A popular Christmas market in Annaberg Buchholz, GermanyA popular Christmas market in Annaberg Buchholz, Germany
November 12, 2013

Germany’s best Christmas markets by rail

by Laurel Robbins in Destinations

There’s no better way to visit Germany’s Christmas markets than with your Eurail pass, since you’ll definitely want to visit more than one! Visit markets in Germany’s major cities, such as Berlin, Munich or Dresden or head to a smaller city for some added charm.

German Christmas markets date back to the Late Middle Ages.  They started as just another seasonal market and a meeting place for villagers – a place where they could take the chill off of a long cold dark night with a mug of Glühwein (mulled wine). Much of this tradition remains today. Each market has maintained its own historical feel which is why no two Christmas markets are alike. Besides being a place to meet up with friends, they’re also a great place to purchase Christmas ornaments, traditional handicrafts or tasty handmade goodies. Each Christmas market has its own opening times, but generally speaking they’re open from the end of November until December 23 or 24.

How to get to Germany’s Christmas markets

People boarding an ICE trainChristmas Markets are easily accessible by a variety of trains.  The larger cities are serviced by ICE (high-speed trains), while journeys to Christmas markets in smaller towns will be accessible by RB (regional trains) or buses. Smaller Christmas markets often compensate for size with charm and local character instead, so don’t just visit the large ones. Reservations are not mandatory for the ICE or RB,  but are optional for the ICE, which I recommend doing during public holidays and busy times. (€5 for 2nd class and €4 for 1st class). Keep in mind that the ICE Sprinter train always needs to be reserved in advance (€11 for 2nd class and €16 for 1st class). This train operates during the busy times at the start and end of the working day and makes fewers stops than the standard ICE train. If you’re traveling through Germany by night on the City Night Line, you’ll need to pay and reserve your sleeping accommodation in advance. A bed in a 6-person compartment costs €27.50 and a bed in a cabin starts from €55 per person.

Three of Germany’s best Christmas markets

Germany has literally hundreds of different Christmas markets, but here are three of my personal favorites:

  1. Nuremberg Christmas market

    Meet Nuremberg's prune peopleA visit to Germany’s most famous and traditional Christmas market is a good place to start. Unsurprisingly, it’s also one of Germany’s most popular Christmas markets,  so avoid the crowds by going during the week.  Immediately upon arriving at the Christmas market, which is just a short walk from the train station, you’ll be greeted by the scent of cinnamon, allspice and cloves that permeate the market. All in the name of gingerbread!  Nuremberg (Nürnberg) has a long history of gingerbread dating back to 1395. Today it’s home to 4000 gingerbread makers and possibly the world’s best gingerbread! After getting your fill, you’ll definitely want to meet some of Nuremberg’s most famous residents – the Zwetschgenmännle, or in English, the Prune People.  Many vendors sell them, you can’t miss them. Nuremberg is easily accessible by both regional and ICE high-speed trains.  It takes just over an hour on the ICE from Munich (München).

  2. Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas market

     Rothenburg's Christmas market As you step off the train you’ll wonder if you have been transported back in time.  This 800 year old walled city is home to some of the best preserved medieval architecture in Europe. It’s this setting that makes its Christmas market one of the most romantic in all of Europe. It’s much smaller than Nuremberg’s, but its quaint size just adds to its charm. Not to be missed is Käthe Wohlfahrt, a store open year round selling nothing but Christmas ornaments. In the same building there’s also a Christmas museum. You’ll also want to indulge in a mug of white mulled wine – which is different than the usual red mulled wine.  Don’t leave without trying a Schneeball, (Snowball in English) – strips of dough are shaped together into a ball, fried, then coated with powdered sugar or chocolate. You can reach Rothenburg ob der Tauber in about 1 hour 20 minutes from Nuremburg using regional trains.

  3. Stuttgart Christmas market

    Festive decorations at Stuttgart's Christmas market This is also one of Germany’s most famous and largest Christmas markets. But unlike the one in Nuremberg renowned for its tasty treats this one is famous for a completely different reason. This one is known for its wooden hut decorating contest! Each year the 280 or so vendors try and out decorate each other on the roof of their huts. The competition is fierce! Try and choose a winner for yourself.  If you’re anything like me you’ll keep changing your mind. Each hut seemingly outdoing the hut before it. You can have fun trying to choose your own winner though while noshing on roasted chestnuts, or indulge in some local Swabian specialities, like Kase Spätzle, which I like to refer to as German macaroni and cheese. In the background the Old and New Palace create a magical setting. Stuttgart can be reached by various regional and ICE trains. Stuttgart can be reached from Frankfurt in around 1 hour 20 minutes with the ICE.