How to Plan a German Christmas Market Trip

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Last year, I spent a week hopping around Germany’s Bavaria region in December, exploring several different Christmas markets. What a great trip! I knew I’d have fun, but I was genuinely surprised at what a relaxing and delightful week it was. How could you not enjoy a week of holiday spirit, mulled wine, and delicious food?

At the time I wrote a post showcasing my favorite parts of the trip, but I pointed out that it was December and it would make more sense to publish a trip planning post in September or so. And here we are!

Why plan a German Christmas markets trip?

I’m not super-big on Christmas. As an American, I find that most of our country’s Christmas events revolve around two things: children and consumerism. If it’s not about Santa and reindeer taking center stage, it’s about trying to get you to spend as much money as possible, stressed-out shoppers swarming as cheesy Christmas music blasts in every direction. (I like exactly one Christmas song and it’s “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway. “Dominick the Donkey” can jump off a cliff and die.)

If you’re looking for an adult-oriented Christmas activity, your two choices are watching Love, Actually and drinking your face off at an office Christmas party.

That’s not the case in Germany. German Christmas markets are located in virtually every town. Though they have their share of children’s sections and goods for sale, these markets are first and foremost for adults looking to have a good time. They’re about eating delicious food, munching on lebkuchen (gingerbread) and drinking glühwein (mulled wine) or kinderpunsch (nonalcoholic fruit punch). They’re about spending a jolly good time with your friends — but they’re not about getting drunk.

My German friends tell me that starting in late November, nobody goes out to bars — everyone just meets at the market!

Here are my tips for planning a German Christmas markets trip:

Spend time researching the best Christmas markets in Germany.

If you’re planning a Christmas markets trip, make sure to hit up one of the best ones. I encourage you to do your own research and see what appeals to you personally, but here are some of the notable ones:

Nuremberg is home to the largest Christmas market in the world.

Dresden is home to the oldest Christmas market in the world.

Berlin has more than 60 different Christmas markets; Munich has more than 30.

Konstanz is famous for its stunning location on the banks of Lake Constance, the Alps in the background.

There are LGBT-oriented Pink Markets in Munich, Frankfurt, and Cologne.

Plan a trip between late November and December 23.

Germany’s Christmas markets usually start around November 20-25 or so, and the final date is almost always December 23, as Germans celebrate Christmas on December 24. Double-check the dates before you book your trip. Whatever you do, don’t come to Germany and expect markets to stick around after Christmas!

Concentrate on one region in Germany and explore it in depth.

As tempting as it may be to cover Germany from corner to corner, I recommend planning a trip concentrated on one region. Distances will be shorter, but there will still be a lot of variety in the cities and towns you visit, and you’ll get to know the nuances of a region and the slight variations in the different towns.

I recommend basing from two or three cities and using the train to make day trips.

Get a German Rail Pass.

Take it from me — the best way to travel Germany is by train! I absolutely love traveling Europe by train and Germany has some of the nicest trains on the continent.

Getting a German Rail Pass can be a great way to save money. You can either get a pass that covers 3-15 days of unlimited travel or get 3-15 days of train travel within a month. I recommend the latter. For my trip (see the itinerary below), a pass for 5 days of rail within a month would cover all the trains I needed.

In Germany you don’t need to book reservations on most trains, so you can simply show up at the station, hop on a train, and show your pass to the conductor when he or she comes by. That’s a big difference from France or Spain, where you often have to book trains in advance and pay a supplemental fee, even with a pass.

Even so, it’s a good idea to plan out your journeys in advance and price them out on bahn.de, Germany’s rail site. It might be cheaper to buy tickets individually or just buy the rail pass to cover the long journeys while paying for cheap short journeys out of pocket.

Visit small towns as well as cities.

Over the years I’ve noticed that American tourists visiting Europe tend to travel from major city to major city, concentrating on the big names and ignoring the smaller towns. European tourists are different, however — they tend to visit one major city and travel around the surrounding region. For exploring Christmas markets, take the European approach.

Many of my German friends tell me they prefer the Christmas markets in smaller cities, as they tend to be less congested.

Don’t think that for a Germany trip you need to visit Munich, Berlin, and Hamburg. You could concentrate on Munich and visit Augsburg, Regensburg, Passau, and Nuremberg. You could concentrate on Berlin and visit Potsdam, Leipzig, and Dresden. You could concentrate on Hamburg and visit Lübeck and Bremen.

As much as I enjoyed Bamberg and Passau, I haven’t visited as many small towns in Germany as I’d have liked to — some high on my list are Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Quedlinburg, and Trier.

Try each town’s local delicacies.

Each German town has its own food specialties, whether it’s a certain kind of sausage or a baked good you’d struggle to find elsewhere. Try them all! Any dish that has the name of the town in it is usually a local dish. Not sure? Ask! Most Germans speak at least a little bit of English and all Germans are eager to show off their towns.

Each town has its own handicrafts, too. The prune people, pictured above, are a specialty of Nuremberg and can be found throughout Bavaria.

Dress warmly and wear good shoes.

The forecast might not look too cold, especially if you’re used to freezing winters, but the cold compounds when you’re outside for hours at a time. Likewise, you’ll be standing for hours, and you’ll want your feet to be as comfortable as possible. This is a trip for your heaviest winter coat, gloves, scarves, hats, thick socks.

I am a huge fan of Speakeasy Travel Supply scarves, which have a secret passport pocket and are ideal for travel. Get 10% off with the code ADVKATE.

Consider investing in smartphone gloves, which allow you to keep your fingers warm while Instagramming away.

For shoes, you don’t have to wear sneakers — but wear shoes that are warm and have good support. I wore knee-high leather boots most days.

Collect the glühwein mugs!

Glühwein is the primary beverage of German Christmas markets, and each year, the cities create new designs for their mugs. When you order glühwein, you pay a small deposit for the mug — usually around two euros. You can return the mug if you’d like and get your deposit back, or you can keep it! They make great souvenirs to bring home.

I would love to have a Christmas party at my place this year. We’ll see if that actually happens, but if I do, I am going to have everyone drinking out of my glühwein mugs!

If you see something weird…buy it!

You’ll see the occasional weird and awesome item for sale at a Christmas market, buy it! Don’t assume you can find one in the next town — you might not see another one again. And I guarantee you will find a use for it, or a friend for whom it’s a perfect gift.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t buy any of the hunky merman ornaments for sale at the Pink Market in Munich. At the time, I told myself, “What are you even going to do with that, Kate?” Well, I bet you I would have found a use for it!

My Bavaria Christmas Market Itinerary

Last year I traveled around Bavaria, which is a beautiful part of Germany. I joke that Bavaria is the “Texas of Germany” — it’s home to traditions like beer steins and lederhosen that people tend to associate with all of Germany but happen to be Bavarian, not German. You see lederhosen in Berlin about as often as you see cowboy hats in New York — it’s not a thing there.

Bavaria is absolutely gorgeous, though. Rolling hills and rivers in the countryside. Pastel-colored old towns. Gothic churches. And plenty of biergartens and beer halls! Bavaria by no means represents all of Germany, but if you want to concentrate on one region, it’s a terrific choice. Here was my itinerary:

  • Two nights in Munich spent at a conference
  • Three nights in Nuremberg, including a day trip to Bamberg
  • One night in Regensburg
  • One night in Passau
  • One more night in Munich

This itinerary worked well, but I’m not the biggest fan of switching accommodation frequently, so I would recommend spending two nights in Regensburg and doing a day trip to Passau instead. Another Bavarian city that I love is Augsburg; I recommend adding it to your itinerary if you have extra time.

Essential Info: I flew in and out of Munich and traveled by train throughout Bavaria. My tickets were  purchased a la carte, but you might save money with a Eurail (non-EU resident) or Interrail (EU resident) pass or the German Rail Pass, which is strictly for Germany. I recommend pricing out your legs and comparing the total cost. Don’t forget day trips! Germany is one of the best countries to use rail passes because you almost never have to pay additional reservation fees for the fast trains, unlike France, Italy, and Spain. Plus, if you’re over 26, you’re automatically in first class.

For a Christmas market trip or a trip where you’re doing lots of day trips, I find it best to stay in a hotel within a short walk of the train station (especially in small towns) because it will make your life a million times easier.

In Munich I stayed at the Hotel Präsident, a good, central three-star close to the main train station and in walking distance of a lot of Munich attractions. Rates from 192 EUR ($199). I also stayed at the Westin Grand Munich Hotel, an excellent five-star business hotel, but it’s not in the center of town; it’s well connected by U-bahn though. Rates from 438 EUR ($516). Find more Munich hotels here.

In Nuremberg I stayed at the Congress Hotel Mercure Nürnberg, which I do not recommend because it’s isolated and far from everything (11-minute walk to U-bahn or 14 EUR ($16.50) taxi to the train station), and one night the front desk gave my key out to a stranger who barged into my room. (Always double-lock your door!!!) The manager was good about making things right, but I wouldn’t stay there again because of the location. Rates from 94 EUR ($111). Find other Nuremberg hotels here.

In Regensburg I stayed at the Hotel Central Regensburg City Centre, which was spacious, comfortable, close to the train station and a short walk from the old town. Rates from 84 EUR ($99). Find more Regebsurg hotels here.

In Passau I stayed at the IBB Hotel Passau City Centre, a good mid-range hotel, which was right across from the train station and a short walk from the old town. Rates from 75 EUR ($88). Find more Passau hotels here.

Don’t visit Germany without travel insurance. I use and recommend World Nomads. On this trip I had to visit the hospital after hitting my head and sustaining a concussion. The ER I visited in Munich, Klinikum der Universität München, charges non-EU insurance-holding residents 300 EUR ($353), but because I use World Nomads, I got that money refunded!

Have you been to Germany’s Christmas markets? What tips would you give?

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47 thoughts on “How to Plan a German Christmas Market Trip”

  1. Sooo timely for my upcoming move! Though I’m not sure I’ll get to do it this year (probably won’t have nailed down a dog-sitter in time), I’d really love to do a trip like this next year through Bavaria. And I hate the planning part of travel, so thanks for doing it for me. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the info, Kate! I love how you frequently highlight regions and their cultural nuances within European countries. The rail tips you provided are also super helpful. I’ve probably read your original post on the Christmas markets 4 times! Growing up in Southeast WI I always associated Christmas with German traditions, from the festive bierhauses to the Milwaukee Public Museum’s European Village that highlighted traditional celebrations of Milwaukee immigrants, and the fabulous Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza in Chicago. Your posts have given me a lot of inspiration to see the real deal! 🙂

  3. My tickets have been booked since June! It’ll be my 4th trip to Europe, but first during Christmas. We are so excited, the whole family will be there. The German Christmas Markets & mulled wine have been on my wish list forever!! Hoping to add Prague for NYE as well 🙂 any more tips anyone?
    Cheers!

    1. Prague has great Christmas Markets and they actually stay open through Epiphany so you could still enjoy them if you’re there for NYE!

  4. I went to frankfurt to visit a friend and did the market there and it was so much fun! Definitely lots of weird things but totally worth it.

    Also, I refuse to say love actually is a christmas movie- it is a (terrible ) movie that just takes place at christmas.

  5. This comes right on time! I was just thinkig about the German and Austrian Christmas Markets and your tips are definitely worth helpful, Kate. As far as I know, the tradition of Christmas Markets was started in Germany so it’s a good idea to “go to the roots”.

  6. Don’t forget Die Hard, a Christmas classic!

    My friends and I did a wonderful Christmas market trip last year to London, Edinburgh, Brussels, and Prague! It was magical, and this post brought back a lot of wonderful memories. I’ll be sharing this article with my friends to generate excitement for a return trip!

  7. At this point I have visited Christmas Markets in several European markets and the Gendarmenmarkt one in Berlin is my favorite. I got literally teary-eyed from being overwhelmed by Christmas Spirit! It’s borderline embarassing!

    A couple of side-notes.

    Germany’s markets seem bizzarely chill – as you’ve described, they definitely have the relaxed vibe of regular local people just meeting up to hang out.

    Moscow has gotten BIIIIG on the Christmas Market game, but it still feels very much like an utterly try-hard, imported experience.

    Speaking of Russian Christmas – which is on January 7, by the way – for like two months there’s JINGLE BELLS blasting our of every speaker in Moscow, including on the metro! It is INSANE! And Russia has its own cherished, beauuuuutiful Christmas traditions, but they all have become suffocated to the commercial, cheese insanity.

    The most stressful Christmas Market I have ever experienced has been in Hyde Park, London. Utter madness and shock to the senses. Denmark is cute, but paying $12 for a teensy cup of mulled wine HURTS.

    if you celebrate Christmas, Christmas Markets are the best place to get souvenirs from Europe. I hate clutter and cliche travel stuff that I buy just to have “something” from the country, so now I generally just buy fridge magnets and Christmas ornaments from every place I visit (much easier to do at a Christmas market). And Germany in particular has some AMAZING ones for all tastes.

    Bottom line: German Christmas markets are THE BEST.

    1. Awww, I love this comment. I’m glad you love the German Christmas markets as much as I do! And I’m sorry in Russia you’re treated to two extra weeks of Jingle Bells! LOL.

  8. I did the German Christmas markets last year in early December and loved it! I stayed in the Stuttgart area and did the large market in Stuttgart, the medieval market in nearby Esslingen, and went to the small town of Schwäbisch Gmünd for their market. I’d love to do a trip like that again and check out a different area of Germany or perhaps Austria.

  9. On the issue of travel insurance, a good number of American premium credit cards have travel and car insurance as part of their benefits when you charge your trip purchase to it. As Kate loves World Nomads, I’m sure their a great company, but you may be buying something you already have.

    1. Always read the fine print. A lot of people think they’re covered with their credit cards, only to realize that they only cover theft, or medical. Not all insurance is the same.

    1. Just head to Colmar, France and explore their lovely Christmas market. Alsace borders Germany and locals are at ease in both languages. You’ll get plenty of pretzels, sauerkraut, and stollen, alongside the famous tarte flambée, to wash down with a vin chaud or glühwein. One of the nicest Christmas markets outside of Germany.

  10. I am from Prague and have to recommend also adding the Prague Christmas market to the list. I absolutely love going to Christmas markets, they feel so much more Christmasy then the usual shopping malls around America which like you said surround consumerism so much.

  11. Oh, all the time!

    As a British expat in Berlin, I can’t wait for the Xmas Market to open! And it’s not just me, ALL my German and expat friends are pretty excited too. It’s just so much fun, and a really social event for all the family!

    I have my favourites of course, and they tend to be the more traditional types with ballet dancers and orchestras. And like Anna above said, Gendarmenmarkt is the absolute best! I’ve also been to the German Christmas Market in other countries, but the original ones in Germany are still the ultimate experience.

    I’m a light weight when it comes to drinking so my tip is, to get some sausages down you BEFORE you start drinking, as the Feuerzangenbowle is lethal. The first time I had it, I literally dropped to the ground as it was so strong, and I thought I was drinking the usual glühwein…!

  12. Hooray to buying unusual gifts. They are like your travel photographs that will always remind you about specific county or place, your experiences (it doesn’t even matter if they are good or bad), make you laugh or cry… Just look at them and relive those precious moments once more 🙂

  13. Nueremberg, absolutely my favorite. If you decide on its Christkindles Markt do not walk past the
    OTTO SCHMIDT Lebkuechen (gingerbread). Nothing like it! The imported US version has stabilizers added, and is a shadow of its former self. Must try the real deal. One of the best film features of this Markt was done years ago with Loretta Swit by Oregon Public Television. Wow!

  14. I have some relatives living in Germany. I have been planning a trip there. Looking at your great article, I think I should go for this Christmas. It’s a lot of fun! Thank you for sharing your experience.

  15. Thank’s so much for this post, it has always been a dream of mine to go to the Christmas markets in Germany and luckily enough I have close family there and am finally going this Christmas! I definitely plan on focusing on the Bavaria region this trip (I’ve only been to Frankfurt & Heidelberg) and plan on going to the market in Nuremberg :).

  16. Lovely post & lovely comments on the Christmas markets as well! I happen to live in Nuremberg and have been working in one of the Christmas market booths for the last four Christmas seasons. I´m glad those of you who have visited enjoyed the German Christmas markets. Some of them are truly authentic and traditional. To be honest, when I was a kid growing up in Nuremberg, the Christmas market was not very special to me – it´s something that Nurembergians take for granted I guess. However, since I started working there, I appreciate Christmas season a lot more myself – despite freezing my ass off sometimes :). That is because I get to meet so many people from all over the world who travel around Germany for the ginger bread, punch and Christmassy atmosphere. I like that you see something tranquil and special in the Christmas markets that a lot of Germans, apparently, don´t see (any more).

  17. I recently got back from a 10 day road trip around Bavaria – you’re right – it is BEAUTIFUL. I would urge anyone and everyone to visit, especially those looking for a more local, but affordable, cheeky getaway (2hr flight from London). I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to explore the markets next year 🙂 thanks for the tips!

  18. Any planned posts on NYC Christmas Markets? I’ve been to all the big ones, and it’s one of my favorite things to do in December, but I’m sure you’d find some fun small ones and have an interesting take on them!

  19. OH MY EFFING GOD THOSE MERMAN ORNAMENTS!!! I think I would have had to buy one. These are fab tips, I visited Munich for a day a few years ago and I’m keen to go back for some more markets!

    1. I mentioned this above but since you asked specifically; the mermen are from an American company called December Diamonds. You can find them online.

  20. Thanks for this!
    I’ve been deliberating between a Frankfurt – Heidelberg – Strasbourg – Colmar train trip… And now thanks to ur recommendations I’m looking at Frankfurt – Dresden – Nuremberg – Stuttgart! I hope it’s doable… Fingers crossed 🙂

  21. Nancy Annette Egan

    Hi Kate:
    We are leaving from Portland OR on November 24 and flying into Frankfurt for 11 days (also flying out of Frankfurt) We were thinking of staying in Frankfurt for 5-6 days and doing day trips from there specifically to see the Christmas markets. We do want to go to Strasbourg on one of those days. Like you, we don’t like having to stay in too many places. Our next base was going to be Munich for 4 days with day trips from Munich before returning to Frankfurt to fly out. Are we limiting ourselves too much? Should we be staying in other cities?

    Thanks for your ideas!
    Nancy

    1. Hi Nancy — I actually haven’t been to Frankfurt, but I don’t think it would be my first choice because it’s such a modern city and not what people think about when they think about Germany. Maybe you could stay in a prettier town like Heidelberg.

  22. Pam Harthcock

    Hi Kate,
    Taking a Mother/Daughter (27 yrs) trip to Germany for 2 weeks, last week of November and first week of Dec. Would also like to see some of Austria. We like exploring quaint towns and authentic local food. Want to tour some castles.
    We have never been to Europe.
    Any suggestions for an itinerary?

    1. You can easily pair my Bavaria itinerary listed above with destinations in Austria. Innsbruck is my personal favorite but Vienna, Salzburg, and Graz are lovely too!

  23. Late post, but hoping for some feedback. I haven’t been back to Germany since the 80’s, but want to go solo during holidays 2020 to visit the Christkindlarkt. Thinking of a Rhine/Viking cruise, but looking for recommendations for the best way to get my German Christmas on, in a relaxing and magical way. Leaning towards a Rhine cruise, but open to suggestions that don’t involve changing hotels every couple of days,

  24. Hi, those hunky mermen pictured and that you spoke of are actually from an American company called December Diamonds. You can find them online.

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