There is something dreamlike about Monschau and its Christmas Market. A historic town nestled in the rolling forests of Germany’s Eifel region, Monschau is a place where time stands still. Crowded with centuries-old timbered houses, crumbling medieval walls, weaving cobbled lanes and retired water mills, Monschau is one of Germany’s most beautiful towns. With the majority of its buildings perfectly preserved for over three hundred years, the town has a Disney like quality to it: a place for daydreaming ‘Belles’ or singing ‘Snow Whites’.
Yet, it is when the summer crowds retreat – the last of the town’s leaves falling into the babbling River Rur – that Monschau really comes to life. With snow falling past its candle-lit windows, the town sparkles under row upon row of twinkling Christmas lights. Towering fir trees decorate each street corner and the smell of cinnamon and sugar lingers in the air. Indeed, it is when Monschau’s ‘Weihnachtsmark’ arrives that the town truly casts its spell; the air thick with ‘Weihnachtszauber’, or Christmas Magic.
Monschau Christmas Markets are an unmissable spot for anyone hoping to experience true festive magic, without the obligatory visit to an over-heated department store or tinsel-filled Santa’s Grotto. Instead, let Monschau and its Weihnachtsmarkt transport you back to another time entirely: one in which Christmas meant delicate hand-crafted decorations, the smell of fresh pine cones and steaming pots of Glühwein.
Below is your complete guide to enjoying the magical Christmas Market of Monschau; one that might just Germany’s most beautiful.
Monschau sits on the Belgium-German border, surrounded by hilly mountain ranges. Due to its location, the town is easy to reach by car, with many visitors coming from the larger towns of Aachen, Cologne, Bon, Liége (Belgium) and Maastrict (the Netherlands).
To visit Monschau, we flew from Heathrow Airport via Eurowings, direct to Cologne. Our return flights cost just under £100 per person. From here, we hired a car courtesy of Avis and drove directly to Aachen, where we spent a few days. For three nights (four days) our car hire cost approximately £168. After our fill of Aachen, we then continued on to Monschau, which was an incredibly straightforward drive on the Bundesstraße 258, taking just forty-five minutes in total.
Although there are numerous car parks around Monschau, please note that due to the town’s popularity (particularly during the Christmas season), these can fill incredibly quickly. We managed to get a space at the centrally located Parkhaus Seidenfabrik, where parking costs €7 for the day. For those staying in the town overnight, or for a few days, a parking permit can be obtained from your hotel or from the Monschau Tourism Bureau, at a cost of €3 per night.
However, others might prefer to take the ‘Park and Ride’ option, which operates throughout the weekend. Here, visitors are invited to park in neighbouring Imgenbroich, with buses leaving for Monschau’s ‘Altstadt’ (Old Town) every ten minutes. A return journey costs just €3.20.
Perhaps one of the easiest options is to travel to Aachen (via train or car) and to catch the bus to Monschau. From the station (Aachen-Rothe Erde), you can take the Number 66 bus headed towards ‘Parkhaus/Schmiede, Monschau’. A single day trip ticket will cost you €5.30, whilst a day ticket is €14,00.
Make sure you exit at the ‘Flora Monschau’ stop. From here Monschau’s Old Town is just a 300-metre walk. A full timetable for the bus route can be found here.
If you are visiting Monschau for its Christmas Market, then please be sure to take money with you. There are two ATMS in town (perhaps the most secure being that found inside ‘Sparkasse’), simply due to the fact that the town’s Christmas stalls – and indeed some of its stores – accept cash only.
Perhaps not your first thought when thinking of visiting Monshcau Christmas Market, but walking boots (or at least a pair of sturdy trainers) are a must. Nestled within a valley, the town is surrounded by beautiful viewpoints and a 13th Century Castle. During winter, the walks (or gentle hikes) can be incredibly muddy and slippery, so ensure that you’re wearing something hardy.
Whilst this question may seem a little self-evident, it’s important to note that the Monschau Christmas Market is only open at weekends, usually beginning in the last weekend of November and lasting all four weekends of advent.
The Market opens at 11am each weekend, with stalls closing by 9pm. Although visitors are welcome to wonder Monschau’s streets throughout these hours, perhaps the real magic of the Market can only be experienced as night falls (around 4.30pm in December), and the town’s lights sparkle in the inky darkness.
Inevitably, Monschau Christmas Market tends to be much busier in the evening, as families arrive to witness the illuminated medieval streets. If you are hoping to explore the main town when the streets are a little quieter, arrive at 11am and you’ll have the town largely to yourself (the town itself only has a very small resident population, with temporary visitors largely making up the crowds).
Now for the important bit: the Market itself.
When first arriving in Monschau, you might be forgiven for wondering where the famous Weihnachtsmark is hidden. This was certainly our first thought when arriving in town.
Walking down the steep, cobbled street that leads towards Monschau’s centre, the town appeared eerily quiet. Indeed, all that we could hear on that cold December morning was the babbling sound of the River Rur, its waters snaking their way through the town. This was the very same river that once made Monschau’s historic Water Mill turn and creak, the bubbling Rur a hint of the town’s textile history.
Entering the neat square at the bottom of the hill, we were met by a towering Christmas tree – one that reached some twenty feet skywards. Rather than being heavily laden with dancing baubles or glass decorations, the tree was instead simply decorated with strings of white fairy lights. It was incredibly simple, but unbelievably beautiful.
Walking past Monschau’s famous Rotes Haus (Red House) – the former headquarters of the textile-industrialist Scheibler family – and there was still no sign of the Market. Above us, an icy sleet began to fall, and crowds began to gather in Monschau’s warmly lit cafes – mugs of Heiße Shokolade and Kaffe in hand.
Passing through the town’s snaking lanes – half-timbered buildings leaning towards the fast-flowing river – and we eventually smelt the Monschau Christmas Market before we saw it; that familiar scent of cinnamon, star anise and roasted chestnuts reaching us from across the river. Walking towards the town’s Aukirche church, we finally spotted the famous Market, hidden behind an elegant spire.
Although not a large market, it was immediately obvious that the Monschau Christmas Market was special – something from a children’s storybook perhaps, or a more sympathetic Brothers Grimm tale. Entering the central market square and the Weihnachtsmark appeared suddenly and colourfully: a vision of dancing lights, glowing candles, cabins decorated with thick bushes of holly, and a vintage carousel turning slowly.
Around us, it wasn’t the sound of a Christmas CD that played – one piped through a hastily arranged sound system – but instead a live band were performing; a warming touch that the town prides itself upon. Sometimes a group of alpenhorn blowers gather here; the sound of their sweeping horns booming though Monschau’s old stonewalls. Other times, it is a group of choristers, their delicate harmonies drifting down the lanes. On this occasion, it was a small brass band that played, the sound of ‘O Tannenbaum’ rising high above us into the wintery sky. Indeed, there was nothing artificial or contrived about the Monschau Christmas Market. Instead, this was a romantic, charming and irresistibly cosy event – a taste of ‘old’ Christmas.
Throughout the Market stood a large selection of stalls, selling everything from steaming Glühwein, large dishes of Kartoffelpuffer (a delicious grated potato dish), handmade soaps, wooden toys and intricately carved wooden puzzles. On one particular stand stood a dizzying array of miniature mangers; each ready to play a staring role in a family’s Nativity scene.
Yet it was perhaps not what was for sale that made the Monschau Christmas Market so special, but instead its extraordinary atmosphere. With live music gently playing and fresh dishes of veal and rolled noodles being served on street corners, visiting this Market was akin to time travelling – a glimpse of Monschau some three hundred years ago.
The surrounding landscape only added to this, as Monschau’s historical buildings crowded around us to create pockets of light and warmth, each protected from the winter winds. With the river passing directly through the town, you’ll also discover that Monschau is filled with a selection of small bridges, each one decorated with dazzling Christmas lights and strings of red bows. Leading the way to hidden restaurants and veiled corners, you could spend an entire evening exploring these beautiful bridges alone.
Standing in the cold night air – the smell of rain mingling with caramelised sugar – the entire scene created by the Monschau Christmas Market seemed almost surreal. Surrounded by film set like buildings, a cheerful brass band, bakeries overflowing with piles of freshly baked ‘Printen’ (local biscuits famous in nearby Aachen) and thick loaves of Stollen, visiting this special Market was perhaps one of the most festive experiences I’ve ever had. Indeed, one perhaps best described only by that unique German word: ‘Weihnachtszauber’.
Whilst the Monschau Christmas Market is no doubt one of the town’s main attractions, Monschau boasts a host of other beautiful sites most definitely worth visiting.
As mentioned above, the Rotes Haus takes pride of place in Monschau. A blushing pink building, adorned with intricate carvings and gold stars, the Rotes Haus is unbelievably photogenic. Although considerably younger than its peers (built in the 18th Century to house the resident Scheibler family and their business), the house still holds its own as one of the town’s most beautiful buildings.
Today, the House is preserved as a Museum, revealing to its visitors its surprisingly sumptuous interiors. Featuring a staircase with twenty-one meticulous carvings, each depicting a particular phase in the cloth making process, this fantastically unique staircase spans three floors.
For those wishing to find out more about Monschau’s cloth-making past, visitors will find a carefully preserved book of patterns inside one of the studies, featuring over 6,000 different designs – each of which would have once been made in the town.
A fascinating glimpse into this town’s illustrious past, the Rotes Haus is well worth a visit. The Museum is closed on Mondays, but is otherwise open 10am – 12pm in the morning, and from 2pm – 4pm in the afternoon. Adult entry costs just €3.
Monschau is found hidden in a small valley, surrounded by the otherwise rolling hills of the Eifel region. As such, this small town offers fantastic views to those willing to climb (a few) stairs; with a bird’s eye view over Monschau’s slate roofs and the wider Hohes Venn – Eifel Nature Park.
In particular, the ‘Panoramaweg’ (or the ‘Panorama Walk’) offers spectacular views – although be warned, the entire trail includes nearing 1,000 steps. To begin the walk, find the town’s Parkplatz Aukloster (Austraße 10, 52156 Monschau), where the hike begins at the car park’s lower deck.
This route will take you to some of the most beautiful vantage points surrounding Monschau, including that from the ‘Haller’ (or tower ruin), which is perched precariously above the town’s Market Place.
If you do decide to take the Panoramic walk, you’ll soon find yourself at Monschau’s 13th Century Castle, which now (slightly surreally) is home to a youth hostel. Once the fortress of the formidable Jülich Counts, this once great castle was soon seized by Charles V in 1543, before falling into disrepair under French rule.
Restored and returned to Germany at the turn of the century, the Castle was transformed from an impregnable fortress into a youth hostel – or ‘youth castle’ – at the end of World War I. Boasting not only your standard hostel rooms, the Youth Hostel Monschau Burg offers five family apartments (found in the ‘Hirschhaus’) and a small chapel, where recitals are regularly held. Come the summer and the Castle’s courtyard comes alive with concerts and festivals, complete with spectacular views across Monschau.
Whilst there is little to see inside the Castle (aside from the youth hostel), it’s still worth making the climb up to Burg Monschau, simply for its wonderful views.
The town of Monschau is not simply a one trick pony; a place defined only by its sparkling Christmas Markets. No, Monschau holds another trump card: its famous mustard. ‘Moutarde de Montjoie’ has been made in Monschau for over 120 years, expertly crafted by one dedicated family. Connoisseurs of this spicy relish, visitors are invited to visit the family run Mustard Mill, learning how their nineteen varieties of mustard are made.
A strangely fascinating spot, visitors are able to buy a selection of homemade mustards, chutneys and jams, and – if their palettes are up to it – delicately sample each of the exotic mustards.
Whilst the Monschau Christmas Market offers more than enough local delicacies to satisfy any visitor (we gorged entirely on Pfannkuchen and Waffeln), the town does offer a surprising range of (affordable) places to eat.
When we first arrived in Monschau, we immediately headed to the town’s Schokoladen Café to warm up. Nestled inside a small timber-clad building, the lights of the Shokoladen Café glowed warmly as we walked towards it; freezing sleet and icy winds freezing our hands. Overflowing with freshly baked cookies, sugar-dusted waffles and slices of delicately made cake, the Café smelt heavenly as we stumbled inside; our noses red from the cold.
It soon became apparent that the Café’s defining feature was its hot chocolate. Simply choose your preferred ‘chocolate lollipop’ (we opted for the ‘Christmas’ flavour) and you’ll be greeted with a steaming mug of hot milk to dip your lollipop in. A fantastically cosy and quirky spot, Shokoladen Café is a warm haven to warm cold fingers and frozen toes.
For dinner, we headed to Monschau’s slightly more expensive restaurant – Alte Herrlichtkeit. Housed in yet another beautiful building, the restaurant offers an authentically German experience, with dishes including schnitzel and fried duck breast. Although slightly more expensive than some of the town’s other restaurants, Alte Herrlichkeit boasts beautiful views across the River Rur and a traditionally decorated interior. Warm, comfortable and relaxing, it was a lovely spot to spend a winter’s evening.
Whilst Monschau is commonly touted as a ‘day trip’ destination, many visitors do choose to stay within its cobbled streets. With a huge array of hiking, cycling and running tracks available from the town, it’s also a particularly popular spot to stay over those golden summer months.
Despite its popularity as a tourist hotspot, Monschau has largely resisted the urge to ask its visitors to pay a small fortune to stay. Most of the town’s hotels are incredibly reasonably priced, with the majority of rooms costing in the region of £7o – £80 per night.
Hotel Horchem is housed within a particularly pretty building, close to the river Rur. Featuring cosy rooms – each hidden under timbered ceilings – and a restaurant complete with roaring fires, Hotel Horchem is an ideal spot to base yourself if staying in Monschau. Double rooms begin at £80.
Hotel Alt Montjoie has a similarly relaxed and cosy feel, although it is perhaps a little more basic in terms of its furnishing than Hotel Horchem. Again, the hotel is incredibly affordable, despite being in the centre of the Old Town, with prices beginning at £73.
Throughout December, Germany is lit by the glowing lights of hundreds of Christmas Markets. Leaving Cologne behind – our plane climbing high into the night’s sky – I imagined what the country below me might look like: huge swathes of darkness illuminated by twinkling lights and flickering candles. Indeed, come Christmas, there is perhaps no better place to be than Germany: the home of the original ‘Weihnachtsmark’ and ‘Weihnachtszauber’.
Yet, before you head to the bigger sights of Munich or Berlin – enticed by their large and bustling markets – instead consider a trip to a little town, hidden in the folds of a forest-filled valley. Here, you’ll find a place filled with storybook buildings, the sound of choirs singing and plush green fir trees blowing gently in the wind. Indeed, if there is one place to really experience the magic of Christmas, it’s Monschau.