Christmas Market at the Kö-Bogen, Dusseldorf
What? This West German city on the banks of the Rhine is the country’s fashion capital and has long attracted Berliners on arty weekend getaways. At the Christmas Market at the Kö-Bogen in Jan-Wellem-Platz, traditional and on-trend collide. Here, the air is thick with the scent of roasted chestnuts and hot berry wine, and scores of cosy wooden chalet shops sell everything from artisan knitwear to shimmering baubles – all in front of the ultra-modern glass and concrete architecture of the Daniel Libeskind-designed Kö-Bogen Mall. Beforehand, get a contemporary art fix at Philara gallery in the creative Flingern neighbourhood, about a 20-minute stroll away.
Best for Playful, architecture-loving urbanites who want to dip into festivities as part of a city break.
Atmosphere Kitsch and cool in equal measure.
Cathedral X-Mas Market, Cologne
What? Buzzing Cologne, an easy, hour-long journey from Dusseldorf, goes hard when it comes to Christmas markets. The largest and glitziest of the bunch is held close to the city’s famous twin-spired Gothic cathedral. Snack on piping-hot reibekuchen (potato pancakes) and waffles dusted with icing sugar, then shop for children’s toys, trinkets and all things festive at more than 150 dinky wooden cabins. The market is also home to the Rhineland’s largest Christmas tree, which sparkles with some 50,000 glittering lights. The market is well placed for visits to the Cologne Philharmonic Concert Hall and main shopping streets, too.
Best for Christmas-obsessed culture junkies. There’s a stage with performances covering every genre, from carol singers through to puppeteers.
Atmosphere No-holds-barred Christmas exuberance.
Christmas Market at the Chinese Tower, Munich
What? While most people flock to Munich’s largest Christmas market, in Marienplatz, smack bang in the middle of the city, a smaller and lesser-known alternative is held in the leafy English Gardens, with stalls centred around the illuminated pagoda of the gardens’ Chinese Tower. While there’s gluhwein, bratwurst and beer in plentiful supply (this is Bavaria after all), plus plenty of traditional handicrafts, the USP is two outdoor curling rinks. Afterwards, take a 20-minute stroll and round off the night with a whisky nightcap at hip, dimly lit Bar Tabacco.
Best for Outdoorsy types. Bring your competitive spirit and get ready to “sweep” on the rink. Or take a leisurely horse-and-carriage ride through the grounds.
Atmosphere Fun global fusion.
Hanau Christmas Market, Hesse
What? Just 25km east of Frankfurt is quaint Hanau, once the home of the Brothers Grimm. The whole town gets into the spirit of things, with 80 decorated huts – where sweet gingerbread-like lebkuchen treats and Bratäpfel (baked apples) are served – alongside brightly illuminated, nostalgic funfair rides and a carved wooden nativity scene. Best of all is the facade of the old town hall: in homage to Hanau’s most famous residents, it’s transformed into a gigantic fairytale-themed Advent calendar.
Best for Book-loving creative families who want their imaginations to run wild.
Atmosphere Low-key and full of gemütlichkeit (warm cheer and cosiness).
The Esslingen Medieval Market and Christmas Market, Esslingen am Neckar
What? Step back in time and experience the festivities days-of-yore style at Esslingen, just a couple of hours’ drive northwest of Munich. The twist here is that everything harks back to medieval times. At more than 200 booths, merchants costumed in historical garb proffer their wares; felt-makers, basket-weavers and glass-blowers demonstrate their craft; and jugglers, jesters and fire-eaters gambol through the streets. Plus, there are pop-up taverns serving tankards of hot honey mead and feasts of venison goulash and hearty stews.
Best for History buffs. Don a costume and get into the spirit of things, or just wonder at Esslingen’s quaint half-timbered houses.
Atmosphere Medieval revelry to the max.