Stuttgart, Germany, in Santa Season
By Cynthia Barnes
When it comes to Christmas, Germany gets it right. From late November to just before the time when St. Nick arrives, Christkindlmarkt (Christmas markets) chase winter’s gloom from historic squares and fill the season with songs, sparkles and steaming cups of wine mulled with warming spices.
The Stuttgart region boasts many of these festive fairs, and when you’ve seen one, you’ll want to see them all—even if your initials stand for “Ebenezer Scrooge.”
Still not in the Santa spirit? There’s much more to explore in this vibrant region of Germany.
The Markets: Stuttgart
With almost 300 stalls and three million visitors, the Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt is one of the largest and oldest in Europe, covering the magnificently medieval Schiller Square and spilling into the surrounding area.
For more than 300 years, the market has served up a smorgasbord of seasonal treats, including cinnamon-scented glühwein, sizzling bratwurst and Springerle, ornate anise cookies prepared in intricately carved wooden molds.
Bundled-up children ride the miniature steam-powered train and squeal at the Nativity scene’s live animals while couples take a turn on the ice-skating rink. Gifts run the gamut from handmade wooden toys to fragile and festive blown-glass ornaments.
Hold onto your glühwein mug—the design changes every year and they’re a sweet (and refillable!) souvenir.
Esslingen’s Medieval Market
History buffs will take special delight in the Esslingen Christmas and Medieval Market held in this picture-book gem just 20 minutes from Stuttgart.
Voted “Best Christmas City,” Germany’s most beautiful Christmas town is filled with traditionally dressed craftspeople showcasing skills such as glass blowing, felting and other almost-lost arts.
Musicians perform while walking on stilts, and St. Paul’s Cathedral hosts concerts each evening. Be there on the Winter Solstice if you can, and join in the torchlight parade through cobblestoned streets to the 700-year-old castle.
The parade culminates in a show which welcomes winter with fire arts, drumming and songs.
Ludwigsburg’s Christmas Market
The lavishly Baroque architecture provides a stunning backdrop for the Ludwigsburg Baroque Christmas Market in this romantic 18th-century city about twenty minutes by train from Stuttgart. The market rests outside the enchanting Favorite Palace and features a children’s program daily with magicians, clowns, marionettes, and puppets.
After checking out the 175 lovingly decorated market stalls, be sure to take time for a stroll through the palace’s world-famous gardens and make room for Swabian specialties like schnitzel and spätzle.
The Stuttgart area is home to a variety of museums, showcasing everything from art to automobiles. (Make other plans for Mondays, when most are closed.)
Motorheads and speed demons rejoice, for the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche museums will make your heart go vroom. In its home city of Zuffenhausen (ten minutes from Stuttgart), the Porsche Museum has more than 80 cars from the sleek sports carmaker’s legendary legacy.
At the architecturally impressive Mercedes-Benz Museum, visitors can explore more than 1,500 exhibits and marvel at 160+ vehicles, while learning about the history and technology behind this innovative automaker.
Stuttgart is very proud of its Museum of Art, built in 2005 in a 25-meter high modern glass contrast to the nearby palace. The Stuttgart Museum of Art contains more than 15,000 works, beginning with the late 18th century. There are more than 250 works by famed German artist Otto Dix.
Stuttgart’s Pig Museum
Send a postcard to your favorite sausage aficionado from the world’s largest pig museum, The Schweinemuseum Yes, you read that right, and why shouldn’t pigs have their day in the … sty? More than 1,500 porcine-flavored exhibits feature the noble hog, from history to representations in modern art.
After your explorations retire to the enormous beer garden (it seats 600) or stop in at the restaurant, which serves a mean pig knuckle. Oink!
Even if you think ballet isn’t your thing, check the schedule for the world-class Stuttgart Ballet and prepare to be swayed. Founded in 1609, the ballet is known for daring and cutting edge dances as well as classical performances. Both ballets and operas are performed in an exquisite complex.
Save some bacon on these museums and many other attractions by purchasing a StuttCard. Priced at 17 euros, the card offers free admission to all museums and many tourist attractions, discounts at partner businesses and on the Stuttgart CityTour, special rates on theater performances, and welcome drinks or complimentary desserts at many local restaurants. The StuttCard PLUS upgrade gives free travel on the region’s network of public transportation.
The Architecture of Bauhaus
Stuttgart has no shortage of stunning structures. Half-timbered medieval houses? Insanely convoluted castles? Soaringly sublime cathedrals? Check, check and check.
But it’s also a hotbed of Bauhaus—the German avant-garde art movement that flourished in the early 20th century before the Nazis ruined everything.
Stuttgart is the hometown of Bauhaus master Oskar Schlemmer. The movement celebrates its jubilee in 2019, and the region is home to a large collection of Modernist buildings.
The Weissenhof Estate is the world’s most famous ensemble of Modernist architecture, and its two Le Corbusier houses have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Current Events in Stuttgart
There’s never a shortage of things to see and do in the Stuttgart area, and Christmas markets are by no means the only offerings.
December also plays host to the world-class Electronic Music Festival.
There’s an exquisitely curated exhibit on the Venetian master painter Tiepolo at the State Gallery Stuttgart until February 2, 2020, as well as a stunning homage to the Aztec civilization (marking the 500th anniversary of Cortez’s arrival) at the Linden Museum from now through May 2020.
Stuttgart: A City of Wine
Another great reason to visit Stuttgart in August is their annual wine festival, and to sample the wines that actually grow in the city limits. You can follow the well-marked Stuttgart Wine Trail that takes wine-lovers on a circular route through trails, vineyards and idyllic spots with great views.
The city’s Museum of Viticulture is where you’ll find information and history of the city, one of Germany’s top wine producers of Lemberger, Trollinger and many fine Riesling varieties.
Throughout the year visitors will find seasonal festivals, and of course in late September and early October, it wouldn’t be Germany without beer. The Cannstatter Volksfest (as the Stuttgart Beer Festival is also named) attracts four million visitors from around the globe who come for the funfair, the entertainers and the proudly crafted German brews.
No matter which season you choose, you’ll find something to celebrate in this lively and popular region.
Cynthia Barnes has written for National Geographic, Newsweek and many other publications while visiting more than 30 countries in a long career as a freelance writer. She lives in Denver Colorado.