I've always boasted about how amazing and magical Christmas is in New York City. From the tree in Rockefeller Center to the rows of window displays along 5th Avenue, there are so many iconic experiences in the Big Apple at this time of year. While Christmas in London isn't quite as spirited, it definitely also has its charms. Various seasonal markets and holiday pop-up shops open up throughout the city, from Victoria to Southbank.
However, all of this pales in comparison to the famed Christmas markets in Germany. It seems as if every city, big and small, completely comes to life in December. While everyone is running indoors to avoid the cold, the Germans are coming out in full force. Not even freezing weather and snow can stop them from enjoying a pint outdoors.
We visited Hamburg last weekend to get a first-hand experience of these famous markets. Although the city may not be as well known as the likes of Munich and Dresden for its Christmas markets, we had an amazing time nonetheless. There are nearly a dozen various markets that dot the city, with the most popular being in the town hall square right under the imposing Rathaus.
Be prepared to fight through some pretty thick crowds, particularly early in the evening right around sunset. By 8 PM or so, most of the families will have left, making the market a bit more bearable. Your best bet is to first avoid the crowded food stalls and instead visit the craft booths. While I imagine many of the items are mass-produced, we couldn't help but feel that these stalls were much more authentic than the generic tchotchke booths we had grown accustomed to in the states.
While there are some interesting odds-and-ends you can pick up here, the real reason for going to a Christmas Market is the food. Frankly, everything else is just an added bonus. This is where German markets have everyone beat. According to the hotel bathroom scale, I literally put on 5 lbs in 2 nights. Aside from the obligatory bratwurst, our favorites were German donuts (schmalzkuchen and quarkbällchen), the cheese-filled handbrot, the bacon fladenbrot and the grilled mushrooms with cream. You can finish off the meal and wash this all down with a cup of mulled wine, rum cider or beer.
Most Christmas markets in Germany are open 6 days a week, with some staying open on Sundays. To learn more about the markets in Hamburg, check out this link.