ProsIt's a relaxed way to enjoy the holiday season, gathered with friends, family or work colleagues in a non-consumerism environment.
Smaller markets sell locally produced items.
Markets have a variety of entertainment options, so something for every age range to enjoy.
ConsThe popular markets can be crowded, especially on the weekends!
Larger markets sell the same items which can be purchased in the stores.
Full ReviewThe Christmas markets in Germany can be an enchanting magical experience and a wonderful way to spend a weekend. Larger cities like Cologne or Dusseldorf will have five or more markets spread throughout the city while smaller neighborhoods will have their own local ones. Part of the fun is to walk from market to market while taking in all of the home light displays and decorations along the way. I've spent six years in Germany enjoying them, here are the key points to consider:
Food: The Christmas markets offer something for everyone, Bratwurst, 'Pommes' (french fries), garlic mushrooms or baked potatoes with your choice of toppings: cheese, chili, garlic herb butter, sour cream, etc. While it can sometimes be a little chilly standing outdoors and eating food at a bar table there is a distinct ambiance to it, walking amid the numerous stalls with all of the choices. Many markets have gone more international to cater to a variety of visitors so there will sometimes be non-German options too, such as Indian or vegetarian or French!
Drink: No matter what your preference, the markets have something for everyone here, and fortunately there are many hot drinks to warm you up. For the youngest guest there is 'Kinderpunsch' which is a warm fruit punch, sometimes with cinnamon on top. For older guests, there is the traditional 'Gluhwein' which is spicy mulled wine, served warm. Other less fruity options include hot cocoa or coffee. On the cold drink side, it's always possible to get cola or Germany's traditional drink: beer.
Shopping: There is always plenty of stalls selling a variety of goods at the markets. The larger markets tend to have more mass-produced items, while the tiny markets will often have only local handicrafts. A good bargain tends to be the 'charity' stalls. These stalls sell items with are either donated or made from donated items (such as hand-knitted mittens or socks) from donated yarn and are a super value for money for homemade gifts.
Entertainment: The markets offer plenty on this front. Usually there is a stage and on the weekends it will have a full performance schedule, from local dance groups, children and adult choirs, martial arts demonstrations, local orchestra or music groups, etc. All of it is free, although the non-profits will often come through to collect on behalf of their group after their performance. Many markets also have games and rides, similar to a summer fair in the US, these tend to be a little costly, but it's another option often interesting for the teenage age group. Often the larger markets will have an outdoor ice rink which can be a cost effective way to burn off some energy and stay warm in the outdoors.
Transport: The markets will usually be in the town center or shopping area so they are easy to reach by public transport. In fact, that is the preferred mechanism to reach them as there are often crowds so parking nearby will often be costly and difficult. Having the markets in the town center near the main train station enables you to visit a town which you have not seen previously when coming by train without worry that you will be lost or not find it.
Religious or non-religious? The markets can be as religious or as non-religious as you wish to find them. Often some of the entertainment will be traditional Christmas carols or a live nativity scene will often be enacted by a local church. Churches will sometimes have a booth or two of their own, especially if their location is at or near the market site. However, it is also possible to remain secular at the markets through focusing on the other sights and events as there is plenty to see and do at the markets.