Sure, plenty of cities in Germany have Christmas markets. But Berlin has around 60 of them, offering everything from traditional handicrafts to eco-friendly gifts, hipster art to international treats. There’s even a whole market dedicated just to sweets. Whether you’re travelling Europe by rail, on a package tour or simply want the best Christmas market experience all in one place, Berlin is the destination for you.
Snow falls lazily from a dark sky. Fairy lights twinkle merrily. The aromas of wood smoke and spiced wine wreath through the air. Somewhere, a choir is singing.
Berlin is a dynamic destination at any time of year. But at Christmastime, it’s purely magical.
Germany’s capital city is justly famous for its vibrant mashup of historic and contemporary culture, for its elegant old buildings and electric new architecture, for its rich museums and thought-provoking galleries, and for a scintillating social scene that comprises everything from opera and live theatre to nightclubs, gourmet dining and some of the best shopping anywhere. That’s never more true than during Advent, the weeks leading up to December 24, when dozens of Christmas markets spring up all over the city, with new ones added each year.
There really is something for everyone at these markets, from the traditional to the trendy, the kid-friendly to the all-grown-up.
If you only have time to visit one market, make it the Gendarmenmarkt. A small city of brightly lit wooden huts spreads across what is widely considered Berlin’s most beautiful square, bordered as it is by the imposing neo-classical domed towers of the Deutscher Dom (also known as the Konzerthaus) and the Französischer Dom (French Cathedral). Fortify yourself with mug of glühwein to ward off the winter chill, then head to the vast crafts tent to browse through stalls selling original paintings, hand-carved furniture and mouth-blown glass baubles. Even if your shopping is done, it’s worth a visit for the nightly entertainment of live jazz or choral music, as well as food prepared by some of the country’s top chefs.
On the other hand, if you crave the nostalgic trappings of historic holidays, head to Spandau, the oldest and most traditional of Berlin’s Christmas markets. Some 400 stalls pop up around St. Nikolai church, but the main attractions are the nativity scene with live animals, the towering Tannenbaum and singalongs with Santa.
Even older in style, if not in actual longevity, is the medieval-themed Rixdorf market in Neukölln, with its paraffin lamps, traditional smithy, horse-drawn carriages and traditional foods. Children especially will get a kick out of the annual visit from the Three Wise Men, taking a detour from the Middle East via camel. The young set will also appreciate all the kid-friendly offerings at the Rotes Rathaus market, which include a Ferris wheel, skating rink, petting zoo, puppeteers, story-tellers, children’s carousel and three daily visits from Santa.
Gifts and goodies aside, some Berlin markets are worth the visit just for their fairytale settings. The opulently rococo Charlottenburg Palace, for instance, is festively lit for the season and overlooks a charming market complete with fairground rides. At the Opernpalais on Unter den Linden, wood carvers and lantern makers practice their craft in the shadow of the city’s grand neoclassical opera house. And perhaps the most romantic market in Berlin takes place in front of the city’s oldest surviving place, the Jagdschloss Grunewald, where fairytale characters such as Hansel and Gretel come to life.
Not into the olde tyme-y Christmas clichés? Berlin has you covered there, too. The area around Postdamer Platz is transformed into a winter sports arena that boasts Europe’s largest mobile toboggan run as well as a lively après ski scene with food, drink and live music. Then there’s the Klunkerkranich, located on the roof of a Neukölln shopping arcade, which offers a sophisticated cultural program along with breathtaking views over the city.
The hippest market in town is in Kraftwerk Berlin, a one-weekend-only event where young designers gather to sell their cutting-edge fashion, art and jewelry, while celebrity DJs provide the slick electronic soundtrack. If you’re seeking eclectic gifts (especially for yourself), this is the place to shop.
If sustainability is at the top of your wish list, then Eco Christmas Market on Sophienstrasse in Mitte is the destination for you. Here, more than 50 traders offer treats, textiles, art and crafts for sale. More sustainable and fair-trade gifts can also be found at the Grüne Liga market on Kollwitzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg, including organic food from local farmers.
Berlin also offers an international taste of the holidays. The St. George’s market, for instance, dishes up mince pies and Christmas pudding, a tombola raffle, bagpipers and carolers. And the Lucia Christmas market in the historic Kulturbrauerei building complex celebrates the Nordic goddess of light with traditional Scandinavian food, handicrafts, live music, and to keep everyone warm, a log fire and bungee trampoline.
Finally, for the sweetest holiday shopping, there is the Naschmarkt at Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg, a cornucopia of Slow Food-approved cookies, cakes, candies, macarons, marshmallows, chocolates, pies, squares and so much more, all made from locally sourced ingredients.