Christmas in Germany is always a joy with Bavarian Christmas markets
Bavaria, one of the country’s most Catholic states, is renowned for its embrace of Christmas, plus its location, nestled against the Alps, provides plenty of wintry visuals. Here is an overview from the German National Tourist Office of some of Bavaria’s top Christmas activities and sights, from the spectacular mountains to castles and holy sites to storied walled cities.
The Christkindlemarkt in Nurenburg is one of the best known. However, it seems that every town in Bavaria has its own Christmas market.
Snowy mountains, historic churches, pilgrimage towns, and cozy Bavarian Christmas markets enclosed in traditional town squares compose the perfect setting for a seasonal visit to the towns in the Ammergau Alps, as well as to Altoetting, Bamberg, Munich, Passau, Regensburg and Kaethe the Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Village in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
The Shrine of the Black Madonna
Altötting, east of Munich, has been for centuries the spiritual center of Bavaria and one of the most significant places of pilgrimage in Germany. A year-round pilgrimage destination for the Virgin Mary for 500 years, the “Black Madonna,” a wooden statue from 1330, attracts visitors from all over the world. During Advent, the Bavarian Christmas markets come alive with evening concerts starting at 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Wednesdays in the St. Anna Basilica, with its life-sized wooden manger. In nearby Kreszentiheimstrasse, the “mechanical manger” (with 130 figures) is set in motion electrically.
The chapel boys choir and the church girls choir, the Alötting traditional costume society or the Bach Choir, know how to put listeners in the spirit of Advent during this most beautiful time of the year.
A special and comfortable way to discover the Ammergau winter wonderland is by gliding on a horse sleigh through the Graswang Valley to the fairytale King Ludwig’s Castle Linderhof. For the more active traveler, however, Ammergau’s slopes are great for every proficiency level, from limited local downhill to cross country skiing for less than $40 per day. At New Year’s Eve, the town of Oberammergau greets the new year with the “Sterngang” (Grand Star Procession). Both locals and guests parade through the town with a large illuminated star, accompanied by singers and musicians, to sing in the new year with traditional star songs that originated in the Middle Ages.
Munich’s massive Christmas market
Munich, Bavaria’s capital, boasts a Christmas Market that dates back to the 14th century. Still today, daily at 5:30 p.m., from the balcony of the Town Hall, local groups sing and perform carols, and the Glockenspiel (bells) plays its “Good Night” melody at 9 p.m during the Advent season. While the main Christmas market is in the city center, many others are spread around Bavaria’s capital.
For example, the market at the Wittelsbach Square is presented in a medieval style, where their artists exhibit and demonstrate crafts: glass-blowing, goldsmithing, miniature painting, and wood carving. Munich’s Nativity Market (also called the Creche Market), the largest in Germany’s Bavarian Christmas markets, is in Marienhof, St. Mary’s Courtyard. In Munich’s nearly 300 churches, religious travelers can trace Catholic Bavaria’s history. They follow in the footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI, who lived, taught and preached in this southern capital.
The Passau Christmas Market lights up this city on the Danube
Passau, in the far southeast of Bavaria, is a beautiful city. At the crossing of the Danube, Ilz and Inn Rivers, it is the destination for many cruises. Dominated by the beautiful Baroque St. Stephan’s Cathedral, the old town is a fascinating gem close to the German-Austrian border. The organ in the St. Stephan’s Cathedral is the largest organ in the world with 17,974 pipes. The famous Christmas market takes place annually from late November to the day before Christmas eve.
About 70 selected little stalls show and sell special Christmas goods. Visitors find presents and arts and crafts in front of the cathedral. Every Wednesday and Saturday in Advent organ concerts are performed at noon. High above Passau is the Baroque monastery church Mariahilf, an important pilgrimage church that has an important painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder of the Maria with the baby Jesus from 1537. The 321 pilgrim steps remind visitors of their goal.
Regensburg and its lovely Christmas market
Further west along the Danube, Regensburg invites the traveler to the largest original medieval city in Germany. Not destroyed during World War II, the former trade post is full of beautiful Renaissance and Baroque architecture around the majestic Regensburg Cathedral and the Castle of Thurn and Taxis. The Regensburg Cathedral Boys’ Choir is one of the world’s oldest boys’ choirs.
The city has four different Christmas markets. The video from two years ago covers them all. The Traditional Christmas Market is considered one of the most beautiful in Germany. The Romantic Christmas market offers entertainment programs. The Lucrezia Market provides crafts and handmade gifts. The Spitalgarten Advent Market on the opposite side of the Danube creates a different theme every week.
Bamberg’s multiple Christmas markets
Further north, the old emperor’s city of Bamberg, in Bavaria’s northern region of Franconia, is a gem from the Middle Ages, a pearl of Germany, spared of Allied bombs by the protective cloak of clouds delivered by its patron saint, as the story goes. The UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts six churches. Most of the churches are in Baroque style. Visit the magnificent Kaiserdom St. Peter from the 13th century. And, head to the Carmelite monastery perched on one of the city’s seven hills. Visit its garden of Biblical plants.
During Christmas time, Bamberg’s famous Trail of Nativity Scenes comprises more than 38 different churches, public places, chapels, and museums, with Christmas Creches and nativity scenes of all ages and sizes.
Bamberg holds four Christmas Markets during the holiday season. The traditional market right in the middle of the pedestrian zone on Maximilian Square, with an abundance of stalls with regional specialties. A special treat is the medieval Christmas Market in the Old Court on Cathedral Square. With medieval music, craftsmen and jugglers, plays, mead and gingerbread, the Middle Ages are as alive as ever (Dec 6th – Dec 14th). Two smaller markets highlight the handicraft tradition of Bamberg in other quarters of the Old Town.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber turns into a fairytale world
Once a year, the medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber transforms itself into a fairytale winter wonderland. Ever since the 15th century, the festive time prior to Christmas includes a delightful Christmas Market. The market changed little over the past 500 years and the historical customs are closely followed.
The Christmas sweets, roasted almonds, and the mulled wine scents fill the air. Fairytale lights and the wonderful music all create a magical Christmas atmosphere. The town walls with its narrow Medieval streets make for an unforgettable Christmastime destination. The beautiful medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a wonderful place to visit any time of the year.
The old quarter of Rothenburg ob der Tauber sits surrounded by a town wall. Six gates and several doors for pedestrians lead through this city wall into the old quarter (or out of it). Visitors can explore the city wall on Rothenburg’s Tower Trail, which leads around the old quarter for four kilometers in about 2.5 hours.
Walking through the narrow old quarter alleyways in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and into the center of the city – the Marktplatz with its giant Town Hall. The entire ensemble expresses the pride of Rothenburg’s past residents with their city. With its grand stairs, the Renaissance façade and surrounded by the romantic timber-framed buildings,
For more information, contact the German National Tourist Office.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past ten years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.