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What You Need to Know About Spending Christmas in The Black Forest

by Mandy
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Spending Christmas in the Black Forest in Germany promises lots of special things. A welcoming traditional Christmas atmosphere. Characterful German towns decked out in Christmas lights. Charming Christmas Markets with families and friends bustling from stall to stall. Natural beauty. Local festive customs. Maybe even snow?

To me, there is no place more magical at Christmas time than Germany. So much so that we recently spent our whole Christmas in the Black Forest, just us two (and Lady of course). Spending Christmas in another country brings different traditions, customs and routines that we are not ordinarily used to, compared to in the UK. So if you’re planning a Christmas away from home, here’s everything you need to know about spending Christmas in the Black Forest, in Germany.

Holiday Traditions & Customs

Holiday traditions and customs at Christmas time are highly important in Germany. Christmas is one of the most significant and cherished holidays in the country, and a great deal of importance is placed on preserving and celebrating unique cultural traditions. The main ones to be aware of are:


The four Sundays leading up to Christmas are celebrated in the Advent season. Germans typically mark each Advent Sunday with an Adventskranz (Advent Wreath). These are common sights in many German homes. The wreath features four candles, which are lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The fourth candle is traditionally lit on Christmas Eve.

Saint Nicholas Day

December 6th is a special day in Germany, known as Niklolaustag (St Nicholas Day). Traditionally, people put shoes or boots outside their door (although stockings are also counted these days). In the morning they would find them filled with nuts, sweets, chocolate and other small gifts from St Nicholas. It’s worth highlighting he is different to Santa (who is a more modern tradition). If you’re in Germany during this time, you’ll see St Nicholas at large shopping centres and some Christmas Markets.

Christmas Eve (Heiligabend)

Christmas Eve is the main day for Christmas celebrations in Germany and is traditionally a time for family to be together. Families will celebrate in the evening, exchanging gifts, and tucking into a traditional festive meal – typically roast duck or goose. In some parts, you may also hear of the Christkind (Christ Child) who brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve, rather than Santa Claus.

Most people work a half-day on the 24th December. Many shops stay open until the early afternoon, so it’s a good opportunity to get the last of your food shop if you’re planning a self-catering Christmas.

You can expect Christmas Eve to be a quiet and peaceful time in the Black Forest. Not quite like in the UK, where many people head out to restaurants or the local pub for a couple of festive rounds!

Public Holidays

Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day (26th December) are public holidays in Germany. The majority of places will be closed, particularly in rural Germany and The Black Forest. Some places stay closed until the New Year, but this is very much a case-by-case basis. It’s worth planning in advance and ensuring you’ve stocked up on essentials, just in case the local shops are closed.


Another tradition you might want to incorporate during your own German Christmas break is “kaffeetrinken”. This is where families will gather in the afternoon for coffee and piece of cake, typically Christmas stollen or cookies.

Christmas Markets

Perhaps the number one attraction for locals and tourists alike, are Germany’s Christmas Markets. Known as Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany, the markets in The Black Forest are no exception! What could be more magical than one of the most picturesque parts of the country, lit-up by twinkling wooden stalls, selling hot food, snacks, drinks and gifts, with the backdrop of The Black Forest around you?

Christmas Markets in the Black Forest usually run from last weekend of November, until Christmas Eve. However, it’s worth checking specific Christmas Markets, as some wrap up a bit earlier depending when Christmas falls.

Some of the most popular Christmas Markets in The Black Forest include Freiburg, Baden-Baden or Ravenna Gorge. But you can also visit Strasbourg (across the border in France) or Basel (across the border in Switzerland).

Make sure to grab yourself a hot mug of Gluhwein (mulled wine). This is a very popular drink during the holiday season in Germany. You can also get mulled cider or mulled fruit punch!

Another tradition you can expect to find at the markets is Lebkuchen (gingerbread), typically covered in chocolate. It comes in all shapes and sizes and is usually decorated with patterns or well-wishes. This is as a great stocking filler if you’re getting some last minute gifts, or want something sweet to nibble on.

Festive Cuisine

(The above image may not be “festive cuisine” – but bear with us).

If you’re vegetarian (like us), I’m afraid you’re out of luck if you’re planning a tasty plant-based Christmas dinner in the Black Forest.

The traditional festive meal is typically roast duck, goose, or sometimes fish or Sauerbraten (a beef / pork / veal pot roast). We knew vegetarian options would be less common in rural parts of the Black Forest, but we expected to find a nut roast or similar in the local Lidl. But nope, not a thing. We checked the supermarkets in Freiburg too, but still had no luck. For Christmas Day, we had to get creative and set-up our own “beige buffet” of whatever vegetarian items we could find. 

When eating out before Christmas in some of the more touristy areas, we found a few plant-based meals. We grabbed a meal on the slopes of Feldberg, who served vegan bratwurst (photo above). It may look like a plate of beige but it tasted delicious! It’s worth eating out while places are open and seeing what’s available.

Other traditional foods include Christmas Stollen. This is a delicious fruit-based cake, and nothing like the fruitcake here in the UK, which we are not fans of! Stollen is actually sweet and delicious! You can find it in every supermarket in the build-up to Christmas in Germany.

Black Forest ham is another popular option, along with Black Forest cake. Potato Salad is a surprising addition to the festive cuisine list, but usually makes for a tasty side dish.

If you haven’t had your fill of Gluhwein at the Christmas Market, then be sure to grab yourself a couple of bottles from the supermarket too, so you can have your own cosy evening, sipping away on mulled wine.

Shops & Restaurants

Nearly all shops, businesses and restaurants in the Black Forest will close from the early afternoon on December 24th, and most will reopen after December 26th. 

However, do not underestimate the more rural parts of the Black Forest, where many places remain closed until the New Year. Your typical supermarkets will be open between December 27th and New Year’s Eve, along with more touristy areas, such as Freiburg.

We stayed in the small village of Todtnau during our Christmas break and we didn’t find this to be a problem at all. Many businesses were shut until January, but we found cafes and restaurants to be open and operating as usual.

One thing worth pointing out is Germany’s unique bottle recycling system at the supermarkets! We’d never seen this anywhere else – it’s genius! As you can see in the photo above, we were well stocked for our Christmas break! In the supermarkets, you buy a crate of beer and when you’re done, you return the crate and empty bottles to the supermarket. Most will have a recycling station before you actually enter the store. Just pop the crate with the bottles inside onto the conveyor belt. The machine will scan and check the number of bottles and will print you a receipt which you can redeem for money off your next beer shop! The bottles then slide away on the conveyor belt to be recycled – easy!

Outdoor Activities

Much of the Christmas festivities can be enjoyed in one of the Black Forest’s many towns. But you can’t come to the Black Forest without exploring it’s stunning scenery, mountains and hillsides!

If you’re lucky, during December it may snow, giving you the perfect opportunity to explore the beautiful wintery landscapes. With such natural beauty on your doorstep, it’s no surprise that many like to take up activities in the great outdoors. Whether hiking and walking, or something more adventure-based like skiing, snowboarding or cross-country skiing.

Many parts of the Black Forest (particularly in the south) are known for their ski resorts. Many of the slopes will have activity centres, where you can hire equipment such as snow shoes or skis. So there are plenty of opportunities to get involved! 

Seasons Greetings

Learning the language of the place you’re visiting is always a must! Here are a couple of phrases to add into your vocabulary while you’re away at Christmas time:

Frohe Weihnachten” (Froh-uh Vine-ahk-ten). This means “Merry Christmas”.

Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr” (Goo-ten Rootsh ins noi-uh Yahr). This is typically used to wish a “Happy New Year”.

Weather & What to Pack

Winter weather in the Black Forest is unpredictable! It could be sunny and crisp, grey and cloudy, wet, or you could be gifted with snow. One thing you can expect however is that it will be cold!

The afternoons can vary from zero degrees to pretty mild, but evenings will definitely drop to below freezing. Layers will be your friend, so it’s worth packing more than you think you’ll need. Some things to consider:

  • Bring hats, gloves and a scarf. We also had some heated hand warmers to keep inside gloves which were a game changer!

  • Bring a super thick coat. During the day this may not be needed depending on your layers and how mild it is, but you will certainly want it for the evening.

  • Wear appropriate footwear. Trainers are fine, but boots with decent tread or grip would be ideal, particularly as the ground is likely to be icy and slippery at times. Mandy wore Dr Martins for our trip and these were absolutely fine for most days when hiking boots weren’t needed.

  • Snow-friendly clothing. If you’re exploring the slopes, bring some thermal socks and waterproof over trousers.

  • Base layers and thermals to have under your t-shirt or jumper.

  • Sunglasses! It might not be the classic beach holiday you typically bring your sunnies along for, but if you have clear, crisp, sunny skies then it’s handy to have a pair with you. Especially if you are in a snowy area as they’ll reduce the glare from the snow.

Getting Around Germany

Unless you’re staying in a town like Baden-Baden or Freiburg, which are quite well built-up and connected, the best way to get around the Black Forest is by car (that’s our recommendation anyway). Here are some considerations, whether you’re using public transport or your own:


Driving in Germany is a piece of cake. The roads are well sign-posted and well maintained.

If you’re driving a hire car, then your job is very simple. The hire company will have taken care of appropriate things such as fitting winter tyres and supplying the emissions sticker. However, if you’re taking your own car and you’ve never driven in Germany before, let alone in the winter, then here are some things to be aware of:

  1. When driving in Germany in the winter, you must equip your car with winter tyres. Not only is this sensible, but it is a legal requirement.
  2. Make sure you have ordered your emissions sticker (Umwelt) in plenty of time before you leave. We use TUV, who we have always found to be reliable. They also post your Umwelt to your home address! This has typically taken about a week, but we suggest allowing at least 2 weeks.
  3. Buy a European driving kit before you leave. This includes compulsory items that a lot of mainland Europe require you to have if you’re driving from the UK. This includes a ‘UK’ sticker for the back of your car and a warning triangle. Kits also include headlight reflectors so you don’t blind traffic on the opposite side of the road. Some countries have different requirements to others. As you would likely be driving through France, they have a legal requirement for you to carry breathalyzers (which are not legally required in Germany). The kit linked to above includes all of this.

Public Transport

Trains are super reliable in Germany, and most of The Black Forest is well connected by rail, particularly the main towns. However, if you want to explore more of rural Germany you may find public transport quite limiting.

Buses run pretty much throughout the Black Forest, even to remote villages and towns. However this again can be a bit of a pain, particularly if you need to pick up multiple routes and track multiple bus schedules.

On the subject of schedules also, it’s worth noting that it will likely be business as usual for most of December, apart from Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day when there will likely be reduced services.,Some services may not run at all for the holidays. Make sure you plan your travel well in advance, so you know what to expect and can organise yourselves accordingly.

In addition to the above, while Germany usually runs like a well oiled machine, delays do occur, and there’s no guarantee how the weather could affect things. Make sure you add some flexibility into your schedule just in case of travel delays. Worst case, if you have time to kill, there is bound to be a Christmas Market nearby where you can grab a mug of Gluhwein, or a steamy cup of  heisse Schokolade (hot chocolate).


Spending Christmas in the Black Forest is a magical experience, and being aware of these customs and considerations will hopefully help you fully immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere.

We hope you enjoyed our post and found it helpful! If you’ve also spent the festive holidays in Germany and have any extra tips to include, feel free to share them in the comments below! If you found our blog helpful, check out our Insta @welovetravel.in – and if you give us a follow don’t forget to say hey!

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