Since moving to the Northern Hemisphere, I’ve developed a fond spot for a good Christmas market. Many of my English colleagues find it a little peculiar that a grown man could get so excited over a market, but really, what better excuse to drink copious amounts of Glühwein?!
The popularity of Christmas markets has spread across Europe like winter flu in recent years. Nowadays, it seems every city tries to lure you in with the promise of a ‘German-style’ market. But many of these newer markets (i.e. those that aren’t centuries old) tend to be gimmicky, focused on encouraging you to hand over your money in exchange for tacky trinkets and overpriced booze. (I’m looking at you, London’s Winter Wonderland.)
If you want the real deal your best bet is a visit to Germany, the birthplace of the Christmas market. The tradition is still very much part of German life, and there is a seemingly endless supply of markets across the country. This year, I decided to tick Nuremberg’s off the list.
Nuremberg is a worthy destination in its own right, well known for its medieval architecture and its role in World War II. (Although, much of the city was destroyed during the war and the medieval centre that stands today is largely a faithful recreation.)
Its Christmas market may not be Germany’s oldest, nor the largest, but it is arguably its most famous. Google “best Christmas market in Germany” and Nuremberg often tops the list. It’s no wonder it attracts over 2 million visitors each year.
There are two things that make the Nuremberg Christmas market stand out from the crowd:
While there are stalls scattered across the medieval old town, the main market is in Nuremberg’s central square (Hauptmark).
And it’s quite a sight to behold. The oversized square is filled to the brim with rows and rows of stalls sporting uniform candy-striped roofs and adorned with lights. At the eastern end of the square, the decorative gothic church stands majestically, flanked by oversized Christmas trees. It doesn’t get much more Christmassy than this. It’s easy to see why tourists from across the world flock to see it.
Also in the square you’ll find the Schöner Brunnen, an intricate replica of a 14th Century gothic fountain. Its name literally means ‘Beautiful Fountain’, so I suppose no more description is really needed! If you believe in such things, spin the golden rings in the fountain’s wrought-iron gate for good luck.
There are plenty of vantage points around the square’s perimeter to take in the whole vista (a.k.a. take a selfie), including from the church itself.
While you can’t escape the typical German Christmas wares, you will find it difficult to find mass-produced trinkets and poorly crafted knickknacks at the Nuremberg Christmas market. They’re highly discouraged. The majority of what you’ll find on offer is regional produce and locally crafted goods using high-quality material.
As you’re making your way around the stalls, be sure to try the Nuremberg gingerbread, and the Nuremberg bratwurst (known locally as the Nuremberg Rostbratwurst). The bratwurst may be no bigger than your finger but it’s packed with flavour. No wonder it’s been a staple of Nuremberg life for over 700 years! (To put that into perspective for my Australian friends, Vegemite has been around for 90…)
I was also impressed by the wide variety of Glühwein available – from fruity versions to the more savoury. Although I was a little surprised that quite a few vendors offered versions for men (more alcohol, less sweet), and versions for women (not as strong and, you guessed it, sweeter). I also noticed this trend in restaurants. Good to see gender equality alive and well!
Finally, next door to the main market you’ll find the ‘Market of sister cities’. As the name suggests, the market features stalls selling crafts and produce from Nuremberg’s sister cities. (Nuremberg has 13 sister cities, from Glasgow to San Carlos. Some random extras also appear in the market, perhaps to pad it out a little…)
Quick tips when visiting the Nuremberg Christmas market