Eastern German Christmas Markets – the best and most underrated Christmas Markets of Germany
Hallo! Proud Eastern German here, and now the festive season is approaching, let’s take a look at Eastern German Christmas Markets. Time to do a post about the most common travel reason to Germany in the cold and dark season: Christmas Markets!
Indeed, hardly anyone does these seasonal outdoors markets better than us Germans. And you will have heard of those top Christmas Markets taking the headlines – and the most visitors: Nuremberg, Aachen, Cologne, Munich… but rest assured they are not the only ones worth visiting. Every town, aven village will have a Christmas Market. Sometimes they are only held on a specific weekend, especially in smaller towns, but each bigger town and every city will pride itself in a Christmas Market.
So, expect these famous markets might be a little bit crowded and hotels a bit expensive. Without wanting to steer you away from the biggies, here are a few recommendation for Christmas Markets in my native East Germany, where there may be fewer crowds, cheaper hotels, and plenty of other things to see on the side. Eastern German Christmas Markets are the way to go for travellers who stay away from the beaten track.
This year, my Eastern German Christmas Market visit plans kinda swam away with work, but I go to a work do on the second Advent weekend, so I will certainly make a few hours to visit a Northern German Christmas markets, and I will pay a visit to the Berlin ones, of course, as soon as their opening and my free time align!
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What to consider when visiting Eastern German Christmas Markets
Traditionally, the German Christmas Market Season runs from the Monday after Remembrance Sunday (“Totensonntag”, a protestant Christian invention observed nationwide) right up to Christmas Eve, sometimes even longer. This year, Remembrance Sunday is 26 November, and in 2024, it will be on 24 November. Remembrance Sunday is a rather sombre day and no self-respecting Christmas cheer is to start a minute before Totensonntag is over. However… shops have been full of hollow chocolate shapes and gingerbread for at least six weeks!
One significant problem, especially if you do travel from overseas, it accessibility to Eastern Germany by air. Berlin-Brandenburg Airport is very poor, and subsequently, many airlines have reduced their flights to it. If you fly in from overseas, chances are you arrive at one of the largest and truly international airports: Frankfurt, Munich, or Duesseldorf.
Thankfully, Berlin is in the centre of Eastern Germany and we have a decent rail network (and an emerging long-distance bus network) here. Pre-book a train ticket and you are going to be in Eastern Germany in no time.
And… if you start in Berlin, you can easily take a train to Dresden in under two hours, and then move on to Prague, so you can see two beautiful capital European cities easily without stressing too much. Try to stop at Leipzig on the way, and maybe do a side trip into Thuringia, where you can see the glass town of Lauscha (and how they make the famous Christmas Ornaments), or visit Weimar and Erfurt, beautiful cities that see relatively little tourists, especially in winter.
Christmas Markets of Berlin
Let me say it first: There are a lot of things Berlin does better than Christmas markets and airports. But if you happen to visit Berlin, you will have a humongous choice of Christmas markets to visit, but they are not among Germany’s best kept secrets exactly. Our capital city has at least twenty Christmas Markets scattered all over town. From smaller district ones to about five major markets. It is also an easy starting point of your trip to Germany. It is a very international city, many people will speak English, you get cheap hotels and the food scene is very international.
My favourite one is at the Gendarmenmarkt. You would be charged a small entry fee of 2 Euro and then get to admire the flawless Prussian architectural ensemble of Karl Friedrich Schinkel dotted with fairy lights and cutesy little huts selling handmade accessories, clothes, posh tea and other nice things you might actually want to gift. In the coming years this classy market will be held at Bebelplatz next to the “Staatsoper” Opera House due to construction works, but it is equally scenic with classicist architecture galore, definitely a departure from the cute gingerbread houses Germany is so famous for.
So, if you have a choice, make it the Gendarmenmarkt for your first Berlin Christmas MArket visit.
The much-hyped Weihnachtsmarkt vor dem Schloss Charlottenburg is not happening this year, so don’t bother going there unless you wish to visit the pretty castle with its festive decorations. Apparently their lease ran out, and they try to revive it, but this isn’t happening in 2023. I did actually visit last year and was somewhat disappointed. Of course, the location in front of the baroque Schloss Charlottenburg castle is fabulous. There are enough food and wine stalls to keep you full and tipsy, with most from selling either Southern German, Austrian or Italian food – not exactly originally Berlin. The biggest letdown was the wares for sale – apart from one nice stall selling handpainted Ukrainian ornaments, and a stall of very expensive Moravian stars. Most goods on sale were low quality kitsch.
And then…. when it comes to Christmas markets, there comes nothing for a while. True, in Berlin you can choose between nearly 50 Christmas or seasonal markets. You can find a map here. In recent years, my itinerary would include the Alexanderplatz to admire the high kitsch glass baubles of Lauscha, and to buy the tasty Pulsnitzer gingerbread, but it is more and more turning into a mass piss-up and only tolerable on weekday afternoons. Last time I visited Alexanderplatz, it was some very bad stalls (poster of David Hasselhoff, any one?) and average looking food. No more Lauscha glass, no more Pulsnitz gingerbread, no more smokers and joss sticks. What used to be stalls is now taken by a crappy ice rink. It felt like the Ballermann of Berlin, and I left very quickly.
The Christmas Market at the Rotes Rathaus isn’t much better either. Really generic and lacking character. You would be better off looking for a district market.
And then there are craft markets, designer markets, on-off markets, medieval themed markets, district markets…. I suggest you look at the map and weave one that looks interesting into your itinerary.
Where to stay in Berlin
Holiday time means travel time, and finding good accommodation can be tricky. Therefore, I am recommending not the post popular hotels, because chances are they might be fully booked, but some mid-priced charming gems a little off the beaten track with good transport links or easy walking into the city centre.
Super Central , off the beaten track: Nena Apartments Metropol Park: Serviced apartments in a gem of a sombre Deco building literally 1min walk from the metro, 3min to the S-Bahn. The clubbing and restaurants of Kreuzberg are literally around the corner, the building itself is residential and therefore really quiet and safe. Expect to pay around 100 Euro per night.
Another Mitte District one a stones throw from the Christmas Market: Cosmo Hotel Berlin Mitte. You don’t have to walk fast to the Christmas Market, and the location is super central though not terribly charming. But at less than 100 Euro for a four-star, this is a great choice, and it gets consistently good reviews.
Not the trendy part of Kreuzberg: Mondrian Suites am Checkpoint Charlie: Yes, you could probably walk to Checkpoint Charlie, but it’s a bit of a walk. This pace looks totally stunning, with wooden floors, tasteful natural wood furniture, nice lounges – all for about 70 Euro a night. The draw: it is in a totally un-trendy part of town, in the backyard of some office high rises. Yet not all is lost -you are less than 5min from the nearest metro station and the area is very up-and coming, with some very good restaurants and the granddaddy of coworking, Betahaus, in your neighbourhood.
Dresden Christmas Markets
Dresden is my favourite Christmas Market city in Germany. It has bags of atmosphere, and the “Striezelmarket” is one of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets. I have been several times, but not in recent years – and loved every single visit.
The main market, called the “Striezelmarkt”, is held on the Altmarkt, a large square in central Dresden. It has very pretty and photogenic little wooden huts, which are strung with Moravian stars and lots of greenery, and the Kreuzkirche Church and City Hall offer a magnificent backdrop. They also boast the largest pyramid, an Ore Mountain candle arch you can walk on, and a cultural programme.
But what makes it really special is how it the markets are woven into the historic fabric of the city, from the main Striezelmarkt to the Middle Ages Market, the Market by the Frauenkirche, and the way these markets are lovingly decorated with greenery, Moravian stars and lots and lots of light.
Look out for Pulsnitzer Lebkuchen (in my opinion, the best German gingerbread, especially the “Gefuellte Spitzen”), Dresdner Stollen ( a heavy Chrismas cake like concoction with raisons and candied orange, drenched in butter an icing sugar – also makes a great gift cos it keeps for months) and traditional Moravian stars and Ore Mountain wood figurines.
In 2023, the market will open daily from Wednesday 29. November to Sunday 24. December. Their official website offers more information. And to visit more than just the Striezelmarkt and find the other markets, there is a map here.
If you like the traditional wooden decorations from the area and the Ore Mountains, you find the largest selection at the Christmas Market. If you want to save money, visit the Saturday flea market at the Elbe River Banks. I haven’t been for a while, but last time I found some great vintage wooden “smoking men” (incense figurines) and all sorts of charming wooden ornaments and decorations.
Where to stay in Dresden
Dresden gets busy, Dresden gets booked – so if you haven’t got anything already, you will be looking at less central areas of Dresden. Again, most accommodations are not crossing the 100-Euro mark unless I feel it would be totally worth is. You also get more apartments than hotels here.
Stately Suburbia: Cosel Palais Apartment: Eight kilometres from the centre, you get much bang for the buck (around 80 Euro per night) here, in a pretty Renaissance-style mansion by the river. If you want to visit Pillnitz Castle, it’s only 5km to walk. Loschwitz with its “Blue Wonder” Bridge is also just a stroll away. And you have a tram going into the centre 200m away.
Stealthy Suburbia: Not as modern in style, but a heck of a lot closer to the centre and in another stunner of a Fin-de-Siecle Villa: The Hotel Artushof in Blasewitz. It has huge stucco-ceiling and pleasant-looking rooms in typical German three-star style, has the tram at its doorstep, which should take you to the Altmarkt in less than 10 minutes or you walk the 2km if you feel sporty. It’s 100-120 Euro per night.
City Centre Location: The stunning Haus am Altmarkt is extremely central and has a nice-looking very modern three-star Star G Premium Hotel in a calm and stylish decorative scheme which seems the best deal for central accommodation right now at 150-170 Euro per night.
Leipzig Christmas Market
The sensible choice, the biggest city of Saxony offers a compact, fairly pretty town centre, and if you base yourself there, you can easily visit Dresden on a day trip. And its Christmas Market isn’t too shabby either! It doesn’t have Berlin’s historical sights and trendiness or Dresden’s beauty, but it is, even geographically, somewhere in the middle and I grew up near there so I love Leipzig. It has one of the nicest art museums in Germany, a lot of historic trade fair architecture in its centre, an international airport that isn’t a mess, a good concert hall, a decent opera house, the largest terminus station of Europe… oh, what’s not to love about Leipzig?
And its Christmas Market is decent and definitely not overrun by hordes of visitors. This might be the choice if you are with kids or elderly people and don’t want a lot of action. A modern underground station right under the market square means you get there super easily – even directly from the airport! The market with the historic City Hall in its centre isn’t too shabby, offering a good mixture of the usual German Christmas market giftware, Ore Mountain arts and crafts, pleasant decorations and some themed “villages” within the large Christmas Market that occupies the pedestrian city centre.
The Leipzigers haven’t been too good updating their English language tourist websites. At present, their Weihnachtsmarkt page is available in German only and states that the Christmas market is open from 28 November to 23 December 2022. However, Leipzig is often overlooked by tourists but is a lively fairly large city with a world-class art museum, pioneering Zoological Garden and a very pleasant cafe and restaurant scene.
Where to stay in Leipzig
After praising Leipzig in the highest tones, I was quite disappointed to find that there was very little good accommodation at reasonable prices to be found right now. Maybe I am so biased by growing up there, and taking trips to the old Interhotel Merkur (now the Westin) and Hotel International (now Fuerstenhof) were such highlights of my childhood, I vie wthe Leipzig hotels through rose tinted specs. However… I have a few recommendations.
Starting with “clean place, reasonably priced”, the Hotel zur Alten Stadtkellerei is a pleasant hotel in a working historic winery (the vineyards are in the Saale-UNstrut region) in a pretty cool Northern suburb. Tram at the doorstep, nice renovated stunning building, clean rooms in rather German-style colour schemes – think 2000’s show home. But at 70 Euro a night, who will care about a purple or lime green throw? Also… you can sample the wines from the much, much underrates Saale-UNstrut region right in their own cellars.
For somewhere really central, the Radisson Blu Hotel is as good as it gets, for about 110 Euro a night, in a modern glass-and-steel building next to the Gewandhaus Music Hall, for 100-130 Euro a night.
Or, if you are more of a Motel One fan, there is one right across the road, too, similar prices. It has the slight edge over the fancier Radisson in that it’s in a very cool modernist building, the old Main Post Office – a rare thing for Motel One, which are usually in generic newlybuilts. If you don’t know Motel One, I only encourage you to give them a try. Styled as “low budget hotels” they are about as low budget as Lufthansa now, with prices in the 80-150Euro range, classed three star and quite tastefully colourful. They are a German chain with hotels mostly in Germany, nut some in Austria, Switzerland and a handful of other European countries.
The small print
This post was first published in November 2022 and revised and updated on 21 November 2023. All information is my own research and correct as of 21 November 2023. No responsibility is accepted for the accuracy of information. The pictures are for illustration only as I haven’t had the chance to visit Dresden and Leipzig Christmas Markets in recent years.
This post contains affiliate links to Booking.com, meaning if you make a booking through these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I use Booking.com for most of my accommodation bookings and it is the only affiliate I use on this otherwise advertising-free blog.