The most wonderful time of the year is here! What better way to celebrate the holiday season than with a trip to Germany, where Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) originated. It may be too late this year, so start planning for next year’s family vacation now!
Few people think of Germany as a place to take the kids, but you’d be surprised to find much more than just bier and bratwursts in Germany’s Christmas markets. Those with a sweet tooth will be attracted to the colourful Lebkuchen, a traditional round or heart-shaped German cookie, decorated with frosting. They make for great souvenirs as well! Another eye-catching dessert would be Fruchtige Köstlichkeiten, which is chocolate-covered fruit on sticks.
Of course, there’s piping hot Glühwein (mulled wine), Kinderpunsch (hot mulled non-alcoholic cider for kids) and the ever-popular hot chocolate. And no one can resist the deep-fried Kartoffelpuffer/Reibekuchen (potato pancakes served with apple sauce), comforting Currywursts (sausages stewed in a spiced tomato sauce and topped with curry powder), and freshly baked Brezels (pretzels). The list just goes on and on.
You can also find intricate handmade items for sale at the Christmas markets, including glass baubles, Christmas candles and tealight candle holders, wooden toys, and puppets. These will definitely make a festive addition to your home. You can also bring the mulled wine mugs home! The price of the mug is included with the Glühwein, so when you return the mug, you will get your deposit back. The design of the mug differs from market to market so you can collect your favourite mugs to remember the trip by.
We have highlighted four cities that you must explore with your kids, what to buy, and most importantly – what to eat and drink. As the dates stated below are for 2017, do check with the respective websites for 2018 updates.
Frankfurt − Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt
One of the largest, oldest and most traditional Christmas markets in Germany
The Frankfurt Christmas Market spans across a large area in central Frankfurt, from Römerberg, St Paul’s Square and Mainkai (Main Quay) to the south, and Hauptwache and Friedrich-Stoltze-Square to the north. Frankfurt is known for being Germany’s financial hub, but during Christmas, it taps into its inner old centre square, Römerberg. This is where the heart of the Christmas market is located, flanked by replicated half-timbered buildings and a towering Christmas tree.
Children will enjoy going on the vintage two-storey carousel to get a higher perspective on the market and to take a break from walking.
When in Frankfurt, one must try the Apfelwein (apple wine), a tart cider made from apples. It is the state beverage, and can be enjoyed either hot or iced. You can also find apple wine mustard, apple wine jam, and other souvenirs at the booth beneath the Christmas tree.
When 27 November to 22 December 2017 | Monday to Saturday 10am-9pm; Sunday 11am-9pm
Where Römerberg, 60329 Frankfurt am Main
How to get there
Subway lines (U-Bahn) U4 and U5, exit at Dom/Römer
Tram lines (Straßenbahn) 11 and 12, exit at Römer/Paulskirche
Erfurt − Erfurter Weihnachtsmarkt
Most beautifully preserved Christmas market, located in the mediaeval old quarters right in the middle of Germany
Explore this quaint town that looks like it materialised straight out of a kids’ story book. While you’re at it, try to find two fairy tale characters, Bernd the Bread (Bernd das Brot) and The Sandman (below).
The main shopping street and the Merchants’ Bridge (Krämerbrücke) will be lit up with dozens of fairy lights, guiding you through the streets to the main Christmas market at Domplatz.
St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Church of St. Severus provide an enchanting atmosphere for all the festivities at the Christmas market. Hop onto the Ferris wheel, which costs 4 euros (about S$6.40), for the best view.
Kids can visit the enchanted forest and petting zoo, where they can see handcrafted fairy tale figures from well-known stories, and feed the animals from Erfurt Zoo. There is also an eco-bakery for kids, where they can bake and eat their very own organic biscuits, while learning about organic farming in Thuringia.
Must-tries here include the Thuringian bratwurst and the famous Erfurt schittchen, a local version of stollen (fruit bread).
More adventurous families can visit Petersberg Citadel, the only preserved town baroque fortress in central Europe, and navigate the underground maze of tunnels on guided tours organised by Erfurt Tourist Office.
When 28 November to 22 December 2017 | Sunday to Wednesday 10am-8pm; Thursday and opening day 10am-9pm; Friday & Saturday 10am-10pm
Where Domplatz, 99084 Erfurt
How to get there A short 10 to 15-minute walk from the main train station, Willy-Brandt-Platz
Dresden − Striezelmarkt
Germany’s oldest Christmas market for a rich cultural and historical experience
Dresden is nicknamed the Capital of Christmas markets for a good reason. After you finish browsing one market, you’ll find yourself at yet another one! 2017 marks the 583rd anniversary of the Striezelmarkt, the oldest recorded Christmas market. It takes its name from striezel (known as stollen today), which was first sold at the Striezelmarkt. Pflaumentoffel, a decorative chimney sweep figure made from plums, also originated here.
A kids’ paradise can be found at the Christmas market. They can enjoy baking at the Pflaumentoffel House, get creative with arts and crafts, watch a puppet theatre, and take a train ride through the fairy tale forest.
Bring home some Christmas woodcraft sourced from the Erz Mountains. Popular items include the vibrant nutcrackers, and Räuchermann, German incense smokers in various humanoid designs.
When 29 November to 24 December 2017 | Daily 10am-9pm; except 15 December 10am-10pm (Sternstunden or long Striezel night) & 24 December 10am-2am
Where Altmarkt 23, 01067 Dresden
How to get there Buses and trams to Altmarkt, Prager Straße, Pirnaischer Platz & Postplatz
Berlin − WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt
The most popular and upscale Christmas market in Berlin sits on the site of an architectural ensemble
Berlin has over 60 Christmas markets with various themes. For example, the Winter World on Potsdamer Platz has an ice skating rink and Europe’s largest mobile snow tubing run.
The WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt is one of the most popular Christmas markets in Berlin, despite charging a nominal entrance fee (1 euro per adult; free for children under 12 years).
The Französischer Dom, the Konzerthaus and the Deutscher Dom encircle the tented market, lit by thousands of strings of fairy lights. If it gets too cold, the market has several stalls and restaurants which are indoors and heated, so you can browse comfortably regardless of rain or snow.
Enjoy performances by well-known artists at the stage area while savouring food from Michelin-starred chefs, a hot mug of Glühwein and hot chocolate for the kids. If you need a bit more warmth, try Feuerzangenbowle, in which a sugar cone soaked in rum is set on fire, melting into your mulled wine.
When 27 November to 31 December 2017 | Daily 11am-10pm; except 24 December 11am-6pm & 31 December 7pm-1am
Where Gendarmenmarkt, 10117 Berlin
How to get there Public transport U2 and U6 Stadtmitte
- In general, weekday afternoons are much quieter and less crowded than weekends. You can get better photos in the day as well! The atmosphere at the Christmas markets is magical at night, but it gets jam-packed and are thus less kid-friendly.
- Have heat packs in pockets to warm hands, or get hot drinks to warm the family’s bellies as well.
- There is no shortage of activities for children to do, such as mailing their wish lists to Santa, getting on all the rides, and posing for photos with their favourite decoration or food.
- Another thing to note would be the lack of toilets in the Christmas markets. Thankfully, most of the markets are located near shopping malls or cafés, but the bad news is you have to pay 0.50 euro (about S$0.80) to use the restrooms.
Travelling between cities in Germany, and in Germany itself is a breeze, as information is readily available. However, the signs on the platforms are typically not in English, so double-check to ensure you are heading in the right direction. Children under 15 years either travel for free, or pay half price depending on the type of train ticket. Booking the tickets early will ensure you get cheaper tickets!
If you would like to visit the Christmas markets in all four cities, just like we did, here’s how:
- Singapore to Frankfurt: Lufthansa offers a direct 13-hour flight from Singapore to Frankfurt
- Frankfurt (Main) to Erfurt Hauptbahnhof: About 2 hours train ride
- Erfurt Hauptbahnhof to Dresden Hauptbahnhof: About 2 hours train ride
- Dresden Hauptbahnhof to Berlin Hauptbahnhof: About 3 hours train ride
- Berlin to Singapore: Lufthansa offers a 13-hour flight from Berlin to Singapore, with a quick stopover in Munich or Frankfurt
Visiting the German Christmas markets certainly amplifies the holiday mood. Imagine being surrounded by Christmas trees, fairy lights, festive music, delicious mixture of smells…it is indeed the season to be jolly!