For those who like to inject a shot of festive spirit into December, there’s nothing like a trip to the Christmas markets in Germany, Austria or Switzerland to do just that!
This year it was Munich for us. Having previously been in Basel, Vienna, Berlin and Cologne. Read on for an honest account of how we found this European city’s festive offering.
We flew from Edinburgh to Munich via EasyJet after having originally booked flights with Lufthansa from Glasgow airport. Unfortunately, Lufthansa changed the route advising they were dropping the Glasgow to Munich direct service for the 2019/2020 winter season They then expected us to fly via Glasgow – Düsseldorf – Munich instead. Needless to say, when you’re only visiting for a long weekend you just don’t need the hassle of changing flights so we cancelled.
The new flights via EasyJet were uneventful and on time. We had booked a private transfer from the airport to our city hotel, although for those on a budget the rail links between the airport and the city are excellent and a fraction of the cost of private transfers. If you’ve bought a Munich Card, then it also includes the train from the airport. Be aware that Franz Josef Strauss International airport on the outskirts of Munich is one of the largest in Europe and even has a shopping centre on the lower ground level. If you feel so inclined you could even start your Christmas market trip right here – yes, they also have a market at the airport! For us, unfortunately, we had no time to stop and headed off to locate our taxi service.
Apparently, German employees finish their working week on a Friday at 12 noon and we invariably managed to get caught up in the rush-hour traffic.
And that wasn’t the only delays we encountered during what felt like a tour of Munich and its side streets. Due to the huge amount of building work that is being undertaken in the city at present, our taxi journey of 30 minutes took longer than was expected at just over one hour.
If you’re interested in finding out more about our hotel, the Alpen hotel, see my full review here.Accomm – Munich: Alpen Hotel. Family-run for 120 years and in a fantastic central location.
Munich has around 12 Christmas markets dotted around, some larger than others, and some uniquely different in style, so there’s definitely one for everyone. That stretches to what’s referred locally as the ‘Pink Market’ which attracts many of the LGBT community. Most of the markets are open seven days a week from 10am until 9pm.
The list of markets worth visiting includes, in no particular order: Marienplatz; Krippelmarkt, Neuhauser Strasse; Wintertollwood; Weihnachtsmarkt am Chinesischen Turm; Mittelaltermarkt und Adventsspektakel; Winterzauber Viktualienmarkt; De Munchner Feuerzangenbowle am Isartor; Christmas village in the Residenz and winter magic on the ice rink at Karlsplatz. Here’s a map showing you their locations: Click here.
Further information is available on any specific market from the Munich Tourist Board via this link. Christmas markets information.
As we were only visiting for a weekend trip it would have been impossible to see all these markets, so we did the largest ones, and those are the ones my review covers.
Marienplatz. St Mary’s Square. (Munchner Christkindlmarkt am Marienplatz).
The market in the square outside the imposing town hall or Rathaus is the largest in the city. It’s a stunning location for a market with plenty of space for even the largest of crowds – and it does get busy – at weekends particularly. At the time of our visit (December 5th to 8th, 2019) there was musical entertainment being played from the town hall balcony three floors up, and also features choirs singing around the Christmas tree.
The Glockenspiel of Munich is a tourist attraction in Marienplatz. Every day at 11am and 12pm (as well as 5pm in the summer) it chimes and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century to the amusement of mass crowds of tourists. It consists of 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures. The top half of the Glockenspiel tells the story of the marriage of the local Duke Wilhelm V. In honour of the happy couple there is a joust with life-sized knights on horseback representing Bavaria (in white and blue) and Lothringen (in red and white). This is then followed by the bottom half and second story: Schäfflertanz (the coopers’ dance). According to myth, 1517 was a year of plague in Munich. The coopers are said to have danced through the streets to “bring fresh vitality to fearful dispositions.” The coopers remained loyal to the duke, and their dance came to symbolize perseverance and loyalty to authority through difficult times. The whole event lasts for approximately 12-15 minutes depending upon the tune being played that day.
So, back to the markets. One thing is for certain, you’ll never go hungry or thirsty. Dotted throughout the 150 stalls, there are around 30 food and drink choices available, with everything from the ubiquitous bratwurst, pasta, baked potatoes, hot nuts, chocolate-covered fruit, gingerbread and so much more. All the drink stalls or bars offer the traditional gluhwein, ciders, beers and spirits and most also offer variations of hot chocolate.
There’s a huge selection of stalls, covering all manner of stuff, from illuminated tea light holders, sheepskin goods, hats, glass baubles, Christmas decorations, beeswax products, wooden novelties, personalised chopping boards to name but a few. What was nice to see is that there’s not a huge amount of duplication in the stalls at this market which can be fairly normal in many markets across Europe.
As is common in any area where large crowds congregate, there’s a distinctly noticeable police presence. The general warning is to take care of your belongings. Keep wallets and purses safely zipped inside jackets and bags all times as police warn of pickpockets operating in the markets.
Marienplatz is the epitome of a traditional European market, located as it is in a historic part of the city overlooked by the Rathaus and presided over by a huge twinkling 100 foot tall Christmas tree with a remarkable 3000 lights.
Take your time and wander through the small village of festively decorated huts. Don’t be in too much of a rush as the stalls are not all in rows so you’ll have to meander back-and-forth to see everything.
For me, there’s nothing better than having a browse sipping on a hot gluhwein and munching on a bag of hot nuts! Most of the stalls selling mulled wine do so in decorated mugs which change each year, and on which they charge a deposit. You need to return them for your refund. Not everyone does, and we have a huge selection of various boot-shaped mugs we’ve collected over the years.
There’s a very authentic feel to the Marienplatz market and I have to admit it was my favourite of all the markets in Munich.
Karlsplatz. (Munchner Eiszauber am Stachus).
The main claim to fame for this market, located beside the tram interchange at Karlsplatz Stachus is the large ice rink and a two-storey wooden chalet that doubles as a bar and location to people watch. Perfect for adults and kids alike – even non-skaters can enjoy an outdoor experience with a supporting “Pete the polar bear” skating aid. I mean, if I can do it, then anyone can, although the gallon of gluhwein might have had something to do with my bravery.
I always wondered about the safety aspects of skating with a bar on site, but then realised it was probably quite a clever idea – a few drinks and you won’t feel a thing falling over – I didn’t!
It’s a really fun experience with many laughs and I’d urge you to give it a go at least once.
Entrance fees vary from €5 to 10 depending on the time of your visit. Discounts are available for children and skate hire is on site.
This location is not really a market as such with just a few random food stalls but is slap bang in the middle of Munich’s rather upmarket shopping district, so after you’ve done your “dancing on ice” impersonation why not browse some of the surrounding stores.
Manger Market. (Krippelmarkt – Neuhauser Strasse).
The Krippelmarkt or Manger Market can be found in a side street leading off Marienplatz so can easily be visited while you’re at the main market in Marienplatz.
An unusual market, and the first time I’ve ever seen one in any of the Christmas market trips I’ve made. Consisting of 12 stalls all selling nativity sets or accessories related to building or expanding your own nativity scene. Here you can buy a €350 wooden nativity, along with a €12 baby Jesus, an €8 donkey along with various assorted mangers, illuminated stars, battery-operated LED fire pits – presumably to help authenticate the three shepherd’s vigil on a cold night.
This market, in particular, dates back to 1757 and signifies the religious roots associated with the festive period. It was mind-blowing – really! I’ve never seen so many bits and pieces associated with the nativity, spread across so many stalls. I mean who would have considered needing to find a light-up flickering lantern for the barn baby Jesus was born in – someone obviously does!
Residenz Christmas Market. (Weihnachtsdorf im Kaiserhof der Residenz).
This market is advertised as replicating a farming village – I struggled with that definition to be honest, and all I could see, was the usual festively decorated wooden stalls.
It’s a small market set in the courtyard of the city’s rather grand -looking royal residence, where the stalls are dwarfed by the presence of the palace.
What this market has – and perhaps why it is advertised the way it is – is a selection of traditional craft people including silversmiths, glassblower, leatherworker, woodcarvers and even a knifemaker/grinder. There’s definitely a higher selection of artisan workers displaying their goods at this particular market.
It also has a children’s section, with rides, a life-size nativity scene, where children can meet Germany’s Nikolaus or Santa Claus.
This market also has a stage in which live entertainment features throughout the market opening times.
Tollwood Winter Festival. (Tollwood das Winterfestival).
The winter market at Tollwood is an oddity of sorts located as it is in the grounds of the Oktoberfest site. It is much more of an international feel to as opposed to the traditional German authentic Christmas market. In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out and say it has a distinctly ‘hippy’ feel to it!
And did I mention it’s a pretty large market? Featuring a number of outdoor stalls, a minimum of three huge marquees, two of which feature stalls – one of which had an eclectic mix of around 150 indoor covered stalls and another tent which contained a huge ethnic food selection.
People flock to this market, partly because of its musical offerings, the various workshops that are held, as well as the art and crafts, and not forgetting the on-site circus and theatre!
And with the indoor bazaar spaces, it’s an ideal market to visit if you get inclement weather given the large number of indoor stalls located here.
Mediaeval Market. (Mittelaltermarkt und Adventsspektakel).
This market is located on Wittelsbacherplatz and has been themed on the Middle Ages when knights and damsels in distress were commonplace.
It’s a great market for kids though with free shows including jugglers and acrobats. All good clean fun for the whole family. A lot of the stalls have been handmade in the style of the era. This market also has a stage which hosts shows that engages and involves children who are visiting.
Some of the stalls here include a goldsmith, a glassblower and a lantern builder who had some absolutely exquisite lamps on display but which, unfortunately, would never have travelled safely back to the UK.
It’s not a huge market so when you’re finished here there are a lot of specialist shops in the street outside including a Steiff teddy bear shop.
From here it’s also only a five-minute stroll to the market at the Royal Palace – (Residenz market).
English Garden and Chinese Tower. (Weihnasmarkt am Chinesischen Turm).
This particular market is probably outwith most people’s walking distance if you’re staying within the central area of the city. However, a number 58 bus will take you right to the entrance of the Christmas market within this park.
On the day we visited we were using the hop-on/off bus service to see a bit more of the city. Click here for details and prices. One of the stops on this service (number 12) on Leopoldstrasse was for the English garden. Unfortunately for us the map provided was unclear and the guide on our bus failed to provide directions from the stop to the market. If you’re using this bus service to reach it you get off at stop 12 and turn left for approximately 50 yards crossing a dual carriageway using the pedestrian walkway where you’ll then see a road named Ohmstrasse, walk down this to the bottom and you’ll see a small path leading into the park. Please note: signage is very poor for this location.
The location is a lovely large park just on the outskirts of the city and at the time of our visit was well-used by all manner of city-dwellers including joggers, dog walkers and parents pushing children in their prams. The Christmas market is located at an area known as the Chinese Tower and is a reasonable sized market.
Like all other Christmas markets there are plenty of options for food and drink along with a few more specialist stalls selling traditional German Christmas decorations, leather wallets and purses, scarves and beeswax candles, a silversmith along with various artisan craft producers.
In terms of winter sports, this market has twin curling rinks however, these were full at the time of our visit and apparently if you want to play booking is highly advised, especially at weekends.
Special mention must be made to the Christmas Oxenbraterie otherwise known as the Christmas ox roasting house. This was a delightful pulled meat dish served in a roll along with a side dish of potato and cucumber salad and was absolutely delicious.
There are also various activities for children here with musical programs, a reading granny and a carpenter grandpa being some of the highlights.
If you want to show off your romantic side, there are even horse-drawn carriage rides available around the park.
Some of the stalls included an artisan candlemaker which are unique and made by hand in the local Munich studio. There’s also a store which offers high-quality Christmas tree decorations made from hand-blown glass and are hand-painted and make a fine addition to your Christmas tree. These are well packed for those who are travelling back home to areas outwith Germany.
I liked this market. It has a relaxed and rather laid-back feel to it, plenty of seating for those who want to eat, toilet facilities which were spotless, and is in the heart of a forested section of the park. Although we didn’t have time to return at night, I’m betting it’s gorgeous lit up.
And here’s a handy idea provided by Munich’s transport association – the Packerlbus! It’s a bus, parked next to the German Museum of Hunting and Fishing on Augustiner Strasse which offers to store your shopping purchases for you until you’re ready to leave the city. It’s a simple yet hugely effective service. The service only operates at present on Saturdays between 11am and 8pm.