3 German Christmas Markets You Will Love!
I really like traveling to Europe in the winter. Museums and popular sites are less crowded, hotel rates are generally lower than in summer, city centers are festively decorated and illuminated, and the Christmas spirit of joy and cheerfulness makes it much easier to mix with the locals and experience their culture without the overbearing hordes of fellow foreign visitors. Here are some German Christmas markets to consider for your next trip.
Munich’s historic Old Town (Altstadt) is virtually overrun in the summer months but during our brief stay earlier in December, we had a totally different experience. Yes, it was busy with the annual Christmas Market in full swing, but it was mainly so with locals who were hanging out with mugs of hot mulled wine (Glühwein) and munching on pretzels, sausages, and candied nuts enjoying the unusually mild weather. What a fantastic way to people watch and polish one’s high school German.
The Munich Christmas Market generally runs from late November till December 24th and takes place daily from 10 AM – 8 PM (shorter hours on Christmas Eve) in the historic Marienplaz and the surrounding areas of Rindermarkt, Neuhauser Strasse, Kaufingerstrasse, and Weinstrasse. It is walkable from many centrally-located hotels or you can take the subway to the Marienplatz station. The area is brightly decorated and illuminated and local vendors sell Christmas treats and souvenirs from street stands and pavilions. Santa himself sometimes appears and walks around the market and loves to have his picture taken with grownups and children alike. Other interactive experiences include Bavarian Christmas Carol singling lessons, children’s’ arts & craft workshops (at preset times and locations), a Manger Market, and live Christmas music performances.
Just a short walk away, located on an island in the Isar River aptly named Museuminsel (Museum Island), the Deutsches Museum (Museum of Technology and Natural Science) was a pleasant surprise and I would recommend stopping there if traveling with kids. Mine are 9 and 12 and loved it. It is huge – with 30+ sections on 7 floors including historic seafaring and aviation, astronomy and cosmology, mining, glass- and earthenware, energy and electricity, and heavy machinery. The rooftop offers a cool selection of historic sundials and nice views over the city.
Many of the displays are interactive which makes them even more intriguing for children. I imagine one could easily spend a good part of the day here and it is a shame that we had only a couple of hours to spare, so we had to prioritize. Our favorite display was the U1 submarine with parts of its outer hull removed to allow for a peek into the engine room, sleeping quarters, and the torpedo compartment.
Also in the Old Town, why not wander around the Viktualienmarkt in the morning? When in the early 1800s the farmers’ market at Marienplatz became too large for the square, the Emperor issued a decree to have it moved a block away where it still stands today. Over the years, the market has evolved to a popular market where the locals go for fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry, cheese, eggs, herbs, spices, delicatessens, wine, coffee and tea. The market is generally open Monday to Friday 10 AM – 6 PM and until 3 PM on Saturdays. What a great place to stroll around with a cup of coffee or a cone of ice-cream and people-watch!
If you are craving dinner of typical Bavarian dishes in a traditional restaurant, try Wirtshaus in der Au, just a short walk from Marienplatz, and try the ginormous dumplings, sauerkraut with bacon, roast pork, or spicy sausages.
Just a quick 2.5-hour train ride northwest of Munich (tickets are easily booked in advance on www.bahn.de), Stuttgart’s Christmas Market was a real treat. It generally runs from November 25th to December 23rd.
Stuttgart is the state capital of Baden Württemberg and its long-established Christmas market was first mentioned in the 1690s. It now occupies the central squares of Schlossplatz, Schillerplatz, Karlsplatz and Marktplatz and its 250+ stalls, fairground rides, and live music performances draw over 3 million visitors annually.
We were there on a Friday evening and the market, although huge, was so packed that we had to elbow our way through some of the more crowded sections without spilling our mugs of mulled wine. The mugs are by the way made of ornate china or glass and you are charged a small deposit for them which you get back when (if) you return them.
For a more ‘historic’ experience, the Medieval Christmas Market at Esslingen is a convenient day-trip from Stuttgart. It is located about 45 minutes’ drive south-east from the state capital. Located on the Neckar River, in the middle ages Esslingen was a major center of commerce and wine production on the route between Italy, Switzerland, and northern Germany.
Today, its Old Town features more than 200 traditional half-timbered buildings dating from the 13th to 16th centuries and an Old Town Hall with an amazingly ornate Renaissance façade which make for the perfect setting for the annual Christmas Market.
With some 200 richly decorated booths, the Esslingen Medieval Market is one of the largest German Christmas markets and features merchants dressed in historical costumes which offer their goods for sale just as they did hundreds of years ago. Craftsmen and artisans like felt-makers, blacksmiths, candle-makers, and glass-blowers demonstrate their craftsmanship and musicians, jesters, and jugglers entertain the crowds.
After filling up on sausages and pretzels, climb the steep covered stairway to the Esslingen fortifications (Burg) and enjoy the views over the Old Town and the hillside vineyards below.
Are you ready to travel to Europe in the winter and visit some German Christmas markets? Let me know and I will be happy to help you plan your trip!