From The Conde Nast Traveler
While other countries draw crowds with their holiday traditions, no one does Christmas quite like Germany. Its festive holiday season kicks off at the end of November and runs up until the beginning of January, and includes traditional cookies and cakes like Lebkuchen and Pfeffernüsse sold in stores and markets, decorative trees and wreaths filling public spaces, and picturesque old towns given the fairy-tale treatment with twinkling lights and glowing candles placed in the windows of shops and residences. (All that Glühwein no doubt has something to do with it, too.) One of the best ways to experience the holidays in Germany? A Christkindlmarkt, or Christmas market. Here, in no particular order, are 13 of the country’s best markets.
Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market
Why we love it: The snowy Black Forest is picturesque enough come wintertime, but this market in its midst—at the base of the 130-foot-high viaduct—manages to be even more Instagram-worthy. Get off at Hinterzarten or Himmelreich station and take a free shuttle bus to the market, where you’ll find stalls selling handmade Christmas wares and food like Schäufele (smoked pork shoulder) and Käsespätzle (egg pasta with cheese); even more can be found nearby at the Hofgut Sternen Inn, where the German poet Goethe once stayed.
When: November 30 to December 23
Why we love it: Considered by many Germans to be one of the most traditional markets in the country thanks to its sparkling trees, local artisans, and location, the Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt has nearly 300 stalls set against the backdrop of the Old Castle, which dates back to the 10th century. Sip on the usual mulled wine, sure, but don’t miss the chance to sample some Maultaschen: large, ravioli-like noodles that are a speciality of the region.
When: November 28 to December 23
Leipzig Christmas Market
Why we love it: Second only to Dresden, Leipzig otherwise lays claim to the oldest Christmas market in Germany, tracing its origins back to 1458. Here, in front of the Old Town Hall where Johann Sebastian Bach signed his employment contract (he lived here for nearly 30 years), you’ll find everything from a Ferris wheel to a manger scene with live animals to a replica Finnish village—smoked salmon included.
When: November 27 to December 23
Why we love it: Erfurter Weihnachtsmarkt sits smack in the city’s well-preserved old quarter, with St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Church of St. Severus part of its backdrop. More than 200 stalls on and around Domplatz, Fischmarkt, and Willy-Brandt-Platz squares sell traditional handicrafts like blue-dyed fabrics and pottery, as well as Thuringian bratwurst roasted on a grill and Erfurt Schittchen, a trademarked fruit bread that dates back to the 15th century.
When: November 27 to December 22
Why we love it: Location, location, location. The 13th-century German capital has about 60 Christmas markets, but the WeihnachtsZauber draws nearly 60,000 annual visitors to the picturesque, white-top tented stands surrounded by a trio of historic buildings: the Französischer Dom (or “French Cathedral”), the Konzerthaus (which houses the German orchestra Konzerthausorchester Berlin), and the Deutscher Dom, which has a five-floor exhibition on the changing history of Germany’s parliamentary system.
When: November 26 to December 31
Why we love it: Head to the Hauptmarkt, the central square in the city’s old town, for this market—one of the world’s most popular, with more than two million annual visitors. Each year, the celebrations officially open with a speech given by the Christkind—the traditional gift-giver and symbol of the Christmas Market—from the balcony of the Frauenkirche, a monumental Gothic church.
When: November 30 to December 24
Munich Christmas Market
Why we love it: More than 3,000 lights adorn the 5.3-ton fir tree, the Marienplatz market’s centerpiece. And while the Munich Christmas Market gets a new tree every year—much like, say, Rockefeller Center—the market is quite traditional: Its roots are rumored to date back to the markets held in the city in the 14th century, and Advent music is performed live every evening at 5:30 p.m.
When: November 27 to December 24
Why we love it: Founded as a one-day market in 1434, the Dresden Striezelmarkt is Germany’s oldest. The annual focal points here are typically the 45-foot high Christmas pyramid and the Stollen, buttery fruitcake dusted with powdered sugar and packaged with a special seal depicting the city’s famous former king, August the Strong.
When: November 28 to December 24
Düsseldorf Christmas Market
Why we love it: Düsseldorf’s Christmas market is actually made up of seven themed markets within walking distance of each other, which means that during the holidays, the city’s entire downtown core turns into a veritable Weihnachtsmarkt. One of the most popular is Engelchen-Markt on Heinrich-Heine-Platz, whose market huts feature wrought-iron angels and white lights, so that the entire area seems to glow. Another, Handwerker-Markt on Marktplatz, is known for its handicrafts; look for glass-blowers, pewterers, and brush-makers.
When: November 22 to December 30
Rothenburg ob der Tauber Reiterlesmarkt
Why we love it: Few Christmas markets are as incredibly beautiful as the one in Rothenburg, a walled medieval city in Bavaria dating back to 950. Come December, the town transforms into a winter wonderland with snow-dusted rooftops, glowing storefronts, and cozy taverns. The market—which has been occurring since the 15th century—is its jewel: Be sure to snag a Schneebälle (or two), shortcrust pastry rolled into balls and coated with everything from powdered sugar to chocolate and nuts.
When: November 30 to December 23
Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market
Why we love it: In front of Cologne’s landmark cathedral, this market has what you’d expect of a classic German spread: the Glühwein, the crafts, the twinkling lights. One thing that stands out, though, is its entertainment—more than 100 stage performances throughout the festival, including Christmas swing music and gospel. After you’ve had your fill of tunes—and food—head toward nearby Hohe Strasse and Schildergasse, two of Cologne’s well-known shopping areas, to walk off all those bratwurst.
When: November 26 to December 23
Konstanz Christmas Market
Why we love it: This sprawling market runs from the town center to the shores of Lake Constance, Germany’s largest lake, with 170 stalls and more than 100,000 lights. Tuck in to traditional Schupfnudeln potato dumplings, and spend some time on the ‘Christmas Ship,’ a long ship moored in the harbor with a bar. Just be sure to bring extra layers—it can get pretty chilly down by the water.
When: November 29 to December 22
Freiburg Christmas Market
Why we love it: Freiburg is close to the Black Forest, and as such, its crafts and food reflect the region: You’ll find straw shoes and colorful wooden toy animals, as well as beeswax candles, which you can get made to order at the candle workshop on Franziskanerstrasse. Whatever you do, make sure to eat a Nonnenseufzer, or a freshly made doughnut filled with apples, under the 380-foot spire of the town’s iconic Gothic Freiburg Minster for a classic Christmas scene.
When: November 22 to December 23
This article was written by Katherine Lagrave in November 2018. As always, it’s best to check ahead for the exact 2019 dates.