Exploring Esslingen’s Christmas Markets: Where Traditional and Medieval Meet

The Christmas market in Esslingen, Germany, is by far the most unique market that we visited during our 2-month Christmas market extravaganza, which took Caleb and me to over 50 markets across Europe! There are fire eaters AND mulled wine on fire! Really!

This story-book town was also one of the cutest, and we felt like we were walking in a real, live Hallmark movie at every turn. Don’t lie. You know you secretly watch them, too.

In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know to figure out if you should visit, how to spend your time, and what to eat and avoid!

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Here’s a video we made of the Esslingen Christmas market so you can get a feel for it!

YouTube video

✔️ Quick Info:

📅 Opening Dates: November 26th to December 22, 2024

⏰ Best time to go: late afternoon to just after sunset on weekdays.

🏨 Where to stay:  Use Stuttgart as a base and do a day trip to Esslingen.

💴 Paying: card is accepted most places. Bring Euros just in case.

Markets in this guide (Quick Navigation): The traditional market, The medieval market, Advent market

What To Expect & Know If You’re Deciding To Visit

If you’re organizing a Christmas market vacation and trying to decide if it’s worth a visit to Esslingen, we think it is! But let’s play devil’s advocate and share some good and bad things to consider: 

The Good: Visit Esslingen If You Want Originality

If you want to go to a Christmas market unlike anywhere else in Europe (in our opinion), there isn’t a better option than Esslingen’s medieval christmas market.

We cannot stress just how much effort they put into this market and how “all out” they go! Like if it weren’t for all the selfie sticks, we might have *actually* thought we went back in time.

A person stands contemplatively in front of a traditional German Christmas market, with wooden stalls selling handcrafted goods, against the backdrop of a striking half-timbered building in Esslingen

If you’re not into the whole “medieval thing.” Esslingen also has a traditional Christmas market right next door, so you’re covered on both fronts. We call this the “Christmas” Christmas market. The stalls are simply decorated but still super festive, and they don’t scream over-commercialization like other markets

Put those in front of the adorable, colorful, half-timbered houses, and we will die on the hill of “This is one of the prettiest christmas markets in Europe.” In fact, the buildings “Hafenmarkt 4-10” are the oldest row of half-timbered houses in Germany and have remained undamaged since the world wars. History and mulled wine? Esslingen has it all, really.

On both sides of the market, almost everything we saw was made by local artisans, and there was a definite lack of mass-produced, made-in-china goods, which is A+ if you’re looking to do some unique Christmas market shopping. 

Something that REALLY sets the Esslingen Christmas market apart from any other market is the stages and cultural performances. There are multiple stages set around the old town, and the city boasts over 500 cultural performances during the season, which is definitely worth a visit.

You can see local choirs and music groups or medieval performances like the fire eater and stilt walker that we saw. If you want to really immerse yourself in a unique market and experience local culture (well, maybe minus the fire eaters), Esslingen should ABSOLUTELY be on your list.

The Bad: Don’t visit Esslingen for An Over The Top Christmas Experience 

If you’re looking for the HUGE wooden mulled wine huts, Christmas pyramids, and a gazillion kinds of foods and drinks, we’d tell you not to visit.

While Esslingen does provide a better balance of “classic, touristy, christmas market meets local market” than nearby Tubingen, it still isn’t anything like bigger markets across Europe, like the markets of Prague.

We also thought the food here was some of the worst we’ve had…

…But that just means more space for mulled wine. 😏

Shoppers explore a Christmas market booth in Colmar, topped with a nativity scene and draped in festive garlands, offering a selection of intricate ornaments.

Esslingen At Christmas is For You If…

To help you decide if you want to visit or not, here are some things that would make it worth checking out if you agree to all/most of them:

  • You want to have an authentic German experience
  • You don’t mind a slower pace and taking your time
  • You like simple beauty and don’t need it to feel like a Christmas carnival
  • You want to experience a unique market
  • You want to get into the culture of the city you’re visiting 
a woman enjoying a cup of mulled wine, with market stalls and festive lights in the background.

Esslingen At Christmas is Not For You If…

On the flip side, if you agree with these thoughts, then we’d suggest you take Esslingen off your list:

  • You want to hit many markets in one city 
  • You mainly want to visit markets to eat
  • You’re looking for a BIG Christmas market with more of a “party” vibe. 
Cobbled streets lined with traditional half-timbered houses and festive Christmas market stalls in Esslingen am Neckar, Germany.

How to Get To Esslingen:

The best way to get to Esslingen is to take the 10-20 minute train from Stuttgart. Technically, Esslingen Am Neckar (its full name) is its own city, but it is a city within the Stuttgart region.

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We took the MEX 16 train from the central train station in Stuttgart, and there are a few other options that will get you there in the same amount of time, so you have many options!

Traditional German half-timbered house adorned with Christmas decorations overlooking a bustling Christmas market stall selling Hungarian chimney cakes

A Guide To Esslingen’s Christmas Markets:

The Traditional Christmas Market:

As your thinking brain would assume, this market is what you think of when you think of a traditional European christmas market: a small square of about 80 wooden chalet stalls decorated with twinkling lights, garlands, and pretty red, silver, and gold ornaments.

You’ll find it in Marktplatz in front of my favorite building in Esslignen: the red and green half-timbered “Alfred Kielmeyer Haus.”

A quaint Christmas market stall in Esslingen, decorated with greenery and pink ornaments, offering a variety of sweets and treats with a gothic church spire in the background

We had so much to look at because the majority of these stalls were focused on selling local wares. We saw everything from hand-carved nativity figures to clay houses, clothes, furs, and jewelry, but I settled on buying this GORGEOUS hammered silver ornament to surprise my Grandma.

TAYLOR’S TIP: We also bought some local ham to bring home. But it wasn’t vacuum sealed because our mulled-wine-soaked brains weren’t thinking, and it ended up going bad before the end of our trip. So, keep things like that in mind when shopping for foodie things.

Afterward, we stopped at the only food area in the traditional side of the market (you won’t miss it with its small Christmas pyramid) and tried the local apple mulled wine (and added some brandy because why not?) and then headed to the Medieval side of the market.

TAYLOR’S TIP: Make sure you step into the building set up in the traditional Christmas market area that looks like a house (you can’t miss it.) They sell all local products inside, and they are VERY generous with samples of local, unique flavored liqueurs. I almost came home with a pistachio liquor!

Esslingen's old town hall, a striking red building with a prominent clock tower, surrounded by timber-framed houses and a small market setup.

The Esslingen Medieval Christmas Market

You’ll find this market in Rathausplatz right in front of the very cool-looking red city hall building. It’s right beside the traditional market, and you cannot miss it because it is LIVELY.

We love this market in the afternoon, but we think it’s a lot better when the sun goes down, and the lights come on; even though it started, it gets REALLY busy just past 6 pm!

We’d never seen such a commitment to a theme, and we walked through all these medieval taverns to get boozy drinks, wooden stalls that looked like Viking huts, and simple tents with old-style flags. The vendors were all dressed in “ye-olde” style clothes as well!

The first image captures a vibrant Glühwein (mulled wine) stand bustling with people. The colorful flags and medieval decorations create a festive atmosphere against the backdrop of traditional German architecture.

Inside the center of the markets was a massive, old-style stage where we saw a medieval-dressed man playing a guitar-type thing. Super unique!

When we wandered around the market into the Hafnmarkt area, we were so impressed to see the size of the medieval market. They even have a children’s area with a tiny, hand-operated Ferris wheel and little games like archery and cannon shooting.

Also fun for adults after some boozy beverages,  FYI. 😏

This area is definitely focused on drinking and eating. We did order some Kasespatzle, which is basically German mac and cheese, and it’s one of my favorite Christmas market foods. However, it was SO dry and gross I had to throw it away.

This also happened with a Thuringer Bratwurst that Caleb ordered, which was so overcooked that it was no longer white and somehow was shriveled.

I don’t know….but stick to booze here.  

TAYLOR’S TIP: If you do risk your taste buds and eat, learn from our sausage fail and do NOT pick the food stall with the shortest line because tipsy you are hungry NOW. Go somewhere WITH a line because that means the locals know it’s good.

If you want to do some unique, non-Christmas-related shopping, take your time to explore these stalls beyond the eats. We bought some cool rum in a potion bottle and saw gorgeous, hand-made leather and hand-crafted wooden items, all with a medieval theme.

A picturesque street in Colmar, showcasing a variety of artisanal pottery and decorative items displayed outside a traditional Alsatian shop

The Advent Market

If you want some TRULY artisanal souvenirs, you need to visit Esslingen on an advent weekend. Head to the Ritterstraße, where more than 30 artisans set up shop to show their wares. The little market is super pretty and great to check out between the Medieval market and the traditional Christmas market!

a dish typical at such markets, possibly containing meat and served with a sauce, illustrating the local cuisine enjoyed during the market festivities.

Regional Food To Try:

While the food at the Esslingen Christmas market isn’t the *best*, there are still 2 foods we recommend you try, and then there are some boozy beverages for culture and stuff.

  • Maultaschen – while we had this at a restaurant in Stuttgart and not in Esslingen, we saw it sold at stalls at the market. It’s kinda like if meatballs and ravioli had a baby. It’s not our FAVORITE food, but it’s local to the Swabia region, and we’re huge fans of trying local eats.
  • Venison – you’ll see food stalls called “wildspezialitate” which serve unique venison items, and we didn’t see this anywhere else in Germany.
  • Apfelgluhwein – The area has many orchards, so they turn the apples into apple mulled wine!

We added Calvados (brandy) to ours, and it was strong but tasty! It’s not super sweet and goes down easssssy.

  • Feueranzangenbowle – our FAVORITE Christmas market drink! It’s essentially mulled wine with a sugar cube soaked in rum that is set on FIRE overtop so the sugariness drips into the wine.

Usually, it’s all made in one big pot, but this was one of the very few markets where you could get an individual cup with your very own FLAMING, rum-soaked sugar cube. And, it’s served in a medieval-style goblet that we brought home too.

a pink mug of Feuerzangenbowle at a Christmas market with a sugar cube lit on fire overnight

Yes, we went for seconds.

  • Mead – honey wine because nothing is more medieval. When in…Esslingen?

Don’t Miss This Next:

If you’re visiting Esslingen and the time is right, we recommend you make some time to visit nearby Tubingen! We wrote a whole guide on visiting Tubingen at Christmas to help you out!

Or, check out our ultimate guide to packing for the Christmas markets so you stay warm and cozy and don’t have to rely on mulled wine to keep you warm…

Unless you want to. 

So, will you be visiting Esslingen?

Other Christmas market guides:

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