It’s late November, and here in Germany that means Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkt or Christkindlmarkt) are just around the corner! If you’re ever in Germany in December, or just want to live vicariously through us, here is our guide to getting the most out of the season.
What to expect
If you’ve never been to a Christmas market, know this: they are the epitome of Christmas cheer. Typically setup in a square or along a major street, the street market is made up of many small stalls. They offer festive food, drink, and souvenirs. The centerpiece is often a large decorated tree or a Weihnachtspyramide (Christmas pyramid).
When to go
Christmas market usually run throughout advent, but beware: some are only one weekend. They can be very crowded on the weekend, so consider visiting during the week if you can. Some markets have special opening and closing celebrations, are an extra treat.
What to eat
First of all, remember that calories shouldn’t be counted at a Christmas market! Here are some of our favorite things to munch on:
- Wurst: Grilled sausage is a classic, and easy to find. Not just Bratwurst: look out for other varieties including Weisswurst (white sausage) and Knackwurst (red-ish sausage).
- Flammkuchen: A simple dish much like pizza, with a thin buttom crust plus cheese, sauce, and other topping.
- Quarkbällchen: Small balls of Quark (a fresh German cheese somwhere between cream cheese and sour cream) are deep fried and coated in sugar. Extremely tasty!
- Lebkuchen: The original gingerbread, you can’t miss it.
- Candied/roasted nuts: You’ll find every kind of nut from almond to macademia to chestnut.
What to drink
- Glühwein: Hot, spiced wine will warm you up on a cold December night. Red is typical, but sometimes you can find a white and it is quite good! They also offer Kinderpunsch (non-alcoholic) for kids or non-drinkers.
- Eierpunsch: Translated as “egg punch”, this warm drink is a little bit like egg nog. Watch out: it is very alcoholic.
- Hot cocoa: A seasonal staple, you can’t go wrong with some cocoa.
- Everything mit Schuss: In case your drink doesn’t already have enough Christmas cheer, Germans like to serve all of the above mit Schuss (with a shot). Our favorite is amaretto, but rum is also very good.
What to bring home
- Ornaments: You’ll find lots of things to put on a Christmas tree. Keep an eye out for handmade wooden ones.
- Stars: These unique light-up stars add some magic to the season.
- Nativity scenes: Fill our your existing scenes or start a new one with lots of cute miniatures. Again, watch for handmade artifacts.
- Toys: There is a long history of handmade wooden toys in Germany. A great present for your kids, or anyone young-at-heart.
Tips and tricks
- Bring plenty of cash. Many vendors won’t accept cards.
- Hold on to your glasses. You’ll pay a few euro Pfand (deposit) for them. Typically, you can return them at any stall for a refund, but some markets have different glasses for each vendor. Or you can keep them as a souvenir.
- Split food. There will be so many tasty treats to try, you don’t want to fill up too soon!
- Take a turn about the whole market to see what is there before you commit to any stall.
- Dress warm, you might be out in the cold for a few hours.
- Be prepared for crowds. Going on a weekday night definitely helps, if you can manage it.
- Give yourself time to just wander around and soak in the Christmas cheer.
Where we’re going this year
Last year, we hit up Munich for the Christmas markets, as well as a few in Berlin. This year, we’ll revisit some favorites and add new ones to the agenda:
- Gendarmenmarkt: One of our favorite Christmas markets in Berlin is in a square flanked by the Konzerthaus and two beautiful churches. This market is fairly traditional with lots of delicious food.
- Alexanderplatz and Potsdamer Platz: These markets are in central Berlin, and while they’re a little cheesy and touristy, it’s hard to say no to something so central, and glühwein is good no matter where you have it.
- Dresden: We are planning to visit Dresden for this first time to catch Germany’s oldest Christmas market. We’re looking forward to trying their special Stollen (Christmas cake) and seeing the world’s tallest Christmas pyramid and the biggest nutcracker. It sounds magical!
- Kulturbrauerei: Just around the corner from our home, this market is more traditionally Scandinavian and absolutely beautiful.
Have you visited German Christmas markets? What are your tips? Where should we hit up this year?
Let us know in the comments!
-Colin and Katarina