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The Most Beautiful Christmas Market in Europe Is Back and Better Than Ever

Having been on hiatus due to COVID, Germany's Christmas markets are back and more festive than ever.

The 2021 Christmas season was disappointing for many people in Europe, with Covid having canceled or diminished the popular Christmas markets in such popular destinations as Vienna, Cologne, and Munich. But a recent visit to Stuttgart, Germany (during Advent season no less),g revealed a busy, inviting city that is enjoying a full range of Christmas markets for the first time since 2019. There is, to say the least, a lot of pent-up demand. But there’s much more to Stuttgart than its popular Christmas market, making it an ideal two- or three-day side-trip from virtually anywhere in Germany or even Paris.

What Makes Stuttgart Different?

The most noteworthy thing about the Christmas market in Stuttgart is that vendors decorate the roofs of their stalls—quite elaborately. (There’s even an award given each year to the “most beautiful stall”.) This tradition also continues into the nearby Ludwigsburg Baroque Christmas Market and Esslingen Medieval Market and Christmas Market (both Ludwigsburg and Esslingen are reachable on Stuttgart’s convenient S-Bahn). It’s something you don’t see elsewhere in Germany.

In Stuttgart, you’ll find four main sections, along the Marktplatz, on nearby Schillerplatz and Karlsplatz, and in the Schlossplatz in front of the city’s main castle. The section in Karlsplatz is the most unique, with a section devoted to antiques, including antique ornaments (some dating back to the early 20th century). A giant Ferris wheel looms over the Schlossplatz to offer a bird’s-eye view of the festivities (or you can take the elevator to the top of the Rathaus Tower on Markplatz (this is free) for a look over the Christmas Market there.

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The markets in Ludwigsburg and Esslingen are both somewhat smaller, but just as festive and busy (but sometimes with slightly cheaper prices). Esslingen is especially cute, housed at the foot of the Medieval-era city walls and hosting period games and amusements (axe-throwing!) and period-garbed vendors. You may feel as if you are at a Renaissance Faire but with much more Christmas.

Other Holiday Attractions to Discover

The Stuttgart Christmas Market isn’t the only activity in the holiday spirit. There’s also a walk-through Christmas light show (called “Christmas Garden”) in the city’s Wilhelma Zoo, easily accessible by U-Bahn.  This attraction is popular enough that timed tickets are required, so buy them in advance.

There are also nightly concerts in the city’s Stiftskirche (€4) or outdoors in the inner courtyard of the Altes Schloss(free).

© Stuttgart-Marketing GmbH, Werner Dieterich

If You Love Cars, This City Is for You

Stuttgart is more famous as a manufacturing base than as a tourist attraction, but two major museums do a lot to ensure that visitors remain satisfied and entertained any time of the year.

The Mercedes-Benz Museum tells both the historical tale of the development of Germany’s first automobile, but you don’t have to be a car aficionado to appreciate everything the museum has to offer. In a dazzling modern building, the museum is filled with examples of German automobile manufacturing know-how (including some beautifully preserved early examples) as well as a noteworthy extensive modern art collection. If you tire of the exhibits, there’s a moderately priced restaurant, a shop, and even new-model German cars on display.

More car-centric is the Porsche Museum, which tells the tale of the main local competitor to Mercedes-Benz. You’ll see plenty of historic cars, racing trophies, and more on the history of Ferdinand Porsche’s cutting-edge use of design both inside and outside his cars. (He was designing hybrid cars as early as 1901.) In addition to the cars on display, there are plenty of interactive attractions that will allow you to drive and experience Porsche technology and innovation; seemingly geared toward children, these exhibits are just as attractive to the automobile fanboys who roam the museum’s halls. And there are opportunities to sit in some of the latest models; you can even rent a Porsche for the day from a desk at the front of the museum, which is also the jumping-off point for factory tours (which must be reserved in advance).

Getting to Stuttgart

Stuttgart has an airport, but there are no direct flights from the U.S. (though Eurowings and British Airways fly from London Heathrow). The most convenient way to get to Stuttgart for most Americans is by train (around 90 minutes from Frankfurt Airport; 45 minutes from Heidelberg; 90 minutes from Strasbourg; 3 hours from Paris; 3 to 4 hours from Zurich). Given its proximity to so many popular destinations, you could easily come to Stuttgart for a long or short weekend trip, or even a day trip from closer destinations in Germany.

Where to Stay

You can find no better location than right off the Marktplatz, and the brand-new Emilu Design Hotel is a great option across the street from City Hall and close to the city’s best shopping and dining. There’s also the more modest Hotel Wartburg in a residential area near the Schlosspark. But car aficionados may be persuaded to make the trek to the suburb Boblingen for the V8 Hotel, a car-themed complex that’s about 20 minutes from the city center.

What to Eat and Drink

There are plenty of restaurants serving the local Swabian cuisine, which includes Maultauschen (meat-filled ravioli like dumplings) and Käsespätzle (literally “noodles and cheese” and tasting remarkably like American macaroni and cheese, usually served with a green salad). One of the best is Alte Kanzlei, but you can also find local specialties and more at the convenient Ratskeller, or the more quaint Weinhaus Stetter, a short walk from the Marktplatz.