5 Essential 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

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Christmas markets in Germany

When it comes to Christmas markets in Europe, no one does them better than Germany. Which makes sense, since the Germans pretty much invented them.

The Christmas market – also known as the Christkindlmarkt (Christ child market) or Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Eve market) – is a tradition that began in the German-speaking parts of Europe way back in the Middle Ages. There were special winter markets mentioned way back in the 1300s!

The markets celebrate the Christmas season during Advent, the four weeks leading up to the holiday. They're known today for festive stands selling regional treats and crafts, and for exuding all sorts of Christmas-y cheer.

Freiburg Christmas market

Things to do at a German Christmas market

One magical December, I spent an entire week Christmas market-hopping mostly in Germany. It's still one of my favorite trips I've ever taken!

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:

1. Pick up some decorations

German Christmas market
Wooden decorations for sale

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 if you're looking for unique gifts for friends and family), keep an eye out for hand-made ornaments, nutcrackers, Santas, and more.

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

2. Drink glühwein

Christmas market in Speyer, Germany
Christmas market in Speyer

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!

3. Collect market mugs

Gluhwein mug at Cologne Christmas market
Market mug in Cologne

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! 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… #sorrynotsorry

4. Eat Christmas 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!

5. 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!

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

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

Christmas market in Rudesheim, Germany
Rüdesheim, Germany at Christmas

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

READ NEXT: 23 of the Best Christmas Markets to Visit in Germany

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

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Things you have to do at a German Christmas market #ChristmasMarket #Europe #Germany

"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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51 Comments on “5 Essential Things You Must Do at a German Christmas Market

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  1. Haven’t been to a German christmas market. But have been to christmas markets in Vienna and Budapest. Germany next on my christmas market wish list.. My daughter and I collected several mugs from the christmas markets we visited. Bring on the next. Happy travels everyone.

      Collecting those mugs is so fun! I have about half a dozen of them that I always use around Christmas time at home!

    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!

    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!

    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.

    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

    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!

    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! 🙂

    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!

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