Although every German city has a Christmas market (Weihnachtsmarkt) and often claims it is the best one to visit in Germany, in 2021, most visitors will simply be thankful to enjoy a Glühwein and sausages as normal. The best-known Christmas markets in Germany are in major cities such as Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, and Munich (München) but smaller cities such as Nuremberg (Nürnberg), Dresden, and Lübeck also have famous markets while Rothenburg ob der Tauber is even more romantic and magical at Christmas time.
In 2021, most Christmas markets in Germany are expected to take place in the normal schedule but with hygienic and distancing rules if prescribed by the various states. Advent is from November 26 in 2021 but in larger cities, some markets may already be open from mid-November. Very few markets in Germany are open after Christmas Day.
Germany is famous for its romantic Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) held all over the country in the advent period preceding Christmas. Christmas markets differ from region to region but for the average foreign visitor, these differences are of minor importance. When picking which German Christmas market to visit, more relevant considerations are the costs and time required to get to the market town, hotel accommodation, and what other entertainment options are available. Visitors are unlikely to spend a full day, never mind a whole weekend, at the market itself. It is more common to spend most of the day doing shopping or sightseeing and visit the Christmas market in the late afternoon / early evening. Berlin and Munich may not have the best Christmas markets in Germany but remain by far the most interesting cities in Germany to visit.
Nürnberg / Nuremberg – Germany’s Most Famous Christmas Market
Germany’s most famous Christmas market is the arguably Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg (Nürnberg), Bavaria. The Nuremberg Christmas market spreads through the old town but the true heart is on Hauptmarkt (Main Market Square) in front of the Liebfraukirche (Church of Our Lady). Nuremberg is famous for toys as well as Lebkuchen biscuits – the best ones are baked without using flour. Also popular are the small Nürnberger sausages – traditionally roasted over wood-fired grills.
Nürnberg Airport (NUE), a major hub of German low-cost airline Air Berlin, is only 10 minutes by U-Bahn train from the old town. Frequent trains to Nuremberg from Frankfurt take two hours and from Munich around 90 minutes. See Transportation to Nuremberg for more information.
Dresden – Germany’s Oldest and Longest Christmas Market
Dresden claims (not totally undisputed) Germany’s oldest Christmas market. The first recorded Weihnachtsmarkt in Dresden was held in 1434. The market, here known as the Striezelmarkt, is also physically the longest – it stretches from the Dresden Hauptbahnhof through the old town and across the Elbe River to the heart of Neustadt.
The best part of the Dresden Christmas market is in the Stallhof – here the Weihnachtsmarkt resembles a medieval market with food and drinks served in suitably primitive-looking containers. The most famous German Christmas cake Stollen originates from Dresden – it is sold everywhere and often suitably wrap in tins for lovely gifts and souvenirs.
Dresden Airport is a 25-minute train ride from the old town – the ticket costs less than a mug of Glühwein. By train, Dresden can be reached in two hours from Berlin or Prague and in 30 minutes from Leipzig. Inter-city buses to Dresden are a good option when traveling from Berlin Airport (BER).
Frankfurt am Main – Germany’s Largest Christmas Market
Frankfurt am Main has Germany’s largest Christmas market as well as its tallest Christmas tree. (Both claims are disputed but the market is indeed big and the tree tall.) The center of the market is on the Römerplatz in the heart of the historic old town. However, Frankfurt’s Christmas market spreads out along the banks of the Main River as well as down the Zeil pedestrian shopping street. Frankfurt is a modern city, so apart from the Römerplatz, the background buildings are positively 20th century and not romantic medieval.
Transit passengers at Frankfurt International Airport (FRA) without sufficient time to travel into town, can enjoy smaller Christmas markets in both terminals at the airport. Train passengers can do the same at Frankfurt’s Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station).
Berlin – the Largest Number of Christmas Markets
Berlin claims to have over a hundred Christmas markets. Several are huge with some even open after Christmas Day. Popular Berlin Christmas markets include in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche between Zoo station and the Kurfürstendamm, on Gendarmenmarkt, in front of the Oper on Unter den Linden, and at the Roten Rathaus near Alexander Platz. Visitors to Berlin have well over 50 markets to choose from in addition to the beautifully decorated shops and streets.
German Christmas Markets in Smaller Towns
All major German cities and towns have Christmas markets but it is usually the smaller towns that offer more romantic settings. For medieval flavor, perennial tourist favorite Rothenburg ob der Tauber is hard to beat. If visiting on a weekend, it is worth bearing in mind that Rothenburg was a major bustling market town during the Middle Ages too. Trains to Rothenburg ob der Tauber always require transfers but this little town is worth the trouble.
In the far north of Germany, near Hamburg, is Lübeck. Although now a city, its historic old town full of brick Gothic buildings is on an island in the Trave River. This UNESCO World Cultural Heritage-listed site offers a magical setting for the Lübeck Christmas market that has been a tradition since 1648.
German Christmas markets have a long tradition and are highlights of the advent period in Germany. Visits to Weihnachtsmärkte need not cost a fortune, as cheap flights are available on low-cost airlines flying from London, the UK, and Ireland to Germany.
Several Christmas markets near Frankfurt-Hahn Airport are convenient for low-cost airline passengers.