There’s magic to be found in Baden-Wuttemberg, Germany, where visitors can celebrate and shop for the Christmas season at the seven different Christmas markets that take place a month prior to Saint Nicholas’ arrival.
Originating in the Middle Ages, the markets have only grown in popularity. Shop for handmade goods and unique holiday gifts while sipping mulled wine and taking in the splendor and awe of each market.
German Christmas markets hold a special allure for many travelers who go to see old-world charm, handmade gifts and German culinary delights. The open air markets grow in popularity each year. Most are held in the center of town, at the feet of centuries-old churches and buildings – all of which creates a unique experience and charming scenery.
I enjoyed a trip to Southwest Germany in time to see a wonderful selection – but there are many more across the country.
We began in Stuttgart and checked into the Waldhotel lovely, crisp and clean. Their Finch Restaurant is delightful. A short rest and we were off. Visitors can easily make Stuttgart their home base and take a train or rent a car to see all of the markets. Go to germany.travel/en/specials/christmas/christmas for complete information on dates, times, locations and special information about German's lovely Christmas markets.
Stuttgart City Christmas Market
Lights sparkle as people take to the streets in Stuttgart for their annual Christmas Market, where carefully crafted scenes can be found above every stall on wooden roofs. Vendors compete to win the title for the very best display while visitors ooh and aah at the spectacular sights – reindeer on rooftops, elves tinkering with toys and Christmas trees aglow. One of Europe’s largest and oldest, this 300-year-old market has some 200 decorated stalls in front of the Old Palace We tasted springerle, a special cookie found in Stuttgart; nearly every bakery has a version. There is something for everyone here – even a children’s market where kids of all ages can gather for fun and festivities. Ride the miniature train or merry-go-round, learn to make candles or attend the gingerbread workshop. Free WiFi.
Ludwigsburg, just about eight miles north of Stuttgart, was our next stop.
Ludwigsburg Baroque Christmas Market
Angels with wings widespread tower over the stalls of the Ludwigsburg Baroque Christmas Market; their sparkling wings shimmer in the sky. The newest Christmas market in Germany, which started with just seven shops, is now home to 180 shops. Nativity figurines, glass beads, candles, snow globes and more can all be found at this magical market. The market is relatively new, just 25 years old. We enjoyed lunch from the many stands selling every imaginable delight. Every Saturday, an actor portraying King Friedrich the First comes to the market. Traditional gingerbread is served hot from the ovens.
Esslingen Medieval Market and Christmas Market
This was definitely a favorite as we visited at night. An entire area of the market is set up as the Medieval Ages. Torches of fire light the way and magical showmen with games, tricks and devilish grins greet passersby. Step back in time at this Medieval Market where vendors partake in the recreation of this era by dressing in period-appropriate costume. We watched fire eaters, stilt walkers, minstrels, jugglers and comedians entertain the visitors. Sip on hot mulled wine as you watch artisans at work in the traditional market: felt-makers, glass-blowers, blacksmiths, basket-weavers and more. A trip the to the Esslingen Medieval Christmas Market, rated the third best in Germany, is both shopping trip and show. None of the 180-plus stalls are repeated.
It was an hour's drive from Stuttgart to Tubingen, a university town of about 85,000.
Tubingen Christmas Market
Chocolate lovers rejoice. Sample chocolate from all over the world at this charming Christmas Market in old-town Tubingen. There are approximately 450 stalls featuring vendors from dozens of countries; you will find chocolate from as far away as Africa and even Ecuador. This one-of-a-kind market takes place just one weekend a year (the first weekend of December) and is one you won’t want to miss. Last year was the tenth anniversary of this unusual market, where every single item is made from chocolate. We stopped at stalls that appeared to be a vast selection of cheeses, only to be told they were all made of chocolate.
The drive to Hohenzollern Castle was an hour and a half, through beautiful scenery. The picturesque castle looks made for Cinderella and sits high on a mountain.
Royal Christmas Market at Hohenzollern Castle
Each market is unique, but the Royal Christmas Market is particularly stunning. Perched among the trees and once home to Prussian royalty, the fortress that is Hohenzollern Castle will make guest’s eyes light up at first sight. Peruse the stalls inside the castle walls as you seek to find the perfect gift for loved ones. For those who have been particularly good this year, you may want to sneak a peek inside the “treasure room” where you’ll find historical items doubling as the perfect gift. Guests may also visit the two churches and the cellar while on the castle grounds.
St. Blasien Christmas Market
St. Blasien Christmas Market is yet another splendid sight. The market can be found in front of the large domed church, built in 1798, that sits along the Alb River bank in the Black Forest. Like something straight out of a picture book, this market will easily become a favorite for all. The merchants at the market are local and the goods are plenty – exquisite art, ceramics, foods, etc. The market has been in operation for more than half a century and is one you won’t want to miss. This was my favorite market! Each of the 60 stalls were wooden and adorned with fresh greenery and offered handmade products.
Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market
Last, but certainly not least, you will find the Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market. Also found within the Black Forest, this market features live music, hot drinks, great food and beautiful scenery. Surrounded by the gorge's steep cliffs and under a 130-foot-high railway viaduct, a small village of approximately 40 wooden huts can be found here during the four weekends before Christmas.
Each market offers something different but all are equally spectacular. Shop like a local at Tubingen, stand in awe at the sights of Stuttgart, step into the middle ages at Esslingen, or take in the wonders of St. Blasien. A trip to the German Christmas Markets will bring out the childlike wonderment in all and is bound to be a trip you won’t soon forget.
Here are a few more unusual German Christmas markets:
German Christmas markets are known the world over for their festive atmosphere, wooden huts filled with handmade gifts and souvenirs, and culinary delights. For an even more magical experience, check out these seven German Christmas markets in unusual locations – from islands to old wine cellars to castles and more.
An Underground Christmas Market near the Mosel River
Underground Christmas magic can be enjoyed at this market, which takes place in a former wine cellar, parts of which date back to the 16th century, in the town of Traben-Trarbach on the Mosel River. In the atmospherically lit historical wine cellars, visitors can buy regional handicrafts and, of course, sample wine. An added bonus: the vaults offer pleasant temperatures, even when it's bitterly cold outside.
Christmas Market on a Bavarian Island at Lake Chiemsee
This island Christmas market in Germany is situated in a truly unique and romantic setting – in the heart of the Bavarian Alps, surrounded by the crystal clear waters of Lake Chiemsee. On two holiday weekends, ferries shuttle visitors to the Fraueninsel market on Bavaria's biggest lake, the Chiemsee. More than 90 stalls sell Bavarian souvenirs and handicrafts from the island's abbey, such as nativity scenes and Christmas decorations.
Historical-romantic Christmas Market at Fort Konigsstein
According to the market’s motto ‘Königsstein – a winter wonderland,’ the annual Christmas market at fortress Königsstein in Saxony impresses with lots of sparkling lights as well as many attractions for children, such as a fairytale grotto. The medieval Christmas market inside one of Europe’s biggest fortress showcases jesters, toy makers and craftsmen, and also demonstrations of ancient craftsmanship. An insiders’ tip is the underground Kasematte-Weihnacht – a little Christmas market within the protected arches of the fortification.
A Maritime Christmas Market in East Frisia
A jewel of the North is the Emden Engelke-Markt, which attracts visitors annually with its maritime atmosphere. Festively illuminated museum ships and traditional sailing boats welcome you on board. Father Christmas appears on the stage of the city garden at 5 p.m. daily to give out presents to the children while the arrival, by ship, of the Dutch Sinterklaas with his helper “Zwarter Piet” is another exciting and long-awaited moment.
Action-Packed Christmas Market in Bochum
The Northwestern city of Bochum plays host to not just one but two Christmas markets. Besides a traditional market, a medieval market takes place around the Paulus church. Craftsmen dressed in period costumes, traders, minstrels and buffoons go about their colorful business and invite visitors to experience the medieval world including open fire, old-fashioned stalls and music just like in past times. What makes the Christmas market experience so special in Bochum is the high-wire show of the famous artist Falko Traber, who flies twice a day, disguised as Santa Claus, in his sled over the heads of the visitors, telling them a different Christmas story each time.