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 sometimes runs up until as late as 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. German Christmas markets are located in virtually every town.
Discover the magic of Germany’s magnificent Christmas markets and fill your heart with Christmas cheer, your tummy with tasty German treats and your suitcase with lovingly hand-crafted gifts on a memorable winter trip! You will need to prepare for it and here are some tips.
1. Spend time researching the best Christmas markets in Germany
If you’re planning a Christmas markets trip, make sure to hit one of the best ones. Some of the most notable ones are in:
- Nuremberg is home to the largest Christmas market in the world.
- Dresden is home to the oldest Christmas market in the world.
- Berlin has more than 60 different Christmas markets.
- Munich has more than 30.
- Konstanz is famous for its stunning location on the banks of Lake Constance, the Alps in the background.
2. Plan a trip for late November through December 23
Germany’s Christmas markets usually start around November 20-25 or so, and the final date is almost always December 23, as Germans celebrate Christmas on December 24. Double-check the dates before you book your trip. Whatever you do, don’t just come to Germany and expect markets to stick around after Christmas.
3. Concentrate on one region in Germany and explore it in depth
As tempting as it may be to cover Germany from corner to corner, better plan a trip concentrated on one region. Distances will be shorter, but there will still be a lot of variety in the cities and towns you visit, and you’ll get to know the nuances of a region and the slight variations in the different towns.
Base from two or three cities and use the train to make day trips.
4. Get a German Rail Pass
The best way to travel Germany is by train. Germany has some of the nicest trains on the continent.
Getting a German Rail Pass can be a great way to save money. You can either get a pass that covers 3-15 days of unlimited travel or get 3-15 days of train travel within a month.
In Germany you don’t need to book reservations on most trains, so you can simply show up at the station, hop on a train, and show your pass to the conductor when he or she comes by. That’s a big difference from France or Spain, where you often have to book trains in advance and pay a supplemental fee, even with a pass.
5. Visit small towns as well as cities
American tourists visiting Europe tend to travel from major city to major city, concentrating on the big names and ignoring the smaller towns. European tourists are different, however — they tend to visit one major city and travel around the surrounding region. For exploring Christmas markets, take the European approach.
Many people prefer the Christmas markets in smaller cities, as they tend to be less crowded.
Don’t think that for a Germany trip you need to visit Munich, Berlin, and Hamburg. You could concentrate on Munich and visit Augsburg, Regensburg, Passau, and Nuremberg. You could concentrate on Berlin and visit Potsdam, Leipzig, and Dresden. You could concentrate on Hamburg and visit Lübeck and Bremen.
And just imagine what a treat it would be to visit Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Quedlinburg and Trier!
6. Try each town’s local delicacies
Each German town has its own food specialties, whether it’s a certain kind of sausage or a baked good you’d struggle to find elsewhere. Try them all! Any dish that has the name of the town in it is usually a local dish. Not sure? Ask! Most Germans speak at least a little bit of English and all Germans are eager to show off their towns.
7. Dress warmly and wear good shoes
The forecast might not look too cold, especially if you are used to freezing winters, but the cold compounds when you are outside for hours at a time. Likewise, you’ll be standing for hours, and you’ll want your feet to be as comfortable as possible. This is a trip for your heaviest winter coat, gloves, scarves, hats, thick socks.
Consider investing in smartphone gloves, which allow you to keep your fingers warm while Facebooking away. For shoes, you don’t have to wear sneakers — but wear shoes that are warm and have good support.
8. Collect the Glühwein mugs!
Glühwein is hot mulled wine. Red wine is the most common. It is the primary beverage of German Christmas markets, and each year, the cities create new designs for their mugs. When you order Glühwein, you pay a small deposit for the mug — usually around two euros. You can return the mug if you’d like and get your deposit back, or you can keep it! They make great souvenirs to bring home.
Below is a basic recipe but do feel free to experiment. You might, for example, substitute honey for the sugar or add some fresh orange or lemon juice. For extra kick, pour a healthy splash of spirits such as rum or brandy into the cup of Glühwein after it’s poured (this is called Glühwein mit Schuss).
- Pour 1/2 cup of water in a large saucepan with a piece of cinnamon, ginger, orange zest, 8 cloves, and 3/8 cup sugar.
- Bring to a boil and simmer to a thick syrup.
- Pour in 3 cups of red wine.
- Heat to just below the boiling point.
- Serve hot in mugs or glasses that have been preheated in warm water (cold glasses will break.)
Tip: Watch it, since you drink this wine warm, the alcohol goes to your head extra quick!