By Travel & Leisure
July 25, 2016
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Christmas in Germany officially begins at the start of Advent in early December, when seasonal treats like gingerbread and mulled wine pop up on street corners in big cities and small towns. And then there are the Christmas markets, for which Germany is famous.

From the world’s largest nutcracker, to traditional crafts, to skating rinks, we’ve rounded up four spots for an essential German Christmas experience.

Christmas Eve Mass at Berliner Dom

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Germany’s capital city is known for its ever-expanding expat community, countercultural art scene, and unrivaled nightlife. But once the Christmas season rolls around, tradition still holds strong. On Christmas Eve, Berliner Dom, thought of as the city’s most architecturally impressive cathedral, hosts a midnight mass that’s not to be missed—even for those who aren't particularly religious. The Protestant church, located in Mitte, holds a service complete with elaborate renditions of popular Christmas carols (in German, of course), all in a setting that pretty much defines wintertime coziness.

Traditional Foods and Crafts at Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt

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When it comes to Christmas markets, few rival Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, which dates back to 1628 and showcases handmade crafts made by locals. Seek out Lebkuchen (a spiced cake topped with almonds that hails from the region) and Nuremberg’s famous grilled sausages (flavored with marjoram and served with mustard). Another must? Sipping a hot cup of Glühwein (mulled wine) as you make your way through the more than 180 market stalls.

Nutcrackers in Dresden

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Dating back to 1434, the Striezelmarkt in Dresden is Germany’s oldest Christmas market. It opens up early in December with the Stollen Festival, the highlight of which is the unveiling of a four-ton (!!) Christmas cake, or Stollen. That's not the only mind-boggling thing at the Striezelmarkt; it's also home to the world’s largest Christmas pyramid and the world’s largest nutcracker statue.

Medieval Lights and Markets in Cologne

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Nestled next to the Rhine, Germany’s fourth-largest city has plenty to offer those seeking a Christmas that blends the past and present. Though World War II destroyed much of Cologne in the 1940s, its medieval center remained relatively unscathed. The view is particularly lovely during Christmastime, when the cathedrals and spires light up and Christmas markets pop up around the city. Head to Heurmarkt for skating, Markt der Angel for a spectacle of shining stars, or the market in Stadtgarten for a less traditional holiday experience—fire eaters included.