Every year, Europe’s Christmas markets light up historic town squares and castle courtyards from Denmark south to Spain. The biggest and best are in Germany, where you’ll find traditional hand-made folk art crafts and home-baked goods, along with holiday performers in traditional handmade costumes, even Medieval dress, in every city, town and village.
With international air fares at discount right now, it’s It’s an ideal time to plan a holiday visit to one of your favorite cities in Germany, or discover new ones, and combine the holiday experience with sightseeing, concerts and, of course, shopping, eating and drinking.
In Germany, entire cities are transformed into festivals of twinkling lights, holiday music and vendors in folk costume. Best of all, the markets are easily accessible by train via a EurailPass and Deutsche Bahn.
The markets are so popular that the German Tourism Board even publishes a FREE app to guide you around the country’s Christmas markets, available in both Apple and Android versions.
These are my favorites, from multiple visits to the country where both my parents were born, and which I visit often as both a travel writer and automotive writer. And to eat and drink great German food, beer and wine.
Christmas Markets began several of hundred years before the city’s famous sprawling, boisterous and world-famous Oktoberfest. Ever since 1642, Munich‘s holiday festival is headquartered in Marienplatz, in the shadow of the signature twin-towered Frauenkirche and Glockenspiel. In addition to traditional Bavarian wood carvings, glassware from the Bavarian Forest and cuckoo clocks from Black Forest, holiday treats include Lebkuchen, round frosted gingerbread cookies. There are more foods and holiday flowers and wreaths at the Viktualienmarkt, the year-round farmers’ market a few blocks away.
Whenever I visit Munich, my must-eat is weisswurst, the city’s “official” wurst, a delicate veal sausage served with an equally delicate sweet mustard and a giant soft pretzel.
More than a dozen other, smaller Christmas markets are sprinkled throughout Munich, including one with an ice skating rink at Munich’s international airport, which also houses its own brewery. Make mine a hefeweizen.
A day-trip north of Munich along the Romantic Road, charming Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the best preserved Medieval cities in Europe, and a gem to visit any time of year. It’s the kind of destination that will make you say, “wrap it up, I’ll take it home”.
It’s Christmas year-round at the town’s German Christmas Museum and shop, the annual Reiterlesmarkt adds a definite Medieval vibe. Before or after shopping, walk around the town wall—it runs for about 2 miles—and recover your energy at one of the Schneeball shops. This is a local favorite, made from strips of dough, fried and wrapped into a ball, and covered with powdered sugar or chocolate. Or both.
This is an off-the-beaten-track city worth the trip any time, especially at the holidays. On Mannheim‘s Friedrichsplatz, with its landmark Water Tower, explore hundreds of beautifully-decorated wooden stalls with hand-knitted woolen items, hand-blown glass tree decorations and hand-carved wooden nativity scenes. At the Kapuzinerplanken Christmas Market, more than 80 international exhibitors display traditional handicrafts and collectible artworks.
Traditional temptations at both include Stollen, a sweet bread with raisins and candied fruit, sizzling sausages and mulled wine. Allow time to visit the Mannheim Palace, which dates to the 1700s, and attend a performance by the Mannheim Music School Orchestra, which Mozart attended.
Take a day-trip from Stuttgart to visit Ludwigsburg, where the holiday market is in the courtyard and gardens of one of the largest Baroque castles in Europe. Allow enough time to visit the Ceramic Museum here, with treasures including from the Meissen porcelain factory. It honors the importance of Ludwigsburg as a major manufacturer of porcelain and ceramics in the 1700s.
And I love the historic theater, which also dates from the 1700s. Between holiday shopping and sipping mulled wine, take a behind-scenes tour, and see pulleys to move scenery that still work after 300 years.
As the ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal family, the 11th-century Hohenzollern Castle, just 30 miles from Stuttgart, looks like a fairytale castle at any time of year. Hechingen‘s Royal Christmas Market brings that fairytale to life. Stalls offer mulled wine and roasted chestnuts along with exquisite handmade crafts worthy of royal approval, from one-of-a-kind jewelry and toys to elegant knitwear.
Be sure to visit the dazzling Treasure Room to drool over serious bling that includes gold and jewel-encrusted 19th-century royal crowns.
There also are excellent Christmas markets in Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Berlin.
Want to know about Christmas Markets in Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and Spain? Check my article on Europe’s best Christmas Markets on Orbitz.
Where are you going next?
photos courtesy German Tourism Board, Munich Tourism, Ludwigsburg Tourism, Rothenburg Tourism