Germany is famous for it’s Christmas Markets, even in the UK most of the major cities from London to Manchester claim to be hosting ‘German Christmas Markets’; so I’ve always been keen to see the real thing and find out what’s so good about them.
The Black Forest is a beautiful region at any time of the year, but in Winter it really does become particularly special as every town comes alive with lights and decorations and the markets pop up in the main squares drawing in tourists from all over the world. Considering how popular these markets are, I was pleased to find that they weren’t overly busy, walking round was a leisurely activity and you weren’t having to beat your way through crowds to reach the stalls.
Whilst the theme of romantically lit wooden stalls and festive lighting is common throughout the various markets in The Black Forest, they all manage to maintain individual charms with unique offerings. I’ve put together my top 3 markets below, with a recommendation as to who they suit the most…or do as we did and visit them all!
For activities – Freiburg
Freiburg is in it’s 46th year of Christmas markets, and it is a really marvellous day out for all the family. Approaching the market the smell of the sausages sizzling and the Glühwein is a delight for all senses. The market extends along a number of streets and offers many gifts including knitwear, sweets & baked goods and jewellery, but one of the main attractions here is the option to see the creation of some of these gifts at a number of stalls.
I loved the candle workshop on Franziskanerstraße. With the option to either decorate a candle or make your own from scratch, I opted for the latter and let me tell you it’s not as easy as it looks. The wick requires dipping around 500 times, by which time my candle was looking decidedly wonky, luckily the staff on hand helpfully suggested I could just decorate a ready made one. The dipping of the candles in coloured dyes was equally fun and we were able to come away with a more festive looking creation. There is a bakery on Kartoffelmarkt which allows children to make their own biscuits as well as a glassblower who, after demonstrations, is more than happy to let you have a chance to join in yourself.
For that something a little bit different – Ravenna Gorge
Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market takes the trophy for the most picturesque location for a Christmas Market. Located directly underneath a viaduct in a gorge in the south of the Black Forest, it’s a dreamy spot that’s hard to beat. It’s home to around 40 stalls with a fairylight lit entrance leading to the viaduct itself which shines from a distance in deep purple. There’s some great food on offer including pulled pork sandwiches served with sauerkraut of course, and selections of chocolate dipped fruit, as well as some great gifts including hand carved wooden kitchenware.
Stunning location aside, what really sets this market apart from the others is the completely unique way to reach the viaduct. Starting at Kurhaus Hinterzarten from around 445pm, for a small fee you can join the delightful fire torch lit walk through the valley. Taking around an hour, and suitable for most walking abilities, it’s an atmospheric amble towards the market. As soon as the group were outside the built up area, we were given flame torches to guide the way, and there were a number of stops on the way for stories and even carol sing-a-longs. The path lit up by the torches really did look magical and made the already beautiful route to the viaduct even more enjoyable. The culmination of the walk is a bonfire made of all the torches before you’re able to go in and enjoy the stalls.
For Young People – Karlsruhe
Karlsruhe Christmas Market is spread around the centre of town into a few main areas. The spread out nature gives it a relaxed atmosphere without feeling too crowded. Near the town hall is the pretty ferris wheel alongside pleasingly photogenic stalls, it’s a popular area for young people to enjoy a mulled wine and stays open fairly late into the evening.
The second, and largest area of the market takes place on the market square and is a delightful illuminated area with a range of food and gift stalls. There’s a wonderful shop near the centre of the market selling every Christmas decoration imaginable; it’s like a proper Santa’s workshop complete with traditional wooden decorations and even a large sleigh display outside perfect for photo ops. It’s here that the crowds gather every evening to watch the main event and something that makes the Karlsruhe market unique, a full size Santa flying across the sky in his sleigh. Whilst he makes a few journeys throughout the evening, at around 530pm he makes his main journey complete with sounds and a story in the air to delight the young ones.
Der Kirchplatz St. Stephan is the dedicated children’s area, with a floor made of wood chippings and life size models of characters dotted around the square. The highlights here however are the almost eerily lifelike models in glass boxes depicting fairy tales and stories inspired by the Black Forest; there’s Hansel & Gretel, Snow White & even a Sleeping Beauty, complete with a realistic chest going up and down as she breathes.
Finally in front of the beautiful palace is the ice rink. It’s an open air rink, with lovely views of the palace and it’s grounds, and it’s a great size meaning you won’t be getting in people’s ways if you’re not the best skater! It’s one of Germany’s largest open air rinks at over 1000m squared, and surely has one of the best backdrops, as the palace is lit up at night time meaning you’re able to skate in front of a piece of history.