Funny thing about Munich–the Christmas markets seem designed as drinking events. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if boozing is your thing, but it was an unexpected discovery. Maybe it shouldn’t have been so shocking considering Munich has an entire 18-day festival–Oktoberfest–devoted to sucking back beer.
Mr. Pretty and I descended on the world of Munich Christmas markets in early December, determined to visit as many markets as possible in the two-day window that we had in the city. And I expected each market to be completely unique. Some of the markets were more unique than others, but for the most part each market was comprised of 82,000 gluhwein1 joints combined with a few stalls that sell candy, gingerbread hearts, chocolate covered fruit, a variety of sausage dishes and sandwiches, glass and wooden Christmas ornaments, and nutcrackers. The main differences, for most markets, were location and crowd-size. So yeah, if you plan to spend any time at a market, you better really have a yen for a few glasses of gluhwein, hot gin and tonic, hot tea with rum, etc.2
That sounds like I’m not impressed with Munich Christmas markets, which isn’t true. Not really. But I definitely favored the more unique markets over the more traditional ones. Maybe because hours of drinking is not my thing.
Here are the markets we visited, in order of how much I enjoyed them:
- Tollwood Winter Festival. Yeah, sure–you can pick up a glass of gluhwein and some Christmas ornaments at Tollwood, but that’s not the main focus. Rather, it’s handmade art and crafts. Lots of them. In addition to the typical-looking stalls selling handmade lanterns and giraffe carvings and roasted chestnuts, there are massive circus-type tents with live music, ethnic food, ecology exhibits, and more vendors. There are also lit-up sculptures and pretty lights, inside and out. There’s a nice vibe here, too–sort of laid back and happy, and it doesn’t come off as overly touristy. I could spend a few hours at this one. We were there during the day on a Sunday, and as you can see from the photo, it wasn’t very crowded (although inside the vendor tent, it was definitely a bit on the packed side). That said, I’ve read that Tollwood can get jam packed on weekend nights. Another really excellent thing about Tollwood: it’s right outside the Theresienwiese UBahn stop (U5), so it’s super easy to get there.
- Schwabinger Christkindlmarkt. The Schwabinger area of Munich is considered the avant-garde district, so maybe it’s not surprising that the neighborhood would have a fun Christmas market. It’s a smaller and market, but there’s a small tent that features a fine art exhibit and a series of stalls selling handcrafts made in various locations in Germany (as well as other locations). The market also has a live music pavilion, although it’s open-air, rather than enclosed–and, like the more traditional markets, you can get booze and lots of it. This is another market that’s filled with locals instead of tourists, and not super crowded–we were there on a Sunday night, and there was tons of room. There’s something about the atmosphere here that made me want to hang out for a bit. Maybe it was the Mexican band singing “Feliz Navidad” half in English and half in Spanish while the very German crowd sang along and danced. It was fun! Like Tollwood, this market is super easy to find–it’s right outside the Münchner Freiheit UBahn station (U6).
- Marienplatz Christkindlmarkt. If not for the Krampuslauf on Marienplatz on the Sunday night we were there, this market would have been one lower on my list. The Marienplatz market seems packed all the time, no matter the time of day or weather. It’s large-ish in size, but that doesn’t even matter. It’s the most well-known market in Munich, and it’s highly touristy. Maybe it’s the Rathaus-Glockenspiel show every day at 11am that makes it a draw, too. I don’t know. What I do know is that it was crowded and didn’t have a lot about it to make it genuinely special. Easy to find, for sure–it’s right at the Marienplatz metro station, which is accessible from both the Ubahn and the Sbahn.
- Pink Christmas. I wanted to love Pink Christmas, an initiative from the gay and lesbian community in Munich. I mean, the decorations are pretty and super distinctive–everything is in shades of pink. And I admit–the stalls were filled with less standard fare, not that I could get near any of them: the space that this market occupies is teeny tiny and it gets packed. Like sardine-packed to the point where it’s impossible to make even a single loop around the market, let alone shop or eat. And that’s just not fun. There are nightly acts, so if that’s your thing, maybe brave the crowds. It’s a few blocks from the Sendlinger Tor station and directly next to next to the Alter Südfriedhof graveyard (which I missed out on because it was dark).
- Wittelsbacherplatz is also known as the Medieval Market. It absolutely fits the typical Christmas market bill with the types of food available and many of the vendors, except this the market you want if you’re in the market for a broadsword–and there are people cosplaying medieval Ken and Barbie all over the place. That might have been really interesting solely for people watching, but this is another market that’s in a teeny tiny space, with an enormous crowd. It was almost impossible to do anything other than huddle together, shoulder to shoulder, with your fellow market goers and hope you don’t trip over someone’s shoelaces . . . because if you fall down, you’re likely getting trampled by a dude in armor or a fair lady playing the lute. It’s a few blocks from the Odeonsplatz station, either the U3 or U5.
- Weißenburger Platz. I kept reading that the market at Weißenburger Platz was quiet but pretty, almost completely off the normal tourist path. And it is–it’s right off the Rosenheimer Platz station (S8) and barely had any visitors at all when we went on a Sunday just after it opened for the day. I understand it’s much prettier at night when the lights are on, but even during the day it was picturesque. There wasn’t anything particularly unique here, though, and since we’d already spent time at the Marienplatz market it just seemed more of the same . . . just with fewer people jammed into the space.
- Rindermarkt. There’s not much to say about the market on Rindermarkt, primarily because it’s just an offshoot of the Marienplatz market.
The moral to the story is that traditional Christmas markets are maybe not ever going to be my thing, and that’s useful to know, right? We visited Christmas markets in Montreal last year, and most of them were quite small compared to the market in Brussels, which we visited the year before. As it turns out, the Montreal markets were closer in style and size the Munich markets. Who knew?
1. Red wine, heated and spiced with cinnamon sticks, cloves, star aniseed, citrus, and sugar.↩
2. Fun fact: all the booze comes in souvenir cups of one sort or another. When you buy your drink, you get charged for the cup as well, and you’re given a token that says pfang, which is German for deposit. Don’t want your cup? Take the cup and the token back to the drink stall and turn them both in–you’ll get a few bucks back. ↩