My mom and I returned from our Thanksgiving trip to the Canary Islands to see the Christmas markets in full swing. I made it my goal to visit as many markets as possible, but as usual, the month flew by. While I spent most of my time at home wandering the market in Wiesbaden, I ventured out several times to explore some of the ones I’ve heard are the best. Here’s what I thought of each, ranking them from least favorite to favorite:
My friend was visiting so this was the perfect excuse to take a train out to Munich; however, as much as I love the city, I was disappointed in the market. The atmosphere did not compare to the others I had seen. There were some stalls in the Marienplatz, but the rest were lined-up down the shopping area and didn’t have any sort of gathering place. When everything is concentrated into one main area, you feel more of the holiday hustle and bustle that I just love. We had a glühwein (mulled wine) at a smaller market by the Chinese Tower in the English Garden, but that’s a pretty far trek from downtown for just a few extra stands. The food selection was definitely above average—I had käsespätzle, potato noodles in a cheesy sauce, and tried my first kaiserschmarrn, pancake pieces mixed with apples and topped with applesauce and powdered sugar.
6. Rothenburg ob der Tauber
I had high expectations for the holidays in Rothenburg after seeing it in the summer, and I must say that the town delivered, but the market did not. We visited right after a snowstorm, so it was that much more magical with snow-covered rooftops. The buildings are exactly what you picture when you think of a fairytale, German village, and the decorations took it to the next level. Rothenburg is home to the original Käthe Wohlfahrt store selling handmade traditional Christmas decor (we’ve been to the stores all over Germany), which is fun for a wander despite the crowds. The market itself was pretty small. We searched for food that wasn’t bratwurst or sweets but had no luck. There were quite a few stands selling the same Käthe Wohlfahrt items you could buy in the store so the shopping wasn’t great either. I’ve concluded Rothenburg will be full of tourists regardless of the season so December is the perfect time to go, but you may want to combine the trip with nearby Nuremberg for a better market.
Nuremberg is one of the most popular markets in Germany and I can see why. The stands were mostly in the Hauptmarkt, the huge central plaza, so I definitely felt more of the holiday rush here than in Munich. There was a good variety of stalls and even an international market in an adjoining plaza selling gifts from other countries. The market wasn’t anything too special, aside from its size, but I really loved my first visit to the city. We had a traditional Bavarian-style lunch in a tiny German restaurant full of locals (and got through the whole meal without speaking English!) and we took a walk up to the castle where I climbed the tower for panoramic views.
This ranking is probably a little biased because Wiesbaden is my home, so I feel a special connection to anything happening here. I went to the market several times, both to shop and to socialize. There was a stage with performers singing carols and space in front to gather so this became the perfect spot to meet friends for drinks rather than going to a bar. I decided here that my favorite holiday drink is not glühwein, but apfelwein, a hot cider from this region (a Frankfurt specialty). Plus it was nice that whenever I wanted to go for a walk, there was always a place to go to, and I’m glad I got to experience a market as a local rather than a tourist. For people who don’t live here, it’s probably not as exciting, but it’s worth a stop if you’re in the Frankfurt area or going to my top-ranked market, Mainz.
3. Rüdesheim am Rhein
Located about a 30-minute drive from where I live, Rüdesheim is one of my favorite places in Germany, and it was cool to see it transform from the bustling wine destination in the summer to a magical Christmas market. The quaintness makes it the perfect setting for the holidays. This one is famous for having stalls from all different countries; there was an Italian stand selling cheese and salami, a Finnish stand with wool, and even a Mongolian stand with cashmere. From the French stand I got myself some raclette and also indulged in one of my favorite German festival foods, sautéed mushrooms covered in cream sauce. And of course I couldn’t go to a wine town and not drink glühwein!
2. Strasbourg, France
Okay so this one isn’t actually in Germany, but it’s just over the border in the Alsace region of France, which has a ton of German influence. This was probably the biggest market I visited because it was spread out all over the downtown, with smaller individual markets in each little plaza. It was easy to spend an entire day here seeing the sights, like the cathedral and adorable architecture of La Petite France, while stopping to shop as we walked. Nearly every street was decked out in holiday decor, and the Christmas tree was the prettiest of all the markets (the German ones tended to look a little frail).
I knew as soon as I arrived on a Tuesday night that this was my favorite market. The marktplatz in front of the massive cathedral was full of stalls and the lights were the most impressive. Tons of people had gathered to sip glühwein as I chowed down on a Germknödel, a ball of dough filled with jam and topped with cinnamon sugar and butter. The atmosphere was just electric and I would say I saw the widest variety of food at this market…I wanted to try everything! I went back on a rainy Friday morning when absolutely no one was there and still fell in love with the atmosphere.
Now don’t get me wrong, all these markets were still incredible, and Munich was the only one I would not recommend people go out of their way to see. Otherwise, it’s safe to say that each is slightly different and they all have something for everyone. I will be ending my festivities on Christmas Day in Prague, which I have heard is the best place in Europe to spend the holiday. Let’s hope it lives up to the hype!