The Rothenburg Christmas Market:
When Is It: December 1-23rd, 2023.
Market Hours: Monday-Thursday: 11am-7pm; Friday-Sunday: 11am-8pm.
2023 Event Schedule: Four-week-long festival with a grand opening the evening of the first Friday of Advent followed by daily live music, special concerts, food, drinks, and shopping.
Location: Events center around Market Square, but extend to the surrounding Herrengasse, Town Hall Gallery, Grüner Markt, and Kirchplatz.
Cost: All events are free to attend (excluding special concerts).
Name Of The Festival In German: Rothenburger Reiterlesmarkt which means Rothenburg Rider’s Market after the famous horsemen figure.
Official Brochure (2019): HERE.
Fun Scale: 10 out of 10.
Rothenburg Rider’s Market Overview
The Christmas Market in Rothenburg is one of the oldest in Europe as it was started in the 1400s during the village’s golden age. It is also our favorite Advent market to visit Germany mainly because of the of the setting inside one of Europe’s best preserved Medieval towns. The idyllic setting is like a real-life storybook that feels like Christmas all year but is enhanced during the festivities of the Advent Season. Inside this time capsule of a village, the smell of candied nuts roasting on an open fire, the crispness of the mulled wine, and 4 weeks of daily events create a holiday wonderland.
Most Advent Markets in Europe are called Christ Child Markets (Christkindl) and have golden Angel as their mascot, but Rothenburg’s takes a different approach. Because the market here is much older than many of the other famous Christkindlmarkts, it is actually called the Rothenburg Rider’s Market (Rothenburger Reiterlesmarkt, since 1957). Once a feared horseman figure believed to be from another world who glide through the Winter skies with old souls, the Rothenburg Rider has become a beloved ambassador for Christmas over the centuries.
Helpful Tips For The Rothenburg Christmas Market:
1. Book Your Hotel Early: The village of Rothenburg is one of the most popular Christmas destinations in Europe and it has a limited supply of hotel rooms so you have to book far in advance. To fully enjoy the atmosphere, after dark activities, and have flexibility in your daily schedule, you need to stay here overnight. Many of the hotels will be full around 90 days before the festival so booking at least 4 months in advance (6 months for weekends) is ideal . Finding a hotel room anywhere in town at the last minute is not very common and if you wait too long you may find yourself staying in villages over 10 miles away so book ahead. Staying overnight is in our list of the Top 10 Things To Do In Rothenburg and we have a full list of our top hotels in Rothenburg (HERE).
2. Dress For The Weather: After you have your hotel sorted out, you also need to plan ahead on how to dress and pack for the weather at the Rothenburg Christmas Market. Average temperatures are typically around 40F (4C) during the day and 32F (0C) at night, but it will likely feel warmer with all of the walking around the market and hot drinks you’ll be enjoying. You may be surprised that it isn’t common to have snow during the Rothenburg Christmas Market. Most years, you are actually more likely to have rain.
Make sure to check the forecast for your trip while you do your first round of packing, and again before you leave, so you can plan appropriately. For most visitors, your packing list should include a nice wool or medium warmth winter coat (no snowsuits), hat that covers your ears, scarf, light to medium gloves, and a compact travel umbrella (even if the forecast doesn’t show rain).
You won’t need to bring bulky winter snow boots, but you will need insulated hiking boots or comfortable Sorels that keep your feet dry, as well as wool socks. Lightweight, waterproof, insulated, and comfortable will be the key things in your outdoor footwear. If you’re like us and prefer to pack lightly, you should bring disposable hand/toe warmers with you, depending on the forecast. There are also numerous stands and shops in Rothenburg that sell high-quality wool hats, gloves, and coats that make for great souvenirs.
3. Visit Käthe Wohlfahrt Early: The famous Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store and German Christmas Museum reach a ungodly level of popularity during the Advent season, so you need to go early in the day. The mega-sized Christmas paradise opens at 9am (2 hours before the market) so the crowds are much smaller early, but long lines form by mid-day, especially on weekends. Starting here right after breakfast helps you to avoid the chaos and long waits so you can slowly enjoy your shopping.
4. Explore the Daily Schedule: The schedule for the four-week-long festival remains pretty consistent each year, but it does vary from day to day. Some of the live music events only last for 30-60 minutes at a time so double checking the schedule once you get there is a great way to make sure you don’t miss anything at the Rothenburg Christmas Market. While there is a lot to do any day of the week, there are also some activities which we highlight below that are only available on weekends or even just one day a week.
5. Take A Break: The Christmas Market goes from 11am to 7 or 8pm every day which can lead to a long time on your feet. Starting early is nice to beat the crowds (especially on weekends), but you need to make sure to give your feet a rest at some point. This can be in the form of a long relaxing lunch with time to enjoy it or an afternoon rest in your room. Visiting interior of Saint James Church with its stunning altars also offers a lot of benches and pews to rest your feet. What you don’t want to do is push yourself through for 6 straight hours on your feet and then be too tired to enjoy the village in the evening as it beautifully lights up after dark.
If you feel like powering through the whole day then at least consider avoiding the peak afternoon crowds in the Market Square and visiting either the Medieval Crime Museum or Rothenburg Museum as a mini break. You’ll find that these two museums have very light to manageable crowds during the Advent season.
Top Things To See At The Christmas Market:
1. The Living Christmas Village (Daily):
About The Living Christmas Village: The number one thing to see at the Rothenburg Christmas Market is the beautiful town itself which acts feels a living Christmas village. Rothenburg oozes holiday spirit 365 days a year and the well-preserved Medieval town feels like a movie set during the festival. Visiting Rothenburg will almost seem like you have stepped inside a gigantic holiday snow globe filled with multi-colored half-timber homes which was meant to a postcard. In additional to the market stands, the village is home to numerous Christmas stores including the famous Käthe Wohlfahrt which is headquartered in picturesque Rothenburg.
The the unreal atmosphere created by the setting of the magical village is an attraction all its own and is what really sets the Christmas Market in Rothenburg apart from some of the other famous ones in Europe. Make sure to take time to absorb the wonderful backdrop the playful facades of the 500-year-old buildings in Rothenburg give the Christmas Market and you’ll be in awe that the at the added timeless vibe.
2. Christmas Market Shopping (Daily):
About The Market Shopping: Because of the abundance of year-round Christmas stores in Rothenburg, the holiday market shopping here is extra enjoyable. Instead of cheap knick-knack souvenirs like in some other Christmas Markets, in Rothenburg you will be able to shop for high quality gifts to suit nearly any budget.
The most popular items at the market are the handcrafted Christmas ornaments and the knit clothing including cozy winter hats. There is even a hidden workshop called Zum Holzbildhauer (Hafengasse 17) where you can see the artisans carving detailed handcrafts. If you are interested in other handcrafts in Rothenburg then we suggest checking out the website for Handmade In Rothenburg which highlights numerous local shops that are open year round (more info).
Maybe the best souvenirs are the collectible Gluhwein cups you get glasses of warm mulled wine in. The initial cost for your first drink is roughly 5€ which includes a small deposit for your mug. After your done getting refills you can return your mug to get you deposit back or keep it to bring home. We love collecting mugs from all of the Christmas markets we visit in Europe as they also make excellent gifts.
All of the shopping options are in the heart of Rothenburg with the centrally located Market Square having a majority of the main stands. This square is also where most of the daily activities happen from live music to afternoon visits by Santa (usually by 4:30pm). The Gothic arcades inside the neighboring Town Hall also has some covered shopping as well as a large nativity scene. All of the other sides of the Town Hall also have a lot of different stalls which spill out onto Green Square behind the building where you can find the main food and sausage stands. The nearby Church Square in front of Saint James Church (Saint Jacobs) is know to the Children’s Market which also has some of the large handcraft items for sale including rustic lanterns.
3. Käthe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Store & Museum (Daily):
About Käthe Wohlfahrt: Right in the center of Rothenburg is the multi-level Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store headquarters containing the largest collection of ornaments in Germany. You won’t be able to miss the store thanks to its iconic red gift hauling truck parked out front which is tons of fun to take photos with. The front door is also gaurded by a colorful life-size nutcracker which is fitting as they carry over 200 different models of nutcrackers and have a huge 12-foot-tall one on display inside.
The interior of the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store is designed to look you are walking in a Christmas village with houses as displays cases while a painted starry sky ceiling hangs above you. Roaming the huge store for the festive atmosphere is almost as fun as the shopping. Over 16,000 square feet across three floors you will find Christmas Pyramids, Nutcrackers, Incense Smokers, Ornaments, and stein drinking glasses. There are 122,000 lights decorating the interior which is highlights by a 16-foot-tall revolving Christmas tree and an 18-foot-tall revolving Christmas Pyramid, not to mention their Teddy Bear Land.
A giant-sized 2,700 square foot German Christmas Museum (Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum) sits above the main Käthe Wohlfahrt store and covers hundreds of years of holiday history. You will learn about the origins of of modern Christmas including costumes, the evolution of decorations, and the details behind some of the most famous folklore. There are interesting exhibits detailing everything from Christmas trees, ornaments, holiday pyramids, Christmas cards, and more. The best thing is that most tourists get so caught up with the shopping that the museum doesn’t get as crowded as the store.
The two other museums in town (Medieval Crime Museum & Rothenburg Museum) also typically have special exhibits during the Advent season. These museums along with the one inside Käthe Wohlfahrt can be excellent rainy day activities if you run into poor weather during your Rothenburg Christmas Market visit.
Käthe Wohlfahrt Hours: Monday-Saturday 9am-7pm; Sundays 10am-6pm. Special Note: You will want to get to the store in the morning if possible if you are visiting the Rothenburg Christmas Market on a weekend as the afternoons have can have long lines to get in. If that isn’t possible than come back again in the later afternoon. Käthe Wohlfahrt Website: (HERE). Christmas Museum Hours During Advent: Monday-Thursday 10am-5:30pm; Friday & Saturday 10am-6:30pm; Sundays 10am-5pm. Christmas Museum Cost: 4 euros for Adults; kids 2 euros; family 7 euros. Christmas Museum Website: (HERE).
4. Traditional Food & Drinks (Daily):
About The Traditional Food & Drinks: The Christmas Market in Rothenburg Germany is one of the best holiday fests to try traditional foods and drinks. By far the most popular item is the warm mulled wine made with fruit as spices known in German as Glühwein (glu-vine). While red is the most traditional, in Rothenburg they also specialize in local White Mulled Wine (Weißer Glühwein). The drink stands also sell both hot chocolate and non-alcoholic Christmas Punch known as Kinderpunsch (kinder-punch). Included in the roughly 5€ cost for your first drink is a deposit (pfand) for your souvenir mugs which you return for a refund or take home as a keepsake.
The most iconic food item at the Rothenburg Christmas Market are the Schneeball pastries (snowball in English) which have been made locally since the 1700s. Either glazed or covered in powdered sugar, these baseball-sized round treats can be found and numerous confectionery shops that litter Rothenburg. Although most variations of the Schneeball taste like a dry cookie, they are a great novelty item to try. Near many of the schneeball shops are confectionaries where you can get see various candies being made including the Bonbon Shop (website) and Allegra Chocolate (website).
Our favorite thing to eat is a 18-inch-long (half-meter) hot dog in a bun known as a Franconian Fire Sausage (Fränkische Feuerwurst). For the photos alone these are a wonderful a hearty treat. Other meat options at the stands include 4 Rothenburg-style sausage links (Vier Rotheburcher Würschtli), a Peasant Brat (Bauernbratwurst), Beef Sausage (Rindsbratwurst), and Wild Boar Pork (Wildschwein). If you get it “im kipfle” that means in a bun.
There are also a number of vegetarian options including German Cheese Noodles (Käsespätzle), Candied Almonds (Süßigkeiten Mandeln), freshly Roasted Chestnuts (Geröstete Kastanien), Mini-Donuts (Schalzkuchen), Christmas Cookies (Weihnachtsplätzchen), and lots of Gingerbread Hearts (Lebkuchenherz).
We really recommend finding time to visit some of the best restaurants in town during the Rothenburg Christmas Market in addition to the food stands. Whether you for lunch or dinner to get even more Franconian flare at these restaurants including the To Hell Tavern & Restaurant (Zur Höll), the Imperial Kitchen Master Restaurant (Reichs Küchenmeister), and the Councilmen Cellar (Ratskeller).
5. Outdoor Glühwein Garden (Daily):
About The Outdoor Glühwein Garden: Any time of year, the Imperial Kitchen Master Restaurant has the best beer & wine garden in Rothenburg, but during the Christmas Market it gets extra magical. With views overlooking the Children’s Market and Saint Jacob’s Church, the large patio of the Imperial Kitchen Master Restaurant is transformed into an outdoor wonderland.
With umbrella’d high-top tables and outdoor wood stoves, the Imperial Kitchen Master is an excellent place to get a drink, some food, or warm up while you are exploring the Christmas Market in Rothenburg. In addition to freshly-made warm mulled wine, they also have other wines, beers, hot chocolate, and even pizzas available in the outdoor area. We especially like how they have low tables and a mini carousel for children. While the indoor seating usually requires a reservation on the weekends and evenings, the Imperial Kitchen Master is also one of the best sit-down restaurants in Rothenburg.
Glühwein Garden Hours: Daily until 11pm.
6. Live Music Performances (Daily):
About The Live Music: Live musical performances at the Rothenburg Christmas Market help to turn an already festive event into an unforgettable experience. Every evening (5:30pm or 6pm) there is brass band music in the main Market Square with additional sessions on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (2pm). Also running daily (3pm & 6:30pm), there is coffee time with free piano music at Hotel Eisenhut just one block from the Market Square.
Every Sunday morning (11am) there is a Christmas choir concert sung from the balcony of Town Hall and other choirs that performance at various times during the festival. Some of the choir events turn the entire Market Square crowd into a large caroling group.
There is also a lot of entertainment at the huge Saint James Church (Saint Jacobs) which can serve as an excellent time to rest your feet and warm up in the pews. You’ll want to check the schedule when you arrive as, but typically the church has 30-minute organ performances on Saturdays at 6pm as well as various choir, orchestra, and Advent concert events throughout the festival. While the Chirstmas Market ends on Christmas eve, the live music events carry on all the way until the 1st of the year.
7. Opening Ceremony (1st Friday Evening):
About The Grand Opening: At 5pm on the opening Friday of the Christmas Market in Rothenburg Germany, there is an official ceremony marking the start of the festivities. Visitors funnel into Market Square to see the Rothenburg Rider appear on horseback and to hear from the Lord Mayor. The excitement builds as the large Christmas tree in the middle of the market is lit while a choir and the youth orchestra fill the square with music. If you are arriving during the day on the first Friday the market stall will be open before the ceremony.
8. Advent Calendar Windows (Daily December 1st-23rd):
About The Advent Calendar Windows: One of the more overlooked elements of the Rothenburg Christmas Market is the Living Advent Calendar that takes place daily at the Town Hall. Each evening at 5pm from December 1st-23rd, a new decorative window pain on the front side of Town Hall is lit up to help count down the days of Advent. The daily lighting also has a musical build up takes place directly after the hourly Master Draught reenactment on the facade of the neighboring Council Drinking Hall.
Ceremony Location: Town Hall. Ceremony Time: Daily at 5pm from December 1st-23rd.
9. Town Hall Tower Climb (Daily):
About The Town Hall Tower: By far the best vantage point to see the Christmas Market in Rothenburg Germany to to climb the watchtower ontop of the Town Hall. At 170-feet-tall (52 meters), this mighty tower gives you a bird’s eye view of the entire town and served a vital function protecting the village. In Medieval times the watchmen would not only look for fires, but also other dangers, and could communicate by line-of-sight to the dozens of other towers around Rothenburg. Climbing to the top of the tower requires round 220 steps and the last ten are quite steep up a narrow ladder, but it is well worth it for the views of the market, village, and countryside below.
One of the more interest things about Rothenburg’s Town Hall Tower is that it was built without its own ground level foundations and basically rests on top of the building’s roof gable. This was qute a feet for a Gothic era building from the 1200s and it somehow survied the great fire of 1501 which destroyed the front half of the building facing Market Square along with most of the city archives. Today the building is in two descint archtecuall styles with the Gothic in white protion in the back and the Renaissance-style yellow section in the front which is where you enter to climb the Town Hall Tower.
Tower Climb Hours: During the Christmas Market Daily from 10:30am-2pm & 2:30-6pm (until 7pm Friday-Sunday). Cost: Adults 2.5€; Kids 1.50€. Short Tower Hours: In addition to the main white tower you can also go up the steps to look out the windows of the 4-story-tall short tower on the front of the Town Hall from roughly 11am-7pm (until 8pm on weekends).
Featured On: Old Town Rothenburg Walking Tour.
10. Themed Walking Tours (Daily):
About The Themed Tours: In addition to our popular self-guided Old Town Walking Tour (more info), there are also exciting themed tours offered almost every day at the Rothenburg Christmas Market. The most famous of these tours is the entertaining Night Watchman Tour every evening at 8pm. On the tour you’ll be able to hear the Night Watchman’s tales about Medieval life in Rothenburg. Equipped with a lantern, a horn for altering residents of trouble, and a battle axe called a halberd, you’ll stroll the old streets and dim alleyways together. The Night Watchman tours are quite humorous and very insightful.
In addition to the Night Watchman, there is an interesting Ghost Tour run by the town Executioner at 7:15pm most nights. This tour is lesser known to tourists but is very enjoyable as you get insight and history on the daily life of this feared profession. We also love how many of the stories cover crime and punishment which is a must if you are also visiting Rothenburg’s Medieval Crime Museum.
At 2pm there is a city-run guided tour in English that leaves from Market Square and covers the general history of this wonderful village. 7:15pm Ghost Tour in English. At 6pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the Rothenburg Christmas Market there is a Walburga Handcrafter’s Widow Tour that is very fun, but it is usually in Germany only in the Winter.
11. Craftsmen & Baking Demonstrations (Various Days):
About The Craft Demos: On Saturday & Sunday mornings you can join in on making chocolate treats with Allegra-Schokolade, but the classes do require an advance reservation. This shop also happens to be our favorite chocolare store in Rothenburg. On Friday-Sunday in the mornings, you can join in on making personalized ornaments by Gosbert Stark at their stand along Herrngasse which does not require a reservation.
There is also a secret handcraft shop called Zum Holzbildhauer (Hafengasse 17) near to Hotel Sonne where you can see the artisans carving detailed handcrafts during the day. The lower level of this home from 1526 has the retail store and you can go upstairs to the hidden workshop to see woodworkers carving toys. If you are interested in other handcrafts in Rothenburg then we suggest checking out the website for Handmade In Rothenburg which highlights numerous local shops that are open year round (more info).
Chocolate Making Reservations: email@example.com. Chocolate Making Shop Address: Georgengasse 9. Zum Holzbildhauer Workshop Address: Hafengasse 17.
12. Light Parade (Various Days):
About The Light Parade: The Light Parade (Lichterzug) is on annual event that takes place the 1st full week of the Christmas Market in Rothenburg when school childern carry lit paper lanterns. It is a pretty magical thing to see if you have childern with you and the childern are lead into Market Square by the horsebacked Rothenburg Rider and the Lord Mayor with a lot of pomp and circumstance. The day of the week isn’t aways the same each year so you will want to check with the schedule when you arrive.
13. Self-Guided City Wall Walk (Anytime):
About The City Wall Walk: Our free self-guided tour of Rothenburg’s city wall can be very enjoyable any time, but during peak tourist times on Weekend afternoon it can also be a reprieve from the crowds.
Read More: Rothenburg City Wall Walking Tour.