With its fairytale castles and forested mountains covered with snow, it’s easy to see how Southern Germany inspired the setting for Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet. But in addition to the home where Clara dreams up dancing snowflakes, Mother Ginger, and the Sugar Plum Fairy, did you know that we also have Germany to thank for the Christmas tree, gingerbread houses, and the Christmas market?
From browsing the vendor stalls and meeting Weihnachtsmann (the German equivalent of Santa) to munching on spicy bratwurst and sweet lebkuchen, I have so many delightful memories of visiting the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg as a child living in Bavaria. And returning as an adult, I enjoy sipping a steaming cup of glühwein (mulled wine) while strolling past the stalls and letting lovely childhood memories wash over me.
Fortunately, German-inspired Christmas markets have become increasingly popular in the U.S. over the past several decades. While the food vendors at each market vary from year to year, authentic German foods to try at a Christmas market include wurst (sausages), kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), lebkuchen (gingerbread-like cookies), and, of course, glühwein. The merchandise offered for sale also varies, but expect to find Christmas decor, nutcrackers, candles, and cuckoo clocks.
And now on to the best Bavarian-style Christmas markets in the U.S. Please note that the markets are listed in alphabetical order by destination and are not intended to suggest a forced ranking.
1. Texas Christkindl Market
Arlington’s long relationship with its sister city, Bad Königshofen, a small spa town in Bavaria, prompted it to open the Texas Christkindl Market in 2011. It’s now grown into one of the largest open-air holiday markets in the Southwest. The Christmas market has been designed in partnership with Arlington’s sister Christmas city, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and brings unique, handcrafted gifts and festive holiday decorations to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including merchandise from Käthe Wohlfahrt.
2. Bethlehem Christkindlmarkt
Named on Christmas Eve after the Middle Eastern town where Christ was born, Bethlehem’s nickname is Christmas City. Taking place on the weekends from late November until just before Christmas, the Bethlehem Christkindlmarkt features handmade crafts, live Christmas music, and authentic German food. But visitors will also enjoy ice carving and glass-blowing demonstrations. Create an everlasting holiday memory at Banana Factory Arts Center by creating your own glass holiday ornaments.
Pro Tip: In addition to hosting one of the best Bavarian-style Christmas markets in the U.S., this town in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania is also home to historic sites that showcase German Colonial-style architecture in America.
3. Cambria Christmas Market
In San Luis Obispo County, the Cambria Christmas Market feels like Oktoberfest took full advantage of the mild winter weather and decided to stick around through Christmas. After browsing the stalls of imported German goods ranging from nutcrackers to wooden ornaments and enjoying the impressive light display powered by two million Christmas bulbs, head to the biergarten to enjoy live music, food, and adult beverages like beer and glühwein.
4. Carmel Christkindlmarkt
It’s much colder in Carmel than Cambria, so start by grabbing a mug of glühwein or heisse schokolade (hot chocolate) when you visit the Carmel Christkindlmarkt. Located about 30 minutes north of Indianapolis in the Carmel City Center, this Bavarian-style Christmas market features 50 vendors selling nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, Christmas decorations, and authentic German food from wooden stalls trimmed for the holidays. After you’re done shopping at the market, embrace the winter weather with a skating session on The Ice at Carter Green. The Carmel Christkindlmarkt runs annually from the weekend before Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve.
Pro Tip: If you’re spending the night in Carmel, book a room at Hotel Carmichael. This 1920s-inspired, luxurious boutique hotel is just around the corner from the Carmel Christkindlmarkt.
5. The Christkindlmarket Chicago
Chicago launched its Bavarian-style Christmas market 25 years ago and claims The Christkindlmarket Chicago to be the most authentic holiday market of its kind outside of Europe. Considering that it was designed and developed in partnership with Nuremberg, Germany, which has one of the best-known German Christmas markets, they’re probably right!
Taking place in the nation’s third-largest city, it’s no surprise that the Chicago Christmas market takes place in two locations in the Windy City. Opening the weekend before Thanksgiving, the traditional Daley Plaza location runs until Christmas Eve and the Wrigleyville location runs until New Year’s Eve. Bundle up and browse candy-striped stalls of unique wares, sip a warm cup of glühwein, and nosh on schnitzel sandwiches and other tasty treats.
Pro Tip: Most Christmas markets, including Christkindlmarket Chicago, sell glühwein in souvenir mugs.
6. Old World Christmas Market
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Held at The Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, the Old World Christmas Market takes place in a grand heated tent trimmed with fresh fir boughs and decorated with lights. While you’re sure to find typical German gifts, like nutcrackers and hand-carved wooden ornaments, the Old World Christmas Market also features items from elsewhere in Europe, including Czech blown-glass ornaments, Russian nesting dolls, Estonian woolens, and much more!
If the Old World Christmas Market is on your wish list for this holiday, you’ll want to start planning now. While many Bavarian-style Christmas markets run from just after Thanksgiving through the holidays, the Old World Christmas Market in Elkhart Lake is open for just two weeks in early December.
Fun Fact: Whether you believe they were invented by a German choirmaster or a German-Swedish immigrant in Ohio, we can also thank Germany for the candy cane.
7. Frankenmuth ChristKindlMarkt
Since every Michigander uses his or her left hand as a map of the Mitten State, hold yours up and point to the fleshy spot between your thumb and index finger. That’s where the next Bavarian-style Christmas market is located.
About 30 minutes southeast of Saginaw, in the town known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria, the Frankenmuth ChristKindlMarkt is open most weekends between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. There is no admission fee to explore the open-air market that unites more than 40 food and gift vendors at the Frankenmuth Farmers Market pavilion on Main Street.
8. Christkindlmarkt — Helen Chamber Of Commerce
Against a backdrop of half-timbered buildings, the Christkindlmarkt held in the Helen Marktplatz is another fantastic Bavarian-style Christmas market in the U.S. Although it’s only a 90-minute drive from Atlanta to this northeastern Georgia town on the outskirts of the Chattahoochee National Forest, you’ll quickly feel as if you’ve been transported to the Alps for the holidays. There’s no admission fee to visit this Christmas market, which operates on the last weekend in November and the first weekend in December.
Fun Fact: The Christ child (or Christkind) isn’t baby Jesus, but rather an angelic being who delivers presents to children in Southern Germany on Christmas Eve. You’ll typically see the Christkind at German-style Christmas markets as a woman wearing a long white dress with gold lamé “wings,” her long blonde ringlets capped with a tall golden crown.
9. Leavenworth Christkindlmarkt
On the brink of extinction after its logging and sawmill industry evaporated, the Cascade Mountain town of Leavenworth established Projekt Bayern and transformed the town into a Bavarian-inspired village approximately 5,200 miles away from the original. Thirty years later, the 2,500 residents of this Central Washington town might understandably challenge Chicago’s claim of “most authentic.”
Because the town of Leavenworth oozes Bavaria year round, it’s especially festive when decked out with 500,000 lights that are turned on Thanksgiving evening and remain lit through Valentine’s Day weekend.
Pro Tip: Admire more than 7,000 nutcrackers from over 40 countries at the Nutcracker Museum in Leavenworth, Washington.
10. Mifflinburg Christkindl Market
Celebrating its 33rd annual event, the Mifflinburg Christkindl Market claims to be the oldest wholly outdoor Christmas market in the U.S. Located in the heart of Pennsylvania, this fabulous Christmas market is never the same twice, in part because it spotlights one German or Austrian city each season. In 2021, the featured city was Cologne, Germany, home to an amazing Christkindlmarkt as well as the tallest twin-spired church in the world.
This year’s theme city is Munich, the capital of the German state of Bavaria. It is home to Nicholaimarket, one of the oldest Christmas markets in the German-speaking world. Now named Christkindlmarkt, it was originally established in 1310.
To experience the magic of this Christmas market, plan on visiting Mifflinburg on the second Thursday in December because this event opens then and only lasts three days.
Pro Tip: While the Mifflinburg Christkindl Market does not charge an admission fee, donations made at the market entrances are much appreciated and help defray the costs of producing the market.
11. German Christmas Market Of Oconomowoc
On the shore of Fowler Lake, the German Christmas Market of Oconomowoc brings a taste of Bavaria to the suburbs of Milwaukee, a city heavily influenced by German immigrants (especially brewmasters). Kick off the Christmas season by visiting during Thanksgiving weekend and browsing stalls of handcrafted gifts while lively polka music fills the air. Whether you sip glühwein or heisse schokolade as you shop, you can feel good knowing that all proceeds from hot drink sales go to local non-profit organizations.
Fun Fact: Celebrating its 11th anniversary this year, the Christmas Market in Oconomowoc is the result of a partnership between the Wisconsin town and its sister city, Dietzenbach, Germany.
Whether you choose a destination with chilly or mild winter weather, you’re sure to enjoy a taste of Bavaria when you visit one of these German-style Christmas markets this holiday season.