Next month, it’ll be four years since I experienced my first authentic German Christmas market. The year before that I was in France getting lost in the enchanting city of Paris and then later on in the snowy yet cozy town of Grenoble so Germany wasn’t on my radar at all. However, and as you will see in this post, I’m so happy I experienced the wonderful world of an honest-to-goodness Christmas market. For 27 years (the age I was at the time), I didn’t know what I was missing.
I definitely made up for lost time because all I did while I was in Germany that two-week visit was eat and visit Christmas markets. (I admit this freely but please don’t judge me for not having gone to any museum, art gallery or memorial while I was there. It was so cold!)
Well, I also visited Bratislava, Slovakia for a few days (and spent actual Christmas with a friend who’s based there), plus, Vienna and Budapest, before returning to Berlin for NYE. I went to three more Christmas markets just after the holiday because it was the main attraction!
I do hope to return to Germany to explore more of it and see it in its beautiful and temperate seasons like summer and fall. It’s just if you’re in Central or Eastern Europe around Christmastime, you HAVE to visit the markets.
But, since I’m not able to travel to Germany this season, I (and you too!) can still experience an authentic Christmas market right here in the center of Madrid. I’ll be attending it for the second year in a row this weekend but in this post, I want to recap my experience from last year.
Are you ready to jump into the magical world of Christmas markets?
What is a German Christmas market?
These types of markets weren’t always known as “Christmas markets.” In fact, the first known Christmas market was said to be held in Vienna, Austria around 1298. In the Middle Ages, they were referred to as “winter markets” and were typically held in the month of December. The idea of the Christmas market is said to have been started in Vienna that year or in western German cities such as Frankfurt or Munich in the early 1300s. This idea then slowly spread around Europe as other countries began to create their own markets and over time they evolved into Christmas themed markets.
Nevertheless, its origins are rooted in the Germanic lands and said markets are what pops into people’s minds when they think of Germany. I had heard they were amazing and you couldn’t miss out on going to one if you had the chance, so that’s why I went and focused my time on eating, drinking and being merry.
Nowadays in the markets, you will find all kinds of local dishes, handcrafted Christmas ornaments and decorations, artisan goods and of course, the drinks! Amazing drinks like hot cider, mulled wine, beer and hot chocolate!
The best part of the entire experience, in my opinion, was the creative and very unique Christmas mugs and glasses that you can find at each market you visit. They make different ones every single year and no two are exactly alike!
Here’s the deal: You buy a drink at one of the food stands and pay a small fee as a deposit for the mug or glass. It’s called a pfand in German (or fianza in Spanish). The sizes of the mugs were somewhere between 200ml to 250ml (so about an 8 oz. mug), which is very reasonable. If you want to continue drinking different hot drinks, you simply present your empty mug and the server will fill it with the selected drink of your choice. Repeat as many times as you would like (and your bladder allows, haha). At the end of the night, you return it and get your pfand back.
This is what I recommend: you pay the extra fee and keep the mug! That’s what I did with each Christmas market I visited (and sold handpainted mugs) and I have a very small but cute collection. I could also only take just a select few mugs home inside my hiking backpack so I had to choose wisely. If you have more space and lots of bubble wrap, take as many as you can fit in your suitcase! And picking up a mug for only 2-4€ is much cheaper than anything you might find at a souvenir shop.
They make a great collection and you can always remember the fun times you had at the markets with each sip you take.
Why go to a Christmas market in Madrid?
**Update for November – December 2021**
There are still COVID-19 restrictions in place all around both Madrid and the rest of Spain, which limit the number of people who can attend large events. Friedens Kirche has decided to offer entrance into their annual Christmas market with pre-booked tickets only. The market itself in the past was known for long lines and wait times to get in so this is a way for them to safely control the number of people who wish to attend their annual market. You can book your ticket here* for the next available day, selecting only one 2-hour time slot for everyone in your party. If you’re not able to attend the market, the church is selling homemade Christmas cookies and sprigs of holly to make your own advent wreath available for purchase on their website. You can order as many items as you would like but you will have to contact the church itself to ask about pick up and payment methods.
The schedule for the Christmas Market – Mercadillo Navideño is as follows:
November 27th, 2021 4 pm -10 pm
November 28th, 2021 12 pm- 6 pm
December 5th, 2021 12 pm – 4 pm
December 12th, 2021 12 pm – 4 pm
*You must book a ticket online (it’s free) as no physical tickets will be given out at the church on the days the markets will be open.
So, if Christmas markets are one of the main reasons you should book a flight to Germany, why go to one in Spain? Specifically, why Madrid?
Well, that’s because the wonderful German-speaking evangelical church near Plaza de Colón puts on its very own market every year for a number of years. Whether you’re a German missing home around this time of year or you’re like me and you just love Christmas markets, it’s a lovely (yet crowded little corner of Madrid to be for just one weekend in either late November or early December.
That’s right! Their doors, stalls and food stands are only open for one weekend only and then they close up shop, not to open again for a whole year.
I actually first heard about this particular Christmas market indirectly a few years ago from a friend who was based in Madrid at the time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I lived here myself that I was able to check it out and experience it. In fact, it wasn’t until my second year (and when I had a fiancé, not boyfriend) that I finally made it to the market.
I remember seeing the outside of the church and the gigantic line that stretched out into the Main Street back in 2016 but with no one to go with, I passed it up. From Instagram photos, it looked like a nice place to spend a couple of hours filling both my stomach and head with tangible Christmas visions (and food!) but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. I was getting ready to move from another temporary apartment so I was planning and preparing for that, plus, signing the rental contract for it that very same weekend!
So, if things are a bit crazy for you or you’re in a weird funk, going to this market can really help change your mood. And this is coming from someone who was born in December and has to forever share their month with Christmas. It has to be good!
(On the topic, a fun fact I like to share about myself is that I was born 9 days before Christmas. You do the math to figure out which day it was 😉
It’s also a great way to kick off the season and not only potentially meet German people but also connect with other similar people who might be missing familiar traditions just like you.
How to get there
The church is located just off Paseo de la Castellana. It’s a small space which means there won’t be a lot of standing room (let alone sitting!) so plan to arrive early.
Its address is:
Paseo de la Castellana, 6
Madrid, Spain 28046
Easiest ways to get to this Christmas market:
To arrive by metro, connect yourself to line 4 and get off at the Colón metro station, following signs for the exit at Calle Goya, pares (even numbers).
Or to arrive by Cercanías (commuter train), get off at Recoletos station and walk a short way up the Castellana, staying to the righthand side of the boulevard.
In case you don’t quite know how far up (or down) to walk, just look for a line snaking around to the Castellana. You won’t be able to miss it then!
(If you are interested in learning how to get around Madrid beyond this Christmas market, check out my e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Madrid’s Transportation Networks.)
What’s the best part of this market?
I would have to say that the best part of this transplanted German Christmas market is the festive and jolly feel you get from attending it. You also get a peek into what life is like in Spain for Germans, who aren’t nearly as far away from their country as we Americans are from ours.
The food and selection of second-hand and raffle items from their community are also amazing, too!
From the bratwurst, pretzels and waffles to the gluhwein and beer, you will be delighted to find lots of Christmas market food staples here. Not to mention an interesting selection of books, handmade goods, jewelry and other personalized gifts you can give to friends and family this Christmas.
Though my fiancé (at the time) and I didn’t know or see anyone we knew at last year’s market, we found the atmosphere to be friendly and the members of the church cheerful and having a good time preparing the food and drinks and selling tickets.
Speaking of tickets, I forgot to add something important about them! At this Christmas market, you don’t spend regular euros. To keep track of things better, upon entering the market, you purchase a number of tickets for the amount of food and/or gifts you would like to buy at the first table. This way, everything is straightforward and those handling food don’t have to come into contact with money, thus contaminating your delicious Christmas market treats!
A personal note
If I can be honest, Christmas isn’t my favorite time of year. I have felt this way for most of my life and the reasons behind my feelings are complicated.
Several years ago, I graduated from college during this month and life was very stressful that season. I finished my college career just 6 days before my birthday, turned 23 and then drove back with my immediate family to Ohio. Add a few more family birthdays, Christmas parties and dinners and traveling home while living in Florida for a while, it has always been a packed month for me.
Some seasons, it’s also been full of sorrow and heartbreak.
But years and years before the hustle and bustle of adulthood, my grandfather, whom I never got to know very well, passed away almost a week before Christmas. I won’t ever be able to erase the images, sounds or expressions I encountered that day as a young girl. (8 going on 9) Then, fast forward to more present-day events, and in 2015, that same year I went to those cozy and jolly German Christmas markets, my oldest cousin passed away from breast cancer at age 32, at the end of the year.
I’ve also spent Christmas with recently made friends or virtually, in these past couple of years making video calls to family and friends (and my love) abroad. One of the major downsides of having a visa to renew around this time of year and dealing with travel restrictions.
The good news is that this part does have a happy ending. This year everything is in order, plane tickets have been purchased and my husband and I will not only be spending our first ever Christmas together but it will be the first time we’ll celebrate it in his home country of Northern Ireland.
More on that in later posts!
Anyway, I want to know: have you been to a German Christmas market outside of Germany? Where was it and what was it like? Tell me about your experience in the comments, especially if you go to the one in Madrid!