave through the streets of big cities all the way down to the tiny village markets with only a few stands set up in the cobblestone town square. I’ve compiled a list of some noteworthy German Christmas markets that I think deserve a special mention.
The Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg is one of the largest and most famous in Germany. The market takes place during Advent in the central square of the old town. Approximately 2 million visitors from all over the world flock to the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt each year to soak in the festive atmosphere. The Nuremberg Christkind (Christ child) opens the market each year with a decades-old prologue on Friday before the first Sunday in Advent. Nuremberg Lebkuchen, the famous sweet and spicy gingerbread, is a specialty of the city and is even trademarked by its location under European law. The exact recipe is a closely guarded secret so be sure to sample this treat if you go!
Dresden Christmas Market
Dating from as far back as 1434, the Dresden Christmas Market is Germany’s oldest Christmas market. It is traditionally called the Striezelmarkt in honour of Hefestriezel, the sweet treat which is known today as Dresdener Christstollen (German Christmas Cake). The market is set up in the Altmarkt Square in the historical centre of Dresden. The market is famous not only for its stollen but also for its handcrafted ornaments, figures, Christmas pyramids and candleholders. Market visitors can even witness craftspeople in action carving wooden figures, blowing glass or baking Christmas goodies. The Dresden Christmas Market also boasts the world largest Christmas pyramid which stands at 14 metres tall, as well as the largest nutcracker.
Annaberg Christmas Market
The Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) are known throughout Germany and around the world as the birthplace of many traditional Christmas decorations, including wooden pyramids, schwibbögen (decorative arched candle holders), nutcrackers and incense smokers. Though there are several small Christmas markets taking place in the Erzgebirge during certain Advent weekends, the Annaberg Christmas Market is one of the largest and most beautiful in the area and runs throughout the entire Advent period. Visitors to the Annaberg Christmas Market can check out the gigantic wooden pyramid depicting the history of Christmas, the city and the local mining industry, as well as handcraft presentations, the Santa Claus Workshop and the Grand Miners’ Parade.
Esslingen Medieval Market and Christmas Market
Esslingen am Neckar (often shortened to just ‘Esslingen’) hosts not only a regular Christmas market but also a one-of-a-kind Medieval market. The combined markets boast over 200 stands, many of which sell historical crafts, foods and garments like from medieval times. Numerous entertainers including magicians, stilt-walkers, jugglers and troubadours are dressed in medieval garb and perform throughout the market to the delight of visitors. Items around the medieval market are whimsically priced in Taler, an old form of German currency rather than the modern day Euro. The breathtaking setting of Esslingen, with its half-timbered buildings along the river Neckar, make it a fun and memorable Christmas market to visit during the holidays. (Here is a recap of my visit to the Esslingen Christmas and Medieval Market in 2014).
Stuttgart Christmas Market
One of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany (it was first recorded back in 1692), the Stuttgart Christmas Market boasts beautifully-decorated Christmas stands stretching all throughout the centre of the city. Up to 4 million visitors attend the market annually during its 29-day run. Aside from the traditional stands, the market also hosts a live nativity scene, an ice rink, an antique market and a small Finnish Christmas Village on Karlsplatz which sells Nordic specialties such as Glögi (mulled wine), Finnish beer and salmon roasted on an open fire. Throughout the festival, music lovers can enjoy more than 60 live music performances in the inner courtyard of the Altes Schloss (Old Palace) and on the town hall steps.
If you happen to be in Germany during Advent, I highly recommend visiting at least one Christmas market. The festive atmosphere is not to be missed!
Have you been to a German Christmas market? Which one’s your favourite? I’d love to hear in the comments below!