From the last weekend in November until the 24th of December cities all over Germany transform into Christmas wonderlands called Weihnachtmarkts (Christmas Markets in English). They line up little wooden sheds decorated with lights and boughs of pine into a square and sell trinkets and presents and giant bratwurst and gluhwein.
Gluhwein is kind of like a sangria except it’s served hot. It’s a nice way to warm yourself up, both because it’s hot and because of its alcohol content. The cool thing is that they serve it in cute little Christmas mugs that are unique to the Market. The price you pay includes a deposit for the cup which you get back when you return it. But if you want a super easy (and cheap) souvenir, you can keep it! Most cities have special cups personalized for that city and sometimes with the year printed on it.
When I lived in Germany I went to three Christmas markets. While I found that most of the Markets that I visited sold a lot of the same products, the size and themes of each Market vary. Stuttgart has one of the largest Markets in the country. The stalls wind through the streets of the altstadt (old town), their roofs decorated with holiday characters like Santa, reindeer, even animatronic penguins! There’s an ice skating rink in the Schlossplatz and the windows of the Rat Haus (City Hall) are turned into a giant Advent Calendar.
Regensburg has Markets in three locations throughout the city, the largest one being held in the Neupfarrplatz. The stalls are set up in a square surrounding the church in the center of the plaza and has gluhwein stations on all four corners. Don’t forget to grab some Schneebälle – a super popular dessert in Bavaria – crunchy pastries shaped like snow balls usually coated in some kind of sugary confection.
The Market in the medieval town of Esslingen, just outside of Stuttgart, was by far my favorite of the Markets I visited. Stalls start in the plaza outside the Stadtkirche and continue throughout the altstadt. Wander down the narrow, cobbled streets and you’ll find games like ax throwing, archery, candle making, and even a hand turned wooden ferris wheel. Many of the vendors dress up in costumes and there was even a beggar dressed in rags and walking around without shoes on.
North of Stuttgart is Ludwigsburg, home to many festivals throughout the year including the famous Pumpkin festival at the palace. The Ludwigsburg Baroque Christmas Market is held in the aptly named Marktplatz and is smaller than the others in Stuttgart and Esslingen, but definitely still worth checking out. This Market is considered one of the most beautiful in the area thanks the the gorgeous buildings surrounding the plaza and the huge winged light displays throughout.
Without a doubt, the Christmas Market season is my very favorite thing about Germany. When I was feeling down, a trip to Christmas-town was the exact pick me up I needed. Browsing the stalls, listening to choirs sing Christmas music, grab a delicious wurst or a steaming cup of gluhwein and just people watch. The perfect holiday tradition.
Have you ever visited a Christmas Market? Let me know where in the comments!