Winter in Berlin might not be the obvious time to visit the German capital – it’s cold and very grey most of the time. But we had a fantastic visit to Berlin in late December. Many of Berlin’s best Christmas Markets are still going and there are plenty of fun, seasonal offerings to keep kids happy, and warm! So read on to find out why it’s worth visiting Berlin in winter.
How to have fun in winter in Berlin with the family
As long as you wrap up warm, Berlin makes for a great winter break, even with small kids. Children will be enchanted by the thousands of lights decorating the city, and will have the time of their lives at the Christmas Markets. It’s hard to know whether the funfair rides or all the sweet treats on offer will impress them most!
Winter in Berlin: Christmas markets
Berlin’s Christmas Markets are legendary. It’s true that we actually don’t have any comparisons as these were the first European Christmas Markets that we’ve visited (except for a couple in the UK) but we thought they were brilliant.
Berlin has over seventy(!) Christmas Markets that generally open in late November and run until Christmas. Some are only open at the weekends, while others run all the way through until early January. You’ll find traditional markets, specialist food markets, markets that are more like funfairs, and even some left field ideas like the Japanese market.
It’s actually a bit confusing trying to work out which markets are the best, so below are the ones that we enjoyed the most.
It can be difficult for many families to visit Germany for its markets in the run up to Christmas. School holidays can be restrictive, and you need a good three days at a minimum. However these markets are all open until January, so you’re able to visit during the Christmas holidays even if it’s after the big day.
Here’s a brief guide to some of Berlin’s Christmas Markets. For a full list click here.
Berliner Weihnachtszeit am Rotes Rathaus
The Christmas Market at the Rotes Rathaus was the biggest Christmas Market in Berlin that we visited. It’s one of the longest running markets too – it’s open from the end of November until early January.
It’s also right in the centre of Berlin – a short walk from Museum Island and the Berlin Cathedral – so it’s unlikely that you”ll miss it. Just look out for the giant, illuminated big wheel (sadly our kids refused to go on it!). If you do persuade your children to ride then be aware there’s a long queue but the views from the top are great.
At Rotes Rathaus Christmas Market you’ll find the usual stores selling food, drinks and handicrafts. I was tempted by giant colourful stars to hang in your windows at Christmas (well, if you can’t have bad taste at Christmas, when can you?) and the kids were enchanted by all the toys on offer. All the stalls are beautifully presented, under twinkling red roofs.
There’s more than just shopping at Rotes Rathaus. We also found a retro swing ride and a merry-go-round which the kids both loved. And in the centre, in front of the big wheel, was a doughnut shaped ice rink (skates for hire).
Keep an eye out for the small farm – kids will love the animals. And if you visit in the run up to Christmas, then Father Christmas visits several times a day… You can get photos with him at 4.30, 6.30 and 8.30pm.
The best station for this market is Alexanderplatz.
WeihnachtsZauber at Gendarmenmarkt
Gendarmenmarkt hosts a super popular market right in the heart of Berlin, in the city’s most beautiful square. Unlike many of the other markets there’s a small entrance fee of €1 per person (if you visit in the middle of the day the fee is waived). WeihnachtsZauber is on until 31 December.
This is one of Berlin’s prettiest markets, with stalls under star tipped white tents, a lit up stage showcasing live music, and of course the views of the German and French churches at either end of the square.
We found that the Gendarmenmarkt was a little more food-oriented than the other markets, and the handicrafts were of a much higher quality in general, with prices to match (some of the Christmas pyramids were €500 or more, but absolutely stunning).
There were no fairground rides here, but the kids consoled themselves with fondue and a visit to the Rausch Schokoladenhaus just next to the market.
The best stations for this market are Hausvogteiplatz, Franzosicher Str., and Stadtmitte (all U-bahn).
Weihnachtsmarkt am Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church)
The Christmas Market at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church runs until early January and we timed our visit for New Year’s Eve as a firework show was scheduled for every couple of hours.
Actually we needn’t have worried about missing the midnight fireworks as everyone buys them and sets them off in the street all night long – no health and safety to be seen here! These street fireworks are much bigger than the tiny ones we get in the UK, so be careful if you’ve got small kids – our son got pretty scared as there were some really loud bangs.
Kaiser Wilhelm market is really convenient if you’ve visited Berlin Zoo in the day as it’s only a minute’s walk from the main gates. The church is also very beautiful but we only saw it from the outside as we arrived too late to visit. If you’ve had enough of Christmas Market shopping (or if it’s raining) you can always visit nearby Bikini Berlin or KaDeWe department stores.
The stalls at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial market were pretty similar to the ones at the Rotes Rathaus, so there was a mix of food and handicrafts. The kids found a small wheel ride to go on, and there were lots of bright decorations that kept them happy. Us adults found plenty to drink.
The best station for this market is Zoologischer Garten.
Winter Welt am Potsdamer Platz
We stayed close to Potsdamer Platz and the little market here was only a couple of minutes from our hotel. Winter Welt is a fairly small market with nowhere near as many stalls as the others, but it does have a giant tyre slide on a dry ski slope, which should keep kids entertained – my normally nervous daughter loved it although the boy refused to have a go. There’s also a mini swing carousel, and a festive pop-up pub.
The market at Potsdamer Platz runs from November until early January. I think that there’s probably more on in the run up to Christmas as we couldn’t find the artisan demonstrations and it was all a bit smaller than I expected it to be. A little further down the street is an ice skating rink, and if you go into the cinema complex between the market and the rink you’ll find plenty of Christmas lights.
The Potsdamer Platz market is mainly about food and drink – there’s plenty of mulled wine to be had, currywurst, plain curry, and the best lebkuchen we found in the capital. Worth visiting if you’re staying in the area.
The nearest U-bahn and S-bahn station is (unsurprisingly) Potsdamer Platz.
If you’re going to be in Berlin in the run up to Christmas, then there are three other large markets that will be open and that are worth visiting as well. These all closed right after Christmas so we couldn’t personally visit them.
The Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz shouldn’t be confused with the one at nearby Rotes Rathaus. Alexanderplatz’s market runs until 26 December and it’s found on the far side of Alexanderplatz station from the TV Tower.
The main draw for this market is the enormous walk-in Christmas pyramid which has views out over the market on the second floor. You’ll find all the usual shops and food as well as a ferris wheel, carousels for kids and an ice rink.
If you don’t mind going a little further to get your Christmas Market fill, then the market at Spandau is a good choice. Spandau market runs from November until just before Christmas. It’s Berlin’s biggest and most traditional market, in one of Berlin’s most beautiful areas.
There’s plenty of family entertainment on the stage, including appearances from Santa.
To get there take the U7 to Altstadt Spandau.
The Charlottenburg Christmas Market is held in front of the lovely Charlottenburg Palace, in the west of Berlin. It’s worth visiting Charlottenburg Palace anyway, market or not, so we didn’t mind that it was all over by the time we got there. The market is open until 26 December.
You’ll find traditional food, drinks and crafts to buy, and in front of the orangery there’s a special area for kids. This “Königliche Weihnachtszeit” area has a petting zoo, rides and kids’ entertainment.
The best way to get to Charlottenburg Palace is to take the S-Bahn to Westend; the palace is a 10 minute walk down the hill.
Festive food and drink
Trying new food is one of the best things about going away! Especially if you’re on holiday over Christmas when the German food and drink matches the season perfectly. You won’t go hungry if you roam the Berlin Christmas Markets, put it that way.
Our top find was lebkuchen. While we get gingerbread in the UK, it’s a poor substitute for real German lebkuchen. Lebkuchen still has a lovely spicy flavour but it’s got a more cake-like texture and it’s a hundred times better. We found lebkuchen at many of the Christmas markets; the best were iced and chocolate coated round cakes at Potsdamer Platz. You’ll never be satisfied with British gingerbread ever again.
The kids loved trying out “schokoküss” (chocolate kisses) which are light-as-air whipped egg whites on a wafer base, covered in chocolate. The marshmallow-like filling and the chocolate coating comes in tons of different flavours, from child-friendly honey, strawberry and ginger, to liqueur flavours for the grownups.
You can of course get your fill of beer and mulled wine at German Christmas Markets. Mulled wine is always served in a mug that you’re charged a few Euros for – you get this money back if you return the cups. The cups make good souvenirs if you want to keep them as each market has its own design.
And even fussy, vegetarian kids can get their fill of hot meals – at Gendarmenmarkt we found a restaurant serving fondue. The kids had never tried this before but they loved it – we should have ordered more as they scoffed the lot.
Of course, you’ve also got to try the German institution that is currywurst. The flavoured sauce was too much for the kids but Derek made sure he had some. Berlin is surprisingly vegetarian and vegan friendly – vegan sausages are available at many wurst stands, and you’ll find these all over Berlin.
Stay active in winter in Berlin: Ice skating
There’s nothing more fun than ice skating at an outdoor rink in winter. Even if you’re totally useless, like I am! Some of the Christmas Markets in Berlin have ice rinks, so you can kill two birds with one stone. The largest ice rink we saw was at Rotes Rathaus which encircled the Neptune Fountain; this one had a great atmosphere and was very pretty.
We also found an oval rink at Potsdamer Platz, just along the road from the market itself. There are other ice rinks spread across the city, but these two and the one at Charlottenburg are the ones that you’re most likely to find if you’ve got limited time in Berlin. If you’re going to be visiting Tempelhof then you will also find an ice rink in the south east corner of the big park – this one is called Neukölln.
The rink at Rotes Rathaus was very busy, so if your kids are new to skating I’d recommend finding a quieter one – the Potsdamer Platz ice rink was pretty much deserted when we were there in the early evening. At some of the rinks you can even try your hand at curling (you’ll need to book in advance for this).
Many local people bring their own skates but you’re able to hire ice skates at the rink, which is in addition to the charge of skating. Prices are different at each rink but expect to pay around €3 for access to the rink and up to €5 to hire skates for an hour, cash only.
This is one thing about winter in Berlin that you don’t need to try to find is Christmas lights. The city is beautifully illuminated – some of the best places to find Christmas lights in Berlin are along the avenue in front of the Brandenburg Gate (above) and at Potsdamer Platz (below).
However you’re going to run into Christmas lights wherever you go in Berlin, whether it’s in the heart of Berlin’s shopping districts or inside Berlin’s Cathedral (not to be missed!).
Trabi Limousine Tour
If by the end of the day you’re too tired to explore the lights on foot, you could take a Trabi Limousine Christmas Lights Tour. Experiencing East Berlin’s famous cardboard car is a must when you’re in Berlin, and if you don’t fancy taking one for a spin yourself, then this is a great alternative.
The Trabi Limousine tour is guided (English or German) and you can choose where you’d like to go, or leave it up to your driver. Just put your feet up and relax (and enjoy a glass of sparkling wine).
It’s definitely going to be more relaxing than driving a Trabi, which is not for the fainthearted!
As well as finding lovely Christmas lights along Berlin’s main streets, there are a couple of places you can visit to see them at their best.
Christmas Garden Berlin at the Botanical Gardens
Berlin’s Botanical Gardens are based on London’s Kew Gardens, and inspired by the fantastic illuminations that Kew Gardens put on, Berlin’s Botanical Gardens have created their own light trail. This exhibit has been running for a few years now, and it’s expected to continue.
There’s an illuminated trail that takes around 90 minutes to walk. Along the way you’ll find a field of lights, a weeping willow covered in strings of lights, an ice rink and plenty of food and drink. The buildings are also beautifully illuminated.
It’s best to go after dark (obviously) and the light trail is busiest at weekends and before 6pm, so the later you go the better, according to the Gardens. You need to buy timed tickets before you arrive. Tickets are not yet available for 2020.
We had fully intended to go to the Botanical Gardens; it’s easy enough to reach on the S-bahn (just alight at Botanischer Garten) but in all honesty we were put off by the price of entry. Tickets cost €17/19 per adult and €14.50/16.50 per child, and a family ticket costs €47/53 (Fridays, weekends and certain dates are more expensive). We were also worried that the kids wouldn’t have enough energy to walk the trails after a busy day sightseeing in the city.
Christmas in the Tierpark
Tierpark is home to Europe’s biggest animal park. Don’t confuse it with Berlin Zoo in Tiergarten – that’s a little west of the centre of Berlin, whereas Tierpark is in eastern Berlin. You can see tigers, elephants, giraffes, rhinoceros and more in the animal park.
Tierpark makes a good alternative to the Botanical Gardens as there’s a similar light trail and festive entertainment to be found here. Tierpark is probably much more suited to families as you can spend the day exploring the park and visit the light trail as darkness falls.
You’ll find a light trail, ice rink in front of the Friedrichsfelde Palace, and plenty of festive food and drink.
Separate tickets are needed for Christmas in the Tierpark – your zoo entry tickets won’t count. Christmas event tickets cost €15 per adult, €12.50 per child or €42 for a family ticket. Tickets are not yet available for 2020.
You can easily reach Tierpark on the U-bahn – the stop you need is Tierpark.
Winter in Berlin: Know before you go
Berlin winter weather
Winter in Berlin is cold! Don’t underestimate the chill and pack accordingly.
Berlin’s winter temperatures are much colder than those in the UK so make sure you wrap up warm. You will definitely need a warm, windproof and waterproof coat, hat, gloves, and scarf. Warm, waterproof boots are a good idea too.
You might want to consider dressing children in thermals. The cold will affect them before it gets to you, so to maximise your time out and about make sure they are wrapped up like mini michelin men.
Berlin’s average daytime temperatures in December are around 0-4ºC although with the wind chill it can feel much colder. Expect temperatures to dip to minus figures in January and February.
You’re not likely to see much sun, either; expect only a few clear days each month. The nights start to draw in between four and five pm, so similar to the UK.
You should also expect a little rain – December has an average of 10 rainy days. We were lucky and didn’t get any rain in the week that we spent in Berlin, and the skies were actually pretty clear. January and February are slightly drier.
It’s not the end of the world if the weather is inclement. There are plenty of things to do indoors, like museums and shopping. Keep an eye out for our upcoming Berlin with kids itinerary to help you plan your time in the city.
How to save money in Berlin
If you’re looking to save money in Berlin then you could consider using a Berlin Pass. This may be worth it for you and your family if you think you’ll be spending lots of time in museums as many of them are included. Public transport is also covered, as is a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. Click here to take a look.
If you’re unsure of whether the full Berlin Pass will suit you, then you can buy a combined transport and Museum Island ticket. Berlin Welcome Card lets you use public transport for 72 hours, and gives entry to all five museums on Museum Island (they’re really good!). There are also discounts available at other attractions. Click here to buy.
Have you been to Berlin for Christmas Markets? Which was your favourite? Let us know in the comments!