For those living in or visiting Germany during the Advent season (end of November until Christmas), a must-see is the German Christmas markets. They are truly magical with many delightful things to eat, see, and buy.
Here are some tips for enjoying the markets:
1. Do a bit of research before you go. Usually there is information on the website of the city hosting the market. Find the opening hours, location of restrooms, etc. Some cities have more than one market (such as Cologne) so it's nice to know ahead of time where they are. Not all sites will have an English version, but Google Translate can be your friend.
2. They tend to be quite busy, especially in the evenings and on weekends. Decide if you like a packed environment that's festive but offers the possibility of being crushed by crowds of people. If you like more room, consider going earlier in the day, which is not as crowded.
3. Even though dogs are welcome almost everywhere in Germany, rethink bringing Fido along. It can be so packed at these events that he might get trampled. The few times I saw people with their dogs, I saw that they had to carry them. Save your dog the stress.
4. If you're going to bring a child to the market, have a strong game plan. I'm not saying that the markets are unfriendly for children, and it's quite a magical thing to see, but having your young one get crushed in a crowd of people probably won't be super fun. Also, if you have a stroller, you will probably bump into other people or run over their heels, which is also not super fun for the people you're doing it to. If it's an option, consider carrying babies in one of those baby slings. Think about visiting earlier in the day to avoid the crowds, or if there are two adults, have the child walk in the middle so he's a bit safer.
5. Be careful with your valuables! Pickpockets love the crowded atmospheres. Don't leave a wallet in an outside pocket. Ladies, keep a firm hold on your purse.
6. Learn about the regional culinary specialties and if they sound interesting, be sure to sample them! Not all Christmas markets have the same things (though things like glühwein and beer are quite common!). I learned this after I ate some delicious quarkbällchen in Dresden but didn't see any more in my travels on the west side of the country (though that's okay - I don't need to eat that much fried food anyway).
7. Carry local currency (but of course keep it hidden from pickpockets). Many vendors don't accept credit cards.
8. If you want to drink glühwein (traditional hot spiced wine common at the Christmas markets), try out the "bio" (organic) or the ökologisch (wines grown in an environmentally-friendly manner) versions, as well as those sold by the wine growers themselves. I found that they taste so much better than the regular version.
9. Have a plan for what happens if the group gets separated, such as where to meet. If bringing a child, be sure to tell him what to do if he should get lost.
10. If you are concerned about buying genuine, handcrafted souvenirs, ask where the products were made. For example, not all traditional German decorations (such as Räuchermänner or Christmas pyramids) are made in Germany; some might have been made in China.