Visiting the best Christmas Markets in Germany has been the sole item on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. And while there is definitely a long post about all the feelings I’ve had about getting to see this life-long dream come true, we wanted to be sure to share all of the awesomeness we’ve seen asap!
So, this is our recap of our multi-week magical extravaganza through dozens of the best Christmas Markets in Germany, as well as a few in surrounding countries (including France, Switzerland, and Austria).
During our three-week trip, we went to almost 40 markets in a dozen different cities. It was crazy and amazing and oh so Christmassy. Of course, we’ll have some longer follow-ups about these areas, since we also explored castles, museums, and lots of other amazing places along the way.
(Interested in more travel stories from Germany and beyond? Check out Brooke’s book, Home Flexible: Stories from Life as a Nomadic Traveling House Sitter. Available in print and ebook.)
However, this article is dedicated to everything Christmas market-related. And it is the perfect excuse to sip some mulled wine while you plan your trip. 😉 (Pro tip – pace yourself! You really don’t need to see more than a few markets to get that magical feeling.)
About Christmas Markets in Europe
From late November until a day or so before Christmas Eve, the city center and town squares across Europe offer amazing traditional Christmas market experiences. It is the best activity I can think of doing during the holiday season – admiring twinkling Christmas lights, taking a spin around an ice rink, enjoying the smell of hot chestnuts, eating delicious food, and shopping for unique Christmas presents made by local artisans while sipping hot wine.
There are many different Christmas markets from modern winter wonderland setups to classic stalls that have been around for decades. While there are dozens of Christmas markets across Europe, here are the ones we toured – including some of the BEST German Christmas Markets and most unique offerings of the festive season.
Here is every market we went to across about a dozen cities …
Cologne, Germany (aka Köln)
When we got off the train at our first German Christmas Market destination, the waterworks started and kept making surprise appearances all night. I was just so overwhelmed with happiness. And Cologne was the perfect place to start our adventure – with SIX different markets to explore.
Plus, Buddy snagged us the perfect room with views right over one of them. Being greeted with those smells of mulled wine, spiced nuts, and waffles was amazing.
Here’s our recap of the markets, yes … we went to all of them! Ha! (Check here for hours). Overall, Cologne’s Christmas Markets are an amazing destination at Christmas lovers!
1. Heinzels Wintermärchen
Located in the old town of Cologne, Heinzels Wintermärchen is the city’s oldest and largest market. It had a huge skating rink, ferris wheel, tons of food options (more than any other market), and plenty of yummy glühwein. It was also one of the least crowded, being so spread out. Since we had a view from this one off our balcony – it was instantly our favorite, but it also had the most to offer!
2. Harbour Christmas Market
Located next to the Chocolate Museum and along the Rhine river, the Harbour Christmas Market has a ship/ocean theme. It had lots of fish options, a sailboat bar, and some of the more unique craft options for gifts.
3. Angel’s Market
So much magic with the twinkling stars above and a real-life angel on horseback, sprinkling glitter as she blesses the Angel’s Market with her shiny presence. This is a small market, but not to be missed if you are in the area.
The Nikolausdorf Market in Rudolfplatzsquare had some fun live music going and a more lively atmosphere than some of the others. However, we only made a short stop on our way to the furthest away market on our route.
5. Stadtgarten Christmas Market
This market in a beer garden was like stumbling upon a hipster frat party at Christmas. We drank hot gin cocktails out of mini flasks, listened to upbeat music and watched college-aged locals enjoying this festive time of year. Stadtgarten Christmas Market was a ton of fun to experience and definitely a highlight of our night!
6. Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market
Just below the towering cathedral lies the most popular market in town – and therefore, the most packed! We could barely move here, but got in long enough to admire its stunning beauty. The Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market really goes over the top for an amazing experience!
Nuremberg, Germany (aka Nürnberg)
This time we weren’t so close to the action with our hotel choice, but enjoyed the savings our willingness to walk brought us. The main market in Nuremberg has been held since the 16th century (check hours here) and is world-famous as one of the oldest Christmas markets. However, we felt like this was one of the most commercialized markets. It just didn’t have that unique, home-made feel we crave. However, it was still worth a trip!
The main market in Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is enormous. It’s located in a beautiful area of town under a cathedral. They have tons of options for glühwein – most of which are just heated up from the pre-made bottles you can buy in the store.
BUT they do have an awesome, special Feuerzangenbowle offering in one tent. The presentation is worth seeing!
2. Children’s Market
This section was less focused on delicious, hot alcoholic drinks and more on food and rides – which meant it was less busy overall and more popular with the kiddos.
3. Sister Cities’ Market
Sister Cities’ Market was one of the best places to enjoy the Nuremberg Christmas Market vibes, in our opinion. A few dozen stalls are set apart from the main market and each represents a different partner city. They even had Atlanta from the USA! Ha! We got to taste multiple types of unique glühwein concoctions – such as a mint-orange option from the Israel stall, and a glühwhisky option from Scotland!
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
You know those perfect little ceramic houses your mom would put out every Christmas to make an adorable, dream-like village with perfect Christmas trees and lamp posts? Yea, that’s pretty much Rothenburg.
After Nuremberg, we were worried Rothenburg would be another tourist-focused, cookie-cutter market (pun intended). Not. At. All. This city really impressed us. Not only did the market have that local, classic feel we craved, but our day-time explorations also took our breath away (more on that soon!). We’re going to need more time in ROT next trip!
Being one of Germany’s iconic small towns, Rothenburg only has one market that fills the center. But, after doing this for more than 500 years, they are pretty much pros at making you feel all those holiday warm fuzzy emotions you have been missing from childhood during the Reiterlesmarkt. And the entire city seems to get involved – with decor spread throughout! (Check hours here).
The main area of the Reiterlesmarkt market is held in the scenic market square. If you show up at the right time, you can see Santa Claus make an appearance and pass out candy to the kiddos while playing music. Or you may even get a chance to hear Christmas carols – such a special treat, especially when kids are the ones entertaining.
A few must-try treats: Schneeball (a pastry ball this area is famous for) and white glühwein made from local wine are a few of our favorites from this market. But, of course, there are hundreds of options!
And, do yourself a huge favor: plan at least a few days here! There is just so much history and so much to explore for such a seemingly small place. There is something wonderful tucked into every inch of those old, uneven streets. You’ll love it, trust us! (Read more about our entire visit here). We would have stayed as long as possible, had we not booked more Christmas adventures…
Rüdesheim am Rhein, Germany
Not wanting to end up in a big city on a Saturday night, we decided to take a scenic detour up to the Rhine River area. As we drove along, we passed so many little castles in the surrounding landscape, it felt like something out of a fairy tale. And, we were lucky enough to somehow grab a room at Burg Reichenstein Hotel, where we slept just under the castle. But, of course, we checked the area for unique markets as well.
So, after getting checked in, we took a ferry across the river to Rüdesheim am Rhein where we wandered around the many stalls of their ‘Christmas Market of Nations.’ (Read more here). We sampled a few yummy treats, had our obligatory glühwein and headed back because we had one more castle to see!
While we won’t count this as a Christmas market, we were psyched that nearby Burg Rheinstein was having a festive event the weekend we were there. They had their own little market-style stall for treats and hot drinks, plus tons of decorations and some little skits. While not quite the magical Christmas castle I had dreamed up, it was cute and a big hit with the kiddos we saw there!
We had already seen some pretty scenic markets on our German Christmas Market extravaganza, but the market in Heidelberg will definitely stand out in my mind for a long time. The market at Karlsplatz is strategically placed under the massive Heidelberg Castle which looms over the city atop a large hill. (Yes, we toured this and will share more soon!) And they even have a large ice skating rink there for a very romantic date night!
And while that is certainly the most scenic, there are four other markets in the city as well. (Read more here). In classic us-style, we wandered through them all. There is just something so other-worldly about wandering around a new city at night with twinkly lights and smells of sweets all around.
And Heidelberg is such a lovely city to walk any time of day, especially along the river. We really loved this city and the market. Plus, we made a really good decision to stay at Kulturbrauerei which put us right next to all the festive action – and some delicious beer.
Funny enough, Buddy had to talk me into this one. Since Strasbourg is known as ‘The Capital of Christmas’ I got it in my head that it would just be a giant tourist trap. But, wow was I wrong. This place really does not disappoint.
There is just so much to see, it feels like your eyes are going to pop out of your head. More so than anywhere else we’ve been, they really go all out in every corner of this city. And there were NINE markets to choose from!
From the beautiful stars hanging on lamps and trees, to shops with insanely imaginative displays – we were in Christmas heaven. (Read more about the markets here). And the food was extremely different – like, seriously lots of foie gras (only thing we really didn’t take part in). And the hot wine was a lighter variety in tall plastic cups, but tasted extra fresh and fruity.
Our favorite markets were the scenic Place de la Cathédrale and the ‘OFF Market’ with a very modern vibe! But, just wandering around the city is a Christmas wonderland in itself!
Lake Constance, Germany
While looking for a place to stop between Strasbourg and Füssen, we decided the Lake Constance area looked divine. Turns out, they have a pretty unique Christmas Market as well!
After walking about 30 minutes from our budget hotel in the frigid cold night air, we arrived at one of the most unique markets we’ve been to. They had a boat docked with its very own market stalls to wander through and roof-top bar with views of the market below.
Plus, they had by-far the most unique food offerings from not only Germany, but the nearby countries of Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein – a preview of what we would experience later in our trip! (Read more about the market here).
The Stuttgart Christmas Market was the BIGGEST market we went to and we ended up there on a Friday night. While beautiful, it didn’t take long for the massive crowds to put us a little on edge. So, we finished our tour and headed out to have a relaxing sit-down dinner near our hotel. However, if you are doing a market tour, it would be a shame to miss this – just try for a weekday!
There is a massive ice skating rink, more than 200 iconic wooden stalls with all sorts of different offerings, and so many decorations. And they had the best roof-top decorations on the stalls we have seen. Even just wandering around the outskirts was enjoyable.
Sometimes themed events can be way too cheesy for our taste, but the medieval market in Esslingen has perfected what they do. It is outstanding. While we’ve been to some gorgeous and impressive markets, this stands out by far as the most unique.
Even though it was a Saturday and crazy busy, we still had a blast drinking mead and watching people of all ages play the hilarious games – including some kind of mouse roulette, ax throwing, and a type of weird bowling involving trying to crack an egg. They even had a hand-cranked ferris wheel and twirly ride. They really went all out!
However, one of the highlights was watching a show. After seeing a naked man get into a jacuzzi on a stage (still not sure what happened there, but I definitely saw a penis), a procession of fire breathers and stilt walkers went by.
Then on a neighboring stage, we were treated to an hour-long hilarious comedy performance in German. It didn’t matter that we had no idea what he was saying, this guy was funny. He juggled, goofed off, and played with fire. The perfect end to a strange night at the market!
When we arrived in Zürich, we didn’t have to go far to enjoy our first of their NINE markets – since they have one in the train station. We didn’t get to them all, but we loved the ones we visited!
1. Main Station Market
This huge market is impossible to miss with the tree covered in Swarovski crystals smack dab in the middle. They had so many options for food from all over the world and multiple different hot toddies. Just be prepared for high prices.
You may have heard Switzerland is expensive. But, this isn’t just a little more than you are used to. For example, a mug of gluhwein was about double what we were paying in Germany. Also, make sure to have some francs on you for paying at the markets.
2. Werdmühleplatz Market
After dropping off our bags, we headed out to another market near our hotel. This one had a singing Christmas tree made up of little ones who sang various Christmas songs in both English and German.
Since we were in Switzerland, we had to indulge in some cheese while we were there. We already knew we are fans of raclette, so were psyched to see a booth serving this up on potatoes. Not sure if you like raclette? Well, if you like ooey gooey cheese, I’d bet it is a yes.
The Werdmühleplatz Market was also a great place for us to try fondue for the first time. For only CHF10, we got a small pot with a ton of bread. This is a steal compared to anywhere else we saw, which asked for CHF30+ per person for fondue.
I’m sure it is worth it, but we just won’t pay that much for food. However, we were excited to have the chance to enjoy fondue while there and really enjoyed the melty treat.
And one of the most modern markets we’ve seen was also in Zürich – the Illuminarium. This had a similar feel to the ‘OFF Market’ in Strasbourg, except with giant colorful shapes and aliens projected onto the buildings. We loved the large and warm igloo-like rooms with cozy furniture and great bars. A very hip place!
Of course, Zürich is a beautiful city to just wander around in. Like many of the other places we visited, they offer a pass to see multiple museums and use public transport which may be a good option if you are planning to do both. And while expensive, you can find more affordable options if you look hard enough, or just live off of the free coffee and chocolate at your cozy hotel like us. Ha!
Our trip to Austria was just on a whim because we realized it was a short train trip from Germany. All we knew was that Salzburg looked gorgeous in winter and had some cute markets to see. We had no idea how much we would love learning about the history of this city and enjoying its amazing views.
It’s Mozart’s birthplace, where the Sound of Music was filmed, and is close to where the famous Christmas song ‘Silent Night’ was written (my favorite). It also has gorgeous baroque architecture, yummy food with influences from all over the world, and very kind people.
We were sad to find out this palace was not open in December for visiting, but it redeemed itself when we found out it held a Christmas market where you could also view the famous trick fountains at night. After only being in town for a few hours, we headed straight there, tried our first Orangenpunsch (some yummy hot orange drink with rum), and wandered around the surprisingly not busy property.
While we didn’t get to see inside the palace, we loved getting to enjoy the fountains and grounds. It is even more magical lit up at night!
Christmas Market at Residenzplatz
This picturesque market is hard to miss if you are taking in any of the main sights of Salzburg. Maybe it was because Zürich was so expensive, but we did note that the gifts, drinks, and food were really reasonably priced here – often the lowest we had seen.
And if you are in need of some carb overload, don’t miss the beautifully displayed pretzels of all different types. I forced myself to walk away from the sweet options, but after sampling the apple one, it was a real struggle. One of these could feed four – they are huge!
Munich, Germany (aka München)
It was bittersweet when it was time for our Munich Christkindlmarkt adventure, after two long weeks of Christmas-marketing across Germany and into a few surrounding countries. We were ready to be settled down into a new house sit and take a much-needed break. But that also meant Christmastime was coming to an end. However, we had one more night to get out to the markets – and it was truly a night to remember … despite the pouring rain.
1. Chinese Tower Christmas Market
First, we swung by the closest Munich Christmas Market to where we are staying. This cute, smaller market surrounds the giant Chinese Tower. They even have a place to try your hand at curling. However, we had a date with Krampus we couldn’t miss, so we headed along to our next market.
2. Christmas Market at Marienplatz
This is the biggest market in Munich and hosts a Krampus run twice during the season. Since we happened to be in town for one of these unusual events, we had to go. We read it could get a bit out of hand, but when we saw all the police, as well as Saint Nick, escorting them. So, I stepped up for a closer look. That was a mistake.
One of these terrifying demons grabbed me by the head, pulled me toward him, and whipped me with some branches. I squirmed away mid-whipping and hid safely behind Buddy as the rest passed. Hilarious yes, but also 100% terrifying.
At this market, we also tried a beer swirled with a heated up metal stick. It made the beer taste worse, in our opinion. But, it looked pretty cool. And the setting of it all was sublime, even with constant rain.
3. Medieval Market
Our very last stop of our Christmas market extravaganza was the medieval market in Munich. We listened to live folk music and shared a Feuerzangenbowle. This mulled wine drink has a rum-soaked sugar cube added to it which is set on fire just before it is handed to you. Talk about an epic last drink!
After sipping this strong, hot toddie and enjoying our last market, we strolled home through the huge park and reminisced about our amazing year and what is to come.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good glühwein! 😉
- German Christmas Markets: 38 (in 12 cities!)
- Cups of Glühwein: 20 – Yes, most of these were Brooke’s. (Favorite: Feuerzangenbowle). We’ve also tried some festive beers, meads, and punches instead, like total traitors.
- Bratwursts: 9 – mostly Buddy (Favorite: tie between currywurst & cheese-filled)
- Miles Walked: We’ve lost count, but at least 40.
We also really enjoyed käsespätzle (cheese noodles), kartoffelpuffers (fried potato patties), and pizza with potato on it. Thank goodness we walked so much! HA!
BONUS: Reykjavik Christmas Markets
The year after we went to all of these amazing Christkindlemarkts in Germany and beyond, we spent an amazing Christmas season in Iceland! Read this article to learn about the festive activities in Reykjavik.
Helpful Tips for Visting Europe in Winter
1. It Gets COLD at Night, Pack Accordingly
We ended up having to go buy warmer jackets because it was really freaking cold at the markets at night. Definitely check the weather and keep the humidity level and wind in mind. We found it to be the kind of cold that gets in your bones and if there was wind, it was really frigid.
2. You Can Get to Most Markets by Train!
If you aren’t wanting to do a self-driving Germany Christmas Markets tour, you can definitely take a train to many of the top destinations. However, we loved driving through the Black Forest after it was dusted with snow, and having a car for some of our trip allowed us to see a few places we wouldn’t have otherwise. That being said, train travel is also very scenic in many areas!
3. Be Prepared if You Do Drive
If you haven’t done any winter driving, do some research on what to do if you hit a patch of ice or get stuck in a winter storm. In Germany, they have the autobahn which doesn’t have a speed limit in parts. If driving this highway, be extra cautious since hitting a slippery spot going super fast (or someone near you doing so) could be deadly. Otherwise, it’s a trip to drive on!!!
4. It May Not Snow
We actually only saw snow a few times, otherwise, it was just really cold. If you want to see snow, be sure to go to an area of Europe that is more likely to get snow during your visit – like Iceland!
5. Bring Waterproof, Warm Shoes or Boots in Case of Snow
Although snow isn’t guaranteed depending on when and where you go to Europe in winter, having some good, no-slip, warm, and waterproof shoes or boots is key. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, because it is Europe, and you don’t want to put your toes in danger of frostbite!
6. Everything Closes Down on Holidays
We were in Munich for Christmas and the entire city just went quiet. Markets closed a few days before Christmas and locals spent the days around the holiday at home with family, so not much was open. Keep this in mind if traveling over Christmas. New Year’s Eve and Day are similar over much of Europe.
7. Expect Some Delays
Due to unexpected weather issues or limited schedules due to holidays, train and bus travel may not be as quick as you are used to at other times of the year. Just be patient and check for updates regularly before heading out.
8. Make Room for Souvenirs
The Europe Christmas Markets have some adorable souvenirs, candies, and other items you’ll likely want to collect for yourself or as gifts. I’m a hardcore minimalist, but I found myself wishing I had more room for the iconic Gluhwein mugs, ornaments, and ornately decorated cookies!