The German Christmas Market is one of life’s little reminders to slow down and smell the roses – in this case the gingerbread. In every city of any size – even in most villages in Germany Christmas markets are a local tradition, and many of them, such as the market in Nurnberg, go back to the Middle Ages.
European Christmas markets (or Fairs) are popular, but the markets are best in Germany, the country that virtually invented Christmas. Are you considering a European getaway? Of all the tours to Germany you are likely to take, a Christmas market tour will stay with you the longest. The sight of a town square bathed in soft light with artisans and merchants selling one-of-a-kind Christmas decorations, toys, candles, German Christmas ornaments and other treasures quickly works its magic on you. It melts the stress and releases the endorphins.
If you’re lucky, you’ll hear a group of minstrels making the rounds. You’ll take in the unforgettable aroma of roasting chestnuts, or nosh on a Bratwurst (sausage) or a piece of Lebkuchen (gingerbread). And a mug of hot mulled wine or glass of the local beer will never taste as good.
At Christmas, German markets offer a feast for all the senses. And one of the most amazing things about them: They’re places where you can still experience the joy of Christmas in its purest, most unadulterated form. German markets have by and large resisted the forces of homogenization and commercialization, and most markets have still maintained deep local roots. Traditions are still strong and small-scale craftspeople, artisans and merchants still hold sway. If you need Christmas gift ideas and want to do some serious Christmas shopping, there’s no better place to go.
Best German Christmas Markets – Top Picks for German Christmas Connoissuers
Christmas markets and Germany go hand-in-hand. And Christmas in Germany would be unthinkable without them. The best tours of Germany in December will make it a point to include at least one market on the itinerary. There’s no such thing as a bad holiday market in Germany. But some are better than others. Many people think automatically of the Munich Christmas markets, but if you’re interested in variety, check out some of the others:
Dresden Christmas Fair (known locally as the Striezelmarkt)
Dating back to the 1400s, this is one of the best German fairs. It features a huge array of decorations, folk art and traditional toys from the nearby Erzgebirge toy-making region. One of the highlights: Dresden bakers mount a local Stollen Festival to celebrate the legendary Stollen Christmas cake. 25 November-24 December 2010.
Dresden Middle Ages Christmas Market
Not to be outdone, Dresden also mounts a wonderful, historically-themed market, held each year in the Castle mews. It’s at its best starting at dusk and going into the evening. Dresdener Schloss (Castle Courtyard), 24 November-22 December, 2010.
A sheer delight, this may be the most classic of the Christmas fairs. Stands feature toys, straw figures, candles and an unbelievable variety of German Christmas decorations. Nurnberg Bratwurst is a year-round specialty, but it never tastes better than when you’re strolling through the market at night. 26 November-24 December 2010.
Bamberg Christmas Market
While Nurnberg’s market is imposing and impressive, the Christmas Fair in nearby Bamberg offers a more cozy, intimate experience. Dozens of stalls offer candles, ornaments, folk art and German Christmas tree decorations. Christmas aside, Bamberg is an absolute jewel. The market takes place on the main square, Maximilianplatz, 27 November-23 December, 2010. Don’t miss a smaller Medieval Christmas Market in Bamberg at Geyersworth Castle,4-12 December 2010.
Lauscha Kugel Festival
In this tiny town tucked away in the hills of the state of Thuringia, Lauscha, local artisans invented the blown-glass Christmas ornament (Kugel), as we know it. That was over 100 years ago. Today, the town throws an annual Kugel Festival – Kugelmarkt, where family workshops and small factories from the area put their fascinating glass Christmas decorations on display. The market is held on two weekends: 27-28 November and 4-5 December 2010.
Kulmbach Christmas Market
Most tours of Germany are prone to overlook small but delightful places like Kulmach – unjustifiably so. This northern Bavarian town bills itself as one of Germany’s best traditional brewing centers, so a visit to the Christmas Fair there can be teamed up with some fun beer-tasting. Try Kulmbach gingerbread beer (Lebkuchenbier), the strong winter Eisbock or special Christmas brew (Weihnachtsbier). Weekends. December 3-5, 10-12 and 17-19, 2010. The Moenchshof Courtyard will also host a market sponsored by the Bavarian Brewery and Bakery Museum.
How to Plan Your German Christmas Market Tour
When it come to Christmas, German markets can’t be beat. But what’s the best way to travel this time of year? Of course, you can visit the fairs on your own. But if you want to spare yourself the hassle of getting a rental car and driving on the Autobahn, or if you’re not sure about schlepping your bags and dealing with trains, a Christmas Market Tour or Germany tour package is definitely worth considering.
An escorted Christmas Tour to Germany can make the experience more valuable. Even if you’re an independent traveler and don’t normally gravitate to group trips, a small guided Christmas tour will help you see the best Christmas Fairs with a minimum of stress. A good Christmas tour will not only show you the markets, but will also include things you might miss if you were traveling alone such as Christmas concerts, small Christmas exhibits, a chance to meet artisans and visit small workshops, and other side activities. Whatever Christmas tour you choose, make sure the group is small and that it is expertly led. That way you’ll have an insider’s experience, with more variety and depth than you are likely to find on a large tour
Tom Conrad owns and operates Heart of Europe Tours, LLC, and will lead this year’s Enchanted Christmas Markets Tour to Germany from December 1-9, 2010. Heart of Europe also features other boutique tours to Germany.
As a lifelong traveler and owner of a tour company, I know that planning and researching travel can be an exciting experience in itself. As the saying goes, “half the fun is in the anticipation.” Be sure to include small-group tours and specialty companies that offer unusual destinations, custom trips and interesting theme travel in your planning.
Be sure to see the full description of our December 1-9 2010 Enchanted Christmas Markets Tour. The trip is fully guided and we will be visiting many of the places mentioned here.