The tradition of German Christmas markets (or Christkindlmaerkte) is deeply ingrained in German society. In a ritual that dates back centuries, festively decorated huts and food carts take over town squares across the country to brighten cold nights and welcome the holiday season.
Central to the Christmas market experience is glühwein, the traditional warm spiced wine that literally means “glowing wine.” But the indulgence doesn’t end there; stalls brimming with gingerbread cookies, handcrafted decorations, clothing, and more stretch to every corner of a market-anchored town square.
From tiny countryside hamlets to modern metropolises, nearly every German community has its own local twist on the Christmas market tradition. Here are five of our favorites.
The hallmark of Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is the quality of the crafts and gifts on display. You will quickly understand why Nuremberg’s market has earned the nickname “Little Town from Wood and Cloth.” Plastic is strictly forbidden here, so expect to be delighted by many thousands of traditionally crafted wooden ornaments and stocking stuffers. The traditional live music, freshly baked sweets, and handmade sausages are all points of pride as well.
Visitors to Weihnachtsmarkt Schloss Guteneck might believe they’ve found themselves back in the middle ages. Jugglers, clowns, and minstrels of all kinds stroll the grounds of Guteneck’s bright yellow castle, while children ride camels and adults sip deeply spiced glühwein. While there are gifts for sale, the tradition here is centered more on history, tradition, and family fun than on commerce.
With history dating back to the 15th century, the Dresden Striezelmarkt is one of the oldest Christmas markets in all of Germany—and maybe even the world. It’s also one of the most romantic, with the Elbe River flowing serenely in the background and strings of classic white lights twinkling between stalls. Dresden’s market features a number of unique culinary traditions you can sample and buy, including a day-long celebration of the traditional fruit bread called stollen and replicas of chimney sweeps fashioned from prunes.
With its cobblestone streets and gabled roofs, the famous Christmas market of Rothenburg ob der Tauber has a quintessential Bavarian feel. The entire town transforms into a fairy tale-like Christmas village, complete with glowing medieval castles and lovingly crafted nativity scenes. While you’re in Rothenburg, don’t miss the unique German Christmas Museum, which highlights the many ways the holidays have been celebrated in Germany though the centuries.
Set in the very birthplace of glühwein, Cologne’s Weihnachtsmarkt Am Kölner Dom is a celebration of regional culinary traditions. It’s also perhaps Germany’s most visually stunning Christmas market, with Cologne’s imposing Gothic cathedral as a backdrop and the largest Christmas tree in the region at its heart. Sample the many varieties of spiced wine, listen as strolling bands play traditional Christmas songs, and take in the spirit of the season here at one of Germany’s most popular markets.
Want to explore more of Germany? We recommend a three-day tour of Bonn, the once-was capital of West Germany and a cosmopolitan delight.