Living in Germany for the past six months has been a whirlwind adventure, but I knew from the start that the most exciting and eventful time would be Advent. Tis the season for the world famous German Christmas Markets (Weinahtsmarkts) and I have made it my mission to explore as many as possible.
The best part? Almost every town, region, village and shopping strip will have a market set up from mid-November/early December, making your German Christmas experience rather easy to find. There are a few important aspects of the markets that any Yuletide fan will need to experience. The wooden stalls, covered in festive decorations and lights can be slightly daunting with crowds surrounding them, so you must know what to do. Firstly, drink Glühwein, secondly, eat the food, and finally, enjoy the festivities!
Ask anyone living in Germany what will be found at Christmas markets and this is the first thing that pops into mind. Glühwein, or Mulled Wine, is a German tradition spreading hundreds of years. The piping hot red wine concoction, served in cute little porcelain mugs (which you can keep by the way!) but has a prominent existence in German history.
Glühwein literally translates to “glow wine” and is found across the globe, sometimes referred to as Glög, Glintvein, and Vin Chaud. The base of the drink is a rich red wine, orange, cloves and cinnamon, heated up just before boiling point and served hot. In times of war and extreme cold, the Germans took to drinking thee hot wine with its fruit and herbs to fight illness. (Find a yummy recipe for DIY Glühwein HERE!)
Note: A number of other beverages are also available, from hot chocolate to mulled cider to ice cold beer!
A gooey, deep fried mashed potato, often served with apple sauce- very cheap and will fill you up incredibly fast- perfect for those who have drank a little too much Glühwein
Although originally Dutch, these fluffy little Pancakes are to DIE for and come in a whole array of flavours- Nutella, jam, chocolate coated, plain- yummmmm!
Hot Roasted Nuts
The smell of these candied nuts fill the air in most market halls, with a mix of spices, caramelised and coated and roasted fresh in front of you- the almonds are a crowd favourite.
Served hotdog style, these foot long sausages are a German classic and will be found all over the markets.
Again, not German (French of course!) but are found everywhere. These large thin pancakes are served piping hot with an array of fillings. Bon Appetite
My personal favourite as it reminds me of my European Grandmother, these heart shaped gingerbreads will be found hanging all over the place in the Christmas markets, in a number of sizes. Great as gifts, these wrapped cookies can be kept for up to three years and still be okay to eat!!! Hang them on your tree or eat them right away as a snack- delicious!
So aside from warming your bellies with hot wine and delicious desserts, the markets also offer a great array of festive activities. Depending on the market and its size, you will usually find Christmas carols sung live at least once a day, a great way to get yourself into the spirit.
Cologne’s Weinahtsmarkts am Kolner Dom (The market held under the famous church) has one of the grandest stages in Germany. Over 150 exhibitors and the huge stage with a canopy of lights is mind-blowing, but add a full orchestra and live acts and you have a winner. Be aware though- this market IS one of the most popular and on a typical Saturday will have over 20,000 people flocking it’s tiny streets- so don’t think you will be wandering around with space to dance!
Ice skating rinks can also be found across most of Germany’s larger towns. Pop on some rented skates and prance around a rink surrounded by smiling children and Christmas tunes. Cologne town’s Altstadt (old town) also boasts one of the grandest ice rinks in Germany with a fairy-tale theme!
Visiting Saint Nicholas is a worldly tradition and no matter what your age, it is always fun to get snapped with Santa! During the day, there are usually ‘Santa’s village’ set up for the kids and it is super cute!
Christmas parades are often held on the weekends, so ask the visitors center or give a quick google search to see if your market of choice has one running. The large marching bands and floats are always a hit and perfect to watch while you sip your warm drinks.
Shopping at the stalls can be a nightmare, but you can also pick up some really unique gifts. This is where the smaller towns, such as Bremen, Bonn and Heidelberg are the best for a shopping experience as the crowds are bearable and you can take your time bouncing around the little wooden stalls. You can find everything from handicrafts to homewares and almost every price range!
Although set up for the kids, there is no reason you cannot take a ride on one of the many Christmas ferris wheels and carousels! Littered throughout the larger markets, you won’t regret the (usually) cheap and quick rides that make you giggle like a, well, kid at Christmas!
WHERE TO GO:
In my humble opinion, bigger is NOT better. Cologne is crazy busy and I found myself getting very frustrated by all the people pushing and shoving (so not the spirit of Christmas!)
Düsseldorf had a great market down by the Rheine and the huge ferris wheel, city skyline and old school charm is perfect.
Heidelberg is a winner for sure- the castle overlooking the city, with less crowds than most major cities and a lot cheaper too. Highly recommended!
Merry Christmas Roamers! xx