Christmas Markets are celebrated across Europe, starting in late November and ending a few days after Christmas. Although we tend to think of Christmas as a children’s holiday, I’ve found there are far more adults than kids whenever I’ve gone to the Hamburg Christmas market. The market is a great excuse to get out of the house, drink mulled wine, chat with friends and do a little Christmas shopping.
Visiting the Hamburg Christmas Markets
Christmas here is a twinkling respite from the gloomy days of dwindling sunlight, and Hamburgers make the most of it. The official starting date of the Christmas market is the Monday before Advent, but the first Winter Market opens in early November, complete with an Ice ‘bahn’ for skaters.
German Christmas market festivities continue all month with Der Adventskranz, or Advent Wreath, laid flat holding four candles, one for each Sunday of Advent. My co-workers tell me that each Sunday is celebrated with caroling and cookies.
December 6th is Nikolaustag or St Nikolas Day, when children leave their shoes outside their doors. If they have been good, they’re filled with chocolate in the morning. In the south of Germany and Austria naughty children have a nasty run in with Krampus.
The Weihnachtsmärkte, or Christmas Markets (although some are billed as Christmärkte or Wintermärkte) are open every day and are a great way for adults to get in on the fun usually monopolized by kids. It seems like in nearly every public square in Hamburg, wooden stalls spring up, covered in lights and red trim. You’ll also find carolers, and plenty of stalls selling gifts and decorations.
Best Time to Visit the Hamburg Christmas Markets
The best time to visit is, of course, after dark! Fortunately, it starts getting dark around 4 in December, so even small children can enjoy the festivities. While Hamburg is usually reasonably mild during December considering the latitude, you’ll want to bundle up and prepare to drink some hot chocolate or Glühwein (hot mulled wine) to keep you warm.
Hamburg Christmas Markets
There are over 30 Christmas Markets in Hamburg. Although most of them have similar stalls, some have themes like Maritime, as well as Scandinavian and British for homesick expats. Although they may have separate names and be on different streets, many of the markets sprawl over into each other, so you can walk through several without realizing it.
If you only have one night to enjoy the festivities in Hamburg, head for the Rathaus (this is City Hall, literally ‘government house). Hamburg’s Rathaus is a grand building dating to the 1800s and is still the seat of Hamburg’s senate and parliament. The building provides a picturesque backdrop to one of the busiest and most popular markets in the city.
From the Rathaus you can wander over to the Binnenalster, the smaller of two man-made lakes in the center of Hamburg. The Rathaus is in the downtown and financial center of the city, and department stores and shopping districts gladly take the opportunity to get in on the spirit (and holiday shopping). Every year, a huge christmas tree is installed on a platform in the lake. There are also a few small carnival rides, especially traditional carousels.
If you can’t visit more than one Christmas market, all of them are magical enough to leave even the grumpiest of grinches overcome with nostalgia and Christmas Spirit.
What to Eat at the Hamburg Christmas Market
Every festival I’ve attended in Germany has the ubiquitous sausages and pilsner, but at Christmas markets you’ll also find crepes, lebkuchen (a German cousin of gingerbread) hearts, and plenty of sweets like Marzipan and tool shaped chocolates.
Glühwein is served in ceramic mugs and you pay a few euro deposit. This is returned when you turn in your mugs. There are other hot drinks, like chocolate (with peppermint schnapps if you so desire) served similarly.
Christmas Markets will be one of the things I miss the most about Germany when I move back to the States. While Christmas markets have started popping up in some towns with large populations of German descendants, they are still missing the size, fame and firework powered Santas of the ones in Germany.
About the author: Claire of World Traveler in Training is originally from North Delaware. She moved to Germany in February 2012 for a job at the University of Hamburg. Her parents are expats from the UK, so she grew up traveling quite a bit. She occasionally finds herself traveling for work, visiting destinations as varied as Berlin and Kathmandu. When not working, she and her husband try to take long weekends trips across Europe and blog about it along the way.