When you're used to Christmas in New Zealand, acclimatising to spending Christmas in the middle of winter is tough. However, having the Christmas markets down the road makes it a little more bearable. Originally a German thing, they have now spread across Europe and many people come from other continents just to experience this magical Christmas tradition. As a result of their popularity the Christmas markets are almost always crowded and can be very overwhelming if you’re visiting just one and want to try everything. So I’ve made a list!
Here are my favourite things to try at the Christmas markets and some tips for finding the top spots.
What German experience would be complete without a sausage or two? Every German Christmas market will offer a wide selection of sausages usually including a local specialty. They are almost always served in a crusty bread roll (brötchen). Look around for the mustard pump, if you’re lucky it will be an udder-like squeezy bottle hanging from the roof!
2. Warm Alcoholic Beverages
I’m not really a hot drinks person at the best of times so hot alcohol really isn’t my thing. But this year I made it my mission to find a Christmas market beverage that I enjoyed. There are plenty of Glühwein (mulled wine) options including red, white and rose and even options for shots to be added. Here in Frankfurt the local drink is apple wine which they serve hot at the markets. My pick though is a hot chocolate with a shot of brandy and cream. Mmmmmmm!
You’ll be able to locate the nut stalls by their sweet smells wafting through the market. There are huge varieties covered in various flavoured coatings. Roasted chesnuts are a real winter thing here and there are often big ovens roasting the nuts while you wait.
This is the German version of gingerbread and anyone who has been to Oktoberfest will be familiar with them. Usually heart-shaped biscuits with piped icing to decorate and write some kind of message. They come on strings to hang around your neck. I’m not such a fan of the actual biscuit but love the look of them all hanging in the lit up stalls. So German!
For my fellow kiwis these are somewhat comparable to a Mallowpuff. Delicious flavoured marshmallow filling on a waffle base, cased in chocolate. The marshmallow is lighter and creamier than normal and comes in the most amazing variety of flavours such as coconut, Baileys and mocha. A real melt in the mouth treat and at only 70c a pop you can try a few flavours!
You will find these things at almost every Christmas market in Germany. It can be very difficult choosing which Christmas markets to visit and when to go.
Tips for Visiting German Christmas Markets
Big city ones will be busy. For a quieter experience head to small towns. These can be just as nice and much more relaxed and authentic. For big ones try Nuremberg, Cologne, Frankfurt or Dresden. Smaller ones are in every town. Around Frankfurt I can recommend Wiesbaden, Darmstadt or Mainz.
Pace yourself if you're going to more than one. They do all get the same after a while so choose a couple of things to try at each.
Every market has local specialties and different souvenirs so look out for something different.
Take the cups. If you're looking for something to remember the markets you can take home the glühwein cups which have a special design for every market every year (you pay a €2-3 deposit when you buy a drink).
Go during the day to shop as its much quieter and then go back at night to enjoy the atmosphere and drinks.
Christmas markets will never quite replace barbecues in the sun in the lead up to Christmas but they sure make the cold more tolerable and bring a bit of Christmas magic to almost every town in Germany.
Looking for more German food experiences? Here's some things to do in Munich.