Over the years, we have often used the USA’s Thanksgiving holiday to enjoy a little international travel. We’re grateful to be part of families that understand how much travel means to us, and over the years we have traded turkey and stuffing for Nasi Goreng in Indonesia and dumplings and ice cream in New Zealand. A drawback to holiday travel is missing out on traditions we love, like decorating our house for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving and experiencing community events like tree lightings that transition us into the holiday spirit. This year, we spent Thanksgiving in Malta. Although we managed to find a turkey and cranberry sandwich for Thanksgiving lunch and saw glittering decorations in St. Paul’s Bay, we were glad we had a planned layover in Munich for the ultimate in holiday travel: visiting a European Christmas market!
We have visited a few Christmas markets in the past, notably in Ghent and Luxembourg, but Germany’s Christmas markets operate at a different level. With a single night in Munich at our disposal—shortened a bit thanks to bad weather and flight delays—we had just enough time to thoroughly explore the oldest Christmas market in Munich. Here’s how we spent one night at the Marienplatz Christmas Market and some tips for you if a similar visit is in your future!
About the Marienplatz Christmas MarketOriginally known as the Nikolaimarkt, the Marienplatz Christmas Market has operated annually since 1310. Today, it is the oldest and largest market in Munich with 140 stalls selling everything from food to ornaments to glühwein. The market, which has been called the Christmarkt since 1806, attracts millions of local and international visitors each year. The markets have humble roots; centuries ago, they served as trading posts between farmers, merchants, and churchgoers.
The Christmas markets have changed with the times, and today you won’t find a lot of trading, but you’ll find plenty of items on which to spend your money!
Food and Drinks at the Christmas Market
We arrived at the Marienplatz Christmas Market with pretty empty stomachs after a day of flight delays and missed meals, but it wasn’t long before we were inhaling German sausages and feeling grateful we were hungry enough to enjoy them. There are plenty of food stalls within the market, and most of them sell staples like wurst (sausages), pommes (French fries), and roasted or candied nuts. We also saw plenty of treats like Fruchtspieße, which are chocolate covered fruit skewers, and waffles dipped in chocolate. For a seasonal snack, look for a booth selling stollen, also known as German Christmas bread.When it comes to German Christmas markets—and many of Europe’s markets—glühwein is the star of the show. Glühwein is mulled wine, or spiced wine, served piping hot and often in a souvenir mug. Christmastime in Germany is cold, but a mug of glühwein will warm you to your core. The fact it smells divine and tastes delicious makes the experience all the more enjoyable. Knowing that each vendor might have their own spice blend and it would be impossible to choose one based on taste alone, we made our decision based on a stall serving glühwein in colorful mugs we could take home with us. While sipping our beverages, we laughed out loud when we saw what they said: etched at the top was the year 2020. Looks like at least one vendor had a surplus of mugs from the Year Without Christmas Markets!
If glühwein isn’t your drink of choice, you’ll find plenty of other options, including hot chocolate and German beer. If a spiced drink sounds good but you would rather skip the alcohol, look for Kinderpunsch, which is more of a spiced juice that will leave you just as warm inside.
One important note to remember is that glühwein is pretty inexpensive, but you will pay a significant deposit for the mug it is served in just in case you don’t return it when you’re done. If you return the mug you’ll receive your deposit back, but many visitors keep their mugs as souvenirs. If you drink a lot of glühwein, you may have more mugs than you need. Be sure to return any unwanted mugs to a stall at the same market to receive your refund.
Shopping at the Marienplatz Christmas Market
While you can certainly visit the Marienplatz Christmas Market for food and drink alone, you won’t want to miss the chance to pick up a souvenir or two! Many of the vendors sell handmade crafts like ornaments, toys, and decorations such as snow globes and nativity scenes that are perfect for adding a festive touch to your home. We selected a few ornaments to bring home with us, including a Santa wearing lederhosen that will always remind us of Germany when we look at it. We also picked up a few gifts for friends and family.
Many vendors sell handmade items, and it’s worth it to spend time browsing at as many stalls as you can since available items will differ and there are plenty of one-of-a-kind gifts to buy during your visit!
What to See at the Marienplatz Christmas Market
There is a lot to see at the Christmas Markets! Here are a few of the highlights.
► The Christmas Tree
Standing more than 80 feet tall and boasting 3000 lights, the Christmas Tree is a focal point at the Marienplatz Christmas Market. Impossible to miss, the tree is selected from a German region each year and brought to the Bavarian capital as a symbol of the season. The Christmas tree is as impressive as they get; it stands almost twice as high as the National Christmas Tree in Washington, DC, and it casts a twinkling glow on the bustling market activities that surround it.
► City Nativity
Located in the Rathaus’ inner courtyard, don’t miss the city nativity scene sculpted by Reinhold Zellner in 1953. Many of the figures are original (although some were lost to time or exposure to the elements and were replaced in recent years), and it is only on display during the Advent season. Take a close look while you are there—the Wise Men are wearing German lederhosen!
Towering over Marienplatz, Rathaus translates to New Town Hall, although the building is anything but new. Constructed over several decades in the late 1800s, Rathaus houses Munich’s city government. The gothic building looks more like a church than a town hall, but it’s the perfect backdrop for festive photos taken during a visit to the Christmas market.
Tips for Visiting the Marienplatz Christmas Market
Here are a few things to keep in mind during your visit.
► Bring cash
Many of the vendors do not accept credit card payment, which is inconvenient in an increasingly paperless world but very helpful when you think about the volume of transactions they make and the speed at which they can process cash versus waiting for card readers. When planning for your visit, remember smaller bills may be easier for vendors to accept than larger bills.
► Prepare for crowds
The Christmarkt is enormously popular, and during our visit we were shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people just as excited as we were to eat, drink, and shop. Lines move quickly, but know that the crowds can be overwhelming and overstimulating if personal space is non-negotiable for you. Still, we didn’t have much trouble finding a quiet corner when we needed one.
► Take your own bag
If you plan to get your holiday shopping done in a single trip, you’ll want to be sure to bring a bag to carry your purchases back to your hotel. Vendors may wrap items like fragile ornaments, but most will not offer a bag. Take your own to be sure you have your hands free for wurst and glühwein!
► Bonus Tip: Explore the Munich Airport Christmas Market!
If you are flying into Munich’s international airport, don’t miss the Christmas market set up just beyond its entrance! As we left Terminal 2 in search of the S-Bahn train into the city, we were excited to see a Christmas market set up in the courtyard outside. Serving food and drink and complete with an ice skating rink, it’s a small market worth exploring and will certainly get you in the holiday spirit as you journey downtown for the Marienplatz Christmas Market experience!
Hotels Near the Marienplatz Christmas Market
There are plenty of hotel choices in Munich, and in a city well-connected by trams and trains it’s easy to find a great place to stay. We used Booking.com to research our options and selected Le Méridien, which is just steps from the Munich Hauptbahnhof, which is the central train station. The location was perfect: the S1 and S8 trains terminate at the airport which made arriving and departing straightforward, and it was a quick 15-minute walk to the Marienplatz Christmas Market. Most importantly, our room was large with a modern bathroom and a comfortable bed, and the hotel was incredibly quiet despite its proximity to the train station.
More Information: Booking.com/le-meridien
Take a look at Booking.com to research the hotels that are best suited for your needs!
Enjoy the Marienplatz Christmas Market in Munich!
In just a three-hour trip to the Marienplatz Christmas Market, we transformed from weary travelers to joyful visitors full of wurst, glühwein, and Christmas spirit. Visiting the Marienplatz Christmas Market in Munich is a great choice if you are planning a first-time experience at a Christmas market and are looking for the perfect balance between history, experience, and timelessness.
The holidays can be a wonderful time to travel; we highly recommend planning a getaway with friends or family to create some unique memories of your own. There’s a good chance you’ll return with gratitude, joy, and a brand-new ornament or two to remind yourself what the holiday season means to you.
Looking for more locations for Christmas and New Year’s Eve? Check out these posts from our archives!