There’s no better time to experience Germany than during the Advent season, when all of Deutschland sparkles with lights and gemütlichkeit, or winter cheer. From late November through the third week of December, Christmas markets dominate the town square of nearly every city and hamlet. Decorated stalls spill over with handmade ornaments, wooden toys, and weihnachtspyramiden, the traditional candle-powered merry-go-rounds that are staples in most local homes. From the Marienplatz of Munich, with its enormous decorated fir, to the Erzebirge pyramid in Erfurt, German Christmas Markets are the ideal way to usher in the season and celebrate the holidays. And the best way to learn about this brightly festive season is by following this, YMT’s Ultimate Guide to German Christmas Markets.
Here are 5 features you won’t want to miss on your seasonal adventure:
1. Germany is known for its quality craftsmanship. Make sure to pick up some stunning homemade gifts for your friends and family back home: felt slippers, earthenware pottery, woolen hats, clocks, hand-carved holiday decorations and Christmas ornaments are very popular.
2. Traditional flavors abound at the Christmas markets. Make sure to try apfelglühwein (hot cider spiked with apple brandy), fruit brandy liquors, grilled sausages, chocolate, gingerbread and traditional mulled wine.
3. Buy a glühwein mug. Not only are they great souvenirs to take home, they also allow you to get refills at a lower price. Hot tip: Avoid mulled wine on an empty stomach—especially since it usually contains rum or schnapps.
4. When purchasing gifts, look for seasonal specialties that are only sold during the Advent—they tend to be the most special.
5. Check with local churches for Christmas concerts. Not only are they free, but they often feature wonderful performances from the region’s best amateur local musicians.
Now that you know what to see, where’s the best place to look? Here are the top 10 places to visit these Christmas markets:
1. Dresden—Opened in 1434, the Dresden Striezelmarkt is Germany’s oldest Christmas market. It is centered around a 45-foot-tall Christmas pyramid, a huge carousel, and the world’s biggest nutcracker. Full of handicrafts, pottery, and handmade toys and ornaments, this market is a favorite of shoppers as well as foodies who flock to the seasonal specialties.
2. Dusseldorf—With a variety of locations throughout the city, this market promises lights, nativity scenes, gingerbread houses, and delicious traditional food and drink.
3. Leipzig—Trumpet fanfares and a boys’ choir welcome visitors to Germany’s second-oldest market to shop for holiday gifts as they savor roasted chestnuts and other seasonal favorites.
4. Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt—Set along the cobblestone streets of Old Town, this market is made of garland-lined wooden stalls, old-fashioned carousels, and sparkling white lights. Along the checkered red and white tables, you can shop for vintage toys and crafts, or snack on the roasted almonds whose sweet smells fill the crisp air.
5. Berlin—In addition to the holiday decorations and food booths, the Berlin market also offers an outdoor winter sports center. Take a loop around the ice rink, or try your hand at the standout Olympic sport of curling.
6. Frankfurt—Claimed to be the country’s largest, the towering Christmas tree in Frankfurt’s vibrant Old Town draws visitors to this Advent wonderland known for charming timbered houses decorated with lights and wreaths. Make sure to stay for the “pealing of the bells,” a beloved Christmas Eve tradition where the church bells ring across Old Town.
7. Cologne—The city’s half-dozen markets feature more than 150 pavilions showcasing Bavarian food, vintage handicrafts, and traditional music.
8. Rothenburg ob der Tauber—While not the largest market in Germany, this might possibly be the most romantic. The small Bavarian town has provided a fairytale backdrop for this local Christmas market for more than 500 years.
9. Erfurt—The delightful town of Erfurt is already one of the best preserved medieval villages in all of Germany. Add to its charm a spectacularly-lit Christmas tree, a giant Erzgebirge pyramid, and a Nativity scene with human-sized figures, and you have one of the most magical Christmas markets in the entire world.
10. Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt—Set in the shadow of the Old Palace, this is one of Germany’s most traditional markets. It features 300 stalls, mulled wine and a ravioli-like noodle specialty called maultaschen.
Before you embark on your Christmas Markets adventure, remember to layer up with warm clothing, and a good pair of shoes for walking on the cold cobblestone streets. You can explore Germany’s best-loved markets with YMT next December. A Christmas Markets river cruise is the ideal way to celebrate the season and experience Germany’s lively culture. To make your arrangements, call your travel professional or YMT Vacations at 1-888-756-9072