I absolutely love Christmas. Every year I go nuts over it; I love everything from tree decorating, to coming up with festive cocktails, to starting my own little Christmas rituals (egg and sausage baps for breakfast on Christmas Day? Now a family ritual thanks to me!). So when I finally found myself in Europe in early December I decided I just had to experience a German Christmas market (or Christkindlesmarkt as they say in German). After all, this is where they originated – they’re the real deal.
It has to be mentioned here that my hometown, Lincoln, started the UK’s first Christmas market in 1982, which is pretty cool; it now attracts more than 100,000 over its four days!
Back to my post. Once I decided this was the year I’d be going to the Christmas markets, I got in touch with my German friend Katja and within weeks we had a whole itinerary drawn up, which included market trawling in both Munich and Salzburg (we decided to add Salzburg, Austria to the plan as it’s so near to Munich!).
The conclusion? I loved the experience and I’d definitely do it again! It made me feel ridiculously festive and excited for the holidays, which was the whole point of the trip. I took hundreds upon hundreds of snaps, so I decided to put together a photo-led post on my discoveries.
We went to three different Christmas markets in Munich: the main one at the Marienplatz, a really small one at Munich Residenz and a charming one at the Englischer Garten.
First thing is first: Germans are nuts about Christmas. I used to think we were mad about it in the UK but these guys truly take it to another level. Everywhere you look there are Christmas decorations; you can bet your bottom dollar that if something has a hook, they’ll be some bauble or wreath hanging off it. When I got out of the airport in Munich I was shocked to find a Christmas market in the courtyard! At the time I was busy looking for the S-Bahn in order to get into town otherwise I would have checked it out, but I was certainly confused to see it there.
So the big market will always remain in my memory as the place in which I had my first glühwein (yes, it’s similar to mulled wine, but when in Germany…). I usually make mulled wine on Christmas Eve, but this is the first time I’ve had it while outside in the cold, so I totally get the point of it now – one mug of that bad boy and you’re all warm behind the ears. Yum! They even have a ‘kids punch’ to keep the little ones warm, too (I hate to think how much sugar is in that stuff! Hello, hyperactive children).
The glühwein is served in mugs and each market has its own signature mug. You pay a little extra each time you buy the wine (usually around €2 – 3), which you get back when you return the mug. If you want to collect them (which many people do) you just keep it!
This being the main market, it was hard to stay away from the crowds once the sun went down, even though we were there during the week. However, there was still plenty of room to move and the crowd was a nice mix of families, young couples, the elderly and tourists. There are little fairground rides for the kids and hot toddies for the adults – what more do you need?
It was highly atmospheric, especially with the Gothic city hall acting as a backdrop. I also got to try gebrannte mandeln – loosely translated as burnt almonds coated with sugar. The ones I had were with cinnamon and they were delicious; the only issue was that after a handful I ended up feeling sick. SO much sugar.
I also quickly found out that Germans love to build their own nativity sets at home. You’ll find loads of stalls selling everything from the stable, through to wooden figurines of baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and an array of animals – you name it, you’ll find it!
During our second day we made our way to the Christmas market at the Munich Residenz, which is the former seat of government and residence of the Bavarian dukes, electors and kings. This was a relatively small market, but charming nevertheless.
This was the market at which I tried my first ever glass of egg nog! In all honesty, it smelled too much like egg for my liking, but once I mixed in the cream it was delicious. Still, I think I’ll stick to my trusty glühwein in the future!
I always prefer places with less crowds, and seeing as we were here during the day there were far less people than at the main market, although still enough to ensure it was atmospheric. We only had a quick wander around here, I had my egg nog, and then I took a load of photos.
My favourite Christmas market in Munich, however, was the one near the Chinese Tower at the Englischer Garten. It was smaller than the main market, but bigger than the one at the Residenz. I think a number of factors made this one my favourite: it was bitterly cold that night and a slight fog had descended, which added to the atmosphere; there was a brass band playing festive songs; the air was full of the aromas of glühwein and sugar and waffles; the whole scene was simply delicious – for all the senses!
You quickly realise that most places sell similar things, although this market seemed to have stalls selling more ‘unique’ things than the ones I saw in the main market. For example, there was a stall that only sold loose teas! This stall had literally hundreds upon hundreds of aromatic packets of colourful teas. I decided on a Christmas-flavoured tea – have yet to try it but it smells yummy!
After Munich we headed off to Austria to the romantic city of Salzburg – birthplace of Mozart and the city where The Sound of Music was filmed. We went to two Christmas markets here – the main one at the beautiful cathedral square and a little one in the old town. The market at cathedral square was my favourite. I mean, just look at it:
The markets were very similar to the ones in Munich; I can’t really think of a differentiating factor. I got to try Kaiserschmarrn, which is best described as fluffy, sweet pancakes, shredded and then topped with powdered sugar and apple sauce. OH. MY. GOD. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten. You can also have them with different additions like raisins and cinnamon, but I opted for the plain version to see what it was all about. I may need to attempt to make this for the family over the holidays.
The smaller market was down an alley of the old town, not so far from the main one. I liked the theme of this one; they had angel wings hanging everywhere! You could even have your picture taken with angels wings, as evidenced below.
So, there you have it – my Christmas market experience. I mainly ate and drank loads, and loaded up on some shopping; my buys included a beautiful candleholder that is made of tree bark and has a Santa Claus carved in it. Was €16 too much to pay for that? Probably. But who cares? Christmas is all about overconsumption these days anyway. Ahem.
The verdict? I loved it and I’d love to do it all over again next year, only at different markets. There are so many in Germany, so I’d head to another city next time. There’s also a great looking one in Zagreb, Croatia that I’m eyeing up for next year. It really is a lovely way to get ready for the holiday season and soak up the atmosphere, before heading home for Christmas with the family. Perfect.
Now, how do I make glühwein?
The Christmas markets usually run from the end of November up until Christmas Eve.
When packing, take layers upon layers of clothes and some good, comfortable boots. Sounds obvious, but it’s sometimes easy to forget how cold it can get when you’re outside for long stretches of time.
To beat the crowds, try to plan your trip during weekdays.
Christmas markets are great places to buy gifts. I was eyeing up all sorts of jewellery, teas and decorations. If you’re planning on bringing fragile items back, here’s a good article on how to pack them.
Here’s a beautiful photo essay on European Christmas markets by Amanda from A Dangerous Business.
A guide to the best Christmas markets in Europe by Megan and Mike from Mapping Megan.
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