Few places are as magical as Germany during the Christmas period. Where better to gorge on festive treats than against backdrops of snowy forests, serene lakes or dramatic Gothic cities, with aromatic scents of roasted chestnuts and spiced gingerbread wafting by? Traditional German Christmas Markets are like something out of a Grimms’ fairy tale – and the smaller boutique fairs that have sprung up in recent years aren’t to be disregarded either. Here’s a round-up of our top German Christmas markets to visit in 2018, sure to tempt even the most Scrooge-like of souls.
Best for…festive grandeur and traditional eats
A market that can be traced as far back as 1628, Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is one of the oldest in the world, opening each year with a spectacular ceremony steeped in tradition. Wander the ‘Original Regional’ booths nestled by the Church of St Sebald, selling local specialities and handmade artisan goods. The founding home of ‘Elisenlebkuchen,’ this is the place to try the traditional German gingerbread, jazzed up with chocolate and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Equally famous are Nuremberg rostbratwurst – miniature grilled sausages served with horseradish (‘Kren’ in the local dialect) or cushioned in a crisp bread roll (‘Drei im Weckla’). Regional eats aside, the Christmas Market of Sister Cities offers delicacies from around the world, with proceeds going to charity. There’s also a dedicated market for children, featuring a carousel, sparkling Ferris wheel and a programme of dance and music for families (with special events for English-speaking visitors).
Must try: Lebkuchen and red-wine spiked hot chocolate
When: 30 November – 24 December 2018
Opening ceremony: 30 November 2018
Best for…Alpine cheese and nautical nights
Bordering Germany, Switzerland and Austria, Lake Constance is nothing short of a picture postcard town, and even more so at Christmas. The lake is surrounded by snow-dusted mountain peaks, and twinkling lights lead the way from stalls in the Old Town to the harbour front, where a Christmas ship awaits. Kässpätzle is the regional speciality here; a Bavarian-style macaroni cheese topped with crispy, caramelised onions and fresh herbs, or for a more Swiss influence, feast on lashings of Stängeli fondue poured into a crusty baguette. Cookie baking workshops and a Punch & Judy show keep children entertained while local music groups set the scene for adults. This contemporary fair avoids the usual Christmas kitsch, preferring an emphasis on sustainability, charity and the coming together of people of all ages.
Must eat: Schupfnudeln potato dumplings and Dünnele flatbreads
When: 29 November – 22 December 2018
- ALT-RIXDORFER, BERLIN
Best for…community spirit and a time for giving
A community-feel blankets Richardplatz in the now-fashionable district of Neukölln in Berlin, with a melting pot of cultures and cuisine. For one weekend only, the cobbled square harks back to its 18th-century roots when it was the bohemian village of Rixdorf. Paraffin lamps, historic carriages and the clanging sounds of an on-site blacksmith complete the time-warp, with stalls selling homemade honey and jams, alongside candied apples to fulfil every person with a sweet tooth’s dream. Feast on familiar German favourites of Bratwurst and Glühwein or tuck into Turkish culinary delights guilt-free, as all proceeds are humbly invested back into local neighbourhood initiatives. With rosy cheeks and satisfied stomachs, head out of this vortex and continue the evening under the warm glow of Neukölln’s buzzing bar and nightlife scene.
Must eat/drink: Candy floss & mead
Must buy: Handmade festive decorations, dipped candles, toys & greeting cards
When: 7-9 December 2018
- RAVENNA GORGE
Best for…gluttonous gateaux and a breath-taking location
In what is truly a storybook setting, the fair at Ravenna Gorge encompasses all one could imagine a Bavarian Christmas market to be. Constructed as a magical village deep in the Black Forest, clusters of traditional wooden huts sit beneath 40-metre high Höllental viaduct, dramatically lit with festive hues of red, green and blue. With scenery this spectacular, you won’t mind the small entrance fee (€3 Fridays, €4 Sat/Sun), and where better to try a Black Forest gateau (Schwarzwälder Kirsch-torte) than in the very region it heralds from? Local savoury specialities include Flammkuchen (also known as tarte flambée), a German-style flatbread served with lashings of soured cream and topped with bacon, onion and cheese. Thirsty? Feuerzangenbowle is the merry drink of choice; mulled wine with the addition of rum-soaked sugarloaf, placed on top and set on fire. This, along with roaring fire pits, are sure to keep mitts toasty.
Must eat: The Black Forest smoked trout and venison dishes
When: Fri–Sun, 30 November – 23 December
- 6TH VEGAN CHRISTMAS MARKET, LEIPZIG
Best for…animal-free produce
With the amount of sizzling meat and vats of gooey cheese fondue at traditional Christmas fairs, vegans and vegetarians might just feel a little left out. The solution? Explore one of Germany’s fully vegan Christmas Markets. At the urban ‘Feinkost’ (delicatessen) in Leipzig, you can peruse food trucks selling vegan waffles, cupcakes and burgers, and browse the range of vegan shoes and accessories on sale. Noteworthy produce here includes Vegablum, an alternative to honey (Wonig) from flowers and fruits, like dandelions and apple. Need your Santa fix? Simply bring a vegan present and joyously receive one in return. For veganism on a larger scale, Get your fill of even more delicious vegan Christmas recipes, like our vegan eggnog, with our ultimate collection.
Must buy: Millet’s vegan creme liquor & vegan stollen
When: Leipzig / 6th Vegan Christmas Market – Saturday 8 December 2018
When a city has a designated train to transport visitors along its Christmas Market trail, you know it means business. Boasting seven fairs, each with a unique vibe, Cologne has something for everyone during the festive period. Head to the Harbour Market for fresh ‘Flammlach’, flame grilled salmon served in soft bread rolls doused with remoulade, while reibekuchen potato cakes with applesauce from Rudolfplatz are also a solid option. Stadtgarten in the Belgian quarter is the hipper alternative, where locals and groups of friends tuck into hearty stews, and the fun continues at the Gay and Lesbian Christmas Market – home to spectacularly risqué confectionary. The star of the show, though, is the Cathedral Christmas Market, with its backdrop of glorious Gothic spires and 25m fir tree. Home to a live music and performance stage, glühwein (mulled wine) in Santa boot-shaped mugs with generous doses of rum or amaretto go down a treat.
Must buy: A bottle of Pilgrim Drops liquor and Weckmann sweet brioche pastry men
When: 26 November – 23 December 2018
Top tips for Christmas markets
- Head out early to avoid the crowds.
- Be aware of the deposit on the collectable mugs that hot drinks like gluhwein and hot chocolate are served in. It will mean an additional charge of €2-€5 on top of the cost of the drink. Mugs can then be returned at the end, or taken home as a souvenir.
- Most Christmas markets won’t take credit/debit cards, so always carry cash.
- Try to order in German! Ich hätte gern = I would like
Credit: Loren Lazic-Duffy for BBC GoodFood, 22 November 2018.