An ornate temporary Christmas themed arch to the Heinzelmännchen market in Cologne

Our itinerary for your first German Christmas Market road-trip

In Christmas, Europe, Germany, Itineraries, Our Journeys, Our Tips, Road Trips, Trip-Types by JanisLeave a Comment

A festive route via Düsseldorf, Bremen, Hamburg & Cologne

If you love Germany’s Christmas markets as much as we do and you’ve saved up some of your annual leave, then why not embark on a yuletide road trip?
 
This road trip itinerary takes you to four beautiful German cities from Düsseldorf, in the west onto Bremen and Hamburg in the north and back to Cologne in the west of Germany.

A view across the street to Hamburg's Rathaus, and its Christmas market, under the blue sky of dusk

The Weihnachtsmarkt in front of Hamburg's Rathaus at dusk

We chose to complete this festive road trip over 8-days to allow us a couple of nights at each destination. However, if time is a little tight, pick and choose your preferred locations to suit your timescale. We have often just visited Cologne on its own.
 
The term ‘Plan Now, Travel Later’ couldn’t be more apt for a visit to the German Christmas markets, as these incredible festivities become booked up so quickly.

A wooden pirate ship in the centre of the Schlachtezauber market on the quayside in Bremen that is actually a food stall

The pirate ship in the Schlachtezauber market in Bremen

Quick Links

A reference guide

I love nothing more than planning a trip and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books.  I find them  extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our Germany road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.


The inspiration for our German Christmas market road trip

Our inspiration was clear, to immerse ourselves into the German Christmas traditions, set free the big kid inside us and enjoy everything that’s ho, ho, ho.

The themed markets – The magic and music transport you to another land.
Warm and friendly atmosphere – It’s smiles and joy all around.
Gifts and decorations – The wooden toys and sparkling tree-toppers are irresistible.
Food – Is it just bratwurst? Take a peek at the feasting options.
Drink – Hot chocolate, glühwein and eggnog – check out our Christmas market tipples post.

Two frosted glasses of Gluhwein, next to a candle lantern, on an outside table in the Schadowplatz market in Düsseldorf

Glühwein at the Schadowplatz market in Düsseldorf

Our Gateway to Europe from the UK

Most of our European road trips start the same, and our Germany road trip was no different. Booked on a 7:50 am shuttle, means leaving home at 6:30 am. All being well we’re hitting the A16 from Calais at 9:30 am after being mugged for an hour as we switch to Central European Time.
 
We’ve already completed our 27-point road trip checklist, so fully fuelled, with humbugs and Christmas tunes on-board, we’re on our way.
 
See our section below for guidance on driving in Germany.

Here’s my first Sat-Nav/GPS tip for you

The traffic around Brussels can get sticky, and you may be advised to go via Antwerp - unless the ring road is closed, I would stick with the Brussels route. I have never been through Antwerp without horrendous delays, so my experience now tells me better the devil I know.

Next stop Düsseldorf

The route we chose was just a short hop through France on the A16 (which doesn’t include tolls). It’s then across the border into Belgium onto the E40. The majority of the journey is travelling through Belgium on E314, hoping for a fair wind and some luck around Brussels.

Angel decorations, trimmed in gold, on the huts of the Angel market in Düsseldorf with the aged bronze roof of the bandstand in the centre of Heinrich-Heine-Platz in the background.

Angels on the rooftop on the markets in Düsseldorf

You seamlessly pass through the Netherlands on the A2 and A73, and in no time at all, we enter Germany on the A52. We can already smell the bratwurst.
 
Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany are toll-free for cars. The section of France that we drove through was also toll-free.

A traditional carousel at the edge of the old town market in Marktplaz in Düsseldorf with the old town hall as a backdrop.

The Beautiful old carousel at Marktplatz in Düsseldorf

Early afternoon we arrive in Düsseldorf. So, depending on any pit stops along the way the journey from Calais takes around 4 hours to cover the 251 miles (404km).
  
After checking into the ‘Square Rooms’ apartment, we park up in the nearby public car park and take a short stroll into the heart of the Old Town.
 
It’s time to go and enjoy Düsseldorf’s Christmas Markets, and we have a full day ahead in the market’s tomorrow.

Winter tyres

If you are travelling through Germany in the winter, it is strongly advisable to switch to winter tyres. You’ll be amazed that the handling of your vehicle is so much better and safer.

A day discovering Düsseldorf’s seven Christmas Markets

The seven festive markets in Düsseldorf are located around the main city centre.
 
Starting in Marktplatz in the heart of Altstadt in front of the Rathaus, weave your way through the delightful pedestrianised old streets and charming town squares.

A lit five-storey historic tower than now acts as a museum, with the large Ferris-wheel, named Wheel of Vision, in the background.

The Schifffahrt Museum and Wheel of Vision in Düsseldorf

It makes a pleasant stroll, meandering from one market to the next and searching out that unique gift to take bake home.
 
Not only does Düsseldorf have the colourful Ferris Wheel in Burgplatz, when you reach Jan-Wellem-Platz, slip on your ice-skates and go for a spin.

A brass door knocker, on an old wooden door in Düsseldorf, of a figure with outstretched arms as if to perform a cartwheel.

A Radschlager door knocker

While discovering Düsseldorf’s charming streets, you’ll most certainly come across Radschlager (cartwheeler) an emblem of Düsseldorf.
 
The custom of cartwheeling dates back to 1288 when children spun to celebrate the success at the battle of Worringen.

Route from Düsseldorf to Bremen

Heading north out of Düsseldorf pick up the B8 and onto the A59. Continuing on, look for the A42 and follow for a short distance until you reach the A3 then hop on the A2 and exit onto the A43.

A view through the market in Bremen to the Rathaus and St. Petri Dom.

Marktplatz in Bremen at Christmas

Continue north on the A43 towards Münster, near here you jump onto the A1 and its northeast the whole way to Bremen.
 
Early afternoon you arrive in Bremen, depending on any stops along the way. The chosen route from Düsseldorf to Bremen takes around 3 hours 30 minutes to cover the 185 miles (298km).
 
We check into the ACHAT Hotel Bremen City (formerly Elements Pure Hotel). The hotel has its own underground parking, and they kindly reserved us a parking space, which was fantastic.

Looking back to a Christmas Market scene in Bremen, in the evening, with a small Ferris wheel and brightly lit huts with people gathering around them.

One of Bremen's Chirstmas Markets

It’s time to go and enjoy Bremen’s Christmas Markets for the rest of the day, and we have a full day ahead in the market’s tomorrow.

Tempted to?

Discover more of Germany, you'll be amazed how easy it is to tour around by car. Take a look at our Romantic Road route through southern Germany.
 
Rental Cars will search well-known car hire brands and discover the deals that suit you the best.

A full day enjoying Bremen’s Christmas Markets 

We loved the feel of Bremen as soon as we had arrived. With the Christmas markets being so central and easily walkable it is an ideal location to ease you in gently to the whole German Christmas Market experience.

The illuminated Rathaus in Bremen after the sun has gone down.

The Rathaus in Marktplatz, Bremen

The main Weihnachtsmarkt meanders all around the Rathaus, Bremen Cathedral and across into the picturesque square in front of the Guild House (Schütting).
 
Bremen’s Christmas markets are full of the delightful traditional stalls offering unique gifts, and of course the sweet treats of gingerbread hearts, hot chocolate and something a little different schmalzuchen. These are small doughy pillows sprinkled with icing sugar.

People perusing a stall at Hamburg's maritime market.

Always something to buy

Just a short stroll down to the Weser River and you arrive at Schlachtezauber. Bremen’s promenade has been transported back to the Middle Ages, to provide a twist on an ancient Christmas market. All along here are themed wooden huts, with blacksmiths, a serenading harpist and pirates.
 
Bremen was an instant win for us. Not only was it a wonderful city to visit for the Christmas markets, but it also had so much history and incredible architecture.

A Christmas tree in a quaint cobbled square,  lined with tall thin pastel coloured historic buildings on two sides.

A quaint little corner of Bremen - the Schnoor district

One region of Bremen not to miss is the Schnoor district, these picturesque cobbled streets are unbelievably quaint and a delight to discover.

Just a few points to note;

You really need to book early as these markets are very popular.
Although all these markets are fantastic to visit during the day, they really come alive in the evenings, don’t miss it.
Be warned these markets become extremely busy at the weekends, particularly in the evenings. Children may feel a bit swamped with the crowds.
Dress warm and comfortable... essential.
Germany’s Christmas markets are really for all ages, don’t be put off that it is all for children, it really isn’t. We are all big kids at heart...

Route from Bremen to Hamburg

Our German Christmas Market road trip continues, and we’re now heading northeast to Hamburg. Luckily it is just a short hop away as there is so much to see and do in Hamburg.
The illuminated golden gateway to the Christmas markets in Hamburg in front of the Green roofed, gothic Rathaus at dusk.
The Hamburg Rathaus with the Christmas market in front

On leaving Bremen jump onto the A27 east, you then pick up the A1 northeast. This motorway route is for around 67 miles and leads you directly into Hamburg, where you move onto the B4.
 
Mid-morning you arrive in Hamburg, depending on any stops along the way. The chosen route from Bremen to Hamburg takes around 1 hour 30 minutes to cover the 76 miles (122km).
 
We check into the Adina Apartment Hotel Hamburg Speicherstadt. The apartment hotel has its own underground parking at €25 per night.

A collection of white tents that form another of Hamburg's Christmas markets along a lake edge.  The trees are decorated with blue fairy lights.

Strolling through the Weißerzauber market

It’s time to go and discover Hamburg’s Christmas Markets for the rest of the day, and we have a full day ahead in and around the city tomorrow.

A full day discovering Hamburg’s Christmas Markets 

Hamburg not only makes a perfect city for a German Christmas Market break, but there is so much more to discover. Believe me, you’ll want to return to unearth more (we did the following year).
People walking between rows of Christmas huts in the Weihnachtsmarkt in Hamburg late in the evening.

The Christmas markets stalls in Hamburg's Weihnachtsmarkt

So, where do you start?
 
To be perfectly honest, it really doesn’t matter as they are all fantastic. However, they truly come alive as the sunsets. My recommendation is to visit the Weihnachtsmarkt at Rathausmarkt both day and night. You can’t miss Father Christmas soaring above the festive stalls in his sleigh.
 
Weißerzauber market is just nearby the city hall and runs along the side of the lake. It’s a wonderful location as you can see the Christmas tree floating in the centre of the lake, be warned, wrap up warm.

Looking across the heads of the crowd in the Winterwald Market to the Forsthaus drinks hut.

Local enjoying a tipples or two in Hamburg's Winterwald Market

If you stroll away from the Rathaus along Mönckebergstraße, you’ll be greeted by St.-Petri Christmas market, which we found very warm and friendly. Their chocolate kisses here are delicious.
 
A little further and you will reach Winterwald Market in Gerhart-Hauptmann-Platz. Surely, it’s time for a gluhwein.
 
Then if you’ve not sampled all the local wurst, take a stroll along Spitalerstraße where there were plenty of food stalls.

A row of Christmas huts along Spitalerstraße in Hamburg

Spitalerstraße in Hamburg at Christmas

As I mentioned, Hamburg is an incredible city to visit, I especially love it around Speicherstadt, Hamburg’s iconic warehouse district.

A view of the Speicherstadt warehouse district of Hamburg at dusk.  You look down the canal to the water castle with red brick buildings on either side with illuminated balconies.

The iconic view of the Speicherstadt district in Hamburg

This district of Hamburg is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the stunning 1920’s Chilehaus.
 
While you are in Speicherstadt, ensure you pre-book your visit to Miniatur Wunderland. This model railway is so much more than a railway and fantastic at Christmas time.

Route from Hamburg to Cologne

The last destination on our German Christmas Market road trip is to our old favourite Cologne.
 
Although for this part of the journey, it is quite a long stint, it is in essence, just one motorway all the way. So, once you head out of Hamburg pick up the A1 southwest and you remain on this road for around 259 miles (417 km).
 
Once you reach the outskirts of Cologne head to your chosen accommodation.

An ornate temporary Christmas themed arch to the Heinzelmännchen market in Cologne
The entrance to Heinzelmännchen market in Cologne

Mid-afternoon you arrive in Cologne, depending on any stops along the way. The chosen route from Hamburg to Cologne takes around 4 hours 45 minutes to cover the 264 miles (425km).
 
The hotel that we regularly stay in, in Cologne is extremely central and opposite the Cologne Dom. Therefore, we park in the public car park under the main square, check into the Eden Hotel Früh am Dom and the festivities begin.

Inside the Christmas decorated Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass, a traditional Kolsch pub with beer barrel on the bar.

The bar at Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass  in Cologne

It’s time to go and discover Cologne’s Christmas Markets for the rest of the day, and we have a full day ahead in and around the city tomorrow.

Would you like some advice?

As mentioned, we set off from the UK for our German Christmas road trip; however, this may not be your preferred choice. If you would like any further advice or guidance on your itinerary, then just drop us an email or a comment below.

A full day discovering Cologne’s Christmas Market

In my honest opinion to truly embrace Cologne’s Christmas Markets, I would stay for 3-nights. However, I appreciate that timing can be an issue and cost.
 
Nonetheless let’s put on our comfy shoes, wrap up warm and have some fun.

Cologne's floodlight cathedral at night with it's Christmas Market, dominated by a central Christmas tree in front of it.

The Dom towers over Cologne's Christmas Market

To enjoy your first visit to Cologne, I would head to the Dom Christmas Market first. As the beautiful backdrop of the cathedral with the festive red huts at its feet looks magical. Immediately you’re immersed in the Christmas spirit.
 
Just a short hop from the Dom head towards the Altstadt, here you’ll find my favourite market. We have an affectionately called it the ‘gnome market’, although its official name is Heinzelmännchen market.

Crowds in front of a carol concert on stage in the Dom Christmas Market, under a blanket of fairy-lights

Crowds under the blanket of lights in Cologne

The attention to detail on the festive cabins and the charming outfits that the stallholders wear, truly make a difference. Keep a lookout for the locals playing ice stock curling.
 
Stroll down to the Harbour Market to pick up your nautical treats and also enjoy a mug of warm beer. Then to save your weary feet catch the Dotto-train to the Angel Market in Neumarkt.

One of the illuminated entrances to Cologne's Angel Christmas market at night

The Angel Market at night

The Angel Market is another of our favourites as the magnificent white wooden cabins transport you to a fairy tale. It’s in the Angel Market that we indulge in a mug of hot chocolate with a dash of Bailey’s.
 
A little further on from Neumarkt head to the ‘Village of St Nicholas’ in Rudolfplatz. This is a smaller market, however, one we never miss, I love the friendly atmosphere here.

A view of the historic Hahnentorburg gate from within a damp Village of St Nicholas Christmas market in Cologne.

The Hahnentorburg gate on the edge of the Village of St Nicholas Christmas Market

If you still have time and your feet are holding out, nearby is the colourful Heavenue Market. Or a little further on is Stadtgarten Christmas Market which has now been delighting locals for 10 years.
 
I appreciate that the Christmas Markets may fill your days. Still, I urge you to visit the UNESCO Cologne Cathedral, it is magnificent.

Our German Christmas road trip comes to an end

So, after eight days of festive fun, we are well and truly in the Christmas spirit, and it’s homeward bound.
 
It’s onto to Calais and back to the terminal at Le Shuttle, before the journey back to the UK, and we’re handed back that hour.
 
Avoiding Antwerp once more, our total mileage back to Calais was around 256 miles (412km).

Our German Christmas Market road-trip itinerary in summary

Low Emission Zone (LEZs), Autobahns and Tolls

Be aware that some German towns and cities have Low Emission Zones. Therefore, you will require a sticker for the windscreen of your car, to signify which category your car emissions fall into.

We found the following websites useful; also, you can apply online in advance for the sticker for €6 (2019). The Urban Access Regulations in Europe details all the European emission zones and the Senate Department for Environment is where you can purchase you Germany LEZ sticker.

When you drive along an autobahn in Germany, you may not even be aware that you are on one (they are not signposted). It’s not until you feel the vibration of a vehicle whisking past your window that you know you’ve arrived. I would like to highlight that in my opinion, German drivers are quite considerate.

If you are travelling through Germany in the winter, it is strongly advisable to switch to winter tyres. The handling of your vehicle is so much better and safer.

* This post may contain links to affiliated sites where we earn a small commission at no additional charge to you.

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About the Author

Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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