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Spice Up Winter at These 10 Iconic German Christmas Markets

PHOTO: picturetom / Shutterstock

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All the hallmarks of your favorite yuletide carols can be found at Germany’s Christmas markets, including chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Add spiced mulled wine, sizzling bratwurst, artisanal crafts, and wintertime activities and you’re on your way to getting into the Christmas spirit German-style, one merry market at a time. From late November to late December, town squares across the country are filled with vendors and food stalls.

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Stuttgart Christmas Market

WHERE: Stuttgart, Germany

Known among locals as the Stuttgarter Weihnachstmarkt, this market is one of the oldest and most traditional in the country, dating back to as early as 1692. A miniature railway, an ice rink, and more than 290 pavilions crowd Schillerplatz, the city’s old square, and spill out toward Marketplatz, passing the imposing Gothic Stiftskirche Church. In the other direction, an antique collector’s fair and a Finnish market fill Karlsplatz with wafts of warm Scandinavian glögi (spiced wine) and sautéed reindeer meat rising in the shadow of the baroque Neues Schloss castle.

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PHOTO: Elena Krivorotova / Shuttershock
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Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz

WHERE: Berlin, Germany

More than 50 Christmas markets pop up across Berlin during the Advent season, but Potsdamer Platz’s fest claims global dominance. The main attraction at this wonderland is the rodelbahn, Europe’s largest mobile toboggan run, traversing 230 feet and offering a view of Brandenburg Gate from its peak. Revelers can also attempt camel spins and salchows on the large open-air ice rink in front of Stage Theater, or partake in a game of eisstockschießen, a German ice sport akin to curling. Look out for the chalet made from 180-year-old Austrian hut wood, which serves Salzburg snacks and hosts an après ski DJ party regularly after 7 p.m.

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Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market

WHERE: Black Forest, Germany

A mini Christmas village forms in the steeply wooded highlands of the Black Forest, one hour by car from Freiburg. Revelers can sign up for a night-time torch lit trek to the Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market, which sits at the base of the Ravenna Gorge under the dramatic 130-foot arches of the Devil’s Valley Railway viaducts, illuminated in bright winter lights. Forty tiny cabins line the market pathways, showcasing artisanal specialties from the region such as cuckoo clocks and, of course, the famous cherry-topped Black Forest sponge cake.

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PHOTO: Rothenburg Tourismus Service, Pfitzinger
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Reiterlesmarkt

WHERE: Rothenburg, Germany

The star of medieval Rothenburg’s Christmas market isn’t Santa Claus, although he does make the rounds, handing out sweets to children. On the opening night, attendees vie for a sight of Reiterle (who gives the market its name), a figure of mysterious origins that’s believed to be a messenger of the dead. On Fridays and Saturdays, the compact market can be viewed from on high in the Town Hall tower, where you may just hear the town crier shouting out the news. Upon descent, the Rotherburg Snowball—fried pastry rolls, iced and filled with different toppings—makes for a sweet reward.

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PHOTO: Tourisms & Events Ludwigsburg
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Baroque Christmas Market

WHERE: Ludwigsburg, Germany

Glimmering arcades, garlanded arches, and two baroque churches frame the main town square that fills up each season with more than 175 booths lit like lanterns for Ludwigsburg’s Baroque Christmas Market. In the inner market, the city’s signature décor—tall, twinkling angel wings, add an air of otherworldly magic. A daily program offers a lineup of performances packed with merriment for the little ones, featuring clowns, puppets, and marionettes. For the adults, shopping, music, and rich Schwabian dishes promise to warm the heart and body.

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PHOTO: Ecaterina Glazcova / Shutterstock
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Medieval Christmas Market

WHERE: Esslingen am Neckar, Germany

Travel back in time to the Middle Ages at Esslingen am Neckar’s medieval market. Rub shoulders with minstrels, jesters, fauns, and fairies while strolling amidst half-timbered houses and taking in the ancient craftsmanship and wares of local merchants. Entertainment abounds with folk performances on the main stage, overhead tightrope walkers, fire-eaters and dancers warming the crowds, and a charivari parade with a wild “serenade” capping each afternoon. Stop by the Wilden Hahn tavern for hot berry wine, warm spiced beer, or honey sweet mead, and pair it with a hearty goulash or traditional rahmfleck á la heurekaner—ham and gouda-filled rye bread rolls.

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PHOTO: Photopassjonata / Dreamstime
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Christkindlesmarkt

WHERE: Nuremberg, Germany

It’s all about the food at this northern Bavarian city’s festive Christkindlesmarkt. From oversized Nuremberg gingerbread cookies to drei im weggla, three sausages rolled into a bun, there are plenty of local goodies to warm the belly. Star-spotting merrymakers should also be on the lookout for Christmaskind, a fictional gift giver dating back to 16th century Luther traditions, recognizable thanks to her white and gold dress, long blond locks, and tall golden crown.

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Marienplatz Christmas Market

WHERE: Munich, Germany

In the heart of Munich’s old town, the city’s central Marienplatz Christmas Market encompasses many of key historic highlights, from Altes Rathaus, the old town hall, to the new town hall with its famous tower and glockenspiel cuckoo clock. Bavarian delicacies on offer include homemade bratwurst, grilled salmon, piping hot mulled beer, and seasonal treats like kletzenbrot, honey bread made with fruits and nuts, and fatschnkindl, a pastry shaped as Jesus in the manger. Watch out for the run of the Krampusses, a 500-year-old tradition that sees the horned and hairy half-goat, half-demon assistants to Saint Nick (as goes the folktale) dash through the Marienplatz on two occasions during the festival.

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Christmas Market on Frauenchiemsee

WHERE: Chiemsee Lake, Germany

The Christmas Market on Frauenchiemsee is the only island market in Germany, requiring a ferryboat ride from Prien across Chiemsee Lake. The small and quiet island is home to a Benedictine monastery but transforms into a winter wonderland during the advent period, with alpine concerts, wood-carved figurines, and mulled wine. Surrounded by the Bavarian Alps, the lake has long been a harbor for German elite, including King Ludwig II of Bavaria who erected the Versailles-inspired Herrenchiemsee New Palace on a neighboring island.

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Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market

WHERE: Cologne, Germany

More than 150 red-roofed wooden stalls cram into Roncalliplatz Square under a starry canopy of lights, with the UNESCO-protected Cologne Cathedral’s elaborate Gothic façade presiding over the festivities. Known as the Market of Hearts, at the center of Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market sits a towering fir tree, gleaming in more than 50,000 lights. In a tiny twist on the market tradition, mulled wine is served in mugs shaped like Santa’s boot.