Post updated December 2018 with details about the Christmas Markets in Tegernsee, an hour’s drive from Munich.
To an Australian, the festive season in the Northern Hemisphere is basically Christmas on crack.
Cheap and cheesy Christmas sweaters become perfectly acceptable attire, wine is served piping hot, and the streets are an overdose of colour exploding out of darkness. It’s literally the polar opposite of Christmas in Australia. Having been in London for eight years now, I admit that they do Christmas better on this side of the world – although a warm New Year’s Eve in Australia still wins hands down.
My second most favourite part of a Northern Hemisphere Christmas has become an annual pilgrimage to the German Christmas Markets. While pretty much every European city has a market these days, you just can’t beat the ones in Germany, where the Christmas market has been part of the annual fixture since the Middle Ages.
While Munich may be (in)famous for Oktoberfest (another annual pilgrimage of mine – but don’t expect a blog post on that any time soon…), its Christmas markets are a good excuse to visit the city in wintertime. Munich offers a huge variety of picturesque markets compared to other large German cities, as well as plenty of non-Christmassy options if you discover the markets aren’t really your thing. (Grinch.)
Munich has at least 13 different Christmas markets, ranging from the traditional, to medieval, to LGBT. You’ll find every kind of ornament you’ll ever need, and plenty of stodgy German food to keep you warm while you search. And of course, vats upon vats of glühwein, which is my most favourite part of a Northern Hemisphere Christmas. (Glühwein might appear like a harmless festive drink, but it’s a potent mix of sugar and alcohol that will have you bouncing off the walls. Just remember what goes up, must come crashing down….)
So pack your thermals and put on your stretchy pants – here are just a handful of highlights from the Munich Christmas markets (plus an easy day trip as a bonus!).
Christmas market at Marienplatz
Start your festive weekend with the market at Marienplatz, the oldest and the largest Christmas market in Munich. Set in front of the palatial New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus) and beneath a gigantic Christmas tree, it’s a magical setting that immediately conjures up those yuletide feelings. Of course, being magical also means it’s the most crowded.
When the crowds get too much, enter the Town Hall’s courtyard, where you can enjoy a glühwein in relative peace. From there you can also ascend the tower to take in the melting pot of colours below. Not that many people know you can go to the top of the tower, meaning it shouldn’t be too crowded. To access it, take the elevator which can be found on the left hand-side of the courtyard’s entrance from Marienplatz. (2€ entry)
St Peter’s Church Tower opposite the Town Hall provides an alternative, arguably better view, but it’s also busy with tourists and involves climbing 299 steps. After several glühwien, I’ll take the elevator thanks!
Viktualienmarkt (just off of Marienplatz)
Munich’s open air food market is a must-do for any respectable foodie, no matter when you visit. At this time of year, the stalls selling fresh produce and traditional German favourites are joined by additional Christmas-themed vendors. It’s a great option when if you tire of bratwurst. (Closed Sundays).
Mittelalterlicher Christkindlmarkt (Medieval market) at Wittelsbacher Platz
If there’s one thing I love, it’s a gimmick, and the Medieval Christmas market has gimmicks galore. From flaming glühwein served in clay goblets, to Friar Tuck lookalikes and tunes courtesy of the local lute player, it’s all a throwback to the origins of the Christmas market. It’s oh so kitsch, but oh so fun. Make sure you get a goblet of Feuerzangenbowle here – glühwein with sugar that’s doused in rum and then set alight.
Christmas Village in the Munich Residenz
The Christmas village at the Munich Residenz is certainly a feast for the eyes. Set in the courtyard of the former royal palace, its walls are illuminated by coloured lights, creating quite a spectacular backdrop considering you’re just shopping for trinkets. There’s also an obligatory giant Christmas pyramid, glühwein galore, and a series of creepy animatronic figurines acting out the fairy tales of your nightmares…
Haidhausen Christmas Market, Weissenburger Platz
One of the things I love about the German Christmas markets is that they’re very much part of German life, and to this day remain a place for friends to meet up. With this in mind, it’s worth getting away from the larger markets and experiencing some of the smaller neighbourhood markets.
Haidhausen Christmas Market is very much a market where the locals meet and hang out. While it’s small, it’s far more relaxed than the central markets; has a focus on local, handmade goods; and brews it’s very own beer, the ‘Christmator’.
Pink market, Stephansplatz
An LGBT Christmas market? Yass!
What the Pink Market lacks in size, it more than makes up for in fun. Performances by drag queens. DJs, and cocktails underneath the heavy glow of pink lights makes it a whimsical way to get festive. It’s friendly, open to all, and also open an hour later than the other Christmas markets, making it a great segue into Munich’s nightlife.
The Pink market can be found in Glockenbachviertel, Munich’s LGBTQ neighbourhood, which of course means it’s also home to many cool restaurants and bars.
Tegernsee Christmas Markets (day trip from Munich)
For something a bit left of field – and pretty magical – consider a day trip from Munich to Tegernsee, a lake about an hour’s drive away. Once you’re there, there are three main villages to explore, each with its own little Christmas market. And if lakeside Christmas markets weren’t cute enough, you move from market to market by boat. Quaintness overload!
It’s all incredibly picturesque, from the snow-capped mountains reflected in the silent waters, to the sloped roofs and decorative wooden frames of the alpine chalets. It really doesn’t get much more Christmassy than this.
The markets run from 2:00pm, only on the weekends in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. The stalls here are all about locally-made food and crafts, so you won’t find mass-produced Christmas trinkets. The food stalls in particular were surprisingly good – I highly recommend skipping the stereotypical German sausage and heading straight for the roast meat sandwiches. A-MAZ-ING.
The ferry runs from 2:00pm until 7:00pm, approximately every half an hour (although German timekeeping seems to have escaped this little pocket of Bavaria…). There’s also a bus between the villages, or of course, you can drive. (If you don’t have a car, you can get to Tegernsee from Munich by train.)
Back in Munich: Once you’ve overdosed on Christmas cheer
Grab breakfast at Bäckerei Alof – a cosy bakery in the Glockenbachviertel neighbourhood, serving up strong coffee, and delicious, freshly-made pastries.
Get your Oktoberfest fix in December – Munich has many beer halls, and most are decent. Hofbräuhaus is the most well-known and therefore touristy, but it’s still worth a visit. You’ll get a generous helping of hearty Bavarian food, oompah music, and of course beer!
Lunch at Le Stollberg – when you’ve had enough of eating with your hands, try something a little more sophisticated at Le Stollberg. It’s delicious French-inspired cuisine, with a reasonably priced set menu for lunch. The restaurant is known for its offal dishes, but as a non-offal eater, there are plenty of alternatives!
Have a Bavarian dinner at Zwickl – there are many places for schnitzel in Munich, but this one is by far my favourite. You can find it in the Viktualienmarkt.
Get one of the best coffees in town at Man Versus Machine. They take their coffee seriously, which I always appreciate.
Postpone the glühwein come-down with cocktails at Auroom – not far from the Pink Market, this is a cosy local bar with a great selection of cocktails, including an espresso martini served in the cutest little tea cups. Awww….
Quick tips when visiting Munich’s Christmas markets