Visiting German Christmas Markets is possibly my favorite thing to do during the holidays.
Before spending Christmas in Germany, I had never spent Christmas away from home. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” meant family coming into town and eating the dough of homemade sugar cookies. However, when the chance came to spend the sparkling holiday of Christmas in Germany, we couldn’t pass it up. I would risk the chance of extreme homesickness for the chance to spend December 25th in Frankfurt. That was three years ago, and we flew there again last year, right on Christmas Eve to surprise my husband’s parents.
The Christmas Markets in Germany, with handmade goods, glittering villages, Marzipan and tasty delicacies, are often the draw to spending the holidays in Deutschland. Germany knows how to celebrate Christmas and once you experience it, you’ll be dreaming of your next trip back.
As you prepare for your trip to Germany for the holidays, here are my recommendations to make sure you visit the markets like a local.
Drinks & Sweets to Try
- Gluhwein: a mulled, spiced, red wine served in a mug branded specifically for the market you’re at. It is served warm (or hot!). They also have non-alcoholic versions available for kids or those who don’t care for the alcohol. You may notice that when you purchase Gluhwein, you’ll be charged Pfand. Basically, Pfand is the cost to “rent” the cup. You’ll get the full amount of Pfand back if you return your mug. It’s commonly accepted, though, that you can keep the cup if you don’t return it for the Pfand amount. This is a perfect way to collect a cup to remember your trip with.
- Roasted cinnamon-covered almonds: These are my favorite Christmas Market treats by far. I always buy the roasted almonds. They’re usually warm too and it makes for a delightful snack to nibble on as you meander through the market.
- Lebkuchen: If you like gingerbread, you’ll love these traditional German baked cookies. The smooth icing has a consistency like paper, but it makes for an unusual, yummy treat. I didn’t like these at first, but they’ve grown on me. We indulge on a pack of cookies every year now.
- Marzipan: When I first tried Marzipan during the holidays, I loved it so much that I bought enough to last through July. Similar to children hiding away their Halloween candy, I stocked up on Marzipan. I don’t recommend that as it’s more fitting for the Christmas season, but alas, I learned my lesson. What is Marzipan? It’s a sweet made out of sugar and almond paste. It’s often combined with pastries or chocolate to make for a delicious delicacy. Marzipan is not your typical candy, so be aware that you may not love it as much as I did. You have to try it at least (unless you have a nut allergy).
- Crepes: Although crepes aren’t a traditional item for the German markets, there’s almost always a vendor (or two) selling them. You can’t go wrong. For a more hearty meal, they have sausage stands.
Souvenirs to Buy
- German incense smokers: These handmade figurines often resemble the common man and are a nice housewarming purchase if you’re looking for a useful souvenir.
- Christmas pyramids: These are the most fascinating souvenirs I’ve seen at the German Christmas Markets. The German Christmas pyramids are a centuries-old tradition. You can usually find a pyramid that depicts the Nativity scene. They spin when you light the candles on the fixture. If you’re lucky, you may even come across a huge, man-sized version of the pyramid at a market.
- A branded mug for the market: Don’t forget to take home a mug from the market. Like I said, if you buy a drink of Gluhwein and pay the Pfand, you can keep the cup as a souvenir.
Good Things to Know
- Visit at dusk so you can take in the sights as the lights begin to glisten. It also won’t be too cold yet. Kids should definitely come with you as it’s fun for them too.
- Take the train if you can as parking may be hard to find.
- The markets often close a few days before Christmas Eve, so don’t procrastinate your trip! You may be tempted to spend the week of Christmas in Germany, but you’ll most certainly miss out on the markets if you wait until after Christmas Eve. Luckily, they open as soon as late November or early December. If you’re traveling to Europe and want to visit a local market for the holidays, look at the dates for the Christmas market near you. Pay attention to events as well if you want to see something particular, like live music.
- Bring cash. This is common in Europe and at markets of this type worldwide, but bring cash! Most of the vendors will not accept credit cards.
- Bring your camera. From the warm drinks to the tasty treats and the bustling crowd, the German Christmas Markets are an experience. Savor the moment and capture a few pictures to remember it with.
- Bundle up. The sparkling lights and appeal of warm Gluhwein may make you feel warm, but these nights are often chilly. Wear multiple layers as the markets are entirely outside (in most places).
- No matter where you are, most towns or cities will have their own market. The well-known and popular markets like those in Nuremberg, Munich, and Dresden are said to be a top-notch experience. However, a lot of smaller towns have their own markets with older, Fachwerk villages that have a more charming feel. If you can, visit a few Christmas Markets. They all have their own individual feel and you’ll have an opportunity to explore a new area.
Visiting Germany for Christmas is one of the most magical things you can do during the holidays. When I think of the tasty roasted almonds and sparkling lights that glitter on German red roofs, I feel at home. Enjoy your trip and if you’re in Hessen, here’s a guide for towns to visit while you’re nearby.