How to plan your trip to the German Christmas Markets
Pictures of European Christmas markets have made us wander every holiday season. The fairy lights, the light snow, the food and the mulled wine mugs have all created the perfect illusion of Christmas. Whether you are religious or not, visiting Christmas markets is a magical experience that will boost your festive spirit!
In this blog post, I’m helping you plan your next Christmas adventure in Germany!
First of all what is a Christmas Markets & how long do they last?
These holiday markets are very popular in Europe and have started to get more popular in the rest of the world. They originated in Germany around the middle ages, think 1300’s. These markets are traditionally held in every town square, and highlight traditional food, drinks and seasonal items in open-air stalls accompanied by music and shows.
The markets start around the last week of November until Christmas Eve. Don’t expect the markets to be open after December 24th! So do plan your vacation before! In big cities, there are very few markets that remain open until the 30th. These markets are the very few exceptions. Each market has its own personality, some have arcades and kids rides, some have skating rinks, to name a few activities.
If you love the holiday season, this is the perfect trip for you! The Christmas markets are for adults and kids alike. While they do have many kids activities, a lot of the markets are tailored for adults. As only a portion of the events is dedicated to buying Christmas things, they are foremost dedicated to bringing people together and having fun. The markets are about having a good time around delicious food and drinks. Instead of going to a bar or a restaurant during the season, Germans go out to the markets and meet with friends.
Where can you find them & which one to choose?
The markets are located in every city and town, Germans go crazy about celebrating Christmas. Major cities have more than one, for example, Berlin claims over 70 markets and Munich has over 30. Some major cities have also thematic markets, like the Pink Market in Munich which is an initiative from the LGBT community. To get the full experience, do more than one market as they all have a unique touch!
Do spend some time to search what you want to do in Germany and then include the markets into your itinerary. Germany is a country that is very rich in history, so think about the markets as your bonus activity for the night. Or you can search what appeals to you personally in these markets: is it food, scenery or history? Then, plan your trip around that. You will probably find the best fit for you with the vast array of choices!
The markets open throughout the day and close around 10 pm but the best time to go is in the evenings, this is when the fairy lights go on and they add a magical atmosphere.
Beware that some markets can get incredibly crowded. If you want to avoid the crowds, it will probably be best if you go during weekday or early in the evenings. If you really don’t like crowds, it will probably be better if you find smaller markets.
A good time to go could be during events, live music or parades. I would suggest googling the name of the market and checking what activities they offer during your visit so you can enjoy a complete experience.
Food and drinks
The best part of the markets is its variety of food! Be sure to go to the market thirsty and hungry! Each town and region have their own food specialties so be sure to taste them all! If you are exploring different regions in Germany during your trip, this is the best way to try all the local cuisine. Also, you will have some trouble finding these local dishes elsewhere,
You will find anything from an immense variety of sausages, Kartoffelpuffer/Reibekuchen (or potato pancakes), Stollen cake, fried potatoes, Lebkuchen a German traditional gingerbread, Schneballen dough balls, pretzels to name a few.
There are multiple stands around the markets that prepare food so be sure to spot at which kiosks you want to eat during your first round.
Psst: The cookies are great presents to bring back home!
Glühwein (mulled wine) is the primary beverage of the markets. It's red wine heated with spices like cinnamon and cloves along with lemon and sugar. The Feuerzangenbowle is another popular drink where they add sugar caramelized by burning rum. If alcohol or mulled wine is not your thing, you will find hot fruit punches, hot chocolate and hot cider.
Most hot drinks are poured into ceramic mugs, and you can either keep the mug or you bring them back and get reimbursed a small fee (normally from .50 euro to 2 euro). However, I will highly recommend keeping the mugs and to collect them! Each market creates new designs each year and they make a great souvenir!
For a complete guide of what to eat and drink in the Nuremberg Christmas Market check out my other blog post here!
The majority of the kiosks sell Christmas decorations and ornaments. These are the perfect souvenirs and gifts to bring back to your family and friends. Most of the items are made in the country and each town has its own handicrafts too. Therefore, if you see an ornament that you like, buy it right away as you might not be able to find it in the next city.
The Christmas Pyramid (Weihnachtspyramide) are unique items that tiered candle carousals turn by the power of the heat of small candles. They come in different sizes and are beautiful. Or you can get more mainstreams items like nutcrackers or nativity scenes.
What to wear?
If you’re used to extremely cold winters, the temperatures will seem reasonable to you. However, do expect to be out at least two hours so be sure to dress warmly!
I will suggest dressing in layers, having a good jacket, gloves, scarves, tuques and mittens! I live in Montreal (Canada) and I found that outfit tailored for Canadian fall was ok, I was warm enough for the occasion.
Have comfortable shoes! Most markets are standing room only. There are very few chairs or benches for you to rest. If you have mobility issues maybe think about visiting for a short period of time.
Other useful tips
Bring Cash! Most of the stands are cash only so be sure to go to the bank before!
Bring your camera! The markets are very photogenic and you will had to take a picture at every stand. Be sure to have enough space on your phone or in your camera.
Getting around Germany
Germany has a great transportation system whether you decide to use trains or rent a car. If you decide to travel by train, there are many multi-day passes that can work for you.
If driving in the autobahn is one of your dreams, then this is your chance to drive around the famous highways without speed limits.
Booking flights and asking for time off from work
I would suggest hunting for deals as early as September. We all know that travelling during Christmas can be very expensive. Try to be as creative as possible while researching for your trip. For example, we decided to land in Belgium, rent a car there and drive to Germany as it was cheaper than to land in Germany. Plus, we got the chance to visit another country!
Another great option will be to do a weekend getaway or a day trip to the markets if you are incorporating this activity into a bigger European trip.
A lot of your coworkers will want to request time off during the holiday season too so be sure to ask for your time off in advance! Also, if well planned, you won’t have to ask for any or very little time off. A lot of the offices close between Christmas and New Year’s Eve so if you are lucky, some years Christmas day falls on a Monday so you have 10 days off without using your vacation days!
For other smart planning vacations tips if you work full time, check out my Plan from the Office section!
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