If Europe is the Christmas market kingdom of the world, then Germany is king. Germany has held the reputation of having the best Christmas markets in the entire world, and as someone who is obsessed with the holiday season, visiting Germany’s Christmas markets was a bucket list trip for me for years.
During this trip, I visited the Christmas markets in Cologne, Munich, and Nuremberg, and this blog post is my recap. To discover my favorite things about each one and what I would recommend to future visitors, keep reading!
Exploring the Best Christmas Markets in 3 Different German Cities
Jump to Section
How I Planned My German Christmas Market Cities
What to Expect at German Christmas Markets
CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN COLOGNE, GERMANY
Getting to the Different Cologne Markets
What is the Main Christmas Market in Cologne?
Exploring Cologne’s Other Christmas Markets
CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN MUNICH, GERMANY
Where is the Main Christmas Market in Munich?
Exploring the Christmas Markets in Munich
CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN NUREMBERG, GERMANY
Why You NEED to Visit the Nuremberg Christmas Market
Getting to the Nuremberg Christmas Market
Where is the Main Christmas Market in Nuremberg?
Getting the Best Views of the Nuremberg Christmas Market
My Recap of the German Christmas Markets
One of my favorite memories from my childhood was how special my mom made Christmas in our house. Christmas was a production. Our house was decorated beautifully inside. Our tree was massive. There was always Christmas music playing. My diet consisted of hot chocolate, cookies, and magic. The house smelled like a mix of pine, gingerbread, cinnamon, and cheer.
In our house, Christmas was a feeling, an emotion, something you couldn’t put into words. Imagine if Mariah Carey was a regular housewife with an average income and how she would still do it up. That was our Christmas.
SO – what was I looking for in terms of exploring the different Christmas markets in these 3 German cities? To start with the obvious: I wanted to compare the vendors, stalls, food (Bavarian pretzels!), glühwein, decorations, Christmas souvenirs, and various displays and attractions. I wanted to see how the markets in each of the 3 cities were different and yet how they were also the same.
But more than anything, I wanted to experience the different ways they would evoke the same emotions in me that I had as a child during Christmastime. The different things about them that made them each feel magical in their own way. What made them individually and uniquely special.
How I Went About Planning My Christmas Market Visits
Ask 10 people which Christmas markets you need to see in Germany, and you will likely get 10 different answers. Germany has a ton of Christmas markets in cities of all sizes, and with limited time, it’s hard to know which ones to pick to visit.
However, I did know of one city that was a must-do. When Googling “best Christmas markets in Germany,” I found that Nuremberg kept popping up as not only one of the best, but the best. It was regarded as traditional, quaint, and one of the most-loved Christmas markets in Germany. That was enough for me. First city: Check!
Upon further research, I saw where Nuremberg was only an hour train ride from Munich, one of Germany’s biggest cities and the capital of Bavaria. If I stayed in Munich, I could not only explore their Christmas markets, but I could make a day trip to Nuremberg and not have to book an extra hotel room. Second city: Check!
When I fly to Europe, one of my money-saving tricks is to see which city is the cheapest to fly into and then plan my travels from there. Although I have an itinerary, plan, and final destination in mind, I often let my initial city choose me! Many times, the city I fly into is not even in the same country as my “final destination” country.
After researching my trip, I saw that Paris was the cheapest city to fly into on the day that I planned on leaving. Upon further research, I saw that Cologne, Germany was not only a beautiful, fun city with amazing Christmas markets, but it was also only a 3 hour train ride from Paris.
NOW we were getting somewhere. I could spend a day in Paris at Christmastime, then hop on a train to Cologne to explore their markets. The train ride from Cologne to Munich was 5 hours, but it would let me see a lot of the country, AND I would be able to say I experienced North and South Germany!! **throws up hands in celebration**
Third city: Check!
German Christmas market trip planning complete: CHECK!!!!
What to Expect at German Christmas Markets
Although all the markets are different, there are things you can expect to find at all of them:
- Gift and food vendors: All the markets have food, drinks, and vendors selling everything from Christmas ornaments to socks and hats to traditional German toys and more. Seriously, there’s a LOT going on here!
- Festive – and alcoholic – Christmas drinks: You can find glühwein (wine mulled with cinnamon, cloves, and other spices that is served warm), spiked hot chocolate (served with rum, Bailey’s, amaretto, or your festive liquor of choice), spiked punch, and hot Aperol.
- Of note, the markets around Marienplatz did NOT serve hot chocolate, only glühwein.
- Places to warm up from the cold: Most of the markets have at least one charming winter hut to order (and drink!) your festive Christmas beverage.
- Traditional German foods: Bratwurst, sausages, pretzels, gingerbread, chocolate pastries…you can find these at all of the markets.
- Pro Tip: The market in Nuremberg had the most gingerbread – or “lebkuchen” – out of any of the markets I went to.
- Souvenir mugs – When you order a drink at any of the markets, you are served your beverage in a souvenir mug. Your initial drink will always be more expensive, because you are paying for your drink AND the mug. The good news? If you want another drink, you can use your same mug and ask for a refill!
- Of note, each market has its own specific mug. I don’t believe you can bring a mug from a one market and expect another market to refill it.
- Pro Tip: If you don’t want to keep your mug, return it to the bar when you are finished. You will get refunded your Euros that you would have paid to keep it.
- Cash-only vendors – A lot of the markets do not accept credit cards, so always have euros on hand
- Cold temperatures – This kind of goes without saying, but it’s cold here. Bring hats, scarves, gloves, hand-warmers, layers, all of it!
- Crowds – I’m laughing, but for real…the markets get crowded, especially on weekends. BUT, there are often so many stalls and vendors that it’s quick and easy to get someone to wait on you if you need to buy a drink or make a purchase.
In addition to everything listed above, many of the markets have live performances, activities for kids, visits from Santa, and more. I also found that it was easy in most cities to hop from one set of markets to another!
Okay, enough about the intro. We are deep diving into these Christmas market cities!
The Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany
The Christmas markets in Cologne that I visited are more spread out than the markets I went to in Munich and Nuremberg. In this section, I will talk about each of the markets individually, and also how to get to them.
During my visit to Cologne, I visited the following Christmas markets:
- Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market
- Nikolausdorf (Nicholas Village Christmas Market)
- Markt der Engel (Market of Angels)
- Heinzel’s Wintermarchen (House Elves Christmas Market)
Pro Tip: There is another market that is right on the river that I found out about after I left called the Harbor Christmas Market. I had a lot of people tell me this market was fabulous, and now I have FOMO. If you want to see this market, make sure to check it out the same day you do the Cologne Cathedral Christmas market, as it is located directly behind the cathedral.
Getting to The Different Cologne Christmas Markets
Nikolausdorf and Markt der Engel
Out of the 4 markets that I visited, Nikolausdorf and Markt der Engel were within walking distance from each other. The easiest way to see them is to take the subway and get off at the Neumarkt station. Once you exit, you will be able to see Markt der Engel.
You can walk to Nikolausdorf from Markt der Engel. Nikolausdorf is located in Rudolfplatz, between Neumarkt and the Belgian Quarter. I stayed near this section of Cologne, so these were the first 2 markets I explored since I was easily able to walk to them from my hotel.
- Pro Tip: If you have time, AND if you’re a shopper, definitely explore the Belgian Quarter. I saw a ton of adorable boutiques here and even bought a few cute outfits.
Cologne Cathedral Market, Heinzel’s Wintermarchen, and Harbour Christmas Market
If you are in Neumarkt, you can take the subway 2 stops to the Cathedral/Central Station and see the Cologne Cathedral (you can take the #16 or #18 train to get there).
- Pro Tip: This subway station is also where the Hauptbahnof is, aka the main train station!
Once you exit, you will see the Cologne Cathedral. Go around to the other side of the cathedral towards the front, and you will find the Cologne Cathedral Market. Go behind the cathedral, and you will find the Harbour Christmas Market (the one that I missed).
From here, it is an 8 minute walk to Heinzel’s Wintermarchen, located near Heumarkt.
What is the Main Christmas Market in Cologne?
The main Christmas market is the Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market, located in front of the Cologne Cathedral, aka the “Dom.”
IMO, this was the least picturesque out of all of the markets…BUT, I’m still going to tell you that you have to visit it because the cathedral makes for an absolutely stunning backdrop.
When I was there, they had liver performers singing popular 80s rock songs (at once point, the entire crowd was screaming “Wonderwall” by Oasis!). If you’re thinking, “that doesn’t sound very Christmas-y!”…well, it’s not. But it’s fun! And the performers were all dressed in Christmas-themed attire. Think of it as a Christmas concert for people who don’t love Christmas music!
- Side note: I’m sure at SOME point, the performers here sing Christmas songs. I mean, they have to, right?
Exploring Cologne’s Other Christmas Markets
The Nikolausdorf Christmas Market (Nicholas Village Christmas Market)
The Nikolausdorf Christmas Market is located in Rudolfplatz Square and was my favorite market out of all the ones I visited in Cologne. IMO, I thought it had the best ambiance. Despite how cold it was outside, the lighting and decor had a way of making this market feel incredibly warm and cozy!
This market was set next to the Hahnentorburg – a medieval gatehouse – and was decorated with half-timbered houses lit up red and green. There were string lights all throughout the trees, as well as decorations on top of the different market vendors.
I tried glühwein here for the first time and loved it! I sat in a cozy little hut filled with garland and pine and Christmas lights and savored my drink. This was one of my favorite parts of being at all the markets…finding a place to just be still and in the moment among the chaos and crowds.
The Markt der Engel (Market of Angels)
The Markt der Engel is decorated with paper stars and dangling lights. It has more of a romantic ambiance than Nikolausdorf, and, from what I could tell, more pastries and sweets! The decorations span the entire side of the street and beckon visitors to bask in the glow of the Christmas lights!
As I mentioned, this is the first market that I saw when getting off of the Neumarkt subway station.
Keeping with the theme, there are women dressed up as angels walking around the market that children are able to take their photos with. They also have a winter queen with a live snowy owl, and people walking on stilts! While exploring Cologne, I made it a point to walk through this market every time I passed it. It was absolutely beautiful.
Heinzel’s Wintermarchen (House Elves Christmas Market)
The Heinzel’s Wintermarchen in Old Town Cologne is created around legendary house elves that help craftsman with their work at night…that is, until they were discovered and banned by the nosy wife of a tailor. But, for the Heinzel’s winter fairytale, they grace the town annually, transforming the city into a captivating winter wonderland!
Out of all the markets I went to, this is the one that was most geared towards kids (but, even without kids, I still thought it was adorable!). There is an ice skating rink, ice stock rinks, and over 100 vendors! The vendor stalls are split into different themed laneways and piazzas, which stretch across Alter Markt and Heumarkt.
It’s worth mentioning that this market had 2 different entrances with different stalls and vendors at each one. The market that was opposite the ice skating/ice stock rink even had a ferris wheel!
My Overall Impression of the Cologne Christmas Markets
My favorite thing about the Christmas markets I visited in Cologne was how different they all were. They all had their own unique character, decor, and ambiance that made them stand out from each other.
In some cities, you could argue that “if you’ve seen one Christmas market, you’ve seen them all” – but in Cologne this was not the case. I loved how each market was its own special experience and symbolized something different about Christmas.
The Christmas Markets in Munich, Germany
After Cologne, my next stop was Munich. I have always wanted to see Munich and felt like this was the perfect opportunity (well, okay, Oktoberfest is actually the perfect opportunity….don’t worry, it’s on my list!).
Munich is a much larger city than Cologne, and therefore has more markets. However, the markets are also more spread out all over the city. To make the most out of my trip, I decided to stay in the Old Town area and explore the markets around Marienplatz Square (with one exception…but we’ll get to that in a minute!).
Where is the Main Christmas Market in Munich Located?
The main Christmas market is located in Marienplatz, the main square in the center of Munich. The backdrop for this market is the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) building, which is absolutely stunning. You are able to marvel at the Glockenspiel and architecture while also basking in the glow of the Christmas lights. Seriously, what more could you ask for?
Exploring the Christmas Markets in Munich
I absolutely loved the Christmas markets in Munich. The city was decorated in a way that made its already beautiful architecture look even more stunning.
During my visit to Munich, I stayed at Eden Wolff Hotel, which is located directly across from the train station. Therefore, it is easiest for me to explain how to get to the markets from that direction.
Once you come to the first market and start seeing the Christmas decorations, a lot of the markets seem to run together. It sometimes feels like a lot of the Christmas markets in Old Town are one big market that just doesn’t end!
Münchner Eiszauber (Munich Ice Magic) at Karlsplatz
The first market you will come to when you walk towards Old Town from the train station is Münchner Eiszauber (Munich Ice Magic), located at Karlsplatz. This market is unique in that instead of having a bunch of small vendors, it serves only food and drink and looks like the ski lodge of your dreams. There’s also an ice skating rink! I would break my neck, but if this is your thing, click on the link to learn how you can skate in the heart of Munich at Christmastime.
The bottom level is where most of the food and drink is served. After you get your beverage, you can go up to the top, which is where everyone hangs out. You also have a great view of Karlsplatz from this high up!
The Markets on Neuhauser Street
Once you pass Münchner Eiszauber, you will start seeing a lot of vendors lined up on the right hand side of Neuhauser Street. TBH, I’m not sure if this is an extension of the Marienplatz market or it’s own separate entity, but we’re going to say it’s separate, k??
I thought the vendors looked extra charming throughout this area, and the food looked extra good. They had pastries that were huge, and the huts and stalls were decked out with rustic, festive decor. Not that some of the other stalls in the other areas weren’t, but I really just felt like the stalls in this area went the extra mile.
While walking towards New Town Hall, I noticed there were a few markets down some of the side streets in this area too. It’s worth doing a lap around this part of town just to see them all!
Munich Christkindlmarkt in Marienplatz Square in front of New Town Hall
“ARE YOU READY FOR IT?” **Taylor Swift voice**
Listen…Marienplatz is in a league of its own. My dad would say, “now THAT looks nice.” Gen-Z would say it “slaps.” Just seeing the entire building is a jaw-dropping experience on its own.
Now…add a Christmas tree, a bunch of lights, the smell of candied pecans, alcohol, holiday cheer, ornaments, people laughing, more alcohol, more holiday cheer…
All this to say, it was truly magical. I walked around this market every single night that I was in Munich because I could NOT stop staring at New Town Hall and its surrounding holiday aesthetic. Perhaps cliché, but this was my favorite market in Munich.
- Pro Tip: If you want breakfast with a view, check out Cafe Glockenspiel, where you can eat with a view of New Town Hall out the window (if you’re lucky!!). Be sure to make a reservation.
- (Another) Pro Tip: If you want the true German experience, the OG Hofbräuhaus is only a 5 minute walk from Marienplatz and definitely worth a visit! There’s also the Augustiner Stammhaus, an authentic German beer hall on Neuhauser Street leading up to the market.
Viktualienmarkt (The Foodie Market)
If you’re a foodie, this is the market you need to visit. Located only 6 minutes (walking-distance) away from Marienplatz, Viktualienmarkt has adorable stalls showcasing a delightful array of goods. Things you can buy range from fresh fruits and vegetables to an assortment of fish, meat, cheese, aromatic spices, and gourmet delicacies. In fact, this market started out as simply a farmer’s market!
As if that’s not enough, you’ll also find the market’s renowned beer garden—a central hub where Munich’s six esteemed breweries take turns in offering their signature brews.
IMO, this market had the same type of ambiance as Nikolausdorf in Cologne had. It just felt cozy and warm! There were lights strung all throughout the trees, and the wooden stalls gave it a very festive, rustic feel. Plus, the short distance from Marienplatz made this market a logical next stop.
And Finally…The Pink Christmas Market in Stephansplatz
You didn’t think you’d make it the entire way through my Christmas blog post without me finding a pink Christmas market, did you? Pink Christmas is – no surprise – the gay market and one that won my heart for its decor, music, ambiance, and crowd. The people at this market were so fun, and there was a DJ playing old school Britney Spears. What a vibe.
This is the other market that is out of the way from Old Town. Stephansplatz is about a 15 minute walk from Marienplatz Square.
I unfortunately got to this market 20 minutes before it closed, so I didn’t get to experience it for a long time. The gifts also weren’t overly traditional here. (NGL, I was expecting some…err…erotic gifts, but I actually didn’t see any. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there…they could have been in a stall I didn’t get to!)
After walking around, it was obvious to me that people came to this market more for the entertainment than the vendors. I wasn’t overly impressed with the vendors here, but I LOVED the atmosphere! It was such a fun, carefree time. If I had to do it again, I would have gotten there earlier to experience more of the music!
My Overall Impression of the Munich Christmas Markets
Aside from Pink Christmas, I did not feel like the ambiance and aesthetic of the Christmas markets in Munich were vastly different from each other like the ones in Cologne were. However, that’s not to say I didn’t like them! In fact, I liked them a lot.
One of the things that made Munich’s Christmas markets stand out is the architecture that surrounded them all over the city. I’ve fan-girled enough over New Town Hall, but there were multiple buildings all down Neuhauser St. that were older, beautifully designed, and decorated in lights. (When I was in Cologne, someone told me that I would like the architecture much better in Munich, and I would have to say I agree!)
ANYWAY – I also liked how the city was essentially one big Christmas explosion once you got to Münchner Eiszauber and started walking towards Marienplatz. Lights, decorations, and vendor huts everywhere! Whereas Cologne’s markets were more spread out, most of Munich’s main ones were all super close. In other words, it would take you less time to explore the markets around Old Town Munich, which is helpful to know when you’re trying to plan your trip.
The Christmas Markets in Nuremberg, Germany
If you’re like most people, Nuremberg is probably the one city on this blog post that you haven’t heard of. I had no idea it even existed until I started researching what the best Christmas market in Germany was. Countless websites mentioned Nuremberg as not only one of the best, but THE best.
If someone tells me something is the best in the world, you can guarantee that I’m going to go see it. Safe to say, the bar was set!
Why You NEED to Visit the Nuremberg Christmas Market
The Nuremberg Christmas markets are world famous and among the most traditional Christmas markets in Germany. They are regarded by some as being the best Christmas markets in the world. Nicknamed “the little city of wood and cloth,” you are sure to find unique handmade gifts, ornaments, and toys in Nuremberg.
As luck would have it, the day I planned to go to Nuremberg just happened to be the opening day of the city’s Christmas market AND a Friday. Probably not the best idea to experience something world famous this way. There were times that it was so crowded I could barely move. People were everywhere, especially leading up to the Frauenkirche, the ornate Gothic church towering over the city.
But OMG, it was beautiful. I immediately understood what people meant when they said this market was “more traditional.” While the things being sold at the markets in Cologne and Munich were somewhat similar, this market provided more traditional German toys, mini Christmas villages, and unique ornaments. Within minutes of being in the thick of the market stalls, I knew this market was my favorite.
Getting to the Nuremberg Christmas Market
From Munich, Nuremberg is only an hour train ride away. I do want to mention that Munich can get a good bit of snow in the wintertime, and when this happens, the trains don’t always run. (And…depending on the app you use to book your train, you don’t always get a cancellation notice. I speak from experience.)
If this is your first time seeing the Christmas markets in Germany, I would recommend staying in Munich and taking the train up to Nuremberg for a day (check the weather first!). One of the main reasons for this is because when you see the markets in Munich and then the ones in Nuremberg, it is easier to understand what people mean when they say Nuremberg is “more traditional.”
Where is the Main Christmas Market in Nuremberg Located?
The main Christmas market is located in Hauptmarkt, aka the Old Town Square. Take the train into the city, and it’s a 3-5 minute walk from the station. You’ll know you’re in the right area when you see the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady).
The main market is called the “Christkindlesmarkt,” or “Christ Child’s Market.” This market is based around the idea that the Christkind brings the children their gifts on Christmas morning.
Things You Have to See and Try at the
Nuremberg Christmas Markets
Since Nuremberg is one of the most traditional markets, I’m giving you a list of things specific to this market that make it all the more worth visiting!
- The Nuremberger – this is the famous “Nuremberg sandwich” made up of 3 mini bratwurst sausage links on a sandwich roll.
- Lebkuchen – Nuremberg is especially famous for its lebkuchen, aka gingerbread. I saw more gingerbread being sold here than anywhere in Cologne or Munich.
- Chocolates – There are candies and chocolate truffles everywhere here, and they had more unique flavors than ones I saw at the other markets
- Feuerzangenbowle – This is a red wine and rum punch with a special and unique flavor
- Notice the traditional market stalls – Like I previously mentioned, you will find more “traditional” German gifts, toys, and food here. Nutcrackers, wooden toys, gingerbread, chocolates, ornaments…they are all what you envision when you think Christmas in Germany.
Getting The Best Views of the Nuremberg Christmas Market
While walking around, I noticed that there were a few bars and restaurants with 2nd floor seating that you could go up and see the entire market from a different vantage point.
If you don’t want to eat at the markets (or you only want to eat a little bit), I would suggest going to ALEX, a restaurant with great food and a great view of the Frauenkirche and the markets. The inside has a really cozy ambiance, and their tomato soup was the perfect thing to warm me up from the cold!
Additionally, you can get a great view of the markets from one of two churches! Both the St. Lorenz church and St. Sebald church offer stunning views of the city from high up. At the time of this post, you are able to go up into the St. Lorenz church until 8pm and the St. Sebald church til 6:30pm.
My Overall Impression of the Nuremberg Christmas Market
Do I need to say AGAIN how much I loved this market? Okay, fine. I’m saying it again: I loved it.
My Recap of the Christmas Markets
Overall, I loved my journey through the German Christmas markets. I thought it was the perfect way to spend the holiday season. Many people have asked which market was my favorite, and tbh, I liked different things about all of them. Below, my overall recap:
The Best Ambiance
In terms of cozy, Christmas ambiance, I loved Nikolausdorf in Cologne and Viktualienmarkt in Munich. It’s the string lights for me. I can’t help it.
The Best Backdrop
This award would have to go to Munich Christkindlmarkt in Marienplatz Square with New Town Hall as the backdrop. There’s just no way you can’t be obsessed with New Town Hall. The building itself is such a powerful presence and different than anything I’ve ever seen. (Honorable mention goes to Nuremberg and the Frauenkirche!)
The Best Food/Drink
TBH, I would say a lot of the food was comparable, but I’m going to give this one to Nuremberg since they have foods they are known for. I love gingerbread, and you could find way more gingerbread at this market than any of the others. Plus, their famous bratwurst sandwich they named the Nuremberger? Can we get any cuter?
- FYI: Some of the food I tried at the markets seemed a bit…stale….especially in terms of the bread on the sandwiches and the pretzels. This is, of course, due to the cold temperatures in the city during this time of year. While I absolutely think you should try the food at these markets at least once, I spent more time eating at restaurants than the markets.
For drinks, I thought most of them tasted the same throughout all of the markets. I can’t say there was one that had incredibly good drinks that stood out from the others. So….you can’t go wrong!
The Best Gifts/Souvenirs
This one has to go to Nuremberg for its traditional gifts. However, I do want to point out that the gifts and ornaments at all the Christmas markets seemed unnecessarily expensive. I saw a lot of ornaments being sold for €20, and some were even going for €40-50!
I opted to get a drink at each of the markets and keep my souvenir mug that it came in. That way, I still had a gift from the market, a delicious drink, AND I saved money!
The Best Overall Market
I LOVED all the markets I went to. Each of them was special in its own way and brought me feelings of gratitude, happiness, and excitement.
But as I mentioned, my favorite is Nuremberg for the way it has stuck to tradition and how it stood out from the rest of the markets. Nuremberg won my heart. Everything about this market fascinated me: the beautiful church in the background, the way it was decorated, how happy the vendors and people were, the warmth I felt even though I was physically so cold.