The original festive street markets of Germany have formed the blueprint for every Christmas market that’s popped up in recent years from London to Paris and beyond. It stands to reason, then, that the home of the Christmas market is the best place to go for a seasonal shopping getaway. Almost every city, town and village in Germany has its own Christmas market but with so many options, how do you choose which to go for? We’ve put together a handy guide to five of the best German Christmas market destinations to help you decide.
BERLIN - When: November 21 to December 31
Berlin alone plays host to some 60 Christmas markets every year meaning the German capital has something for everything. The Gendarmenmarkt, surrounded by the architectural splendour of Berlin’s famous Concert House, the French church and German church, welcomes close on 60,000 visitors every year. It’s not just the market’s fantastic setting that draws in the crowds; visitors come to see entertainment from jugglers, acrobats and fire artists as well as more traditional choirs and dance troupes. Gendarmenmarkt isn’t the only one in Berlin with a beautiful backdrop; take a stroll through Charlottenburg Park to find the market located beneath the beautiful palace or head to the city’s main market by the spectacular Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. For something a bit different, check out the Lucia Market: located in a brewery in the trendy eastern district of Berlin, this contemporary market with a Scandi vibe is named after the Nordic goddess of light. If it’s classic Christmas tradition you’re after, venture to the outlying district of Spandau for Berlin’s largest and most traditional market. Finally, if there’s romance on the cards, take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the city's old centre from the Staatsoper & Opernpalais Market.
COLOGNE - When: November 21 to December 23
When it comes to spectacular settings, they don’t come much more magnificent than the famous Gothic façade of Cologne Cathedral. The Am Dom Market in the square in front of the dramatic cathedral is famous for its enormous Christmas tree, reputedly the largest anywhere in the Rhine. What’s more, over 100 stage performances take place here during the course of the Christmas Festival, so you can browse the 160 assorted stalls and sip your glüwhein to the accompaniment of traditional live music. Cologne is also a great choice if you’re travelling with children. At the Alter Market you’ll find stands overflowing with toys, a puppet theatre and you can even visit Santa’s grotto. The fairy tale-themed Rudolfplatz will transport you to the world of the Brothers Grimm with imaginative illuminations. Make sure to look out for ‘Heinzelmännchen’, the legendary gnomes of Cologne!
DRESDEN - When: November 24 to December 24
Kids will also love the fairy tale house and puppet theatre at Dresden’s Striezelmarkt, not to mention the giant Christmas Pyramid and the world’s largest Nutcracker who overlooks proceedings! Originally founded as a one-day market in 1434, this is the oldest Christmas market in Germany. Dresden Striezelmarkt is also known for its incredible Stollen Festival. Stollen, a cake enriched with dried fruit and marzipan, is a staple of any German Christmas and on the second Sunday of Advent a giant version of this festive bake is paraded around the streets of Dresden. Even if you miss the procession you can still buy stollen from the market to enjoy as you watch local artisans practice their crafts, with everything from wood carving to glass blowing on display. Don’t forget to try the ‘Pflaumentoffel’, a traditional Dresden sweet made from dried prunes in the shape of a chimney-sweep. There are a number of other, smaller markets that are worth checking out around the city, especially the stalls located in the stable yards of Dresden’s beautiful castle, the Residenzschloss.
STUTTGART - When: November 23 to December 23
The Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt in, you guessed it, Stuttgart is another of Germany’s oldest and most traditional markets. Held in and around the stunning Old Palace, with stalls gathered before the building’s colonnaded façade and continuing into the Renaissance inner courtyard, this is one of Europe’s most beautiful markets. With nearly 300 stalls setting up across no less than five cobbled courtyards in downtown Stuttgart, this vast market holds any number of festive delights and an aroma of sweet Christmas spices fills the air. For families there’s a miniature steam railway and Grimm’s fairy tale figures as well as an outdoor skating rink. Don’t leave without trying some ‘Maultaschen’, a regional ravioli-esque specialty made from pasta dough with a savoury filling. Extend your stay to explore the nearby markets of Ludwigsburg and Esslingen. The medieval market of Esslingen plays host to acrobats, stilt-walkers, fire-eaters and more, while Ludwigsburg’s Baroque market, with its romantic palace backdrop, provides a charming, historic atmosphere.
NUREMBERG - When: November 25 to December 24
Another of Germany’s oldest markets, dating back to 1628, Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt is set in the central square (Hauptmarkt) of this picturesque medieval city. With the mouintains of the Allps framing the city to the south and the imposing Imperial Castle perched atop Old Town Hill, Nuremberg is a wonderful place to visit at any time of year but at Christmas it really is magical. As well as being one of the oldest, the Christkindlesmarkt is also the most traditional market in Germany. Modern and mass-produced goods are strictly verboten, meaning that the market’s 180 candy-striped stalls are packed with authentic, hand-crafted gifts only. Foodies will love Nuremberg’s market, where you can try local delicacies including incredibly festive Nuremberg gingerbread and traditional spicy grilled sausages.
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