5 Things You Must Do at a German Christmas Market

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Each year in November and December, many cities throughout Europe celebrate the holiday season with a very old tradition: Christmas markets.

These markets are characterized by wooden huts, twinkle lights, regional foods, Christmas trinkets, and a festive spirit that has made these markets popular all around the world. Christmas markets generally coincide with Advent, beginning four weeks before Christmas, and usually lasting up until Christmas Eve.

And nowhere are these markets more popular than in Germany, where the Christmas market tradition has been a holiday staple for centuries.

Cologne Cathedral Christmas market
Cologne Cathedral Christmas market

Last December, I spent a week Christmas market-hopping mostly in Germany. If you find yourself at any of these amazing markets this year (or any that are German-inspired elsewhere in the world), here are five things you absolutely have to do:

5. Pick up some decorations

German Christmas market

While it's true that some market stalls these days sell cheap trinkets made in China, the best German Christmas markets still have hand-made decorations for sale, too. If you're looking for something special to take home to remember your Christmas Market adventure (or maybe looking for unique gifts for friends and family), keep an eye out for hand-made ornaments, nutcrackers, Santas, and more.

4. Buy some Lebkuchen

German Christmas market
See the hanging hearts? Those are Lebkuchen!

Along with ornaments and other Christmas knick-knacks, a feature you'll notice at just about every single Christmas market you visit will be Lebkuchen. These are large round or heart-shaped cookies decorated with frosting and wrapped up in plastic, often displayed hanging from the eaves of market stalls. They are essentially a type of gingerbread that often include things like honey, coriander, cloves, cardamom, nuts, and candied fruit.

To be perfectly honest, I think Lebkuchen looks a lot better than it tastes, but it's still a Christmas market must!

3. Eat market food

Reibekuchen in Germany
Kartoffelpuffer/Reibekuchen with applesauce

Speaking of food, you'll definitely want to visit German Christmas markets with an appetite! The food on offer will differ from market to market, but a couple of things you're almost certain to find include sausages and Kartoffelpuffer/Reibekuchen (or potato pancakes). Also keep an eye out for Spätzle (egg noodles) and Stollen (fruit cake). My favorite market food is definitely Kartoffelpuffer with applesauce!

2. Drink glühwein

Christmas market in Speyer, Germany

Glühwein is a Christmas market staple, and is essentially a hot mulled wine spiced with things like cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and citrus fruit. Red glühwein is the most common, but you can also find white glühwein and occasionally a non-alcoholic version that's close to hot apple cider. (And for the kids you can almost always get hot chocolate, too.)

I'm not a big fan of wine (or any alcohol, for that matter), but I do have to say that glühwein done correctly can be quite tasty!

1. Collect market mugs

Gluhwein mug at Cologne Christmas market

And speaking of all that glühwein you'll be drinking… in Germany, nearly every city (and sometimes even every market) will serve its glühwein in a collectible market mug. Some of these are beautiful and festive, and they make great souvenirs.

When you order your glühwein (or cider or hot chocolate), you'll pay for both the wine and a deposit on the mug. If you return the mug, you'll get your deposit back. But if you want to keep your mug for the price of the deposit, you can take it home as a souvenir. And the good news? A mug deposit is usually only 2-4 Euro, making these mugs great value as souvenirs!

Mug of Gluhwein

I told myself I would just keep one or two mugs on my first Christmas market trip in Germany… and then ended up coming home with five! Oops…

RELATED: 23 Photos That Will Make You Want to Go to a European Christmas Market Right Now

If you're considering your own Christmas market-hopping trip this year (or any other year), some of Germany's best Christmas market cities include:

  • Nuremberg
  • Cologne
  • Dresden
  • Freiburg
  • Stuttgart
Christmas market in Rudesheim, Germany
Rüdesheim, Germany at Christmas

I also loved the Christmas markets in smaller towns like Speyer, Heidelberg, and Rüdesheim.

Just be sure to leave room in your suitcase for all those market mugs!

Have you ever been to any of Germany's famous Christmas markets?

 

Things you have to do at a German Christmas market

 

*Note: I visited many of these markets last year on a Christmas market-focused river cruise with Viking River Cruises. As always, though, opinions (and market mug obsession) are 100% my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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45 Comments on “5 Things You Must Do at a German Christmas Market

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  1. I can’t wait for Christmas market season to begin – just a few more weeks to go! Personally, I’m a big fan of gebrannte Mandeln (roasted almonds coated in sugar glaze), Baumstriezel (apparently called “spit cake” in English?), and, of course, Glühwein.

      Oooo yes roasted, sugared almonds are SO good! I wish the US had more Christmas markets – they’re so fun!

    I collect mugs as it is, so I know I would end up going home with a bunch of market mugs. They’re so cute!

      Oh man, you could go crazy with mugs! In Cologne, there are eight different markets, and last year each one had its own unique mug!

    I went to a Christmas Market in Frankfurt when I was 11 years old. It is one of my favourite memories of that trip to Germany with my family so many years ago. My favourite treat from the market was a cone full of brightly coloured candy called kokosflocken.

      Thinking back on my first German Christmas market experience still gives me all those warm fuzzy holiday feelings, too!

    Ahh, glühwein is a must! I’ve never been in Germany during the holiday season, but that doesn’t stop me from making my own glühwein at home – it’s Christmas in a cup!

      Definitely a must – I may have to try to make some this year so I can put all those mugs I brought home to their proper use!

    We leave in two weeks for a Danube cruise. The Nuremburg market won’t be open yet, but I think others along our journey will!! Can’t wait!

      Most of them will start opening around November 24/25 this year – I hope you get to experience at least one or two!

    I do all of these:) I have a couple of nice mugs from Austrian Christmas markets:)

      I was bummed when I crossed over into France and they didn’t have the pretty glass souvenir mugs!

    Lovely tips! I love Christmas! It’s about the only holiday where I splurge a little.

      It’s one of my favorite times of year, too, and I loved it even more last year when I was visiting so many Christmas markets!

    This is great timing for me as I’m off to Berlin next month to take my boyfriend to his first Christmas market. I know it’s not rated as one of the best, ,but it’s his first time in Germany so I thought it would be a great way to let him see a bit of Berlin as well as fill his Christmassy needs!

      Sounds like a great plan! Berlin is an awesome city, Christmas markets or no!

    I love Christmas markets! Last year I vowed to visit more (I visited one in Maastricht and Dusseldorf) but it looks like my November/December will look different as planned. I’ll actually be in India over the holidays. I do have a trip to Geneva planned, let’s hope they have a christmas market there 🙂

      Thankfully they are a very popular tradition with a long history – the Christmas markets will definitely still be there next year! 🙂

    Yes, yes, and YES! I am so excited for the markets to open up. My favorite mugs are those that look like they’re made out of clay, but I’ve also got a cute heart-shaped one from the Vienna christmas market, so there are a lot of factors to consider 😀 I have to say though, you missed Berlin in your list, which has over 100 Christmas markets! 😉

      Sounds like I definitely need to get to Berlin one of these holiday seasons!

    Great tips! We’ll be in Europe for Christmas this year and are definitely looking forward to our first trip to the Christmas markets. I’m already daydreaming about all the delicious treats!

      Definitely be sure to go hungry!

    I love German Christmas markets! I was so happy to be in Germany over Christmas last year. I’m not at all a fan of Gluehwein but I agree with everything else xD I also love roasted almonds, I can never find those anywhere in the States.

      Gluhwein is an acquired taste, I think. I did try a mug of each kind (red and white), but I much preferred getting hot chocolate or hot cider!

    I love the food at German Christmas Markets – and collecting the cups – can’t wait to hit up on (or many) this year!

    Kate | http://www.petiteadventures.org/

      If I lived there I would need a whole cupboard just for market mugs, I think! Haha!

    I usually go the one is Chicago, but I’m sure it’s not has exciting as the ones in Europe!

      I’ve heard the ones in Chicago are pretty good! But nothing like the real thing. 😉

    I lived in Germany for 4 years, and really miss the Christmas markets! They do have German markets in the UK as well, but they’re way more expensive and never quite the same.

    I agree that Lebkuchen look a lot better than they taste! Wasn’t a massive fan of Gluehwein until I tried it with an extra shot of Amaretto, which is amazing! Although not a good choice when you’re on your lunch break and have to go back to work in the afternoon…

      There are some cities that put on Christmas markets in the US, too, but they aren’t really the same as the “real thing” either!

    I actually haven’t been to a Christmas Market in Germany even though I live close by!
    But I am going to Cologne this December for a concert so I have no excuse on not going! haha. Thanks for reminding me 🙂

      You should definitely go! Cologne has eight different markets dotted all around the city, so I’m sure you’ll run into at least one or two of them!

    This list is perfect! I went to Germany for Christmas back in 2013 and I couldn’t wait to visit the Christmas markets. I’m not a wine drinker, but I enjoyed the glühwein. I went to 6 different cities, including Nürnberg and München. I bought the Christmas decorations, ate the food and collected the mugs.

      Sounds like you checked everything off this list then, Joan! 🙂

    Christmas markets are the best! We visited in Munich last year – I can’t wait to check out more in Germany in the future!

      Same! I really enjoyed the markets I visited last year, but there are still so many that I want to see!

    DRINK GLÜHWEIN and COLLECT CHRISTMAS MUGS can be done at the same time. Two birds with one stone so to speak. 🙂 Great article Amanda.

    Carl Kruse

    I love Christmas markets. If you ever make it to my hometown of Manchester at this time of year, we have a great Christmas market. It seems to get bigger and better every year. It is a bit on the expensive side, but still great to spend a few hours wandering around and getting some lunch and of course some gluhwein. And we have collectible mugs too.

      Awesome! Do you follow Helen from Helen in Wonderlust? She was at the Manchester market just recently and posted some things on Snapchat – it looks like a great Christmas market!

        No, but I’ll look her up. I took loads of photos last weekend which I intend turning into a blog post. It’ll be interesting to see what her take on it is, thanks for the tip.

    We’re visiting Hamburg & Bremen in December and are SO excited for the Christmas Markets! Being from the states, this is a totally foreign concept to me. I can’t wait!

      I mean, everyone is different of course, but I think it’s safe to say: you’re going to love it!

    We loved our AMAWaterways Christmas market cruise on the Danube in 2014! Every market (except Vienna…plastic junk from China) was great. Regensburg, Salzburg and Linz were special. On our own we visited Augsburg and Munich they were very special and big! Don’t forget warm eggnog with rum…OH MY GAWD, sooooooo good!

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