Germany is well known the world over for its fabulous Christmas markets. One of my personal favorite holiday stops are the myriad Yule Markets in Hamburg. Whilst wandering the city it will seem as if it is one huge market, but it is actually several different markets run together. These annual markets begin showing up around the 5th of November and run until around the 23rd of December. In order to see them all at once, visit Hamburg between November 25th and December 5th.
Hamburg lies in the northern part of Germany. It is Germany’s second largest city, so your best bet is to just get to your hotel and take the awesome public transport. Trying to navigate in a rental car will find you lost in a hurry. The buses and trains are brilliant so you do not need a car at all here. Plus, the majority of people around Hamburg do speak English to some extent so catching the right connection is no problem at all. Tell them you want to reach the main train depot at city center. You can buy a day pass very cheaply which will allow you all day travel plus give you discounts at various museums and other tourist stops. We usually stay at the Crown Plaza Hamburg and have no problems getting around. They have a bus stop practically right outside the hotel which will take you directly to the huge central station.
Once at the Central Station simply walk out the back of the building. You will see all the gorgeous lights and entrance to the Christmas markets. If you have never been to any of Germany’s Yule markets, you may be a bit surprised. The streets are closed off quite a bit to vehicles and various booths are set up down the center of the streets, as well as lining esplanades, parks, and pretty much just anywhere they can pack them in. It is a wondrous sight, indeed.
Oh yes, I mentioned hotels for a reason. This is not a day trip. This is a vacation unto itself. You will not possibly be able to navigate the entire breadth of this series of interconnected markets in one day, or even two days. Plan a minimum of three days in Hamburg and even at that you will feel like you’ve left too early. Also, make sure you bring at least one empty suitcase. I’ve yet to meet a person who could wander these stalls and not buy more than they could carry. Luckily, many of the merchants are well aware of tight baggage controls so are prepared to ship for you if you don’t mind their fees. This is a welcome option as some of the items can be quite bulky. For instance, Germany is also known for their fabulous hand-made bird houses. These are huge and I imagine it is much cheaper to have it shipped than to try and get it onto a plane without luggage handlers damaging it. The Christmas Market vendors in Hamburg have packaging down to a science and your item will arrive home safe for you.
I feel like I should list everything available for sale at this gigantic Hamburg Market, but that is just impossible. Cuckoo Clocks are of course in abundance for reasonable prices. Well, reasonable meaning less than any other time of year. You can get one for anywhere from about 15 euros up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on your budget. Handmade Christmas ornaments are just everywhere and again the prices vary. They have inexpensive sets up to intricately painted designs for unreal prices. Winter clothing items such as wool socks are everywhere (I paid 10 euros for 2 pair and love them.) Hand carved everything can be found here also. They love carving things in wood, thus the crazy amount of Nutcrackers everywhere you look. Clocks, dragons, jewelry… let’s just say if you want it, you will likely find it here somewhere if you persevere. I swear they just have everything!
In between all the marvelous shopping are eateries. Oh man. Food to die for! Do get schnitzel as it is the best I have found in the country. I mean, that could very well be due to my child-like happiness amidst all the German holiday cheer, but damn it was good. Also the German potato salad, bratwurst, sauerkrauts… plan to gain a bit of weight. I still haven’t lost my extra few pounds from last year and it is almost time to go down again. Oh dear. Then there are the decorated cookies, cakes, pies, chocolates… the temptations just never end, nor would I want them to.
Also scattered throughout the Hamburg Christmas Market are places to pick up Gluhwein, or glogg as we call it in Sweden. This is mulled wine and served warm with raisins and almonds floating in. It is sure to warm you up during the cold winter shopping. Included in the prices for the wine are very cute souvenir cups. We have about 12 of these now and they are perfect for serving guests at home over the holidays. I do not like alcohol, but I love the mulled wines served this time of year. You can also get the cups filled with wonderful hot chocolate instead.
Santa is hanging around every weekend throughout the Christmas Market and loves hearing what the children of any age would like. His elves can be seen wandering about snapping photos (which, of course, you can buy) and handing out lollipops. They will also pose for pictures though with your own camera so it is not all about greed as with some places.
The only way to cover absolutely everything you will find at the Yule Market in Hamburg, Germany is to write a book. I may just do that some day, but for now I hope this is enough to wet your appetite and get you busy making your travel arrangements. If you plan to hit any of the Christmas Markets in Germany, you do need to make those reservations in August or September at the latest to make sure you do not miss out. Hamburg is no different. I’ll be there. Will you?