Last year was our first winter living in Amsterdam, so we finally got a taste of Europe’s Christmas Markets. I fell in love with them instantly. This year instead of visiting one or two markets near us, we planned a (fairly last minute!) road trip to see six of the best Christmas Markets across Germany and France.
Some of my favorite highlights from our trip included: catching the first snow of the year in the medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, waking up in a castle overlooking the city of Bonn, and of course gorging ourselves on sweets, glühwein (hot mulled wine) and German pretzels.
Despite some minor delays on our drives due to rain and snow, it was an amazing trip and I’d recommend a similar itinerary for anyone who wants to take a grand tour of Europe’s Christmas Markets. Here’s a breakdown of the markets we visited and details if you want to plan your own road trip, including a map at the bottom of this post…
you should visit
to see it all
a quaint local christmas market right on the border of Germany and Holland.
one of the most famous christmas markets in France with festive decor, crêpes, and French mulled wine.
a maze of 5 different markets, spread out across a fairytale French town.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
a medieval German town with christmas stalls and shops stretching out from the main square.
the second largest city in Bavaria, with an equally large market situated inside the old city walls.
one of the most photographed markets in Germany, set against the backdrop of the famous Cologne cathedral.
Our first stop was the German town of Aachen, located just a few minutes away from the border of the Netherlands. This market definitely has a ‘local’ vibe and is family-friendly. The stalls featured a nice mix of handmade ornaments and decorations and there were plenty of stalls to step inside for some hot wine. It was easy to park nearby and there was plenty to explore around the main market square.
What we bought: Mushrooms with garlic sauce and Krakauer (German sausage).
Where we stayed: Hotel Kasteel Bloemendal, which was one of the best values of any hotel I’ve ever stayed at! It’s a luxurious castle-turned-hotel located a short 15 minute drive from the market in the Netherlands.
The Strasbourg Christmas Market has been voted a European favorite market multiple times. It’s also the oldest Christmas Market in Europe, with the first market taking place in 1570. The stalls are set amongst the dramatic backdrop of the Strasbourg Cathedral and the square also has a large Christmas tree, which makes for some amazing photos. We loved the overall feel of this market and definitely could have stayed longer to explore the city!
What we bought: Chocolate pralines and plenty of Glühwein.
Where we stayed: Hostellerie De La Pommerie, which is located right in between the Strasbourg and Colmar markets. The service at this quaint boutique hotel was exceptional, and we loved that we were staying outside of Strasbourg town (which gets very crowded this time of year).
Colmar Christmas Market
Colmar has been voted the best Christmas Market in France, and it’s easy to see why people love it so much. The city is exceptionally picturesque, with its old French half-timbered houses and romantic canals. This market was definitely smaller than Strasbourg, but has lots of charm to make up for it. Instead of the market taking place in a main square like most do, there are five smaller markets spread out across town which allows you to wind your way through the old buildings to discover different stalls.
What we bought: Nutella crêpes and freshly-baked pretzels.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
This market was our favorite of the trip. Everything from the location (the cutest medieval German town), to the atmosphere (carolers set up in the main square), the items for sale (handmade ornaments and traditional German Christmas decorations), and the food (endless Gluhwein stands and some delicious German brats and burgers) was perfect. It snowed while we were here, which added to the beauty of it all. I’d definitely recommend this market for anyone who appreciates a more authentic feel and plenty of city streets to explore.
What we bought: Rothenburg Snowballs and “white” mulled wine.
Where we stayed: We continued on to Nuremberg this evening, but I would’ve loved to stay at the Hotel Goldener Hirsch.
Nuremberg’s Christmas Market is definitely one of the more impressive. To enter the town you’ll pass through the old city walls, which you can still walk on to this day. The main square hosts the largest number of market stalls, and they’re filled with plenty of fun Christmas ornaments, hot wine and beer, and of course: sausages. If you have time to explore the city, there’s plenty of museums and restaurants to try in this Bavarian city.
Where we stayed: Dürer Hotel Nuremberg, which was located just steps away from the old city walls and a short 10 minute walk to the market.
Though Cologne is a large city, the Christmas Market here feels exceptionally cozy. I loved walking amongst the red stalls and twinkle lights with the impressive Cologne Cathedral in the background. If you’re just looking to visit a couple markets, I’d highly recommend including Cologne on your list for its exceptional food, variety of handmade items, and festive decor.
What we bought: Spaetzle (soft egg noodles) and Käsekrainer (cheese-filled sausage).
Where we stayed: We drove into Cologne, and had an incredible stay one town over at the Steigenberger Grandhotel Petersburg. It’s a historic hotel situated overlooking the Rhine River that has accommodated the Queen of England in the past! If you want to stay in the center of Cologne, I’d recommend checking out Hotel im Wasserturm (an old water tower turned hotel!) and Excelsior Hotel Ernst.
I’d recommend giving yourself a week for a similar road trip so you have enough time to visit each Christmas Market and enjoy the towns in wintertime before your next drive (the towns are typically anywhere from half an hour to 3 hours apart). Plan your trip in advance since hotels nearby the markets book up early! Our two favorite markets were Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber and Cologne.
You can also add other nearby Christmas Markets in this region to your itinerary, like the one in Metz, France or the German markets in Frankfurt, Konstanz and Stuttgart. I included a map of our full drive below, and you can click here for the interactive version to add your own stops:
The German Christmas Markets have been my favorite so far, but there are plenty of other Christmas Markets in Europe I’m hoping to explore next year! And I’m already thinking about re-visiting Budapest in the wintertime since we loved it so much.