The open-air spaces have been holiday-season staples since the fourteenth century, when German towns established the first ones in honor of Advent. Across the continent today, Christmas lights blanket town squares; tents, chalets, and wooden pavilions brim with gifts; and mulled wine flows like the river each city overlooks. Here are a few to explore. Bring your appetite – and maybe an extra suitcase.
Cologne lauds the season with an impressive seven Christmas markets. The four most popular – Cathedral, Angel’s, Old, and Harbour – are centered around downtown. Hop on the Christmas Market Express, an old-fashioned trolley that weaves through the city, stopping at all four. Cathedral is home to the city’s tallest Christmas tree (82 feet), and Harbour is the place to go for Flammlachs (fresh grilled salmon), but the highlight is Angel’s – the city’s oldest holiday market – where artisans sell crafts inside twinkling chalets and “angels” dressed in white wander through the crowd, tossing glitter in the air and posing for photos with awestruck children.
Buy This: A Weihnachtspyramide, or German Christmas pyramid. The carousel-style candleholder, found in stalls throughout the market, is decorated with Nativity scenes and characters from German folklore.
The Rüdesheim Christmas Market brings international flair to the western German town, with 118 stalls that showcase holiday crafts and traditions from Germany and 15 other countries. Swing by the Hungary stall for langos (deep-fried flatbread), or buy handmade clothing from Mongolia and Australia. Over on Drosselgasse, one of Rüdesheim am Rhein’s tavern-lined, cobblestoned lanes, parents sip glühwein (mulled wine) while kids explore the petting zoo and Europe’s largest Nativity scene – the life-size display covers more than 1,000 square feet. For aerial views of the winter wonderland, hop the Rüdesheim cable car for the annual
“silent ride” over the market.
Try This: A mug of Rüdesheimer Kaffee, topped with whipped cream and spiked with a splash of flambéed Asbach Uralt brandy. It’s available at stalls across the market.