One of my favorite holiday traditions is visiting the Christkindlmarket in downtown Chicago. Maybe it’s my German heritage, but I love the glühwein, German food, boot mugs, ornaments and other trinkets and the general festivity of the market. And admission is always free, so it’s easy to stop by if I’m passing through the area.
If you’ve never been, here are some tips to get the most out of your trip!
Cheers from the Wolffs!
The Best Time to Go to the Christkindlmarket
The Christkindlmarket is open daily from 11am – 8pm (until 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays). In my experience, the best time to go is a weekday after lunch, around 2-4pm. It’s not very crowded and there aren’t lines. Lunchtime during the week is another option, although there are slightly bigger crowds due to the lunch hour. After work is nice once the lights go on, although you do have crowds around rush hour as people are squeezing in a quick stop on the way home.
However, the market gets PACKED on the weekends. Even when it’s freezing cold. If you must go on the weekend, try to get there right as they open around 11am, or later in the day after dinnertime.
What to Eat and Drink at the Christkindlmarket
I can’t leave the market until I’ve had glühwein! Traditional hot mulled wine, served in a commemorative mug. The design changes every year. Sometimes it’s shaped like a boot, but for 2017 it’s a punch-kettle design. You can see the historic line up of mugs on the Christkindlmarket website.
2017 on the left, 2012 on the right
In addition to glühwein, you can also find hot apple cider, hot chocolate, beer and soft drinks for sale. All hot drinks have the option of coming in a commemorative mug or disposable cup.
To eat, there are lots of traditional German options. Sausages, schnitzel, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, goulash, strudel, and more. If you’re not into German food, you can also find crepes, baked cheese, baked apples, hot pretzels, candied nuts, chocolates and more.
What to Buy at the Christkindlmarket
The market is full of Christmas goodies and handmade goods! In addition to the food you can eat on the spot, you can also buy candied nuts, chocolates, and other sweets to take home or use for gifts. There are lots of vendors selling traditional or unique ornaments for your Christmas tree. (Pictured above are the ones we purchased this year from Frank’s Ornament House.) There are also many other holiday decor options for sale – wooden nativity scenes, figurines, lights, candles. Of course, there are lots of traditional German items for sale like beer steins, painted ornamental houses, cuckoo clocks. Additionally, there are many other gift items like sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, wool socks, soaps, lotions, jewelry, toys, nesting dolls, and more.
What to See at the Christkindlmarket
While the Chicago Christmas Tree has been moved to Millennium Park, you can still see the Picasso Statue looming over the market. Additionally, on the east side are the life-size nativity, large menorah, and other symbols of the season.
Throughout the season, there are a variety of performances at the market – singing, instrumental and dancing. You can also check out the free Kinder Club for events and activities specifically for children.
If you happen to be at the downtown market on a Wednesday or Saturday between 2-4pm, you may run into The Christkind, or Giver of Gifts, a fairy-like being dressed in gold robes and a gold crown. On the flipside, I always like to stop by the Bavarian Workshop booth for the “jumping jack” ornaments … and the Krampus figure on the south side of their booth.
Reservations at the Christkindlmarket
If you want to make your experience truly special, you can reserve a table for up to 8 people for 2 hours in The Stammtisch inside the Grand Timber Haus, the main wooden cabin-like structure. Prices start at $114 and you can add-on food and/or drink packages.
What’s your favorite thing to eat, drink, buy or see at the Christkindlmarket?