Christmas in Germany is truly magical. Twinkling lights illuminate the sky, Christmas tunes fill the air, and glühwein warms up your soul. It’s as if the entire country transforms into a giant Christmas village.
We were a little worried to spend our first Christmas away from home, but we had a wonderful time thanks to the festive celebrations taking place throughout Germany and our friends that welcomed us like family. Now we have some new traditions to share with our family and friends back home!
Here’s a look at what we’ve been up to the last few months and our top picks for best ways to spend Christmas in Germany.
Explore the Christmas Markets
This one is pretty obvious but it really is a must-do. We kept hearing about the Christmas markets before we moved here but weren’t really sure what to expect. Yes, they have some Christmas markets back home…but they aren’t the same. If you want the real thing, you need to come to Germany.
Festive huts filled with handcrafted ornaments, tasty treats and wintery aromas set up shop, transforming cities into winter wonderlands. Maybe it’s the Nutella-filled crepes or the hot spiced wine, but chances are you’ll be filled with joy the moment you arrive at a German Christmas market.
Most start the end of November and end just before Christmas Eve, although some stay open through the end of December and sometimes into early January. Each German town has its own Christmas market history and local specialty so I recommend visiting several if you get the chance.
Here are some highlights from each of the German Christmas markets we visited…
The Twinkling Star Christmas Market was located right in our own backyard so we went there as often as possible to soak up all of the Christmas spirit. Our favorite part was the opening night tree lighting ceremony that took place on my birthday. It reminded us of the Downtown Rochester lighting extravaganza back home. We tried our first (and last) kartoffelpuffer at the Wiesbaden Christmas market. It was way too greasy for us!
Cologne is known for its multiple Christmas markets – all with a unique theme. Our favorite was the Heinzels Wintermärchen, the oldest and largest Christmas market in Cologne. Each year, the “Heinzels” (House Elves) transform Old Town into a medieval Christmas fairytale complete with a large ice rink, artisan workshops and rustic taverns.
Just a short trip from Cologne, Bonn is Germany’s former capital city and Beethoven’s birthplace. We meandered through the festive streets of Bonn’s Christmas market, sampling hot holiday drinks and collecting the prettiest mugs. I even found a pink one!
We loved the Baden-Baden Christmas market for its small town feel and convenient location right near the city’s famous casino. A giant glowing Christmas tree surrounded by wooden huts, live music and a collection of stained glass windows created by school children set the scene for this festive market. There was even a life-sized advent calendar on one of the buildings.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Known as Germany’s Christmas capital, we knew Rothenburg was a must-see during Christmas time. This medieval walled city was oh so charming and has over 500 years of tradition. We enjoyed live entertainment at the Christmas market, got lost in a maze of nutcrackers and nativity scenes at Käthe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Shop, and ended our visit with a walk along the city walls.
There’s something very comforting about strolling through a Christmas market while sipping on glühwein.
You’ve probably heard of this seasonal drink before, but you might not have tried it unless you’ve been to Germany during the Christmas season. If that’s the case, you’ve most most definitely had a mug or two or three.
Imagine a hot glass of red wine mixed with wintery spices. We thought it tasted like warm sangria at first, but it grew on us. Even if you decide you don’t like it, you have to try glühwein at least once. It definitely takes the chill out of a cold day…and is a nice break from German beer.
When you order glühwein at a Christmas market, they charge you a deposit which you’ll get back when you return the mug. Instead, we decided to keep most of our mugs so now we have a lovely collection to take home and commemorate this fun holiday drink.
Go Ice Skating
Most German cities set up large outdoor ice rinks during the winter season. I recommend going during the week when it’s less crowded. We went ice skating here in Wiesbaden on a Monday night and pretty much had the rink to ourselves. Don’t worry about bringing your own skates because you can rent a pair. Although, according to Ryan, they aren’t the best skates.
There’s something magical about ice skating during the Christmas holiday…even if you aren’t the best skater. Just make sure to bundle up (or have a few glasses of glühwein) because it can get chilly.
Cruise the Rhine Christmas Style
We always wanted to go on a Rhine River Cruise so we were excited to discover a Cologne Christmas brunch cruise…combining three of our favorite things: Christmas, brunch, and boats. Okay, anyone who knows me knows I get a little nervous on boats, but as long as I have a little champagne, I’m good to go. 😉
We were welcomed on-board with glasses of sparkling wine and seated at a table right by the window. This 2.5 hour cruise started in Cologne and went up and down the Rhine river. We cruised along to live Christmas carols and enjoyed a delicious brunch full of savory and sweet delights. It was a great way to get in the holiday spirit and explore the Rhine by boat.
Make sure you book your tickets in advance because this experience sold out quickly.
Celebrate on Christmas Eve
Here in Germany, most people celebrate on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas Day. Back home in Michigan, we always have an intimate dinner party at my parent’s house on Christmas Eve and a larger celebration with extended family on Christmas Day.
One of Ryan’s friends invited us over on Christmas Eve for a lovely raclette dinner with his family, complete with Christmas cookies, competitive game playing and lots of laughter. We really enjoyed being a part of their celebration.
We didn’t make any plans for Christmas Day, so we ended up eating at a casual Italian restaurant. It wasn’t bad, but we were definitely missing Nonie’s famous Christmas Chicken and homemade lasagna. We spent the rest of Christmas Day relaxing and getting ready for our upcoming travels.
We took full advantage of Ryan’s time off from work and got to explore some amazing places outside of Germany….but that’s a story for another day. Be on the lookout for our travel diary from our amazing Christmas European Vacation.