Germany,  Guides

3 Can’t Miss Bavarian Christmas Markets to Put You in the Holiday Spirit

a bavarian christmas market

Stop for a second and imagine what you see when you think of Bavarian Christmas markets? Maybe you see half-timbered homes and stands decorated with Christmas lights. There are probably crowds of eager children looking at all the toys and equally excited adults sipping colorful mugs of glühwein. And of course, topping it all off is a perfect Christmas tree filled with sparkling lights to give everything that last bit of Christmas cheer!

All that is only touching the surface of the delights that await you on a visit to Bavaria over the Christmas season. To find out more about what to expect, keep scrolling!

In this article, I’ll describe three of Bavaria’s top Christmas markets: Munich’s, Nürnberg’s and Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s. I also included some tips to help you get the most out of your time.

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What to Expect from Bavaria’s Christmas Markets

It’s not an exaggeration to say the Bavarian Christmas markets we visited felt like something out of a Christmas dream. They gave strong 1960s Rankin/Bass Christmas movie vibes, except in a warm, fuzzy feeling in your stomach way, not the sometimes-creepy claymation way.

They were much different from what I’m accustomed to in America. Many American markets make their best attempt to look like traditional German markets, but there is always something amiss. The American markets just seem fake, like they’re almost trying too hard to be traditionally German.

These are, of course, the real deal! Each market we visited was lined with adorable stalls decorated from top to bottom with garland, lights and various other Christmas decorations. There are Christmas trees and Nativity scenes, each one different from the last.

While the decorations are charming, they aren’t even the best part. The highlights are the vast assortments of vendors selling all sorts of treats and trinkets: pastries, cakes, every type of sausage imaginable, glühwein, children’s toys, incense smokers, prune dolls (look them up), ornaments, Nativity decorations, candied nuts, roasted chestnuts, flammkuchen (like a decadent flatbread pizza), beer, model Christmas villages, and anything else you might need for that quintessential Christmas experience.

It’s a holiday-tinged feast for the senses!

Topping it all off: Everyone is in a great mood. People smile and laugh while chatting amicably with one another. Almost everyone is happily sipping away on glühwein without ever seeming to have had too much. It’s a perfect atmosphere.

Now that you know a bit about what makes Bavarian Christmas markets tick, let’s take a closer look at some of Bavaria’s top markets.

Don’t be confused when you see the name Christkindlmarkt. Christkindlmarkt translates to Christ Child market where the Christ Child is an entity similar to the American version of Santa Claus.

Munich’s Marienplatz Christmas Market

What better place to start than in Munich, the capital of Bavaria? Munich’s main Christmas market is spread throughout Marienplatz with the old and new town halls acting as dramatic backdrops.

There are around 140 vendors selling children’s trinkets, decorations and every type of food and drink (this being the capital, there are stands selling specialties from across the region) you could want. The Marienplatz Christmas Market is big, but it doesn’t feel like it because of how spacious this square is. It’s easy to get around without feeling overwhelmed by crowds. It’s also spread out enough that there are a few spots within the market that have their own little open areas. They’re almost like mini markets within the greater layout of everything.

In addition to the many vendors, another notable feature of Munich’s flagship Christmas market is its huge Christmas tree that can be seen from any point of the market. With its large size and placement right below the new town hall’s balcony, this makes for a great setting for Christmas photos from almost any angle. With good timing, you can even catch live music from the balcony to set the mood.

One nice thing I liked about the Marienplatz Christmas Market was how it extended out into some of the roads connecting with the plaza. Technically, I doubt these parts were still considered the Christmas market, but regardless, they were convenient to get away from the crowds while still enjoying the market atmosphere. A favorite of mine was towards Frauenkirche where a stand was set up to look like the church with an enclosed area to get out of the cold.

For a good view of the Marienplatz Christmas market, make the climb up the tower of nearby St Peter’s Church.

Nürnberg’s Christmas Market

Nürnberg (or Nuremberg for my fellow Americans) plays host to one of Germany’s biggest and most popular Christmas markets. This well-known market can be found in Nürnberg’s historic Hauptmarkt in front of Frauenkirche.

During the Christmas season, the Hauptmarkt turns into a tangle of red and white striped stands for visitors and locals alike. The lanes in the market weave in and out of each other much like the medieval roads in Nürnberg itself. Throughout this higgledy-piggledy web of around 180 Christmas stands, merrymakers from all around enjoy everything it has to offer.

Central to everything is Frauenkirche towering above the market as if to remind everyone of the season’s religious significance. On either side of the church’s entrance are two large Christmas trees, lit up to brighten the church’s Gothic facade. While not as grand as the tree in front of Munich’s town hall, I preferred this because it felt more intimate and evocative.

Another thing I liked in Nürnberg’s Christmas market was its international section. Set apart from the main area was a smaller section with stands showcasing goods from other countries. This section was less crowded and smartly arranged making it easy to explore. There was only one stand per country. Yet, even with this small sample, it was interesting seeing how other cultures celebrate the season.

Unfortunately, rather than charming, it all felt a bit chaotic, especially in my jetlagged state of mind. Nevertheless, we did still enjoy ourselves. My advice for those just arriving in Germany is to visit a more laid-back town and market first, if possible, to get your mind and body right before tackling Nürnberg’s Christmas Market.

Rothenburg’s Christmas Market

I’ve saved my favorite for last: Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s Christmas Market! It was far from the biggest and had the least variety in its stands, yet it perfectly encapsulated what I envisioned a Bavarian Christmas market to be.

Whereas Nürnberg’s and Munich’s Christmas markets were sprawling to match their larger urban environment, Rothenburg’s sat cozily in the town’s small center. It wasn’t bursting at the seams with people, and the stands were all setup around the edge of the market with a large Christmas tree in the middle making it easy to navigate. Compared to Nürnberg’s Christmas Market, Rothenburg’s was positively quaint.

The setting of Rothenburg’s Christmas Market was what really set it apart for me. Rothenburg is a Bavarian town stuck in the past with its winding lanes, 13th century defensive wall and delightful half-timbered homes, which were beautifully decorated for the season. It’s easy to imagine this market looking much as it did when it first set up shop in the 1400s.

You couldn’t ask for a better place to mill about for a couple hours with a mug of glühwein, the town’s brand of sausage and a locally made schneeballen. Unlike some of the bigger markets, Rothenburg’s just lets you relax and take in the Christmassy scene. It’s the ultimate Bavarian Christmas market!

Rothenburg’s Christmas market is fantastic, but this beautiful village is much more than that. Read my guide to visiting to find out what you can expect!

Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Shop and the German Christmas Museum

If you need a break from gluhwein during your visit to the Christmas market, take a few steps down Herrngasse to the Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas shop. The shop itself is a winter wonderland, but the highlight is upstairs.

For a small fee, there’s an unassuming museum on the top floor of this store that takes you through the history of Christmas in Germany. It’s filled with informative placards and interesting objects from Christmases long ago.

After you’re done with the museum, you’ll head back downstairs where you can walk through the rest of the store.

Other Holiday Markets in Bavaria

This is by no means a comprehensive list of Bavaria’s Christmas markets. Most towns seem to have a Christmas market of some size. Here are some other cities with popular markets to consider:

  • Würzburg
  • Augsburg
  • Regensburg
  • Bamberg
  • Berchtesgaden

It’s also worth mentioning that even in the cities highlighted above, there are other Christmas markets to discover. We stumbled upon many in Munich, in particular, that varied in size and appearance if you’re looking for something different from the big one in Marienplatz.

Another excellent holiday event in the region is Vienna’s New Year’s Eve Trail. Here’s the guide I wrote about this celebration to inspire your trip!

Tips for Visiting Bavarian Christmas Markets

Unless you’re the biggest scrooge out there, you should have a great time at any of these Christmas markets. Here are a few tips to make the most of your experience just to be safe.

For more general help planning your trip to Germany, check out my planning guide for a successful trip!

Bring Cash

In general, more places required cash in Bavaria than anywhere else we’ve traveled, and the Christmas markets were no different.

In my experience, the decoration stands, with their more expensive wares, tended to accept credit cards whereas the food and booze stands did not. If you don’t have cash on hand, make sure to ask before making any purchases. If you don’t have cash, each Christmas market had an ATM relatively nearby.

Check the weather and Dress Warmly

You’re pretty far north of the equator in winter, so it should go without saying that you can anticipate cold weather. It also gets dark early, which can make it feel colder than it actually is.

Especially if you aren’t used to cold weather, bring more layers than you think you’ll need to be safe. I decided last second to bring thermal long johns and was glad I did almost immediately when we were walking around in single digit wind chills the first couple days.

Ask About Glühwein Deposits

All the glühwein stands we stopped at required a small deposit (typically a couple euros) for the mug. Once you pay the deposit, you can continue to get refills without having to pay this small fee again, and once you’re done, simply return the mug to get your money back (or keep it for a cheap souvenir).

In Nürnberg and Rothenburg, we could take our mugs to any stand for refills or to return them. However, in Munich, we had to return to the same stand we made the initial purchase at. Be sure to ask if you aren’t sure.

Beware Cheap Souvenirs

Beware the too-good-to-be-true €15 wooden smoker!

Just because you’re in a traditional Bavarian Christmas market doesn’t mean every decoration or trinket was handcrafted in Germany. Check for either a sign that says everything made by that vendor was done in Germany or else a sticker on the individual item that says, “Made in China.” If you can’t find either of those things, ask the person working the stand.

You’ll pay a higher price, but it’s worth it to support local artisans and to know you’re bringing home something authentic that you couldn’t get anywhere else.

Expect Bigger Crowds on Weekends

Just like anything else, Bavarian Christmas markets get more crowded on weekends. Set your expectations accordingly or make other plans if large crowds bother you.

Similarly, the week leading up to Christmas will likely be busier, too, with everyone getting those last-minute items for their family festivities.

When to Visit Bavarian Christmas Markets

The Christmas markets detailed in this article typically go from late November to Christmas Eve. Markets open around noon and go till between 8:00 and 10:00 depending on the day. However, if they’re open Christmas Eve, they will likely close sometime in the early afternoon.

Make sure to check ahead of time for specific schedules once you know when and where you’re going.

Resources to Book Your Trip to Bavaria

Whether you’re looking for tours, hotels or flights, here are some tools to help get you started planning your trip to Bavaria!

Look for activities and tours offered through GetYourGuide or Viator!

Search Flights

Still can’t find what you’re looking for? Check out my travel essentials pages for more of my recommendations.

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  • Carolin

    I’m glad to hear you’ve had a nice time at the markets. Reading your posts makes me feel you would really enjoy the Dresden markets. They are spectacular and have not only a main market but also a medieval section and the one at Frauenkirche is entirely illuminated by Herrenhuter Christmas stars. Magical. The fee for the mugs is for people to return them or keep them as a souvenir. Did you keep yours?

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

    • Chalkandcheesetravels

      Lovely post I have been threatening to go to the markets for years. I likewise like the sound of Rothenbeeg’s slightly smaller markets. Very interesting about cash only especially these days it’s not often you here this anymore but it’s noted.

      I do have one question Paul did you see many kids at the markets ? Would you recommend for kids?

      Thanks keep up the great writing

      • paulpassingthrough

        I think some are staying cash only because of the high demand. My guess is it takes too long to process a credit card. They probably don’t want to have to deal with processing fees.

        There were lots of kids at all of them! There are lots of gluhwein stands but even more toy stands. I think between that and all the fun decorations, it could keep a kids attention for a decent amount of time. Lots of candies and sweets, too.

    • RJ

      Nicee post, it’s a shame you were tired for the nuremberg markets. We really enjoyed a few years back. Munich appeals for a future trip, its only 2 trains away…

      • paulpassingthrough

        Yeah, I think that was a big reason why I didn’t like it as much as the other day, which is why I wanted to be upfront about that in the post. I also wasn’t feeling great, as I typically don’t after a lot of travel. OH well, we still enjoyed it while we could. Definitely check out Munich’s when you get a chance. Some of their smaller ones looked like fun, too.

    • paulpassingthrough

      Prior to this experience, I had only been to a couple in America, and they’ve always left me wanting more. They hadn’t been bad necessarily, just lacking a certain something. These ones in Europe had the magic the American ones were missing.

  • Jan

    If there’s one thing that the Germans do so well aside from Octoberfest, cars and home appliances, it’s definetly the Christmas Markets! I remember traveling to Munich on the onset of Christmas and I was so enamored with the christmas displays and all things glittering! Your post made me want to celebrate Christmas – German style. Ja! 😉 #flyingbaguette

  • Elena at TravelByExample

    When we visited Rothenburg (in warm season) I was thinking that it might be even more pretty during Christmas time. Now, looking at your pics I know it is definitely pretty and cosy with all those decorated buildings and lights 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Travel for a while

    I’ve been thinking about a Christmas Markets tour in Germany and Austria for a couple of years now, and now added Rothenburg to the wishlist. I prefer small and cozy, so it seems the perfect Christmas destination.

  • Peggy

    Paul, I really enjoyed this! I think because I had just been to the Christmas Markets along the Rhine, I had a frame of reference that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Like you, I was envoloped in the charm, so much more than I could have imagined. I would love to visit these next trip.

  • Carina | bucketlist2life

    It’s hard to get into the Christmas spriit when you’re in hot Vietnam. But then again, i love German Christmas markets. I liked the one in Munich as well. There are also some amazing ones outside of Bavaria like in the castle in Querfurt.

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