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I love Christmas, but last year was our first visit to German Christmas markets. The perfect place to stay for military members is Ramstein AFB. A friend suggested that we go and we enjoyed it. If you love Hallmark movies, you can imagine yourself right in the middle of a set. Close your eyes and imagine lights being strung up everywhere, delicious foods, and mulled wine. Now imagine the smell, it even smells like Christmas-sweet desserts, spices, and evergreens. There are stalls filled with every sort of treat you can imagine as well as lots of homemade gifts.
Christmas markets are the perfect place to find some unique gifts. Hint if you need a baby gift wait until a visit to a Christmas market, they have the most adorable baby clothing and shoes. For younger children they usually include carnival rides such as a ferris wheel or carousal to ride. The Christmas markets are the quintessential Christmas activity. Ramstein is the perfect place to stay to see some markets, it is close to several. Plus you can save money as a military member staying there.
Ramstein is the perfect launching pad for visiting Christmas markets as there are several nearby. Last year we flew into Frankfurt, while this year we flew into Paris and drove to Ramstein to stay. One thing we wished we’d done differently was to stay closer to Strasbourg one night, just so we could see it all lit up! But it is an easy drive from the base and worth a day trip out there. Or sleep in and leave later in the day and stay out later in the evening.
German Christmas Markets Nearest Ramstein
One of the closest Christmas markets that is worth a visit is Saarbrucken. It is a quaint town about 40 minutes outside of Ramstein. Saarbrucken served up some delicious food! We found a stall with brats and a delicious potato dish that were all gluten-free. We found you have to ask about the brats, some brats are gluten-free, but some are not. Most Germans are willing to help if you ask. They will tell you if there is any risk of cross contamination as well. I also highly recommend a gluten-free translation card. They loved my girls so much they brought us an extra plate of food for free which my kids devoured. Saarbrucken displays a “flying Santa” who will appear over the market. There is a reading of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for children a few times throughout the season, check for times. Saarbrucken should not be missed!
We actually visited Kaiserslautern the same day as Saarbrucken, which is only about 20 minutes from Ramstein. I personally think Saarbrucken is my favorite of the two. This market is much smaller than Saarbrucken, so a good one to visit if you are working or just arrived to town.
For all the history lovers out there, Mainz is the birthplace of Gutenburg. You will find a beautiful cathedral here that has a nativity scene worth seeing, they also have a nativity scene in the square that is a must see as well. They have lights strung up to look like a curtain draped over the town square. You will find delicious food stalls, and lights strung up everywhere! Of course for the younger kids they had a carousal. Super cute shops abound here as well, we also loved a little bookshop we found. Staying until the lights lit up the night sky, we stumbled across a man playing the saxophone in front of a Christmas tree as we left. Hands down our favorite German market! It is a smaller market, but felt so romantic. It is exactly a one hour drive from Ramstein.
Frankfurt is known as the financial capital of Germany, quite possibly of Europe. It is a large bustling city, which made it our least favorite market. Y’all I have never seen so many people in my life! We had to cut through the crowd at one point and I couldn’t see my children. Constantly worrying we would lose someone because there were so many people. Basically, people were touching you on every point of your body. This was not my idea of fun at all. The stalls seemed more commercialized and less local vendors. We read it is a must do, and had we known what we were walking into, we would have stayed in Mainz. If you like the smaller markets, I say forgo Frankfurt. It is roughly 1.5 hours to Ramstein though, making it an easy stop if you flew in and out of there.
Activities in Frankfurt
They do offer a variety of activities and even a market that seems more enclosed to avoid the elements. You will find a plethora of food stalls here, but we had a harder time finding items that were gluten-free. My middle daughter insisted she buy some printen, a German cookie, to share with her piano teacher. The printen was beautiful, but looked like it was commercially made. There are several markets spread out all over town. Some are within walking distance from one another, others would be a haul. We visited two while there, but honestly, all of us wanted to go. It was pretty, but not as pretty as some of the other smaller markets. And again the crowds were overwhelming making it hard to enjoy. If you love crowds then this is the place for you!
French Christmas Markets Close to Ramstein
About two hours from Ramstein was one of our favorite Christmas markets making it an easy day trip. Strasbourg France was dreamy! We went exactly one week after the shooting so security was upped. They displayed a memorial area for the victims which was heartbreaking. But we never once felt unsafe. They actually had checkpoints before we entered. Strasbourg is one of the larger markets with lots of streets with stalls to visit. Parking is easy there and they also have a trolley bus that you can hop on and off of that was very affordable. It was easy to walk between several markets without ever moving the car.
French are known for their food and Strasbourg was no different. In our opinion, the French definitely had the better mulled wine, but our kids liked the German Kinderpunsch. Fan favorite French chocolat chaud (hot cocoa) which cannot be missed. They offered delicious crepes filled with lots of different treats. Our older two opted for a Nutella filled crepe. These unfortunately are not gluten-free. We did find chocolate dipped fruit that she could enjoy. As with all markets the cups are returnable, where you will be refunded your deposit. Personally the cups at Strasbourg were our least favorite. Sadly, they are plastic whereas all the German ones were glass mugs-these make great souvenirs that are cheap!
Metz is located right on the border of Germany and France. It is roughly 1.5 hours from Ramstein, as well making it a great stop if coming from Paris. Paris is a quick 4.5 hour trip from Ramstein, but rental cars are more expensive there. Metz was very beautiful too, but we still enjoyed Mainz better. While it is a larger city, it is nowhere near as large as Frankfurt or Strasbourg.
Metz had some gorgeous decor displayed all over the city. Even the mall had the most beautiful display. They used giant balls that were lit up and strung above the city streets, it was a sight not to be missed. The best part was the ferris wheel which was located right in front of the town cathedral. Fun fact-they have a food market where you can find some pretty cool delicacies. One of the markets is geared towards children with lots of little carnival rides, an ice skating rink, and Papa Noel. Surprisingly, the photos with Papa Noel are free, but the rides and skating cost extra.
Belgium Christmas Markets Close to Ramstein
Thanks to Mrs. Hen from The Flying Hens for the following contribution on Brussels and Brugge which are roughly 4.5 hours from Ramstein.
Molly, travel blogger from The Flying Hens, writes about her family trip
We (my husband and our 3 young children) decided to travel to Belgium on
our first ever European Christmas Market trip! We only had 3 full days
in Belgium, but felt that it was a perfect amount of time. Here are the
highlights from each market:
Brussels has multiple markets around the city that are within walking
distance from each other. Each market offers about the same selection-
chalet vendors selling handmade items or other goods. The nightly sound
and light show at the Grand-Place is not to be missed! The largest
market in the city, Marché aux Poissons, holds an impressive number of
vendors, a huge candy booth, food options, and entertainment. The
vintage carousel is a sight to see, and you must take a ride on the
ferris wheel. The market at the Place de la Monnaie also has a large,
covered ice skating rink.
Aside from the Christmas markets, be sure to visit the famous Manneken
Pis and stroll down the charming streets adorned with Christmas lights.
Hop in to one of many chocolate stores and enjoy some chocolate too!
Brugge is only a short train ride away from Brussels and definitely
worth a day trip. The city of Brugge is the most charming, fairytale
town I’ve ever seen. The main Christmas market in held in the city
center, surrounding a beautifully lit Christmas tree. It is a much
smaller market than Brussels, but the atmosphere is more intimate and
warm. Here, you’ll find horse drawn carriage rides, plenty of food and
drink options and vendors selling basically the same things as the
Brussels markets. Around the corner is a market set up with more chalet
vendors and kid-friendly attractions. We found an arcade and bumper
cars, as well as a small carnival game. A short walk away is an ice
skating rink on Minnewater (translates to “Lake of Love”) Can you say,
Here are a few tips to help make your trip a little bit easier and save you some money.
- Rent a car-I suggest Costco Travel for your rental car needs. Best part about Costco, you can cancel it up to 6 pm the day of the rental! Find it cheaper somewhere else, cancel it! Can’t go, cancel it! No penalties either.
- Car seats-For older children, I recommend a Bubble Bum or MiFold. We have owned a Bubble Bum for years and they pack easily into a backpack or suitcase. I have friends who own a MiFold and love how compact it is and can fit easily into a backpack as well. For kids who still need to be in a 5 point harness I would recommend a Ride Safer Vest.
- Glass mugs make great souvenirs that are cheap. The deposit on the cups is roughly $2-$5. We have found you can return them to any stall. German ones are always glass, even for children, French ones are plastic.
- The best time to visit a market is at night because the decor really is what makes it magical.
- I’d recommend visiting a few markets. And if you can, go to more than one country to see the cultural differences.
- If Gluhwein isn’t your thing try Kinderpunsch-it’s like warm spiced fruit punch or in France more like hot apple cider.
- Wear warm layers! It can be quite chilly and it is all outdoors.
- Carry Euro! We have never found a place that took a card. My husband miscounted one day while ordering drinks and we were scrambling searching for more Euro. He forgot about the deposit and of course we were short about 5 Euro. Thankfully, I found some.
If you haven’t been to a Christmas Market yet, I highly recommend it. One of our other favorite European cities was Vienna and I would love to see their markets. But if you are staying at Ramstein there are several markets near that are worth visiting.