If, like me, you’re a gigantic Chrimbophile, then you’ll probably be a big Christmas market fan. And it’s hard to imagine anywhere doing Christmas markets better than Berlin. From late November until the end of December, this fantastic city transforms itself into a sea of wooden huts, unreasonably large Christmas trees and twinkling lights. Awww. Just look at it.
Berlin’s sprawling festive offering isn’t just about one Christmas market – it’s about loads of them. But fear not, for it’s incredibly easy to get around. In fact, when we visited for a couple of days last December, our itinerary involved doing most of it on foot. Here’s how we did it.
An eye-wateringly early start meant we were able to catch a 7.25am flight from London Heathrow and be in Berlin by just after 10am. A 20-minute taxi ride later and we were at our hotel, the self-consciously stylish Sana, which boasts huge, clean rooms, modern food options and a small indoor pool and sauna area (the pool would be great if only it wasn’t bloody freezing). The Sana screams swankiness from every corner, but at around 90-ish euros per night for a double room it’s actually surprisingly affordable. That, combined with its terrific location just a five-minute walk from the shops and restaurants of Kurfürstendamm, makes it a highly recommended base.
Berlin has loads to see and do aside from running the market gauntlet, so before getting our Christmas on, we decided to pay a visit to the city’s awesome zoo. It’s just a 15-minute walk from the hotel and, this being a Friday in December, it was relatively quiet, allowing us a rare opportunity to stroll around and see the huge array of animals at relative peace. While opinions on zoos are rightly divided, this is probably the best city zoo I’ve ever been to (although sadly, on this trip, the nocturnal animal area – which I remembered from a previous trip as a real highlight – was closed for refurbishment).
Our creature cravings satisfied, it was time to hit up the first market of our trip: the Gedächtniskirche Christmas market in the grounds of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, handily right across the street from the zoo. Here, we drank in the festive spirit and, more importantly, the hot glühwein. You can choose from white or red, but either one is an ideal winter warmer in the plummeting late afternoon temperatures. As the crowds grow, places to sit are hard to find, but we managed to wangle our way into a prime spot on some swinging wooden benches.
Feeling the effects of our early start, we made a quick stop-off at the huge Christmas shop Käthe Wohlfahrt, before finishing up at the homely German restaurant Café Bliebtrau.
Wake up! Wake up! It’s Christmas morn! Well, not exactly, but that was our second day vibe. The plan was simple: quickly gobble some breakfast, get to the markets, and spend all day wandering around with faces like wide-eyed toddlers. We made the 10-minute walk from the hotel to Bahnhof Wittenbergplatz, then took the U-bahn east to Alexanderplatz. Close to the station, we scarfed down a fantastic breakfast at Spreegold, then made our way into the Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz. It was still only 10am on a Saturday, but already the crowds were starting to arrive to look around the pottery and candles and hop on the ice rink.
Close by, at Berlin Town Hall, was an adjacent market boasting more arts and crafts plus an array of bratwursts that were all too tempting, so we dug in. The place was packed, and getting a good look at all that was on offer wasn’t easy, but the food options here made this market a definite highlight. It’s also worth noting that, supposedly, Santa Claus shows up regularly at this one on his sleigh (but we didn’t see him, so I’m unconvinced).
After a brief stop-off at the quaint (and quiet) Nikolai Quarter (a small residential area boasting recreations of medieval-style streets and houses), we made the 25-minute walk to the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market.
According to some reviews this one is the city’s best, and with its numerous tents and busy programme of entertainment it’s certainly one to include on your list – but by mid-afternoon the crowds here made it practically impossible to hang around for long. So off we popped to the marginally more relaxed Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz. Here, there’s a gloriously fun toboggan ride, another ice rink and Austrian-style log cabins boasting the usual lip-smacking selection of gingerbread, mulled wine, roasted almonds and sausages. With darkness having fallen and the festive lights coming into their own, this market swiftly became our favourite.
Just along the road from here is the Sony Center, which is an impressive place to look at (and the fact that it’s indoors means it could be a handy place to take shelter in if the weather turns), but on the market front there wasn’t much to shout about.
From here we headed back to yesterday’s glühwein spot at Gedächtniskirche. We decided to do it on foot, but there are plenty of public transport options if you don’t fancy the 40-minute walk. After enjoying way too much more of that incredible hot white wine, we wandered over to Gasthaus Krombach for a delicious meal of roast pork, potato dumplings, meatballs, cabbage and loads of gravy. Bliss.
Food (see our Berlin food feature here)
Gedächtniskirche Christmas Market
Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz
Berlin Town Hall Market
Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market
Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz
Fellow football shirt fans should try to squeeze in a trip to the massive Karstadt Sports, which has a great range of gear from the Bundesliga and beyond. And of course there’s also the city’s two major clubs, Hertha Berlin and Union Berlin – both of which feature deservedly highly on the wish lists of groundhoppers everywhere. While we didn’t squeeze in any matches on this particular trip, on previous visits tickets to see both sides have been easy to come by online.
Berlin trip: 7-9 December 2018
Read our Berlin food feature here.