Explore Munich's Magical Christkindlmärkte
Munich is beautiful any time of year, but it especially glows during the holidays. Traditional Christmas markets bring people of all faiths and backgrounds together for shopping, hot drinks and traditional foods. Whether you’re exploring Munich or just passing through to other destinations, make sure to check out these destinations in Munich, even if it’s just in the airport.
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The Holidays in Munich
Christmas markets are believed to have begun in Vienna, Austria, in 1298. The first recorded Christmas market in Munich took place in 1310 and later spread throughout what would become Germany. Today there are several Christmas markets throughout Munich, each with its own qualities. Pictured is the market at Marienplatz, Munich’s main city square since 1158. Munich's famous Rathaus-Glockenspiel is within the clock tower of the New City Hall (Neues Rathaus), opened in 1874. During the holiday season, you can see the famous Bavarian Christmas Nativity at the inner courtyard of the Neues Rathaus. The Nativity consists of 33 figures that were made for the 1954 Christkindlmarkt.
Lebkuchen - gingerbread hearts - are a favorite traditional treat found at Christmas markets throughout Germany. Translating as "sweet cake," lebkuchen are believed to have been invented by monks in the 13th century as a hearty, tasty, easy to preserve food for the winter. Honey, anise, cardamom, cloves, ginger and nuts are often added to the recipe. Seasonal greetings are often written on the cookies in icing. Gingerbread houses evolved in Germany from this tradition in the 16th century, possibly by the same tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm as "Hansel and Gretel" in 1812.
Glühwein (Mulled Wine)
Gluhwein is a German-style mulled wine that translates to "glow wine," perhaps because of the warm feeling it brings to those enjoying it on cold nights, but more likely because the wine is heated on a fire. While it's being heated, the wine is infused with flavor enhancers like orange peels, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and anise. Gluhwein is served at designated stalls at Christmas markets throughout Germany, such as this one at Munich’s Marienplatz. Originating in 2nd-century Rome mulled wine spread through Europe as Roman troops traveled up the Rhine and Danube rivers. In the Germanic regions, it was originally made with Riesling grapes, though today red wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon is far more popular. Adults who want to add an extra kick to their wine can order it mit Schuss (with a shot of rum or schnapps), and a non-alcoholic version called Kinderpunsch is often available as well.
Krampus is Coming, Behave!
Krampus is a South Tyrol tradition dating back to pagan times when people would dress as demons to scare away the winter. As Christianity took hold in the region, the demons developed into Krampus, Santa Claus's counterpart who would carry off naughty children (and you thought getting coal in your stocking was bad). Various Krampus parades (Krampuslauf) are held throughout Austria and southern Germany in December. Munich holds one of the largest when 300 impressively dressed participants run through the streets of Munich to Marienplatz and around the Christmas market to the delight of spectators. Two Krampuslauft are held in December in Munich; check here for this year’s dates.
Officially named Karlplatz for an unpopular politician in the 18th-century, locals still call this square Stachus, after the popular Beim Stachus pub that was razed when the square was built. Open from late November through January, Munich Ice Magic on the Stachus is an outdoor ice rink that since 2001 has been a favorite seasonal destination. Food stalls surround the rink and special events take place during the season, including Mondays' "Tracht on Ice" (Costume on Ice), where those dressed in traditional dirndls or lederhosen skate for free.
Kaiserhof Courtyard at the Munich Residenz
The Kaiserhof Courtyard of the Munich Residenz holds a yearly Christmas market, complete with a large Weihnachtspyramide (Christmas pyramid). A museum since 1920, the Munich Residenz was the palace of Bavaria’s kings from the 1600s to early 1900s and is renowned for its art and architecture that includes Baroque, Renaissance, Rococo, Neoclassicist and Historicist styles. Christmas pyramids are traditional decorations from Germany’s Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) near the Czech border. On smaller versions, hot air rising from candles makes the propeller at the top spin, which in turn makes religious or folks scenes attached to a center axle rotate around the structure like a carousel.
Mittelaltermarkt, Munich Advent Spectacle
Munich’s Mittelaltermarkt (Medival Market), officially the Munich Advent Spectacle, pays homage to Christmas markets’ medieval origins. Participants dressed as knights in armor, jesters and jugglers, medieval musicians and dancers, and lords and ladies all celebrate the season, and vendors sell gifts such as drinking horns, jewelry, hides, stamps (shown being sold here) and other medieval-inspired crafts.
Located a block south of Marienplatz, Viktualienmarkt (Victuals Market) is known as Munich’s culinary center because of its food stalls offering cheeses, vegetables, mushrooms and other produce year-round. Its December offerings embrace the holidays with seasonal foods, plants, pine trees and even flowers in winter. A favorite of locals, this market is a must-visit to truly see Munich at the holidays.
Christmas Market at the Chinese Tower
The Chinese Tower at Munich’s beloved English Garden sees Christmas booths, carriage rides, visits by Mr. and Mrs. Claus, rousing games of curling and other holiday season fun. Gluhwein and beer are sold, and the atmosphere is more romantic and quiet than other markets as there’s more space. Families enjoy frequent music and storytelling entertainment that take place between 4 pm and 7 pm.
Tollwood Winter Festival
Part Christmas market and part carnival theater, the Tollwood Winter Festival at Theresienwiese (the Oktoberfest grounds) combines international foods with traditional German winter traditions. The beer hall is active with a variety of live music. Think Saint Nick at a music festival during Oktoberfest with Circus Soleil.
Christmas Market at Sendlinger Tor
Sendlinger Tor, the remains of Munich's medieval south city gate, is festively lit for the Christkindlmarkt which is known for its Christmas tree ornaments, nutcrackers and other traditional German crafts. Stalls sell Christmas items from around the world as well, including crystal art from Russia and ceramics from Lithuania. A favorite holiday souvenir is an ornament painted with a portrait of Sissi, the diminutive of beloved Empress Elisabeth Eugenie Amalie who was born in Munich in 1837.
Christmas Market in the Munich Airport, Germany
Every mid-November through December 26 since 1998, Munich Airport (Flughafen Munchen) brings the magic of the season to travelers with its annual Christmas and Winter Market that sees a 600-square-meter public ice rink and more than 400 live trees, including one that’s 65-feet-tall. More than 40 stalls sell traditional Bavarian gifts and crafts, mulled wine, sweet roasted almonds, sausages and gingerbread. Try your hand at the sport of curling, and enjoy performances by local Munich musicians. The Munich Airport Christmas and Winter Market is open daily 11 am to 9 pm.