I’ve had the good fortune to make two trips to see Europe’s fabulous Christmas markets. Once with my Mother on a river cruise and once with a girlfriend. Both trips were kaleidoscopes of super-sized, festive, cold, delicious Christmas overload.
I know from previous experience that Germany is really where many of our beloved Christmas traditions began and the Alsace region of France, enhanced those traditions by taking tree decorating to the next level. Germany alone has 2,500 Christmas Markets. This entry will give a recap of my market experiences and tips for markets in Germany, France, and Switzerland, listed in alpha order by city. Find out about markets in: Basel, Cologne, Colmar, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Koblenz, Lucerne, Ludwigsburg, Mainz, Munich, Nuremberg, Rudesheim, Strasbourg, and Stuttgart.
The markets run during Advent, from late November until just before Christmas, and all feature stalls stocked with every imaginable kind of ornamentation and decorative item. About half of the markets are devoted to an incredible array of food, baked treats, and goodies of every description. Not to mention the famous hot mulled wine, Glühwein, of which I am not a fan – I’ll stick with hot chocolate. I love that the Germany markets sell cute mugs as traditional market souvenirs. They are customized for each location and year. Large and mid-size cities often have multiple markets and many smaller towns are a short train ride away. They generally open around 11 AM till 9PM in the evening. But times can vary, so be sure to check the links provided for current info.
Many markets only take cash, so have your Euros ready, and lots of items are easily available in the U.S. with no savings evident, this is NOT bargain shopping. Look for the special, locally made items and know you will pay a fair price. Be wary of anything electrical, it will not work if you bring it back to the U.S.
While you make your way through the markets here is a list of local treats to taste-test:
- ֎ Chocolate-covered gingerbread
- ֎ Springerle
- ֎ Lebkuchen cookies
- ֎ Weckla – Nuremburger sausages in a hard bread roll
- ֎ Bredle cookies
- ֎ Brenton (marzipan) cookie
- ֎ Snowball
It’s impossible to photograph the elaborate decorations on top of each of the 250+ booths at the Stuttgart Xmas Markets. Photos don’t do any of it justice. The crowds and the lighting just can’t be mastered with the iPhone camera I am using for this trip (decided not to haul the Nikon around the markets).
The booths of the Stuttgart Christmas Markets meander through the central part of this contemporary city, through an exclusive shopping district and around a few historical buildings that survived WWII. Along the way there is a large model train display, complete with a child-size train for kids to ride, a very busy ice rink, and of course, the requisite dozens of food and drink options.
I hesitate to even call these booths, because many are more like small pop-up stores. These structures are substantial and the fact the operators seriously compete for best decor honors is obvious. The lush greenery is all real and every one of the booths is different and unique. Although vendors sell the usual Xmas decorations, angels, candles and toys, oddly, this market also has items usually found at a home show, or maybe an infomercial (think devices to keep pots from over boiling and special chopping tools). Knives, spatulas, pots and bathroom cleaners notwithstanding, the lights and decorations produce a magical effect. Several mammoth Christmas trees add to the ambiance as does an Advent Calendar in the windows of City Hall.
Based on the massive crowds around every Gluhwein stand, I wonder just how much is consumed in Germany during the four market weeks . . .