If you’ve never experienced European Christmas markets, you have missed out on some of the most fun and festive places to visit during the holiday season. Here are six German cities that should be on your must see wish list to make your Christmas dreams come true.
I have visited many other Christmas markets in both Germany and Switzerland but this was my first trip to these cities’ markets, which included Frankfurt, Koblenz, Trier, Heidelberg, Rüedesheim, and Wiesbaden. Typically, the markets are set up about three weeks prior to Christmas in one or more locations around town. They go all out with colorfully lit, festive wooden huts selling everything from locally made handicrafts and decorations, and, oh my gosh, the food! Bratwurst on crispy rolls with spicy mustard, potato pancakes with applesauce, flavored candied almonds and…well, you get the idea. So, let the celebration begin!
Another quick rail trip took me back to Frankfurt, a bustling metropolis and an important financial center of Europe. It is also a pedestrian friendly city with much of the downtown area fully accessible on foot.
The city is truly remarkable in terms of its diversity and a blending of old and modern architecture. You can do some serious shopping at the sprawling MyZeil shopping mall and walk to the top deck where you can get a commanding view of the city skyline. This is most vibrant at dusk when all the colored lights of the skyscrapers come to life and provide a perfect photo op.
In addition to the shopping opportunities, there are numerous restaurants and pubs serving traditional German fare as well as a local favorite beverage—apple wine. This is a fermented apple beverage and something you should try. If, like me, you are used to something a bit sweeter, you can have them add some flavored soda. (Fanta® seemed to be the preferred choice.)
Of course, my main interest was to see one of the oldest (1393) and largest Christmas markets in the country. With more than 200 stalls, this one is the granddaddy of them all. Although it was a bit crowded, that just seemed to add to the festive atmosphere and I never had any trouble sidling up to the counters to buy something to eat or take back home. One booth offered 75 flavors of candied almonds while another had humongous chocolate-covered pretzels. If you go home hungry from here, it’s your own fault.
From a large city to a small town, Rüedesheim is as cozy, charming and picturesque as any town you are likely to find in Germany. Located in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the area is known for its wine growing and vineyards. But, as with most places I visited, there is much more to see and do here. You can explore nature by walking along many excellent and scenic hiking trails that overlook the Rhine, visit ancient castles and sample some of the finest Riesling and pinot noir wines in the region.
The town’s meandering lanes look like something out of a fairy tale with half-timbered houses, hidden courtyards and small hotels and eateries. Here, you can make arrangements to actually sleep in a large wine barrel (cozy but more spacious than you might think)!
Of course, sightseeing always makes me hungry so planning my next meal is always high on my priority list. At Bruer’s Rüdesheimer Schloss, owner Susanne Breuer makes every guest to her hotel/restaurant feel like one of her family. She insists on only providing the best in fresh, local ingredients for her meals. I had a delightful lunch of seasonal lamb here that was tender and delicious. Make sure you also try the Rüedesheim coffee, a local specialty that you won’t want to miss—even if you aren’t a coffee drinker!
The Christmas Markets of the Nations are placed in the old quarter of the town and feature 120 stalls from the traditions of 12 countries. Here, you will find jam made of cloudberries from Drosselgasse, a Mongolian yurt tent and Europe’s largest Nativity scene.
Wiesbaden was the last stop on my whirlwind Christmas tour. Known for its spas, it is one of the oldest spa towns in Europe. With 26 hot springs originally used by the Romans, it is still a sought after destination for its health resorts, parks and gardens, musical concerts, wine festivals, and Twinkling Star Christmas Market.
The old quarter of the town was designed in the shape of a pentagon. The oldest building located there is the Old Town Hall, constructed between 1608-1610. On the northern side of the square is the palace of the dukes of Nassau, once used as the residence of Kaiser Wilhelm II. A stroll through here is a stroll back in time.
Trendy shops and cafes line the streets adjacent to the main square, and you will want to make sure you bring your camera to capture the grandeur. One of the pictures you will want is the Market Church clock that towers 98 meters above the town and chimes out the time every quarter hour. Guided tours are held all year round.
Another curiosity is located on Kaiser Frederick Square which boasts what they call the world’s largest cuckoo clock. The façade is indeed a cuckoo clock and the story goes that the owner wanted more business after the war so in 1946, he constructed the façade to bring in American GI’s who had plenty of dough to spend.
The Sternschnuppenmarket (twinkling lights market) is set in Schlossplatz Square against the old and new city halls. Even the lights are shaped like the city’s coat of arms as the residents are clearly proud of their city and its rich history. Hand blown glass, items made from olive wood and sweet temptations are offered by friendly local merchants, many of whom speak English.
While the holidays and Christmas markets are some of the best times to visit Germany, this certainly shouldn’t keep you from coming at any time of the year. There are tours and special offerings during the spring and summer months, including cruises down the river, cycling, museum visits, and a host of other activities.
If you do decide to visit the Christmas markets, the time to start booking your visit is now as hotel space becomes more limited during this season. From Frankfurt Airport, there are trains, rental cars and taxis that will take you to magical places that you may have thought only existed in fairy tales.
Where to stay:
Crown Plaza Hotel (www.crownplaza.com) Centrally located near main squares.
For more information about Germany, check out www.cometogermany.com and
Travel Accessory (Sleep Number® Deluxe Travel Pillow)
I don’t know about you but I have a hard time finding comfortable pillows in hotel rooms when I travel. I also have a bad neck, which only compounds the problem. On this trip, I took along the Sleep Number® Deluxe Travel Pillow to try out. The first thing I liked was that if fit neatly into my roller board carry on (14”x19”x1”). The pillow is constructed of high density memory foam surrounded by a soft down alternative. This provided excellent molded support for my neck and gave me a good night’s sleep on the entire trip. The pillow is also hypoallergenic for those with allergy issues. I will be taking this pillow on all subsequent trips.
FTC Disclosure: All of the hotels, meals, attractions, and product review were sponsored by the German National Tourist Office, their partners and the Select Comfort Company. No money changed hands in any of these venues or offerings nor were the businesses promised any sort of positive review.