German Christmas Markets: Everything You Need To Know

Undoubtedly, Germany is home to some of the best Christmas traditions in the world!

So to those of you, Christmas markets lovers, wondering how exactly a German Christmas market looks like, what you can do, and what fun things you can experience there, this is everything you need to know about German Christmas markets!

German Christmas Markets

For some people, winter is probably the worst time of the year. Days get shorter, the sun briefly shines, and it’s dark already in the middle of the afternoon.

For others, this is their favourite season. They look forward to the festive music, the bright lights of the Christmas decorations, the fun winter activities, and the nice times spent at Christmas markets.

German Christmas Market - Dresden
One of the most famous German Christmas markets is in Dresden

The Food: You Can’t Explore German Christmas Markets On An Empty Stomach

Start your visit by filling your belly with delicious meals. Don’t worry about the calories, your body needs the energy to stay warm!

  • Sausages: it is hard to believe this and I’ve been actually asked multiple times if “Wurst” is a real thing or just a myth. No, they’re not a myth, and there are in fact sausages which are half a meter long! While it’s not a typical Christmas market food, since they are present at most Christmas markets, I cannot avoid mentioning them. And to be honest, I can’t devour a 1/2 m Wurst in summer, but in winter that’s a whole other story.
  • Game: the best part of this season for all the foodies out there is that it’s game season! No, not Game Of Thrones, or any other game – game as in deer, wild pig, rabbit, etc. delicious meats. Eating a sausage made of game meat, or any other game meat dish is one of the best food experiences at a German Christmas market!
German Christmas Markets Food - Ochsenbraten in Dresden
A whole ox on a skewer at the Christmas market in Dresden
  • Soups: one way to keep you warm during the cold winter evenings, is to try the soups. Many Christmas markets in Germany offer different kinds of soups to chase the hunger and kill the cold at the same time (for other more fun ways to stay warm, read on).
  • Meat: did I mention, that there’s just lots of meat at Christmas markets? Germans love to eat meat, so it’s no surprise that you’ll find lots and lots of it during the holiday season. Whole pigs on a skew or just the legs are typical for any gathering. Huge grills are covered in smoking steaks, sausages and skewers.
  • Fish: marinated herrings, Backfisch (deep fried fish in a dough), smoked salmon are just a few of the varieties you can find at every German market during every season, including around Christmas.
  • Baked goods: the smell of hand-made freshly baked bread, pastries, Bretzels and all kind of baked dough with or without toppings will tease you perhaps even more than the smell of grilled meat.
  • Nuts and sweets: after a hearty meaty meal, a handful of freshly caramelized nuts or sweets is all you need. Or perhaps a sugar apple or chocolate covered fruits? At any German Christmas market, you’ll find plenty of those.
Nuts and Sweets - Dortmund
Vendor selling nuts and sweets at the Christmas market in Dortmund

The Drinks: The Most Fun Way To Keep Yourself Warm And Wash Down The Food At A German Christmas Market

After a hearty meal, wash it down with a nice warm drink. It’s going to be a long evening, so keeping warm is a must if you’re trying to have fun.

  • Glühwein (mulled wine): that’s a must at any Christmas market! If there’s one thing you do at a German Christmas market, it should be drinking a smoking hot mug of mulled wine. Every market offers it and bigger ones even have their own mugs with the Christmas market’s logo on them. Since these mugs make for great souvenirs, vendors charge you a fee which will be refunded upon receiving your empty cup. Usually, Glühwein is made of red wine with herbs and sugar, but if that’s too ordinary for you, there are also fruit flavoured mulled wines. Adding a sip of rum, schnapps or liquor will give your hot mulled wine an extra kick to fight back the cold.
Bonfire - Bochum
Drinking Glühwein and keeping warm at the bonfire in Bochum
  • Glühbier (mulled beer): it’s a rather new drink, a Belgian invention. Not my favourite, I must admit, although I’m a beer lover. But hey, everyone’s different, so try it and it might just turn into your favourite drink!
  • Beer: goes without saying that everywhere in Germany beer is consumed in large amounts. Yes, even at Christmas markets, despite the temperatures. You can usually find at least two types of beer at every market. Sorts vary depending on the region where you are visiting a Christmas market.
  • Punsch: different hot sweet mixtures are offered, but the classic is Eierlikör Punsch (eggs liquor or advocaat).
  • Feuerzangenbowle: mulled wine with a rum-soaked sugarloaf, set on fire, dripping in the bowl.
  • Cacao: hot cacao drink is usually considered a kids’ drink. But it’s delicious, so if you’re not drinking alcohol for some reason, try it and you won’t regret it. Ah, and you can actually add an extra kick in it, too, same as in the Glühwein.

The Activities: Your Body And Your Soul Both Need Entertainment At A Christmas Market In Germany

Your body is now warm from the food and the drinks. Now it’s time to enjoy or even take part in some other activities.

  • Concerts and performances: from organ music in the churches to medieval music between stacks of straw, from classical music played by a piano player in the middle of a church square to Peruvian street musicians to children singing Christmas songs, you can hear all varieties of concerts and performances.
  • Ice skate rinks: please go on the ice before you start drinking! Or leave it to the kids. It’s not as easy as you might think to slide after tasting a few mugs of Glühwein.
  • Carousels: who doesn’t love them? Despite the cold, they’re still fun to ride on, even in winter.
  • Bonfires: that’s another fun way to stay warm during your visit to the Christmas market. Add a cup of mulled wine and a nice company and you won’t want to leave the market despite the low temperatures.
Piano Player - Dresden
A piano player performing at a Christmas market in Dresden

The Souvenirs: In Case You Want To Remember This Nice Evening For A Long Time

The classic German Christmas markets souvenir is your Glühwein mug. Simply keep it to remember the night after you finish your drink. For other souvenir ideas, read on:

  • Christmas decorations: of course one of the best places to find decorations for your home during the holidays is on Christmas markets. Here are some ideas about what you can buy:
    • Snow-balls,
    • Christmas tree decorations from glass,
    • Wooden decorations, wooden toys,
    • Candles,
    • Miniature houses,
    • Window decorations: paper stars, glass balls…
Christmas Decorations Souvenirs
Miniature houses are a great Christmas decoration
  • Leather goods: they’re found in most German markets in every season. Some are actually hand-made, while others are just cheap factory products. Still, a wallet with your initials pressed into the leather makes for quite a nice present.
  • Knitted goods: don’t be afraid if you forgot your gloves or your scarf at home. You’ll find a huge variety of knitted goods to keep you warm not only during the Christmas market but through the whole season.

The Decorations: The Cities And Market Vendors Showcase Their Creative Ideas

Look around you – every city and every market stall have given their best to decorate their space in the most creative way possible. Some of the decorations are real gems.

  • Christmas trees: since Germans came first with the idea of decorating Christmas trees, you can bet you’ll find at least one at every Christmas market. The tallest one is in Dortmund and it’s not a single tree but rather a pyramid made of hundreds of pine trees, decorated with Christmas lights and toys.
  • Weihnachtspyramid (Christmas pyramid): this is probably the predecessor of the Christmas tree. They’re rotating carousels, depicting Christmas scenes, decorated with lights. Some are so big, that they host a bar at the ground level!
  • Lots of lights: since it gets dark outside pretty early during the winter months, Christmas markets are beautifully decorated with lots of bright and colourful lights.
  • Lots of Christmas decorations: pine trees, wooden figures, nativity scenes or even live animals can be also found at Christmas markets throughout Germany.
Sausages And Christmas Pyramid - Dortmund
A vendor selling grilled sausages and steaks and a Christmas pyramid with a Glühwein bar in Dortmund

The Most Famous German Christmas Markets: Which Ones You Shouldn’t Miss For The World

Naturally, the most famous Christmas markets are in some of Germany’s biggest cities: Nuremberg, Dresden, Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Dortmund, Frankfurt… Have in mind, that in these cities there are multiple Christmas markets, which are all quite worth a visit – don’t settle for just one!

Don’t miss to visit one of the most picturesque destinations in Germany. The small Bavarian town Rothenburg ob der Tauber looks like taken straight out of a fairy-tale all year long but is even more spectacular at Christmas time.

Christmas Tree - Dortmund
The Christmas tree at the Christmas market in Dortmund is the tallest Christmas tree in Germany

For a list of all locations, opening hours and operating days, visit Weihnachtsmarkt Termine. Even the smallest Christmas market is listed on the website. And if you’re searching for the perfect accommodation, check this list of festive hotels for your Christmas market visit.

Now you know where to go, what to try and what to do at a German Christmas market. Dress warm, go out there and enjoy the holiday season! It’s much better than feeling gloomy and locking yourself in your warm home, believe me.

What’s your favourite Christmas market activity? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. I would really love to try the mulled beer and accompany it with copious amounts of skewed ox! Oh, throw some kartoffeln salad and I am all yours :)

    Cheers for an awesome article, Nade!

    1. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try the ox :( We got stuffed with game Gulasch and there was no place for the ox… But Glühbier we tried and weren’t very excited by it. Definitely sticking to Glühwein!

      I’m not sure if you can find Kartoffelsalat at a Christmas market. I’m a fan of huge Folienkartoffeln from the oven with toppings, those I’ve seen at Christmas markets.


  2. Jimmy Wales says:

    I Would like to follow Your article on these Christmas

    1. Hey Jimmy,

      I hope you’ll have lots of fun on the Christmas markets!


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