Spicy mulled wine, fresh gingerbread, roasted almonds and chocolate-dipped fruits…
All these wonderful treats are ready and waiting for you to indulge in when you visit one of the many winter markets in Germany.
They belong to the pre-Christmas season the same way falling leaves belong to autumn.
There is something to enjoy for every taste, with traditional, historic, popular, extravagant, modern and romantic venues.
The history of Christmas markets
Their origin dates back to late medieval trade fairs and markets. At these fairs, the people were given the opportunity to stock up with foods for the cold winter.
Later on, bakers and craftsmen began selling their products, too.
Since these events became a regular aspect of the pre-Christmas season in the first part of the twentieth century, no one in Germany could imagine this time of year without these wonderful, versatile markets. They are often still set in the historical center of the city, or the market square.
Most of them are free of charge, however, special events at castles, palaces or cloisters sometimes charge an entry fee to help finance the building’s preservation, or to support charitable projects.
The number of Christmas markets in Germany is almost unimaginable, as even small towns often have their very own events. More than 2000 locations all over the country are waiting to be explored.
The oldest one is the Striezelmarkt in Dresden, while one of the most popular markets internationally would be the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg.
Most events start at the end of November, so you have lots of time to take part in festivities. These fairs are great places to meet with friends or colleagues and, of course, enjoy some quality time with your family.
Things to buy and things to see
If you haven’t found the perfect gift already, Christmas markets offer a wide range of high-quality items. Some of the typical goods include:
- Wooden toys
- Fragrance lamps or oils
- Candles (especially those made of beeswax)
- Bags, belts, hats, scarfs and gloves made of wool, leather or other high-quality materials
- Arts and crafts, jewelry, and products made of glass, clay, tin, porcelain, wood, etc.
Seasonal products like ornaments, tree lights, wooden cribs, Christmas arches, nutcrackers or smoking figurines or räuchermännchen are popular souvenirs, too.
The räuchermännchen, from the Ore Mountain region, are used to burn incense, and the smoke comes out of the mouths of the figurines, typically foresters, peddlers, miners or soldiers.
Christmas arches, also from the Ore Mountain region, are decorative archways depicting Christmas or forest scenes, with candles or electric lights to illuminate them.
Some markets offer a nice program of holiday entertainment as well, which can artistic or cultural in nature. This might include choirs singing Christmas carols, Christmas plays for children or performed by children, musicians and storytellers.
Theatre groups may perform Christmas plays, choirs sing seasonal songs, and sometimes Santa even stops by and distributes small presents to the young visitors.
But there is much more to do than just buying gifts and strolling around.
Grab a bite to eat
If you ever get the chance to visit a German Christmas market, or if one is organized where you live, be on the lookout for all the wonderful things to eat and drink.
And believe you me, with all the smells of the delicious and unique foods, you will soon become hungry if you’re not already.
Once the aroma of fresh farmhouse bread from the wood-fired oven reaches your nose, there is no resisting it.
Or, you might choose a classic hearty meal like fried vegetables, bratwurst, batter-fried fish, grilled meat or potato pancakes.
After that savory dish, you’ll need a proper drink.
Have a warm drink
Why not warm up with a mulled wine, mead, or hot chocolate?
Even more fittingly: a cup of chestnut hot chocolate?
Mulled wine, or Glühwein as it’s called here, is a traditional drink you can get on every market corner. It’s made of red wine, winter spices, and sometimes additional juices or liqueurs.
Alcohol-free options are also available, as well as fancy varieties made with white wine.
Another special market drink is burnt punch, or Feuerzangenbowle. To make it, tongs are used to hold a liqueur-soaked sugar loaf that’s set on fire.
Drinking it has become a nice tradition, that to an old movie from 1944 that first made it popular, a comedy called Die Feuerzangenbowle.
Don’t forget dessert
After all that eating and drinking, it’s time for something sweet. The list of products on offer is as longer than you could imagine:
Have a crêpe or waffles with lots of heavenly fillings to choose from, baked apples with marzipan, Krapfen (fried dough balls), or a slice of Christmas stollen.
Or would you rather try a smaller snack for that time “in between”? I have to recommend the chocolate marshmallows or chocolate-dipped fruits like bananas and strawberries, glazed apples and grapes, cotton candy, or roasted chestnuts.
If you’re about to leave the market, don’t forget to take something home with you. You’ll find flavored roasted almonds and other nuts, coconut macaroons, or beautiful decorated gingerbread hearts.
And if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in one of the cities that feature regional delicacies, you should definitely try some of those, too. Have you heard of:
- Printen-cookies from the city of Aachen?
- Nuremberger Lebkuchen?
- Frankfurter Bethmännchen, made of marzipan?
- The famous Spekulatius almond biscuits with butter and spices?
Want to create a taste of the Christmas market in your own home? Take a look at the following recipes, and enjoy making some festive moments to share with your loved ones.
Traditional Mulled Wine (Glühwein)
Hard Cider Punch
Sparkling Cinnamon Stars
These sweet stars look great. They have a light crisp surface, with a bright and sweet topping of powdered sugar.
Underneath you’ll find a soft dough made with ground almonds and a dash of cinnamon.
One of the advantages of these cookies is that they don’t require any flour, so they can be enjoyed by anyone with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
- 2 egg whites
- 5 oz Powdered sugar or 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons
- 1/2 lemon zest
- 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
- 11 oz ground almonds or 1 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg white
- 3 1/2 oz Powdered sugar or a scant 1/2 cup
- pinch of salt
- Line two baking trays with parchment paper.
- Beat 2 egg whites with powdered sugar until stiff. Fold in the lemon zest, cinnamon, salt and almonds. Chill in the fridge for about 1 hour.
- Roll out the dough to approximately 1/4-inch thick. Cut out up to 60 stars and place on the prepared baking trays. Be careful– the dough is sticky and really soft. Tip: Dip your cookie cutter in some extra powdered sugar to make cutting easier.
- Preheat the oven to 140°C/280°F (convection oven 120°C/250°F).
- For the icing, beat the egg white with a pinch of salt and the powdered sugar until stiff, and spread on each star with a pastry brush.
- Bake each tray of cookies one at a time for about 20 minutes in the middle of your oven. Tip: You might insert one empty tray above the one with the stars so they stay light, because the icing is not supposed to become brown.
Sweet and Spicy Candied Nuts
Crunchy, nutty and sweet, sugar-roasted almonds with a vanilla flair are an iconic treat at Christmas markets, festive events or fairs.
They often require lots of sugar to make, but this recipe calls for less than what’s usually used. Almonds, walnuts, and pecans all make delicious options. And you can make them with or without the spicy cayenne pepper.
Easy Coconut Macaroons
This recipe is fantastic, because it is so easy and quick to prepare.
Since you’ll only need the egg whites, use the yolks for scrambled eggs or another recipe like homemade omelets. It’d be a pity to waste them.
Would you like your coconut heaps to have a fancier appearance? Use a piping bag for a nice shape, drizzle with chocolate, or dip the bottoms into some chocolate for a more decorative look.
Bring the Christmas Market Home
Which of these delightful treats will you choose to make and enjoy with your loved ones? And where are some of your favorite holiday markets? Share your stories with us in the comments below!
And don’t forget to check out our full archive of Christmas recipes and ideas here.
Photos by Meghan Yager and Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. Originally published on December 19, 2015. Last updated: December 19, 2022 at 16:52 pm.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.
13 thoughts on “German Christmas Markets: A Place to Enjoy and Indulge”
Mmmmmmmm! Just reading this post made me salivate. I went to Christmas markets in Germany last year, when I went to visit my mother who lives there. Wow. I have never had a culinary experience quite like it. I like the trinkets and stuff, too, but if I’m being honest I go almost solely for the food. The Regensburg Christmas market (set around and inside the palace courtyard) had a smoked salmon stand. The guy literally had a fire going with a teepee-like structure to which long slabs of salmon were attached, being smoked right then and there. So good! Then, of course, I went for the gluhwein. It warms you right up in that cold air that you only get in a German winter. For desert, this long coil of delicious cinnamon pastry. Thanks for the recipes, I’m definitely going to try that gluhwein at home!
Thank you for your comment! Great that you’ve been to Regensburg! They really have a wonderful location there, don’t they? Yummy, salmon right from the smoke 🙂 With some warming glühwein after that, everything’s fine! I hope you’re able to transfer some of that feeling into your home with the recipe! Enjoy and Happy Holidays!
I’ve never heard about this German tradition! It sounds really fun and exciting. I would love to see those christmas markets with my own eyes!
I’m glad that you provided recipes for people like me, who can’t go there right now 🙂
The Coconut Makaroons are especially delicious looking!
It’s great that you want to try it out, I hope you have fun preparing the macaroons or the drinks and I’m sure they will provide you with the right market-feeling wherever you are 🙂 Happy Holidays to you!
Aw man, I wish I could go to Germany right now and experience that! They remind me of street vendors in New York City that usually line a shopping sheet selling their goods on the table and I sometimes have more fun shopping with them than I do with going inside an actual store. Since I won’t be able to go (no money and no passport), I guess I’ll have to make due with these awesome recipes you put up here instead 🙂
It really is a great atmosphere to experience, but no worries, I hope the recipes will bring some of this feeling to your home! Either way, a nice, warming drink and something sweet to nibble will always work 🙂 Have a happy holiday season.
There’s a German Christmas market in my home-town every year in December, and I went for this first time this year. The atmosphere is amazing, the smells and sounds just put you right into the holiday spirit. I loved the warm drinks and food but it’s a bit over-pricey.
My friend is in German for a three week vacation. I wish i read this article before Christmas. I would have told him of the places and i’m sure he would have visited them since he is a guy who loves adventure. I’ll definitely try to visit these places when i get my vacation next year. They seem cool to me.
Great, I’m almost sure he has found a market somewhere around when he was here. When you’re in Germany for Christmas season, you should definitely visit one, I’m sure you’d recognize many of the aspects and foods I’ve written about. That’d be fun, I’m telling you 🙂
I have always heard of the German Christmas Market and would love to experience it sometime. You saved the best recipe for last, I absolutely love coconut macaroons.
Thank you! Coconut macaroons are gorgeous, aren’t they? I just love the flavor of coconut in baked goodies. And it goes so great with some drips of dark chocolate, delicious!
I hope you’ll enjoy making them and still experience some wintry atmosphere at home 🙂
Oh, WOW! This post makes me wish I have enough money saved so I can easily fly halfway across the world to visit Europe and Germany in particular just for these markets. I love the atmosphere of markets during the Christmas season. Here in my country, we love our Christmas that even as early as September some stores start to decorate for the Christmas holidays and bazaars/fairs such as those mentioned here come aplenty. The pictures are just pure love. I would totally enjoy checking out one store after another in any of these markets. I won’t even start on the food! This is really something to look forward to in some future Christmas season. Crossing fingers I’ll have that chance to see this in person in my lifetime 🙂
I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you 🙂 Glad to hear that you enjoyed reading. It’s indeed a very special atmosphere on those markets. You know what? I believe that soon – it might be September, too – the stores here will also begin putting Christmas sweets into the shelves and stocking decorative articles. I always have the impression that this starts earlier every year 😉 Enjoy the cozy atmosphere that’s coming in the colder months and prepare some nice treats to have your personal Christmas market a home!