Nuremberg and Cologne may boast Germany’s most popular Christmas markets, but for a more authentic experience head off the beaten track and you’ll be rewarded with some real gems.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas practically every Bavarian town and village hosts its own Christmas market. Historic castles, beer gardens, town squares, quaint high streets and church grounds all over the land are transformed into picturesque Christmas scenes. The markets are so prevalent that you could easily visit a few different ones each week throughout December without travelling more than 10 miles. They range in size from a few stalls set up over one weekend to those with a good 20 traders operating every day for a few weeks. Each one is different in its own way. But at every market you will certainly find locals huddled around sipping mugs of Glühwein (translates as ‘glow wine’, a German mulled wine) and feasting on waffles, crepes and Bratwurst sausages. In fact many Bavarians seem to go to the markets mainly to drink and eat rather than shop. The goods on offer can vary, which is why I find it’s better to visit a few of the smaller Christmas markets rather than relying on one for finding everything you need.
One of my favourites is in a town called Diessen on The Ammersee. Its one-weekend-only market is small, incredibly festive, and extremely cosy and cute. Stalls lit up by fires and fairy lights sell hand-crafted goods such as woolly hats, soaps, candles, and wooden decorations. A team of blacksmiths showcase their art under the eerie lights of the imposing baroque-style church. And shoppers sipping on mulled wine sing Christmassy songs around a campfire (in German of course – not quite the same, but still). It’s definitely one of the prettiest Christmas markets I’ve been to. Another personal favourite is in a historic town called Landsberg on Germany’s famous Romantic Road. The market – held throughout December – is set around a large square lit up by a Christmas tree in the middle. The wooden stalls spill out onto the cobbled high street, teamed with its high and narrow, colourful buildings. Too pretty for words – especially when covered in snow.
When I lived in England, I relied mainly on the big high street names for my Christmas shopping. The Christmas markets in Bavaria have taught me a valuable lesson. Even though they’re all different, they all support small, independent craftsman and businesses selling unique, quality goods. Real people creating real things. I know who I’d rather see my hard-earned pennies go to at Christmas- or at any time of the year! Just be sure to visit one the markets at dusk. When they’re all lit up in the dark it really adds to the atmosphere.