Christmas time in Germany can only be described as magical; twinkling lights abound, full size nativity scenes can be found from town to town and everyone flocks to the market squares to gather in the festive spirit and warm up with a hot snack and mulled wine. It’s hard not to be won over with a buzz as infectious as this. What’s more, there is something for everyone. Children will be tugging at parents’ arms for one more go on the carousels and one more sweet thing from the candy stalls, foodies will love the quality of German food available and the wafting aromas throughout the markets, shoppers will love the craftmanship and variety of goodies on offer. Here are some of the highlights within an hour and a half of Frankfurt.
Frankfurt Christmas Market
27th November – 22nd December
Throughout the city, with Römerberg as the centre
Incredibly, Frankfurt’s Weihnachtsmarkt dates back to 1393 when stalls and mystery plays helped Frankfurters celebrate the Christmas period. Frankfurt’s sprawling market spans large swathes of the city with a huge Christmas tree in the central square. Römerberg is a good starting point to explore and if you need some help to find the top spots, there are guided tours for the first 3 weekends of December at 11:30am and 1:30pm.
All sorts of treats are available, but something unique to Frankfurt are the “Bethmännchen”, marzipan decorated with almond slices. The four almond slices adorning the Bethmann may represent each of the sons of a well-known banker family of old Frankfurt. Or alternatively the name derives from the word for “praying men” and the almond halves are meant to symbolise praying hands.
From Frankfurt airport: the trains into town are very frequent, then follow the instructions below.
From Frankfurt city: Subway lines (U-Bahn) U4 and U5, exit at Dom/Römer. Tram lines (Straßenbahn) 11 and 12, exit at Römer/Paulskirche.
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Mainz Christmas Market
30th November – 23rd December
Höfchen & Domplatz, Schillerplatz, Citadel
Mainz’s market is just half an hour from Frankfurt and a smaller version, well-loved in the region for its atmospheric setting in the market square and draws in many visitors across three main sites. The elevated nativity scene in the shadow of the cathedral is poignant and the impressive 9-metre tall Christmas pyramid in Höfchen Square features famous citizens, including Gutenberg and the cutesy mascots of the local television station.
Mulled wine is from local vineyards in the Rheinhessen region – just look for the longest queues and enjoy it in one of the wine cask huts if you can find some space. All the Christmas market goodies are available here. Gingerbread biscuits from Lebkuchenschmidt are found in a pop-up shop in Gutenberg Square opposite the theatre and the intricate tins and top-notch cookies make them an ideal Christmas present.
From Frankfurt airport: Tramline S8 to Mainz Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) and then a bus into the centre of town, alighting at Höfchen.
From Frankfurt city: The same tram but from the main station (Hauptbahnhof)
Wiesbaden Christmas Market
28th November – 23rd December
Wiesbaden’s Sternschnuppenmarkt, or twinkling star market, is named for its countless fairy lights creating a tent of stars over the town. The effect is best viewed from above and there’s a platform at the Marktkirche (Market Church) to do just that. The market centres around Schlossplatz with almost 130 stalls. There are a variety of activities, such as a ferris wheel, winter tavern and even an ice rink for skating. There’s a sizeable stage where local school children perform festive songs. Excellent local mulled wine can be enjoyed at Weingut Kessler.
From Frankfurt airport: Take the S1, S8 or S9 trams and arrive within 40 minutes
From Frankfurt city: Take the S1 or S9 trams
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Rüdesheim Christmas Market
23rd November – 23rd December, 11am to 8pm, 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays, closed on 26th November
Throughout the Old Town
Rüdesheim is an enchanting cobbled town built into the hilly banks of the River Rhine with tiny alleys and overhanging wooden inns and shops and can be reached within an hour and a half from Frankfurt. The most famous of those alleys is the atmospheric Drosselgasse. At Christmas time, Rüdesheim is also home to the Market of the Nations and that makes for a Christmas market with a real international flavour. With goods and foods from over 20 countries, you can even shop for knitted goods in a Mongolian yurt. However, that doesn’t mean that Rüdesheim isn’t also bringing plenty to the table. A local favourite is Asbach Uralt, a brandy served with coffee and whipped cream. Don’t miss the musical clock once an hour. After all your snacking and slurping, there’s a chance for some fresh air as you take the cable car up to the Niederwald to walk off that whipped cream.
From Frankfurt airport: Take the regional train to Bingen, once every 2 hours and then the ferry across to Rüdesheim. Alternatively, take the S9 to Wiesbaden (once an hour) and change to the VIA train to Rüdesheim.
From Frankfurt city: Take the VIA train direct to Rüdesheim, once an hour.
Bad Münster am Stein Eberburg Christmas Market
Saturdays from 2pm – 9pm and on Sundays from 12 noon – 8pm
This weekend-only Christmas market oozes romance. Set in the spa gardens of Bad Münster, the delicate lights illuminate gnarly trees and longstanding buildings alike. Even the fairytale castle is lit up, giving the market an atmospheric backdrop. This is a smaller, intimate market, with around 90 stalls but the ambience is unbeatable.
From Frankfurt airport: Take the direct regional train once every two hours and exit at Bad Münster, which takes about an hour.
From Frankfurt city: The same journey