The holiday season in Europe is like a fairytale. It’s a magical time of year made even more special by the enchanting Christmas markets you’ll find all over Europe, from Croatia to Copenhagen. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience for the whole family.
Christmas Markets originated in Germany back in the 14th century, although the Vienna, Austria “December market” started in 1294 and was a kind of Christmas market. Initially, the fairs provided only food and supplies for the cold winter season, but they soon became a holiday tradition.
Starting on Advent at the end of November and continuing until noon on Christmas Eve, they are also called Christkindlmarkt (meaning “Christ child market) or Weihnachtsmarkt.
In our opinion, nobody does Christmas like Germany!
THE CHRISTMAS MARKET EXPERIENCE
Villages, towns, and cities across Germany come to life for the festivities, each with its own traditions and flair. Stroll through the decorated markets full of wooden chalet stalls, twinkly lights, and the scents of delicious local food like Lebkuchen (gingerbread), Stollen (traditional German Christmas bread), and Bratwurst; warm local beverages like Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and Eierpunsch (eggnog like). Be sure to collect the mugs!
The markets are wonderful for holiday shopping for gifts and for yourself – glass ornaments, handcrafted wooden toys and ornaments, beeswax candles, cookie ornaments, hand-made nutcrackers, engravers, clockmakers, Nuremberg Plum People (tiny puppets made of prunes, figs, and walnuts seen as good luck during the holidays) just to name a few.
Each market also hosts entertainment throughout the season like live music and carolers and kids’ activities like storytimes and visits from St Nicholas.
CHRISTKINDLMARKTS ACROSS GERMANY
Dresden’s Striezelmarkt dates to 1424, making it Germany’s oldest continuously running Christmas market and one of the largest in Germany. The favorites are the annual 45-foot-high Christmas pyramid and the stollen, buttery fruit cake dusted with powdered sugar.
Nuremberg’s first official records date to 1628. With over 2M shoppers each year, it’s one of the world’s most popular. A highlight for families is the big Nurnberger Kinderweihnact (Kids Christmas Market) with kids’ actitivities, booths, and rides.
Regensburg, the beautiful town in the heart of Bavaria (southeastern part of the country), is one of our favorite Christmas market towns to visit. The markets in what is Germany’s best-preserved medieval city are only the beginning.
Just outside the city, you’ll find Christmas in a medieval fairytale…the Romantic Christmas Market at the Thurn und Taxis Castle. Around the castle grounds, torches light the way to enjoy wooden huts of original vendors with hand-made crafts, traditional Regensburger Knackersemmel (a type of sausage from Regensburg served in a bread cake), and Altoberpfälzer Weihnachstzwiebel (fried onions in a batter made from a traditional Christmas recipe which originates from the region north of Regensburg).
Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city behind Berlin in the northern part of the country, is our favorite German Christmas Market City. It tops the list for the best food, stalls, decor, entertainment, and shopping.
There are 30 Weihnacthsmarkts across the city, with many of the main markets concentrated within easy walking distance in the Altstadt, old town. The prettiest is set just outside Hamburg’s Rathausmarkt Square, the impressive neo-Renaissance architecture city hall completed in 1897. We loved to hang out at Schlüters Alpenwelt’s giant alpine stall for delicious local food, authentic music, and warm beverages!
We’ve bought lovely gifts here, including hand-made wooden ornaments, hand-made wooden lanterns, wooden toys, and jewelry. A favorite for the kids is the evening entertainment of Santa Claus flying his reindeer sleigh high above the Christmas Market cottages.
HOW TO SEE THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS
Taking a river cruise can be a fantastic way to experience Christmas markets. AmaWaterways creates festive holiday experiences onboard the beautiful ships decked out for the holidays. You get to enjoy cruising the Rhine or Danube Rivers to get from market to market in luxury.
If you prefer staying on land and want someone guiding your way, a small group tour is a great way to experience the markets in several cities.
Or you can work with your local Travel Agent to map out your own itinerary to the markets your family most wants to see.
Christmas Market Adventure Awaits!