A festive tradition dating back to the 15th century, visiting a German Christmas Market is among the most eagerly-anticipated European winter activities.
There is nothing quite as quintessentially German as the Weihnachtsmarkt. From as early as mid-November right up until Christmas, towns big and small across the country are transformed into Winter Wonderlands. Each market offers its own distinctive take on this much-loved tradition, with everything from the medieval to the modern on display as the festive season is celebrated in myriad styles.
Whether you’re seeking culinary specialties or local craftsmanship, festive performances or just a mug of warm mulled wine to sip on as you wander historic market squares lined with wooden chalets and festooned in twinkling lights, there’ll be a German Christmas market for you. In our list below, we’ve take a look at some of the nation’s smaller markets – those with between 50 and 150 stalls – and picked out 12 of the most charming.
This tiny town on the country’s most Western border began its Christmas Market tradition 49 years ago with a mere dozen stalls. Today, nearly 120 line the squares and lanes that lead to the 8th century Cathedral boasting the tomb of Charlemagne and the Baroque Town Hall with its 19th-Century Frescoes. Here, the powers of mulled wine juxtapose those of the sulphurous healing waters of Elisenbrunnen Spring, and the lights twinkle just as sweetly as the Aachener Printen, a local variety of traditional gingerbread.
If you’re a fan of Christmas theatre, this might be the place for you. Located in Bavaria, in one of Germany’s oldest cities, the Augsburg Christkindlesmarkt is famous for its Engelesspiel (Angel Performance). Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 24 Angels appear on the façade of the golden, renaissance town hall, transforming it into a real life advent calendar. The performers are locals who are specially selected for the task each year, keeping this Christmas tradition unique to the town and region.
As well as one of the most beautiful and regal squares in Berlin, it is the relatively small size and local artisan feel of the 100 star-topped stalls on Gendarmenmarkt that set it apart from the rest. Nestled among the architectural trio of the old French and German Cathedrals and the Konzerthaus, this magical market stands out as one of the most charming not just in Berlin but in all of Germany. Editor’s Note: Due to construction work, the 2023 & 2024 editions of this market will move to nearby Bebelplatz.
Another big city experience, the Christ Market of Munich is one of the oldest in Germany. Although it is the biggest of the city’s many festive markets, it remains capped at around 140 stalls that fill the impressive Marienplatz. The New Town Hall’s famed mechanical clock known as the Glockenspiel, with its life sized characters that dance out the scenes of the city’s history, catch the eye and the market is also supported by a busy program of musical performances, as well as a 30-metre Christmas tree adorned with over 2,000 lights gifted each year by neighbouring regions.
Renowned as one of the most beautiful Christmas Markets in the country, a total of around 70 stalls create a star shape around the historic centre of this Harz Mountain town, known for its stunning-preserved mediaeval centre with its half-timbered houses. On the outskirts of town, 50 pine trees illuminate a classic Christmas forest, filling the air with the scent of pine and creating a multifaceted and almost mystical Christmas experience.
With its romantic ambience and impressive backdrop, it is perhaps the city itself that more than anything makes the Heidelberg Christmas experience truly special. In the South West of Germany on the Neckar River, 140 stalls are nestled in the square between the old and new University buildings, with the remains of the renaissance sandstone castle looming in the backdrop. A nearby ice rink provides a soundtrack of festive joy and excitement, while other notable highlights include a 100-year-old carousel, the Winterwäldchen 100-tree forest and a giant wooden wine barrel with the Jester Perkeo, the unofficial mascot and guardian of the city, perched on top.
Named after the four-country lake on which it resides, there is an air of luxury in the Christmas Market of this preserved mediaeval city – one of the largest in the region. In addition to the 150 traditional stalls offering artisan crafts and culinary delights, a Christmas Ship is moored in the water, illuminated with a staggering one-million lights and offering a 360-degree panorama of the surrounding beauty. The market stretch glows from the harbour waters to the contrasting beauty of the Gothic old town.
Set deep in the woods of Germany’s Black Forest region, the Ravenna Gorge provides a breathtaking backdrop for one of the most memorable Christmas Market experiences. Take in the healing scents of oak, birch, fir and pine along hiking trails and picturesque railway bridges that conjure the feeling of cosy Winter Escapes, while learning about the local glass-blowing tradition through displays, workshops and live demonstrations, together combining to cultivate a festive community feel.
Back in Bavaria, on the shores of the Danube, Regensburg has acquired UNESCO status for the preservation of its Medieval town. Multiple markets with a combined total of close to 100 stalls make it a joy to wander the sights while sipping on mulled wine and indulging in a range of local delicacies. Sights not to be missed include the 12th-century Stone Bridge, the 13th-century cathedral and the Walhalla – a replica of the Greek Parthenon that hosts notable and distinguished guests from German history, society and culture.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber Reiterlesmarkt
Resembling something straight out of a fairy tale, there is something enchanting about this medieval town with its half-timbered houses, cobblestoned lanes and late Gothic architectural woodwork. Located among the narrow winding streets and lanes, the Reiterlesmarkt is sweetly traditional. Enjoy cookies, crafts and a visit from the Rotheburg Reiterle – the Horseman namesake of the market whose origin story goes back to prehistoric times. Climb the medieval town hall tower for a bird’s-eye view of the festivities below.
Located in the historic Moselle wine region near the Luxembourg border, the Trier Christmas Market is fun and light-hearted. A local Christmas staple for more than four decades, around 90 traditional wooden stalls offer unique local sweet treats like Gebäckkringel, a spiral pastry sprinkled with sugar, and Dampfnudel, a German yeast dumpling with vanilla and fruit, as well as toys, decorations and gifts handcrafted by local artisans. Not to be missed is the historic Puppet Theatre as well as Roman ruins including Baths and an Amphitheater.
Another Bavarian gem known for the particularly lavish beauty of its Baroque and Rococo architecture, the Würzburg Christmas Market is a sight to behold and an experience that does not disappoint. Dating back to the early 19th century, around 100 stalls perfume the air with the scent of roasted almonds while offering a beautiful range of treats, gifts and goods. Considering this is the heart of the Franconian Wine Region, it might be the place you decide to sample a delicious cup of steaming hot spiced Gluhwein. Over in the courtyard of the historical town hall, you’ll find the artisanal variation of this market, where artists display their skills in wares such as paintings, porcelain and jewellery.