Here’s what you really need to know about the Berlin Christmas markets!
Because 2020 is the insanity we’re all living right now, Berlin Christmas markets are canceled this year until at least December 22nd, and likely the whole season. I visited extensively in 2019 and share it now for future inspiration and to spread a little joy in the craziness of this year!
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If you’re trying to get a mix of amazing history or art AND Christmas markets, Berlin makes an excellent destination. It’s also not to be underestimated if you’re already here for work and want to know which to prioritize. If so, I’ve got you covered.
Berlin claims to have over 70 Christmas markets in the area. But their tourism website doesn’t do a great job of listing them. A few are walking distance from or inside central Berlin. They do have a map online, but that lists only one in central Berlin – it’s not the only one. And to be honest it’s the most touristy, most ridiculous one.
(To be clear: of course I still went to that one. But we’ll get to that.) So I’ll point out a few worth nothing in central Berlin that may not be obvious on the official website.
Berlin Christmas market food
If every city (and sometimes every market!) has a specialty, the Berlin Christmas markets can claim a few things. Massive grills stocked with bratwurst and sausages are everywhere, and there are several stands cooking salmon on wooden slabs bent over an open fire.
I tried quarkballchen for the first time and couldn’t get enough! Basically balls of fried dough. What’s not to like? The savory versions traditionally have cheese and sometimes studded with speck or bacon, and the sweet ones are sprinkled with sugar and remind me a bit of donuts. Both are good, although I think savory beat sweet this round. But better be safe and try both, just in case.
One thing I hadn’t seen before was blueberry gluhwein! It was delicious, definitely on the sweet side, but a fun way to mix it up. Not every stand has it, so keep your eyes peeled. I tried it in Gendarmenmarkt.
The market at Gendarmenmarkt is hands down the best one. It’s got it all: Gluhwein, great food, good variety of crafts and creations, and live performances. The crafts were pretty wide-ranging: not just Christmas themed, not just variations of the same three skills. It was a fun place to buy with unique Christmas gifts.
Gendarmenmarkt also had several sit down restaurants. Most required a reservation to get in, especially on a weekend, but it seemed like a good way to get away from the typical Christmas market crowds. They’re priced similarly to a nice meal in Berlin, though, so not cheap.
There is a fee (1€ in 2019), but that money is donated to helping the hopeless. And really, what’s 1€ entry for the best Christmas market in the city? This helps explain why it’s fenced in (and therefore feels more crowded).
The most popular and touristy one, hands down. This is mostly because of location – situated at the Alexanderplatz U-bahn station, so if you’re doing the Berlin highlights tour you’re probably passing through here at some point. This market had some great decor as well – especially the giant recreated Weihnachtspyramide, or Christmas pyramid.
I would save your shopping for Gendarmenmarkt though – there were some beautiful artisan creations, but there was also a lot of made-in-china junk mixed in.
This Christmas market in front of Rotes Rathaus is so close to the Aexanderplatz one, it was unclear if they’re just one long market or two separate. However, if they’re separate this one is leagues ahead of the other, and not just because this one has a massive Christmas ferris wheel towering over it!
In the evenings, St. Nicholas flies over the Christmas market! Forgive the grainy photo, but we were pretty far from him when the action started. Yes, it’s a real person up there, and it’s a mini-show complete with fireworks shooting out of the sleigh. Alex also has an ice skating rink with benches and tables around it, making it a great space to take a break if you want to get off your feet.
The only downside is that while entry is free, this one is also fenced in and therefore space get a little nuts in terms of the crowd factor.
The market at Potsdamer Platz I never really found on a map at all. But it had a pretty epic toboggan ride/slide thing, so if you’ve got little ones in tow who need wearing out this may be a spot to check out. It never hurts when kids can run around while adults eat chocolate and wine. Or, you know, take a turn yourself. There’s also a skating rink here.
There are so many more Berlin Christmas markets, but most of them require a longer commute by either car or public transportation to get to. These are the ones in the central part of the city.
Full disclosure: if you’re coming from the States or another continent and looking for the best of European Christmas markets, I don’t know if Berlin is the direction I’d point you in. They’re here, yes, and I unabashedly love them. But if you’re traveling all that way for one or two Christmas market cities, I don’t know that I recommend Berlin as one of those.
I always want to honest with my opinions on places – otherwise, what’s the point? Berlin is an awesome city and I’d love to go back, even if only for the food. But if you can only do one Christmas market, try for Salzburg or Prague.
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