Maybe you’ve been in the Christmas spirit since October, when stores started selling ornaments and stockings alongside Halloween costumes and pumpkins. Or maybe you need a swift kick of holiday cheer to get you excited about another Advent season.
Either way, visiting Germany during the last five weeks (or so) of the year is a terrific way to get in the mood for Noel — whether you’re more of a Griswold or a Grinch.
German Christmas markets — also known as Christkindlmarkt or Weihnachtsmärkte — are holiday street markets that date back to the Middle Ages. Often held in the town square, stalls selling traditional Yuletide decorations, gifts, food and drinks are draped in glowing lights. Seriously, the dose of seasonal cheer is so strong not even Ebenezer Scrooge could resist their charm.
With a Christmas market in almost every German city, it’s hard to highlight just one — which is why we put together an itinerary that hits all the best the Deutschland has to offer. Thanks to Wanderu’s unique routing technology, we were able to plot out a 10-city tour of Germany that will take you from Dresden to Berlin and beyond — all for less than €300. (Cue Kevin McCallister–style screaming face.)
Even better: The entire route is by rail, which means you’ll traverse the German countryside in the comfort of Deutsche Bahn trains. Frankly, we can’t think of a more magical way to get in the proper spirit than peering out a train window at forests thick with German pines.
To get you started, here’s a map of the full route:
|Frankfurt to Cologne||$55.30||€49.75||£43.02|
|Cologne to Düsseldorf||$14.27||€12.84||£11.08|
|Düsseldorf to Berlin||$35.79||€32.20||£27.79|
|Berlin to Leipzig||$41.78||€37.59||£32.51|
|Leipzig to Dresden||$23.91||€21.51||£18.57|
|Dresden to Nuremberg||$29.15||€26.22||£22.63|
|Nuremberg to Munich||$43.21||€38.88||£33.62|
|Munich to Stuttgart||$42.27||€38.03||£32.89|
|Stuttgart to Heidelberg||$20.84||€18.75||£16.18|
|Heidelberg to Frankfurt||$23.45||€21.10||£18.21|
- Prices are based on the average cost of a one-way Deutsche Bahn train ticket for the respective route available on Wanderu over a 30-day period.
Wanderu is your one-stop shop for European travel: With flights now available on our platform, you can book your plane tickets to and from Germany — as well as your train travel between cities — all in one place. By comparing your travel options in one handy search you can find the very best deals, which means extra coin to spend on gifts for your family and friends back home. (Or, if we’re being honest, on Glühwein.)
If you’re ready to ride this sleigh from one charming town to the next, we’re here to help. Deutsche Bahn tickets may be in German, but we already have a detailed guide that explains every section of your ticket for easy reference.
Now, in the following section, find a breakdown of the entire route, including the highlights that make each city’s Christmas market unique.
DATES: Nov. 25 – Dec. 22
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: Kick things off in Frankfurt, home to one of the largest and oldest Christmas markets in Germany. Don’t believe it? The city actually has the receipts: The first mention of it appears in documents from the late 14th century, around the same time the Plague tore through Europe. (No wonder the locals were clamoring for something more cheerful.)
Back then, outsiders weren’t exactly welcome to join in the festivities, but today that’s a whole different story. Between the market’s opening and closing, an estimated 3 million visitors are expected to pass through its more than 200 stalls. Vendors sell everything from wooden toys and rocking horses to mulled wine and traditional baked marzipan treats like Brenten and Bettmännchen.
Between bites, take a moment to snap a photo in front of the nearly 100-feet-high Christmas tree and catch a ride on the double-decker carousel. With the twinkly lights and spiced wine, you should be well-filled with the Christmas spirit by the time you’re on to your next stop.
DATES: Nov. 25 – Dec. 23
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: The local slogan translates to “Cologne is a feeling,” and in December, that feeling is surely all about Christmas.
That’s because Cologne is home to not just one, two or even three Christmas markets; there are seven major markets that run during the season. But the most popular (read: most crowded) market — through which about 4 million people are expected to stroll during the month — is the one held in front of the Cologne Cathedral. Famous for its Gothic architecture and its two huge spires, the cathedral serves as a stunning backdrop for a square littered with red-roofed wooden huts, 50,000 LED lights, and the wafting scent of gingerbread mixed with roasted chestnuts.
Similar to Frankfurt, there’s a carousel and the obligatory Christmas tree, but there are also plenty of opportunities to pick up last-minute gifts like blown glass or wood carvings from a local vendor within one of the 150 stalls.
DATES: Nov. 21 – Dec. 30
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: Düsseldorf is also home to a lucky seven Christmas markets, made even luckier by the fact that they’re all located in the city center and within walking distance of each other. They also have a longer season than the markets in other cities — open November 21st through the end of December (even after Christmas).
If you can’t hit them all though, don’t beat yourself up. You may need a nap after a few mugs of hot chocolate, paired with pretzels or free samples from the Lindt chocolate store. And for the most part, the seven markets do dabble in the same trees, treasures and treats. But don’t let that discourage the more ambitious of you who want to get all seven stamps on your Düsseldorf markets pass (no, that’s not really a thing, but it’s a good goal).
After all, how can you choose between checking out the hand-carved, life-sized nativity scene at the Handwerker-Markt and Instagramming the stalls painted like Düsseldorf burgher houses (think tall, colorful buildings from medieval times) at the Altstadt-Markt? Best decision: Hit them both.
DATES: Nov. 25 – Dec. 30
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: The next stop has you going from seven markets in Düsseldorf to a whopping 70 in Berlin … and no, that’s not the mulled wine playing tricks on you. Berlin is home to an impressively large number of Christmas markets, which means you’re sure to find (at least) one that suits your style. No matter where you stay in Berlin, there’s bound to be a market or two in the neighborhood.
From November 25th until the end of the year, you can visit the Gendarmenmarkt, one of the most popular markets in the capital city. Situated on a square between French and German cathedrals, the WeihnachtsZauber at the Gendarmenmarkt attracts more than 600,000 visitors each holiday season. True, it’s significantly fewer than the main markets in cities like Frankfurt or Cologne, but with tens of other choices, it makes sense that the crowd gets dispersed. Besides, at this point in your journey, you may want a break from the Christmas swarms.
Berlin is an international city, so it’s no wonder that artisans from all over the world set up shop, selling goods that don’t necessarily come to mind when you think Christkindlmarkt (we’re talking origami). But there are also traditional goldsmiths and candlemakers among the temporary city of tents. Plus, daily programming includes performances from jugglers, acrobats, dancers, choirs and, yes, even fire-eaters. If that’s not enough to liven up your feed, check out the most instagrammable places in Berlin while you’re in town.
DATES: Nov. 26 – Dec. 23
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: Frankfurt may edge Leipzig out as having the oldest Christmas market in Germany, but the Leipzig Christmas Market isn’t far behind. Originating in 1458, this Weihnachtsmarkt could hang its hat on that impressive legacy alone. But the fact that it has existed for literal centuries isn’t even what makes this event so special.
Nope, it’s the world’s largest free-standing Advent calendar (at over 9,000 square feet!), along with a giant Ferris wheel, that makes Leipzig a true holiday destination. Have children in tow? Take them to the Fairytale Forest, where they can tell Santa their Christmas wish-list.
After that, you’ve probably earned yourself a mug of Glögi, a spiced liquor available in the market’s Finnish Village.
DATES: Nov. 27 – Dec. 24
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: Speaking of historic markets, Dresden’s Striezelmarkt first opened its booths in 1434. And even though it has been around for close to 600 years, the people of Dresden continue to make it a can’t-miss event.
The market’s name comes from a local fruit cake, once called Striezel and nowadays known as Stollen. Either way, you’d better believe it’s sold at the market, especially during Stollenfest, which happens this year on December 8th. Seriously, there’s a whole festival dedicated to fruit cake; your grandmother would be so pleased. 👵
But even if you’re not looking to buy a loaf, you can pick up an assortment of other holiday souvenirs, from wooden ornaments and nutcrackers to Moravian stars. And don’t forget to snap a picture in front of Striezelmarkt’s Christmas arch and giant candle pyramid — each the largest of their kind in the world.
DATES: Nov. 29 – Dec. 24
WHY YOU SHOULD GO:
You men and women, who once yourselves were children,
Be them again today, happy as children be,
And now the Christkind to its market calls,
And all who come are truly welcome.
The Nuremberg Christmas market opens the same way each year, when the Nuremberg Christkind recites a speech like the one above from the balcony of the Frauenkirche church.
Since 1969, the Christkind has been an elected young woman with blond hair, who then dresses in the style of an angel — wearing gold and white, a crown and long flowy sleeves — for the occasion. It’s the most serious moment in the market’s season.
However, the locals and vendors at the Nuremberg market also put a lot of weight on their pork sausages. The recipe for these famous grilled meats was first recorded in 1497, but in 2003 the Nuremberg Rostbratwurst was granted a seal that requires the meat be made according to a single specific recipe. If you want to sound like a local, order them “drei im Weggla” (that’s three in a roll) to go!
DATES: Nov. 27 – Dec. 24
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: Munich may be best known for Oktoberfest, but once the crowds (and hangovers) wane, Bavaria starts to buzz again: this time, with the sights and sounds of Christmas. Marienplatz, or St. Mary’s Square, in the center of the city is the location of Munich’s largest Christmas market.
There you’ll find enough mead and mulled wine to get you as lit as the square’s giant Christmas tree, which is covered in 2,500 lights. Of course, there’s also all the usual artisan crafts and traditional snacks for sale; we suggest the Käsespätzle (basically the German answer to mac and cheese).
And if you’re there in the evening, make sure you listen for the sounds of Advent music, as choirs and soloists perform songs nightly at 5:30 p.m. from the balcony of the town hall. Even if you only have one day in Munich, it’s worth sticking around for. Then, head south to St. Peter’s Church (if you pass the Apple Store, you’re on the wrong street) and climb its tower for a romantic — and less crowded — view of the market.
DATES: Nov. 27 – Dec. 23
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: By now, you’ve been to at least eight German Christmas markets. And you’re probably thinking you’ve seen about all they have to offer, right? Dead wrong. If you take anything away from this itinerary, let it be: Don’t sleep on Stuttgart.
There’s a lot to get excited about here, but the rooftops of the vendor stalls may be #1. Stuttgart holds a competition for the best-looking rooftop, so participants decorate their huts with reindeer, lights, wrapped packages, trees, nutcrackers — you name it. And with close to 300 stalls, you could spend an entire evening just browsing the impressive designs.
But there’s also a real-life nativity scene, a cute and cozy Finnish village, and an antique enthusiasts’ market (which gets bonus points for being inside a heated tent!). Or, for those looking to work off that Käsespätzle from the last stop, there’s also an ice rink.
DATES: Nov. 25 – Dec. 22
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: This university town’s take on the Christmas market is actually a collection of six small markets stretching along Heidelberg’s main street, the Hauptstrasse.
At one time there was also a market at Heidelberg Castle, but don’t expect to see that this year. The market was deemed too disruptive for the endangered bats living in the tunnels there, and three years ago it was shut down. Still, you can visit the castle for some of the best views of the town. Then, on your way back down, stop at “Christmas on Ice” to skate with locals and tourists on the open-air rink.
As you’re winding down from a full and festive exploration of German towns and traditions, Heidelberg is the perfect place to finish this tour. Hoping for one last mug of mulled wine or another bite of bratwurst? Still need to purchase a souvenir or visit Santa? You can do all of that (and more) during the markets’ run, before returning to Frankfurt for your flight home.
Sure, the phrase “holiday magic” is kind of cliché. But when it comes to these classic Weihnachtsmärkte, there’s something almost other-worldly about walking around the glowing stalls — like you’re taking a stroll through Christmas Past.
If you typically find yourself getting disillusioned with the over-commercialized aspects of the holiday, the artisanship of the items on sale and the genuine sincerity of the German vendors provides a real breath of fresh air from the Hallmark Channel grind.
You don’t have to celebrate Christmas to appreciate the allure of these street markets, but if the holiday season really isn’t your kind of thing, check out this equally charming tour of the most Instagrammed German castles instead. And if you’re looking for more ways to explore the magical places that the Old Continent has to offer, check out the Euro Travel Coach blog where travel experts Greg and Betsy share their advice on the best places to visit and dispense invaluable tips on how to plan your trips.
But if rocking around the Christmas tree is your jam, do yourself a favor this season and jumpstart your Yuletide spirit with a whirlwind train tour of Germany. At under €300, the entire trip is cheaper than a black market Tickle Me Elmo.
How We Did It
To experience the best Christmas markets in Germany for yourself, head straight to Wanderu.com or download the Wanderu app — the best way to book cheap buses, trains and flights across Europe and North America. And if you thought Germany was cheap, try our tour of Italy, where you can visit all the country’s bucket-list cities for less than $130.
Using Wanderu’s proprietary data on train travel in Germany — including pricing, duration and schedule information from Deutsche Bahn — we were able to leverage our unique routing technology to map and build a multi-stop travel itinerary. By measuring each leg for the best balance of price and duration, we were able to find the most optimal trip around Germany.
The prices quoted in this article are based on the average cost of train tickets available on Wanderu for each route over a 30-day period.
To ensure that this trip is more than just data science, the Wanderu algorithm used actual bookable trips to verify that this road trip was possible at these prices over multiple consecutive days.
You are welcome to use the information on this page, crediting Wanderu. If you do so, please link back to this page, so that holiday travelers around the globe can check out all the available trips and find out how we came up with the itinerary.