Visiting European Christmas Markets with kids is a magical experience. With twinkling lights, festive music and smells of Christmas filling the air, a visit to the market is sure to get you in the festive spirit.

I’m a bit of a nut about Christmas Markets. Over the past few years, we’ve been to well over a dozen Christmas markets, both in Germany and even some Christmas Markets in Canada.

And while every market will be different, there are a few tips for visiting Christmas Markets with kids, to ensure that the experience is as enjoyable as possible for everyone in the family.

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9 Tips for Visiting Christmas Markets with Kids

1. Dress Warmly

December in Europe can be chilly and rainy, or possibly even snowy. And as most of the Christmas Markets are outdoors, it can get quite cold, especially at night.

Make sure to dress your kids in warm layers, with hats, gloves and scarves or neck warmers.

Warm socks (my guys wear wool), good warm boots and a good base layer are important too. I love the kids’ base layers from Decathlon; they’re super warm and inexpensive!

If your kids are in a stroller, make sure they have a hat and mitts, warm layers and a blanket or stroller muff around their feet.

And don’t forget about yourself! Make sure you have a hat, scarf, mitts and warm, comfortable boots as well.

2. Plan Your Visit

Christmas Markets can get quite crowded, especially on weekends and holidays. If possible, try to visit during the week and off-peak hours.

people walking up the street and stopping to browse at vendor huts in a European christmas market. During the day is the best time to visit a European christmas market with kids

I find that the best time to visit Christmas Markets with kids is in the late afternoon or early evening. That way, it’s not too crowded and the kids (and adults) are less likely to get cranky.

3. Check Ahead for Special Activities

Every European Christmas Market will be different, but many will have some activities for kids.

Research the market before you go, so you have an idea of what things to do with kids, or stop in at the information booth (most larger markets have one) and ask what’s best to do with kids.

In addition to the carousel or ferris wheel, there are usually other fun rides and activities for kids.

For instance, Heidelberg has a fun mini train that kids can ride around a track through the ‘kinder forest’, while Stuttgart has a mini steam engine that kids (and parents) can ride through a miniature village.

man driving a mini steam trainat the Stuttgart Christmas market. It’s a fun ride for families if you’re visiting christmas markets with kids
Mini train in Stuttgart (Photo by Thomas Niedermueller, courtesy of Stuttgart Weihnachtsmarkt)

The boys made their own candles at the Christmas Market in Ludwigsburg and got a token from Santa at the market in Dusseldorf which they could redeem for a free hot chocolate at one of the participating stalls.

The Mannheim Christmas Market also has a great fairy tale market for kids, complete with a talking tree! 

4. Bring Snacks and Drinks

Christmas markets are the perfect place to try all sorts of festive foods and drinks, from roasted chestnuts and pretzels to gingerbread and mulled wine.

different types of pretzels in baskets with red and white material underneath for sale in a European christmas market

And while kids can’t enjoy the mulled wine, there is usually hot chocolate or apple cider available, also known as kinderpunsch.

Many of the traditional foods and treats at Christmas Markets are kid-friendly, but it’s always a good idea to bring along some snacks and drinks, just in case they don’t like some of the not-so-familiar options available.

5. Bring a Stroller

Christmas markets can be quite crowded, and if you have small kids, a stroller can be a lifesaver.

Yes, the cobblestone streets in many European cities make it difficult to push a stroller, and it can be tough to get a stroller through crowded markets.

But having a stroller can mean a better experience for everyone, as kids can sit and maybe even nap so that parents can spend more time at the market.

Having a stroller also means there’s a place to store blankets, snacks and any other gear you might need, as well as any purchases you make.

two babies sitting in a stroller with a silver muff over their feet to keep them warm

The first time we visited the Christmas Markets in Germany, my guys were 4.5 and I didn’t take a stroller, but I wish I had!

Even though the boys could walk for long periods of time, the markets were busy and my guys are short kids, so they kept getting bumped and pushed by other people.

Having a stroller would have made visiting the Christmas Markets with kids a bit easier.

If you have toddlers or infants and are used to babywearing, a wrap or carrier would also be a great idea!

6. Set Expectations

While Christmas Markets are so much fun, there is just SO much to see and do.

And while it’s tempting to want to try all the treats, ride all the rides and buy all the fun ornaments, It’s not always possible (or necessary!) to do everything.

Before you visit, sit down with your kids and explain what Christmas markets are, what they can expect to see and do, and let them know they can have one treat and one ride, or whatever you think is reasonable. This will help to manage expectations and avoid any meltdowns.

7. Take Breaks

Christmas markets can be overwhelming for little ones, with all the lights and people and noise.

scene of a European christmas market with statue of man on a horse in the centre, surrounded by red vendor huts with lights all around, in front of a building. There is a Ferris wheel visible behind the building and a lighted christmas tree in front of the building.
© Düsseldorf Tourismus – Foto: U. Otte

If your kids are getting cranky or overwhelmed, take a break!

Find a place to sit down for a bit, have a snack or drink, or just take a stroll around the market. Let them explore at their own pace and take breaks when needed.

8. Plan Short Visits

There is LOTS to see and do at the Christmas Markets and it can often be overstimulating for some kids. 

If you’re visiting a larger market, and have the luxury of time, try to visit the market for a short period of time on the first day.

Then the next day, perhaps spend a bit longer or visit another area of the market.

Visiting during the daytime can also be less overwhelming, as there aren’t as many lights and it’s not as busy.

9. Choose a Smaller Christmas Market

While you might be tempted to visit some of the most famous Christmas markets in Europe, like the ones in Vienna, Munich or Nuremberg, those famous markets are also the largest and busiest.

And when you’re visiting Christmas Markets with kids, the larger and busier markets might not be the best option.

view of Dresden Christmas Market with lighted Ferris wheel, plenty of booths all with lights and a large Christmas tree beside the Ferris wheel
Dresden is one of the larger Christmas Markets in Germany

Visiting some of the smaller, yet just as lovely Christmas Markets will still let you have a festive experience, but without the crowds and overwhelm of the larger markets.

Some of our favourite Christmas Markets are Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Mannheim and Essen in Germany.


Things to Do at Christmas Markets with Kids

Go on the Rides

One of the best things about Christmas markets for kids is all the fun rides that are often found at the markets.

carousel at Christmas market under a canopy of lights

While each market will be different, there are usually carousels, ferris wheels or mini train rides for kids.

Crafts and Activities

Many Christmas markets also have special activities for kids, from crafts to baking, or even making candles.

Some of these activities are held at specific times, so it’s best to check the schedule ahead of time.

Nativity Scenes

Nativity scenes are also a common sight at Christmas Markets in Europe.

a wooden nativity scene with live sheep at a European christmas market

Some even have live animals, which the kids always love to see!

Treats

Last, but certainly not least, are the Christmas Market treats! From Christmas cookies and gingerbread to licorice and candied apples, there is no shortage of festive treats to try.

If this is your first time at a European Christmas market, just a word of advice that the gingerbread that you’ll see hanging in the stalls is not soft and chewy like the gingerbread men you’ll find in North America.

decorated gingerbread hearts hanging above a vendor hut at a christmas market

The German version, called lebkuchen, is more of a decoration or souvenir and is traditionally hung on the Christmas tree.

My kids were pretty surprised when they tried to take a bite and found out that it was rather hard! But there are plenty of other delicious treats to try!

Ice Skating

Some Christmas Markets will have an outdoor skating rink and you can rent skates or bring your own. This is a great activity to do as a family, especially as you skate underneath the Christmas lights.

large skating rink under lights and surrounded by wooden vendor huts in front of a large building in Germany

Check Out the Decorations

Each market will be decorated differently, so it’s fun to explore and see all the Christmas lights and decorations.

At most Christmas Markets, the huts will be decorated in some way.

In Stuttgart, there’s a competition to see which hut has the most elaborate decorations and it’s fun to walk around and look at the different rooftops.

vendor booths at a European christmas market in stuttgart with decorations on the roof. Santa sits reading his book beside a lighted reindeer and a small Santa skiing down the rooftop beside a white lighted tree

Other markets will have lighted displays, some like the ones in Essen, where kids can walk underneath.

Another large decoration that you’ll see at most European Christmas Markets is a large pyramid. These are usually decorated with lights and have figures on the upper level that move and spin around. They’re quite a sight to see, especially at night!

lighted Christmas pyramid and Ferris wheel in Mannheim christmas market
Lighted pyramid in Mannheim

Final Thoughts: Visiting Christmas Markets with Kids

Christmas markets are a great way to get into the Christmas spirit, and visiting Christmas markets with kids can be a really fun experience for the whole family! With a little planning ahead, you can make sure everyone has a great time.

Have you ever been to a European Christmas Market? Let us know in the comments below which are your favourite markets to visit with kids.

Happy Holidays!

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For more inspiration and ideas on Christmas Markets, be sure to check out these posts:

2 Comments

  1. We are planning a trip to either Cologne or Dusseldorf . It’s our first time and we have two children with us: ages 13 & 10. We like cities but would also like to see a “smaller town” feel. Which city would you recommend? Thanks in advance!

    1. Oh, they’re both great cities! Cologne is a bigger and more popular market, but I preferred Dusseldorf as the markets were spaced out and seemed less crowded. Whichever you choose, it’s possible to visit the other city on a day trip if you have the time!

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