Disclosure: This guided tour of Mainz was a collaboration with mainzplus CITYMARKETING GmbH and Tourismusfonds Mainz e.V., however all editorial and opinions are my own. For more information about visiting Mainz, head to the Mainz Tourism Board website.
Just before Christmas, I was kindly invited on a guided tour of Mainz. Once it was over, with a couple of hours to spare until dinner (more on my goose and dumplings below), I decided to indulge myself by spending some time exploring the city’s Christmas markets. If you’d like to read more about the guided tour, head over to my Guided Tour of Mainz post; if you’re interested in seeing more impressions of Mainz at Christmastime, I’ve saved my Stories of my trip in my Instagram highlights (link goes straight to the Story; you don’t need to log in to Instagram to view it).
Christmastime in Mainz
With many of the old timber-framed buildings in Mainz’s old town festooned with lights, Christmas trees and decorations dotted around all over the city and the locals truly embracing festive cheer, the run up to Christmas is a particularly fun time to visit Germany’s wine capital. The Christmas markets are gorgeous, the city’s wine taverns at their cosiest, and there’s plenty of opportunity to try delicious local specialties that only appear at this time of year.
In addition to the city’s large, historical Christmas market, Mainz hosts four other smaller markets that ensure you never have to walk very far without stopping for a mug of Glühwein (mulled wine). Broadly speaking, German Christmas market season finishes just before Christmas, however three of these smaller ones open again between Christmas and New Year (27-30 December), enabling further opportunity for outdoors festivities for those who fancy it.
Mainz’s Historic Christmas Market
Mainz’s Christmas market has been taking place in the squares around the city’s imposing 1000-year-old cathedral for over 200 years. Its entrance is at the Höfchen square, where there’s an 11-metre high Christmas pyramid that rotates merrily throughout the day and is lit up once the sun has set. The large wooden figures that furnish it include Mainz representatives such as Johannes Gutenberg, a Mainz 05 football player and a man dressed in traditional Carnival attire.
The market stretches along one entire side of the cathedral, completely taking over the Marktplatz (market square) and spilling into the smaller Liebfrauenplatz behind. It’s here that you’ll find a nine-metre high music box adorned with hand-carved wooden angels.
In between the pyramid and the music box are around a hundred festively-decorated wooden huts offering food, drink and handicrafts beneath the dozens of strings of twinkling lights that meet at the square’s central 1000-year-old sandstone column, the Heunensäule. It’s beneath these lights, amongst a small cluster of hot drinks stands, that the locals gather to drink Glühwein; if you prefer to avoid the crowds, there are plenty of food and drinks stands around the perimeter of the market, too.
The market also features a historic carousel, a life-sized Nativity scene in front of the cathedral chapel and – my favourite part – the atmospheric Mainzer Weihnachtsdorf (Mainz Christmas Village). Centred on a raised platform around a roaring campfire are some 30 wine barrels furnished with benches, cushions and tables that can be reserved in advance – details at the end of this post – for drinking Glühwein and soaking up the atmosphere.
Mainz’s “Wintertime” Christmas markets
In addition to the main market there are a scattering of Christmas market huts at Neubrunnenplatz, a small square centred around a large baroque drinking fountain. At the Hopfengarten square in Mainz’s old town, a tiny cluster of wooden huts include a stand from the hugely popular Laurenz wine bar. There’s also a market cheering up the forecourt of Mainz’s main train station (Mainz Hauptbahnhof), meaning you can get stuck into the Glühwein just as soon as you’ve arrived.
I stopped for a hot drink at the small but very cheerful market at Schillerplatz, a square named after the German poet and philosopher, Friedrich Schiller. It’s home not just to a monument to the man himself but also the city’s much-loved bronze carnival fountain, the Fastnachtsbrunnen, and it’s framed by a number of gorgeous baroque and rococo buildings to boot.
What to eat and drink at Mainz Christmas market
Many of the classic German Christmas treats are available at the Mainz Christmas market, plus a few local favourites, too. There are sausages aplenty, from Bratwürstchen cooked on large hanging grills to the Mainzer favourite, Fleischwurst, a ring-shaped bologna sausage that comes as a chunk served with mustard and a crusty bread roll. (Be sure to peel the skin off before eating it!) Meat lovers might also be tempted by hot beef goulash (Gulasch) or a kidney skewer (Nierenspieß); those more interested in fish should make a beeline for the Flammlachs (salmon cooked Scandinavian-style on wooden boards around a fire).
There are various vegetarian options in the form of Flammkuchen (tarte flambée) and their smaller, heartier cousin the Swabian Dinnele. Grated potato pancakes (Kartoffelpuffer) are known in this region as Reibekuchen, and the ones from Roscher’s stand have over the years earned cult status. Watching the batter being spooned into the hot oil is mesmerising, and the queue here may be long but these hot, crunchy potato pancakes, eaten savoury or sweet, are very much worth the wait.
All the standard Christmas market drink options are on offer, from hot chocolate (heiße Schokolade) and alcohol-free hot punch (Kinderpunsch) to mulled wine with a shot of rum or amaretti (Glühwein mit Schuss). What’s particularly special here in Germany’s wine capital, however, is the Winzerglühwein: mulled wine direct from the winemaker, made using grapes from their own vineyards, natural sugars and whole spices – meaning no additional fruit juices, artificial sweeteners or ready-made spice mixes.
A Christmas dinner in Mainz
At the end of my afternoon exploring the Christmas markets, I was invited for dinner in a wine tavern. Mainz is well known for these cosy, rustic restaurants, and though it has stiff competition, Weinhaus Wilhelmi is arguably one of its best loved. Wilhelmi’s has been doing business for over a hundred years, and remains popular with locals, students and visitors alike.
On a busy road close to the river Rhine, sandwiched between pale pink and white buildings almost twice its size, the tiny pale green tavern is easy to miss. Inside, through a heavy wooden door and thick curtain behind, Wilhelmi’s has a typically cosy interior, all dark wooden panelling, dusty-looking murals, and old paintings and photographs on the walls. It being only a week or so before Christmas, the restaurant was generously decorated with baubles and Christmas lights, too. (Forgive me for the lack of photos and indeed the terrible quality of those below, but these places are small and intimate and just not the sort of place where you want to disturb your fellow diners by waving a camera about.)
Dining solo, I was brought to my shared table by the wonderfully warm and welcoming Christina Schickert, who has been running the restaurant since 1998. As I browsed the menu, she furnished with a very good local sparkling pinot noir and a generous one-person portion of Spundekäse with salty, crunchy pretzels.
Wilhelmi’s serves up local favourites as well as specialties from the nearby Pfalz (Palatinate) region. The dishes are all hearty and largely very meaty, though there are also a couple of options for vegetarians. Pointing at the specials board, Mrs Schickert recommended I try the festive goose, which came as an enormous portion of roast breast accompanied by braised red cabbage, cooked chestnuts, a wonderful potato dumpling and lots of rich, brown gravy. It was absolutely delicious and a gloriously Christmassy end to my day in Mainz. I couldn’t have had dessert if I’d tried.
For further information about visiting Mainz, head to the Mainz Tourism website.
Mainz’s Christmas Markets
Check the Mainz Christmas market website for opening times.
Reservations for wine barrels in Mainz’s Christmas Village can be made online from September onwards. (Website in German only.)
Weinhaus Wilhelmi: Rheinstr.53, 55116 Mainz; website (German only)
Reservations highly recommended, though you can always try your luck!
Getting to Mainz
Mainz’s main train station, Mainz Hauptbahnhof, is served by InterCity Express (ICE) trains as well as regional (RB and RE) and local S-Bahn services from destinations including Frankfurt and Wiesbaden. From Frankfurt Airport (FRA), the journey time to Mainz Hauptbahnhof is around 25 minutes. Regional and local trains also pass through Mainz Römisches Theater train station in the south of the city.
Train tickets and seat reservations can be booked up to three months in advance on the multilingual Deutsche Bahn website*.
Mainz is very walkable and has a pedestrianised centre, however there is an excellent network of buses and trams that run frequently around the city.
A 48-hour mainzcardplus (11,95€ single or 25€ for up to five people) includes free travel within the Mainz-Wiesbaden tariff zone as well as free admission and various discounts to the city’s sites, leisure facilities and at some shops. It also includes a free guided tour of the city.
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