Germany does lots of things well… beers, bakeries and outdoor swimming pools, for example. But the thing I think it does best is Christmas. Well, the Germans did pretty much invent Christmas as we know it, didn’t they?

colorful carousel with fabulous ponies in amusement park at night
Photo by Elina Fairytale on Pexels.com

The German Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmarkt, are a fixture of the German festive season. The place where everything feels warm and fuzzy, no matter how cold the weather actually is.  

If you are planning to visit a German Christmas market in the next few weeks, I hope this post will help you get the most out of the experience. Especially if it’s your first visit; always the most magical, but also the time when a few nuggets of knowledge might be of use.

Choose Your Market Destination

There are, literally, hundreds of Christmas Markets in Germany. Depending on your preference, time constraints and budget one market might be a better fit than another. It’s better to seek out a destination based on your preferences, rather than just heading to one of the best-known destinations.

At one of my all time favourite Christmas Markets in Hameln.

Some markets are more commercial than others. Some have a specific theme, often based on the heritage of the location as in the fairy tale city of Kassel or the historical, rat loving Hameln. Markets in the bigger cities tend to be quite tourist focused, whereas heading to smaller cities and towns like Paderborn, Bielefeld or Soest will find you a more authentic German experience.

Christmas Market around the Dom in Paderborn.

If travelling between Christmas and New Year, double check market dates. Some German Christmas Markets run beyond the 25th, but many run during Advent and so begin early and end on Christmas Eve.

Dress for Time Outdoors

The atmosphere might be warm and fuzzy, but the weather is likely to be cold. Possibly wet, and if you are very lucky, snowy. Dress for it. You might think I’m stating the obvious but a few years in Germany taught me that we Brits tend not to be that good at dressing for Winter.

joyful modest woman on square in downtown at new year night
Photo by Elina Fairytale on Pexels.com

Think thick soled, waterproof boots, good socks and thermals if it’s going below zero. A warm and waterproof coat with a couple of thin layers underneath. Then just add hat and gloves and you’re good to go. Outdoors, for as long as you like.

I know some people like to take pictures in pretty, if impractical, outfits but I think it’s better to dress for warmth and be able to enjoy the full Christmas Market experience for as long as you like.

Look For ( and in) the Dom.

Christmas Markets are steeped in history and tradition, and that is a big part of the attraction and charm. Historically, the markets would spring up around the cathedral or church square and this still holds. As a general rule, to find the hub of the market, find the Dom. And when you find it, take a look inside. Whatever your religious or spiritual leanings, these buildings are things of beauty and full of ornate decorations and interesting touches, like this Pied Piper stained glass window in Hameln.

Things Helen Loves, stained glass window depicting the Pied Piper

Browse The Stalls, But Spend Wisely.

Markets can vary in quality when it comes to shopping. You will find some beautiful pieces to take home, but a lot of over priced tat also. The best buys tend to be traditional or locally produced goods like Printern from Aachen. All the cosy and comfortable things that you’d need to celebrate Advent and cosy up for winter. Think traditionally crafted Christmas decorations, animal hide and wool products, candles, honey and bees-wax based goods.

Things Helen Loves, image of festive window display

Post Brexit, it’s also a good time to pick up any local brands or regionally protected products that are either expensive to import or almost impossible to buy in the UK now. For me, it’s certain food and bath products and my favourite German wines.

If you want to shop for authentic German Christmas decor, sweets or souvenirs without the Christmas Market price tag, look to the local German shops. Stores like Kodi, Kik, Rossmans and Ernsting Family can be found in most towns and cities. These are also the places to go if you need, say, an umbrella or a pair of gloves. Just a little FYI.

To avoid making questionable buying decisions, do your shopping before you…

Get Your Gluhwein.

Or the non alcoholic version, Kinderpunsch. Or hot chocolate. But whatever you get, you’ll get it in a charming Christmas Markets mug. You almost always pay a deposit or pfand on these so don’t dump it when your done. Either take the mug back and get the refund, or take it home as a reasonably priced keep sake.

Things Helen Loves, image of stacked red Christmas markets mugs

Nativity Live

Lots of German Christmas Markets have animals of some description, be it a few donkeys in a pen or a full on live nativity scene . It’s a bit of a novelty and a nice diversion, particularly if you are travelling with children. If you are visiting Germany with little people, read my post 10 Things to do with Kids in Germany.

Things Helen Loves, boy smiling in front of pen of donkeys.

Not everyone is there for Christmas Spirit.

Sad but true, especially in the bigger and busier places. Markets mean crowds and distracted shoppers, and this attracts the opportunist criminal. Pick pockets in particular can be a nuisance. Only carry what you need, take a bag that fastens securely, don’t leave your phone on the table. Don’t be put off but do take sensible precautions. Should you have an issue the German police are helpful and will generally speak good English.

Spending a penny, costs a penny.

On a practical note, don’t be caught short. Most markets will have portaloo style toilets generally kept in good order. This is because they have a toilet attendant. However, the service doesn’t come for free, and you can expect to pay 50c or so for using the loo. Public toilets will be much the same, and nicer cafes and restaurants will likely also charge. Bakeries and fast food places, you might get to pee for free. An odd note to end a blog post on. But,real life. We’ve all gotta go at some point, best be prepared.

Finishing up with a trio of cheerful images from various German Christmas Market trips, because I ended the post talking about toilets, and nobody needs a visual on that.

Let me know what you are doing to get in the festive mood this year, have you been to any Christmas markets? Let’s chat in the comments.

Helen x

20 thoughts

  1. I love a good cheerful post, Helen! Having said that I haven’t been very successful in finding Christmas markets here in the Algarve, but you can’t have everything, can you? I’m not a fan of gluhwein or bratwurst so that’s no loss. I do love those lit up houses you feature in one of your photos, and I have some beautiful stained glass candle holders that I bought many years ago on the market in Nottingham. You don’t actually need to go abroad for them any more, do you? Edinburgh’s Princes St is stunning at Christmas time. Anyway, I just wanted to wish you a very happy festive season and 2022.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Ah the Algarve has enough to make up for- custard tarts and sunshine, for a start!

      The UK has some nice Christmas markets now, We did Winchester last week and it was very festive but very busy. I think the European markets have a bit more character, but it’s just nice to be doing anything at all this year! Thanks Jo, all the best to you too. Here’s to a good 2022 for all if us 😊

  2. I am more the practical kind of guy, so Christmas markets are good for first dates, because even if it’s not what one expected, at least you got some good food into your belly.
    But don’t go in a town where everybody knows you!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      That’s brilliant 😂 I’d actually be quite impressed with a Christmas Market first date.

      1. I was most impressed by a lady in Bolivia, who took me to the cemetery for a first date.
        It was a cemetery with a beautiful view over La Paz, we were sitting in the grass and an ice-cream vendor came by.
        I don’t think she could have known that I really like cemeteries. Whenever I have since suggested such a meeting point, it was rudely declined. :/

  3. Christina says:

    When I lived in Germany, I preferred the small town (less commercial) Christmas Markets. Both can be fun, but I prefer to be able to support local, small businesses.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Yes, i liked the smaller ones too. I think the nicest one I ever went to was in a town called Soest. I really miss exploring Germany. Whereabouts in Germany were you?

      Thanks so much for dropping by and taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it 😊

  4. My favourite one is the Christkindlmarkt in Nuremberg.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      I’ve only ever visited Nuremburg in the Summer, I can imagine it’s magical in the Winter. I’d love to explore Bavaria some more, it’s a part of Germany I just haven’t seen enough of. Wishing you a happy festive season and all the best in the coming year.

      1. Southern Germany is marvellous in winter! 🙂
        A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, too,
        Pit

  5. I just love the Christmas Markets, when we went in 2018 to Germany..in fact our whole holiday was planned around them & seeing family in Italy…I loved them all… and there is always bratwurst, gluhwein & hot chocolate…

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      German Christmas markets and Italy sounds like an amazing combination! I’ve actually just been reading a few articles about Christmas in Rome so I’ll be adding that to the list.

  6. I was meant to be flying to Hamburg today (my flight is still going, I’m just not on it), but we cancelled so we wouldn’t have to be in isolation for Christmas. My favourite market is Christkindlmarkt in Nuernberg, as Pit says above 🙂 Can’t beat a German market – have a wonderful festive season 🙂

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      It’s such a shame things have gone the way they have this year, it was looking pretty hopeful at one point! We’d hoped to get back to Hameln or Berlin this year but it wasn’t to be. Staying positive though, last year my husband was in Estonia over Christmas and my eldest daughter wasn’t able to visit us. At least this year we are together. Merry Christmas to you and wishing you all the best for 2022.

      1. That’s so lovely you can all be together this year, you’re right that’s definitely the main thing. Have a wonderful time with them 🙂

  7. I love Christmas markets in Germany and my heart last 2 years is just broken because of the Covid situation. So many markets were canceled last year and are canceled this year. Those markets gave me always that special Christmas feeling! Ahh, I miss those Christmas markets so much! ♥ Nevertheless, I love markets and Christmas decorations in Berlin, but my most favorite market was in Dresden. Can you imagine – Medieval Christmas Market? It was something very special and surprising! I hope, that one day I will be able to visit this market again! And you too! 🙂
    Have a great celebration and stay safe!
    Sandra Ans from http://www.mysmalltravelguide.com

  8. I love Christmas markets in Vienna! I have yet to visit Germany during Christmas season. I did visit my friend in November in Dusseldorf but it was too early for Christmas markets sadly.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      I love the Christmas Markets, hopefully next year they’ll be back bigger and better. I think Vienna has an Easter market too, I’d love to visit.

      1. I didn’t know about the Easter market🙂

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