Blog updated: January 2019
As much as I do hate winter, Christmas is probably my favourite time of year. I love the food, I love the festiveness and I love the markets. I first went to actual German markets back in 2004 when I was 13 and I went on a school trip to visit the ones in Aachen and Cologne. They were amazing. They were rustic and festive and I was able to find some lovely gifts, whilst munching away on tasty market sweet treats.
Since then, I’ve frequented multiple German-esque Christmas markets in England. My university town of Nottingham has a small one every year and London is rife with them. There’s the big Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park – complete with expensive fairground rides, a free German-style Christmas Market and huge numbers of people – and ones on the South Bank and by the Tate Modern (the former is smaller but the Christmas village there has plenty of places for street food and hot cider) – and they’re just the ones that I have personally been to.
For the past three years, however, I’ve been swapping the English German Christmas markets for the German German Christmas markets in Berlin, which I’ve been going to with my Dad. Over the three years, I’ve refined my itinerary. I have my favourites (being Gendarmenmarkt, Charlottenburg and the Roten Rathaus), and I’ll throw in a new one or two to check out along the way.
1. Christmas Market at the Charlottenburg Palace
The Charlottenburg Palace Christmas market is a very picturesque market, with a fleet of little wooden huts, decorated with white roofs and fairy lights (and a few warmer stalls in a couple of less scenic porta cabins), in the shadow of the Charlottenburg Palace. The first time I went to the market, I filled up on breakfast before I arrived. This was a horrible mistake to make because the best thing about this market is the suckling pig rolls – which are the first thing on my Charlottenburg shopping list.
Once I’ve had my roll, the shopping can begin. I find this market particularly good for Secret Santas and for any family members that will appreciate novelty gifts, but that’s not to say there’s not some really nice stuff here. The market also doesn’t seem to get so busy, at least not Gendarmenmarkt busy. By which I mean, you can move.
(Stuff I’ve bought here: novelty chopping board, jewellery, locally brewed booze, candle holder, earrings made out of shells, painted mugs, novelty bottle opener, books, bobble hat).
2. Christmas Market by the Gedächtniskirche
This Christmas market is near the Kurfürstendamm shopping street, at the base of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, so it is conveniently located for both market and shop-based shopping.
The market is the site of the terrorist attack in 2016 – the evidence of which can be seen in a memorial to the victims and the concrete barriers now surrounding the place – but this has not stopped the market from carrying on and it has not stopped people from going. It’s festive, bustling, full of fairy lights and there’s several stalls selling gifts but I find this market better for the food (bratwurst and Nutella-lined trdelnik were my foods of choice) although I did thoroughly enjoy picking out some liqueurs from a very well stock Croatian liqueur stand.
(Stuff I’ve bought here: Christmas tree decoration, earrings, liqueurs)
3. Weihnachtszauber at Gendarmenmarkt
The Christmas market in Gendarmenmarkt is probably the most popular one in Berlin. Unlike the rest of the markets on this list, the market costs a whole €1 to get into. It can get hideously busy and some of the stuff on sale really is quite expensive but there is a reason – other than its popularity – why it is at the top of the list.
The market stalls here are less traditional wood and more tent-like but equally adorable and sandwiched between the Konzerthaus and the French and German churches. There’s a big Christmas tree, a stage with performances going on (think youth ballet shows) and some market stalls are in an inside space where it is much warmer (and drier if the weather turns on you). However, the best thing about this market is the stuff on sale – there’s a lot of crafty, handmade items and you can see some vendors making their goods at their stalls, from letterpress business cards to jewellery made out of money. Then there’s the food – I’d particularly recommend the raclette.
(Stuff I’ve bought here: Christmas tree decorations, decorative ceramic tiles, leather wallet, earrings, photographs of local scenes).
4. Berliner Weihnachtszeit at the Roten Rathaus
When I arrived at the Christmas market on Alexanderplatz, I was a bit disappointed (as you will see below). It wasn’t what I had hoped but I had read that there were a few markets in the area so I walked over passed the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), towards the red town hall and here I found a market that was much more what I had in mind. My Dad and I both agreed there was something about it that reminded us of our trips to Disneyland Paris, with music playing, a big ferris wheel and an ice skating rink. This market was busier than Charlottenburg but significantly less so than Gendarmenmarkt. That meant I got the atmosphere without getting pushed around by the crowds.
My second year of coming here – for some reason – I didn’t love it as much as my first visit but this year I gave it another chance and it was back up to standard. There’s lots on offer, sold from wooden huts with red roofs this time, with lots of good options for both gifts and food – I had the tender-ist slab of gammon in all the world, served up with potatoes and sauerkraut. I’m not even a sauerkraut person but here it worked.
(Stuff I’ve bought here: decorative Christmas dollies, wooden toy train, magnets, stollen, earrings).
5. Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz
I’d seen the Winter World market at Potsdamer Platz on multiple lists of Christmas markets in Berlin that deserve a visit but – I have to be honest – I was a bit disappointed by it. There was much less atmosphere here than at other markets I’d visited and the stalls lining the street weren’t quite as good or particularly picturesque. If I hadn’t already done any shopping at all, I’m sure I could have found something but as it was I bought some iced gingerbread but that was it.
What this market did have, however, was rides and drinks. I think this is less a market for shopping and more a market for other activities.
(Stuff I’ve bought here: decorative gingerbread)
6. Christmas Market on Alexanderplatz
The market on Alexanderplatz was another market I’d read I should visit but was another that I was a bit disappointed by. Again the items on sale weren’t – on the whole – quite so nice and the stalls themselves weren’t so pretty. Some of the food stalls did smell good but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out if the taste of the food matched the smell. Instead, I discovered the nearby Christmas market by the Roten Rathaus which ticked all the boxes (for shopping, food and being photogenic).
(Stuff I’ve bought here: …)
7. Christmas Market at St. Hedwig’s Cathedral
I stumbled across the little Christmas market around St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale when I was en route between the market by the Roten Rathaus and the one at Potsdamer Platz on my first Christmas market trip to Berlin. This market was much smaller and quieter than the others I’d been to – although it was neither the smallest nor the quietest that I would find (keep reading) – and I didn’t actually buy anything but I did spot stuff I would have wanted to eat if I hadn’t been so full from the previous stop on my Christmas Market Crawl and it was a pretty market, plus the fact it was quieter meant that it had a calmer atmosphere and was easier to slowly meander around.
(Stuff I’ve bought here: …)
8. Christmas Market at Nikolaiviertel
The Christmas market at Nikolaiviertel was one my Dad found – he’d heard it was small but pretty. We arrived to find a market so small it would be a stretch to call it a market – there were no stands selling potential Christmas presents, although there were a few surrounding shops that might have sold something more to this effect. However, what there was at the “market” – a hut selling hot drinks, some food and screens showing old black and white movies, all in the shadow of the tall and imposing Nikolaikirche – was indeed very pretty and in quite a nice, hidden away part of the city I had yet to discover.
(Stuff I’ve bought here: Gluehwein)
9. Spandau Christmas Market
The Christmas market in Spandau is a bit of a way away from the centre of town but it’s an easy ride on the U Bahn or the S Bahn. I’d heard it was quite a big market but the goods on sale were the same / not as great as the other markets further up on this list. There were several fairground attractions, however, making it a good combination of rides and decent shopping (as opposed to markets like Potsdamer Platz which had rides but was not great for shopping – see below) and so probably a good option for families.
What saved it for my Dad and I was the food (and also it was quite a nice setting for a market). I went for bratwurst, he went for a Hungarian dish that was a combination of sausage and cabbage and we both went for a suckling pig roll and trdelnik for dessert – because two main courses for lunch was just not enough.
(Stuff I’ve bought here: much food)