After decades of exploring Europe, we can say there are really two Christmas market experiences: The mega-markets in Cologne and Strasbourg that go on forever and the boutique markets that are more manageable for a weekend outing.
Aachen falls into the latter category. We’d always included it in overview posts, but it’s so dense and popular, we decided it deserves a post of its own.
We went to the 2021 market and with all the COVID restrictions and requirements to show vaccine passports, the Aachen market was muted. We just got back from the 2022 version, and all we can say is, “The Christmas market crowds are back.” Boy, are they back.
This is the essential German Weihnachts Markt, packed into a small area around the City Hall and the Aachen Cathedral in the very center of this amazing small city. Which is the problem. You enter the market at the top of a hill at the Rathaus via Markt 47 off Grosskölnstrasse, then proceed down the hill on Krämerstrasse and other pedestrian streets lined with food booths as they converge at the cathedral in the heart of the Old Town. (I’d like to give you more detailed addresses, but the Old City street name thing is a mystery I’ll never solve. Just look for really big old buildings and huge Christmas market signs and you’re there.)
In 2021, this was no problem because the pandemic crowds were sparse. (Business was so bad, vendors were serving glühwein this year in 2021 mugs.) This year, there were so many people on a late November Saturday evening celebrating Christmas AND the end of COVID that we literally couldn’t walk. We just inched along with the crowd. Yet, we got our glühweins, then found a quiet corner of Domhof Square off the backside of the market and had it all to ourselves.
What you’ll see
This market is about the food … dozens of stalls offering hearty dishes of mushrooms and grilled cauliflower with sauce, bratwursts, crepes and waffles. Then there’s the glühwein, beer and wines with some of the cafés, including the Hexenhof adding temporary biergartens just for Christmas.
We got the Reibekuchen, a potato and flour pancake, deep fried, 4.50 euros for three, with a dollop of applesauce. We would have gotten the sausages and other delicacies but couldn’t get to the booths.
(A note … the food offerings differ not just country to country, but city to city, with the Aachen booths serving up local specialties you won’t find in Düsseldorf or Cologne, or there will be different twists on German standards such as the potato pancakes.)
In addition to food, there are all sorts of gifty items on sale including fabrics, alpaca socks, wool hats and gloves and jewelry. Lots of jewelry, some of it quite expensive.
Aachen is a double treat because the Christmas Market is at the junction of a warren of Medieval streets lined with boutiques and specialty stores. There are also specialty food shops such as Nobis Printen, beautifully decorated and offering fabulous German bakery goods.
Aachen is on the borders of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, so it draws from the region. Because this is the heart of Europe, you’ll hear equal amounts of Dutch, German and French along with English, Turkish, South Slavic languages, Mandarin and Arabic in a very cosmopolitan town. About 1.5 million people pass through each year, so as we said above, expect huge crowds, especially post-pandemic.
This is as Christmassy and gemütlich/gezelligheid as it gets, expats!
The Aachen Christmas Market is open now through 23 December.
The market is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Open Store Sundays (a thing in Germany) for 2022 are 4 December and 18 December, so you can Christmas shop on High Street and take in the market. Aachen has one of Europe’s great bookstores, Mayersche Buchhandlung, and you’ll want to drop in while you’re in town. Just make sure it’s open.
Also, Aachen is a 30-minute drive from Maastricht in the Netherlands so you might want to take in their Christmas market as well. And we’ll tell you right now … the Maastricht market is okay, but Aachen is one of the best.
We parked at Parkhaus Grosskölnstrasse, which is just a few minutes’ walk from the market. We got really lucky and snagged one of the last spaces, and it cost about 12 euros to park for four hours at 2.40 euros per hour. The parkhaus takes credit cards and debit cards. As a matter of fact, in previous years, this was a cash-only market. But we noticed this year that more stalls are taking debit/credit cards.
On the weekends, it probably makes more sense to take advantage of the shuttle buses. The buses run to the Christmas market from Bendplatz parking lot to the city center and back every 10 minutes.
See all our Christmas market posts here in Dispatches’ archives.