Through a mouthful of mulled wine and piles of presents, Penny Walker tracks down Germany's unmissable festive markets
Germany's Christmas markets offer traditional delights for the senses: aromas of spiced mulled wine, gingerbread and sausage fill the air as you wander through the finger-tingling cold streets, soaking up the festive atmosphere. From food and drink to hand crafted toys, tree decorations, candles and lambskin shoes, the stalls in German Christmas markets offer something for everyone...
Cologne is host to a number of Christmas markets throughout the run-up to Christmas. The most famous of these is held in the shadow of the Cologne Cathedral, the largest in Germany and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
With the imposing Gothic backdrop and the largest Christmas tree in the Rhine, the 'Am Dom' Market (26 Nov - 23 Dec) offers over 160 stalls selling the traditional yuletide wares and their famous Glühwein (mulled wine). Traditional music fills the air, providing the perfect atmosphere for Christmas shopping.
For children, the Alter Markt is the place to go, with a Santa's grotto, puppet theatre and stands filled with toys. The Rudolfplatz will transport children both big and small to the world of the brothers Grimm, with fairytale figures and festive illuminations.
Get into the festive spirit!
Cologne is just 4 hours, 25 minutes away from London by train, so it's a doddle to reach if you're travelling from the UK. it's in good company, too: we've rounded up the best cities within 6 hours of London by train.
Cologne isn't just for Christmas: there's plenty more to experience in the city, as our guide to Cologne's top 10 coolest spots reveals...
Berlin Christmas market (Shutterstock)
The city's main market is held beneath the spectacularly poignant Gedächtniskirche (Memorial Church), making Berlin a great destination for a unique Christmas market experience. This historic and cosmopolitan city has something for everyone with over 60 markets scattered around the centre (the longest runs from 26 Nov to 31 Dec).
The Gendarmenmarkt boasts culinary temptations from some of the country's top chefs, as well as a festoon of entertainment including jugglers, acrobats, fire artists, choirs, dance groups and music ensembles. A 30-minute walk away is Potsdamer Platz Market, which features Europe's largest mobile toboggan run.
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church Market pledges that you can find a present for everyone among the traditional wooden huts; all while nursing your hot cocoa and nibbling on roasted almonds. Meanwhile, the Spandau Market celebrates Advent with a Nativity scene featuring live animals.
Across the city, the Lucia Christmas Market is Nordic-Scandinavian themed, offering a romantic and intimate atmosphere. If it's nostalgia and tradition that you're looking for, the Staatsoper and Opernpalais Market is for you. From here you can enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride through the old centre of Berlin.
Get into the festive spirit!
Travelling on a budget? You need our guide to Berlin's top 10 things to do for free. One thing you shouldn't scrimp on in Berlin, however, is its food: the choice of incredible restaurants is baffling. We've picked out the best 7 places to eat in Berlin (as well as the city's best pubs), so whether you choose to nibble on schnitzel or flammkuchen (German-style pizza), you can be assured it's the most authentic spot.
Get to the heart of the city with these 9 alternative things to do in Berlin, and don't miss the Berlin Wall's little-known highlights. You'll find plenty more info and inspiration in our Berlin city guide, too...
Dresden Christmas market (Shutterstock)
With accounts dating back to 1434, Dresden's Christmas Market, traditionally known as Striezelmarkt (30 Nov - 24 Dec), is the oldest in Germany. With the backdrop of the River Elbe, Dresden is annually turned into a Winter Wonderland with thousands of twinkling lights: romantic, festive and charming.
The Striezelmarkt boasts both the world's tallest Nutcracker, and the world's tallest Christmas pyramid. Smoking figures, Herrenhut Advent stars and Dresden's traditional Pflaumentoffel, a chimney-sweep crafted from dried prunes, can all be bought here. Peruse the stalls and watch the traditional glass-blowers, carvers and bakers practice their crafts.
The highlight of the market is the Stollen Festival on the second Saturday in Advent. Held on 8 December in 2012, a giant stollen cake will be processed through the streets, ceremoniously cut and distributed among the crowd for a small fee (the proceeds go to charity).
There are numerous other markets of note to be found around the city including those held in the stable yards at Residenzschloss, the famous Frauenkirche Market and the intimate market held in Loschwitz.
Get into the festive spirit!
Dresden was pretty much re-built from scratch after the Second World War: a "tasteful and natural" reconstruction, writes blogger Madeleine in her first impression of the city.
The city may be relatively new, but it's not lacking in cultural treats - or culinary ones for that matter. Get to grips with a little help from our Dresden weekend break guide.
Stuttgart Christmas market (Shutterstock)
Stuttgart is an excellent spot for those looking for a hint of nostalgia. Heralded as one of the most beautiful markets in Europe, the main Stuttgart market (28 Nov - 23 Dec) is held beneath the stunning Old Palace. Inside the palace the festivities continue as you meander through the stalls of the Renaissance inner courtyard, the aroma of cinnamon and vanilla filling the air.
Stuttgart is a fantastic destination, providing easy access to other must-see markets. Only 20km away are the famous Ludwigsburg (north) and Esslingen (south-east) Christmas markets.
In Esslingen you can see high-wire artists, fairytale stilt walkers, fire-eaters, minstrels, and acrobats tumbling around the streets in wheels of flame. This medieval market provides an unusual atmosphere with unmissable attractions including the Land of Dwarfs, archery and medieval arts and crafts.
Ludwigsburg is held in the baroque market square and promises visitors romance and history. The spectacular Ludwigsburg palace is the backdrop to this beautiful and spirited market.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmans market (Shutterstock)
Home to the Christmas Museum, Rothenburg is a magical place to spend the festive season. Surrounded by imposing town walls, steep-roofed gable houses line narrow cobbled streets, creating a romantic and festive atmosphere.
Although some dislike the Disneyesque nature of the city, its unspoiled beauty is irrefutable. The Reiterlesmarkt is held on a medieval stage and Rothenburg is illuminated by thousands of twinkling lights. Unlike cosmopolitan Berlin and Cologne, Rothenburg has an entirely different feel, with smaller markets and a more intimate setting.
Christmas pastries, white mulled wine and bratwurst can all be bought. Rothenburg's Schneeball (snow ball) is a must-try for those with a sweet-tooth, made from strips of sweet fried dough covered in powdered chocolate or sugar.
The market gets its unusual name from the legend of the Rothenburg rider. Once believed to float through the skies with the souls of the dead during winter, the wild horseman has evolved into a friendly messenger and a bringer of luck.
The gothic town hall that flanks the wooden huts of the Marienplatz creates a spectacular setting for the Christmas market (30 Nov - 24 Dec). Selling predominantly Bavarian produce, unique Christmas gifts and delectable treats can be found here. Concerts are played daily and you can look down on the sights of the market, well away from the hustle and bustle of the crowd, from the balconies of the spectacular town hall.
The Kripperlmarkt is just a short walk away and specialises in all things Nativity. For something completely different, the Tollwood Market is an urban cultural festival offering a diverse range of international music, drama and cuisine. With over 20 different markets in Munich, there is something for everyone; from a medieval market with gospel choir, to the gay-friendly Pink Christmas Market, where wares are sold from pink and purple pagodas with added cabarets and shows.
Nuremberg Christmas market (Shutterstock)
With the majestic Alps to the south and the medieval Imperial Castle perched proudly at the top of the Old Town hill, Nuremberg is a spectacular back drop for one of Germany's oldest Christmas markets (30 Nov - 24 Dec). The Kinderweihnacht, or Children's Market, provides plenty of family fun, featuring an old-fashioned carousel, Ferris wheel, steam train and Nativity scene trail.
Over 180 traditional stalls, blanketed in red and white cloth, ensure that this extremely popular market remains authentic. Modern and mass-produced goods are strictly prohibited and officials police the stalls to ensure that the vendors are offering the visitors hand-crafted wares in keeping with the tradition of the market.Favourite food delights at the market include the Nuremberg “plum people” (small figures made from prunes), spicy gingerbread, sweets and Nuremberg sausages.
Hosted in the grounds of the beautiful Castle Guteneck, this medieval market plays host to the Middle Ages. Fanfares, processions, minstrels, clowns and jugglers can all be seen roaming through the stalls.
Although the fair is only held on weekends throughout December, it offers something different every day, from falconry to fire-dancing. The evening's events revolve around the various Advent celebrations, along with live Nativity scenes.
A variety of music can be enjoyed throughout the festivities, including baroque flautists, choirs, brass bands and concerts in the barn. The aroma of mulled wine and flame roasted-almonds scents the air, while fried doughnuts and Langosch are the fair's more unique culinary choices.
Get into the festive spirit!
Schloss Guteneck's Christmas markets run on the following dates: 1-2 December; 8-9 December; 14-16 December; and 21-23 December.
The fifth Sunday before Christmas is Remembrance Day in Germany. Expect many of the markets to be closed as this is a public holiday. Check with the local tourist office for more information.