Five Christmas Markets All In A Row

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What to See in Germany

Christmas Markets in Germany

Even at this time of year, hiking in Central and Northern Europe can be fun – until about 3 p.m., that is.

"Hattingen side street leading to xmas market in Germany"

By which time, at the best of times, the pale sun is getting even paler and slowly begins to set while the temperature drops another couple of degrees. This is nature’s way of telling you: Quick! Search shelter! Look for something warm and dry!

Happily, at this time of year, most towns in Central and Northern Europe that greet the weary travellers after an exhausting day on the road also have just the right recipe to lighten their mood: food, hot drinks and music, all served in a convivial atmosphere of good spirit and festive cheer

 "Christmas market in Essen Germany"

Gluehwein for Santa’s helpers.

It almost makes you wonder: what were our Decembers like before they invented the Christmas Market?

Here are just some of the Christmas Markets that cheered us up after our recent hikes. (They are all located in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous Federal State.)



Most people will probably agree that Christmas Markets are best enjoyed in old Cathedral towns, surrounded by timber framed houses and networks of narrow medieval lanes.

Christmas market in Germany in Oberhausen

Not all German cities, however, are blessed with this type of Old Town, certainly not all cities in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s (former) industrial heartland.

"Christmas market food stalls in Oberhausen Germany"

This is not necessarily a bad thing: having to compensate for their lack of a “traditional” Christmas Market scenery, these towns and cities are forced to look for fresh and innovative solutions and may come up  with concepts that the more complacent cathedral cities would never have dared to implement.

"Christmas forest theme in Oberhausen Christmas market in Germany"

Oberhausen is such a “New Town”, and its Christmas Forest – featuring a generous amount of real pine trees – is actually quite a good idea, somewhere along the lines of “less tack, more authenticity”. I am less sure, however, that it works that well in practice.

 Let us just say: good ideas alone are never enough if you do not have the resources to implement them properly.


Christmas cheer rating: One candle



Essen is another city not blessed with ancient buildings, but it is a vibrant, busy and energetic place and has somehow managed to shape a Christmas Market in its own image, one that reflects its drive and sheer bustle.


"Busy Christmas market in Essen Germany"


Essen is certainly the brightest and loudest of all the markets we have been to and also the most youthful. This is what Christmas Markets in the US must feel like.


Christmas cheer rating: Two candles



For people who like their Christmases more traditional, Hattingen is almost certainly the best bet in the entire Ruhr area. The whole town is decked out in lights, starting with the street that leads you from the train station to the historic Town Hall. And in the dusk, the Old Town looks as if had been conceived by a Hollywood set designer for a Christmas movie.


"Hattingen Christmas market in Germany"


Hattingen is a small town, and the fact that everybody and everything in sight appears to revolve around Christmas (all of the town’s shops and businesses have festive decorations, and practically every shopper seems to be a visitor who has come here for the Christmas Market alone) creates an almost magical atmosphere.


"Hattingen Christmas market in its town center"


If you can visit only one Christmas market in North Rhine Westphalia, make it this one.


Christmas cheer rating: Four candles and the whole Christmas tree


Of course, North Rhine Westphalia also has its own Cathedral Towns, none more famous than the ancient city of Cologne (in the south of the state) whose Cathedral is one of Europe’s largest (and incidentally Germany’s most visited building, too).

"Cologne Christmas market in the shadows of the Cathedral in Germany"

Inevitably, Cologne’s main Christmas Market resides in the shadow of the Cathedral, nestled against its tall and somber walls. It is, nevertheless, a surprisingly this-worldly affair, more neon light than candle light, more “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” than “Silent Night”.

"Under the tent of christmas lights in Cologne Christmas market in Germany"

It is very large, too, very bright – the market is covered by a tent-shaped network of light bulbs – and extremely busy.


Christmas cheer rating: Two candles


The state’s other great Cathedral Town is Münster, about 80 miles to the north.


"Arts and craft stall in Muenster Germany Christmas market"


Münster has always prided herself in being “a cut above” her neighbours, and the city’s Christmas Market – divided between the Prinzipalmarkt and the courtyard of the historical Town Hall – reflects this, offering a much wider variety of arts and crafts than all the other markets that we saw (including the market in Cologne, a city three times Münster’s size).


"Figurines made out of nuts,bolts and screws in Muenster Christmas market"


If you are looking for an original souvenir, something that you will not be able to find anywhere else, Münster is the place to go (even if it is a little out of the way).


Christmas cheer rating: Three Candles

What Christmas markets in Germany have you visited?

19 comments to Five Christmas Markets All In A Row

  • Calogero Mira

    Hattingen Christmas market in Germany? Never been there. And.. is Lumumba a German chocolate?

  • I loved your ratings system! I think it’s cool that you got to experience the Oberhausen market…while its relatively bare now, I look forward to seeing how it grows over time. Thanks for increasing my Christmas joy this afternoon.

  • Shanthi Streat

    Loved the blogpost. My husband and I visited Cologne’s Xmas market last year and fell in love with the whole atmosphere. It’s made us yearn for more. We hope to visit others in due course.
    I envy you but also thank you for introducing us to the other markets.

  • It’s amazing to walk around these viallages and cities with a lot of charm. Good post, greetings from Spain!

  • They are quite charming really, no matter how small or how simple. It cheers one up somehow in this grey time of the year.

  • Love these christmas market pictures from everyone in Europe – they seem to be great little festivals with lots of goodies and food

  • Keep it in moderaiton with Gluehwein, Cathy. Try the Lumumba instead. Spiked hot chocolate.

  • Love, love, love German Christmas Markets! I haven’t been to any of those in the post, but have been making my way through many others drinking Glühwein. Great pics.

  • I’ve been to 15 different Christmas markets this year alone, but none of these. It’s amazing how many there are. One of my favorites is the Esslingen Medieval Christmas Market, or any other one that has a good hike around it.

  • Munster looks good! We’re looking forward to the Christmas markets in Tallin, Estonia. Merry Christmas!

  • Christmas markets are one of my favorite things! Great photos and write-up. :)

  • Christmastime is my favorite time of year- I love all the lights and I really feel like everyone is a little more positive and friendly! I haven’t been to any of these markets- but they are high on my list.

  • Hey Malou, thanks for bringing us around Cologne. Yes, next time let’s look for a Mandela version of Lumumba.

  • Cozy stalls in Cologne and they have their own version of Lumumba…maybe Mandela with a bit more of rhum?
    Lovely colors of the photos.

    Pinay von Alemanya

  • Madame Easy Hiker has this cunning plan to drag me to ALL the Christmas markets in and around Paris and trying to make a hiking connection.

  • Christmas markets are at the top of my list! I actually liked the one in Munster but also think Hattingen would be wonderful. I’m envious you are so near. Do you visit Christmas markets in France?

  • What a roundup and collection of photos of these enchanting Christmas Markets! My fav has to be Hattingen!! It reminds me of Alsace which reminds me of Germany…LOL. Thanks for a most magical walk through the Christkindlmarkts!

  • Oh, most definitely, Leigh. In Europe, the malls are banished to the very outskirts of town.

  • Aren’t you lucky to have so many Christmas markets to choose from.It sure beats hopping in the car and heading off to a congested mall.

    I like the way you rated the markets.

    On the countdown to the solstice. I can hardly wait for the days to start getting longer again.

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