It may not feel like it just yet but Christmas is upon us! While living in a country that does not celebrate Thanksgiving, it seems like Christmas comes knocking at your door before you are done eating your kids’ Halloween candy after they go to bed. At first, Advent calendars, Stollen cakes, Spekulatius (Spice) cookies and decorations start appearing all over the place and soon comes what we have all been waiting for: German Christmas Markets! These festive markets can put you right into the Christmas spirit and even warm the Grinch’s two-sizes-too-small heart!
Because there are so many wonderful markets to see in Germany, you might just need to do some prior planning. Here are eight tips for the German Christmas Markets to make sure you see as many and enjoy them as much as possible this year.
1. Make a plan: Think of briefing your family and friends like a coach in the locker room before a big game with a chart and everything. “We are going to hit up Stuttgart, hit Heidelberg the next day and then swing over to Wiesbaden in the final hours”. Don’t miss your favorite city! Every town/city has its own dates and are not always all December long. Some might just be open on one or more weekends, depending on the size of the town. Here is the mother of all Christmas Market websites that I have used for years.
2. See some big ones: There are a few remarkable, big markets that you simply have to see during your time here. Here are some recommendations:
– Rüdesheim (Nov. 21 – Dec. 23): Try the famous Rüdesheim coffee while watching boats float by in the upper middle Rhine Valley. Open Monday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. + Friday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
– Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Nov. 25 – Dec. 23): With enchanting medieval surroundings, try the local “Schneeball” pastry then visit the biggest Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store. Open Monday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. + Friday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
– Heidelberg (Nov. 21 – Dec. 22): Scattered across not one but five gorgeous market squares, this city’s markets are a place where you can eat, shop and drink while gazing upon the hovering Heidelberg Castle. Open Sunday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 11a.m. to 10 p.m.
3. Make a weekend out of it: For either a local market or a road trip-worthy city, try booking a room in the city center. Perhaps you can even stay at a hotel or Bed and Breakfast that looks out onto the charming lights of the market. How romantic!
4. Go to your local small fest: Meet some of your neighbors at your local fest, which may only be one weekend or one night. You will meet people at their best, who will be in the Christmas spirit and enjoying the seasonal Glühwein (mulled wine). You may make new friends for life!
5. Dress Warm: Seriously. Some of my coldest moments I can remember in my adult life are standing at a Christmas Market and not dressed properly for the cold. Do not let the smile in your Glühwein mug selfies say, “I am having so much fun but I can’t feel my limbs anymore”. Dress for the extreme cold and remember you might not be moving much at times, which would normally keep you warm. Layer your clothing and ensure no bare skin is exposed. Thick socks and gloves are a game-changer!
6. Bring the kids: The markets are very child-friendly and usually have rides, games and treats for kids! The markets on the weekends can get very packed and I do not suggest trying to push a stroller through a crowd of people who are mostly standing in place. Try a body wrap or backpack carrier instead. (Extra warmth too!)
7. Designated Driver, Cab or Train: Unless you are going to warm your belly with cups of hot chocolate all night, Glühwein has alcohol in it and may affect you more than you’d expect. There is also a market specialty drink called Feuerzangenbowle (say that 5 times fast) and it has rum-soaked sugar burned on top with more rum inside! The ceremony of burning the sugar is the attraction and the drink celebrates the gathering of friends. For lightweights like me, there should be no driving after this drink. Luckily, public transportation is a thing in Germany and it does not take a lot of planning to get there and back without getting behind the wheel. City center parking is usually difficult and/or expensive anyway.
8. Meet your friends: More than the shopping, eating and drinking, the fests are about being with loved ones and spreading holiday cheer. Germans have an expression for this feeling of being cozy, socially accepted and friendly called “Gemütlichkeit”. It comes from the noun of ‘Gemüt’, which means “heart, mind, temper, feeling”.
So grab your holiday shopping list and share some Gemütlichkeit this year at a German Christmas Market!
Author’s Profile: Gemma is a mom, a veteran and an Army civilian living in Wiesbaden, Germany. With New Jersey roots, she is enjoying her extended European vacation.
Featured Image Photo Credit: © Gemma