The magic of Germany's Christmas markets
No one does Christmas quite like Germany. And that's because many of the best-known yuletide customs started in Deutschland, only being introduced to the UK from the Victorian era onwards, such as advent calendars, Christmas trees and, more recently, Christmas markets.
Although the Christmas market is a fairly new phenomenon in the UK, they have been a feature of the festive season in Germany for over 600 years and are still firmly rooted in tradition.
So get ready to devour delicious German snacks, ice skate under twinkling fairy lights and join us in some boisterous carol singing; here's our guide to Germany's authentic markets.
But first of all, where should I go?
The big cities of Berlin, Munich, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt are all excellent starting points on your Christmas market adventure, with a huge number of flights each day from airports throughout the UK.
However, there are plenty of other easily-accessible options. Top of our list are Cologne, with its UNESCO World Heritage-listed cathedral; Dresden and its mighty stollen cake festivities; and traditional Nuremberg – home of gingerbread, handicrafts and a wonderful children's market.
Markets traditionally open during the four advent weeks before Christmas Eve (some even remain open into January) and are free to enter, but check the details for each city before you go.
What should I eat?
King of the German Christmas market is the juicy fried Bratwurst sausage. You'll have to choose between the traditional plain sausage, the lightly spiced Thüringer, or the lip-tingling Feuerwurst (fire sausage), because at up to half a metre long each, we'll be flabbergasted if you get through two. Just don't forget to pop it in bread and slather in mustard. Or try a Currywurst -- a Bratwurst sausage is cut into pieces and seasoned with curry ketchup.
You'll be spoilt for choice for sweet treats at any Christmas market, where stalls overflow with marzipan, chocolate crêpes, candied nuts and toffee apples. But for a traditional German experience, we recommend hunting out buttery Stollen cake and soft gingerbread.
Dresden is the birthplace of Stollen and on the second Saturday of advent, the city celebrates with a Stollen Festival. A giant version of this fruitcake cake is passed through the streets, ceremoniously cut and distributed to the crowd.
And for gingerbread, head to Nuremberg. You'll find an array of shapes and decorations (chocolate and icing sugar are customary, though), and maybe even an intricate gingerbread house or two.
And to drink?
Steaming mugs of mulled red wine are synonymous with crisp Christmas evenings. But over in Germany, Glühwein is receiving an upgrade. Alongside this famous Christmas tipple, don't be surprised to find white wine being served instead of the usual red, or even chunks of rum-soaked sugarloaf rested on the glass and set on fire so it drips into the wine – known locally as Feuerzangenbowle. Try saying that after a couple!
Now to pick up some gifts...
A huge reason to head to Germany is their Christmas handicrafts. Instead of mass-produced gifts, you'll be able to buy unique handcrafted wares for friends and family this year.
Expect to find Christmas pyramids – a carousel decorated with nativity scenes that's driven by warm air from candles – nutcrackers, incense sticks, shaped beeswax candles and decorative glass baubles.