With Christmas season officially upon us, one of the best ways to get in the festive spirit is to visit the Christmas markets that sprung up all over most major European cities. And what better place to enjoy the magic of Christmas markets than their birth country of Germany where they have been an integral part of Christmas celebrations for centuries!
Visiting German cities during the Christmas season can truly feel like stepping into a winter fairytale. Imagine strolling around wonderfully decorated wooden stalls selling festive wares and traditional food while sipping on a cup of delicious mulled wine, as Christmas tunes fill the air and you feel the winter frost on your cheeks. No other country does it better than Germany, so it is no wonder that it has been on my bucket list for ages!
Much to my surprise, there isn’t just one Christmas market in Hamburg. There are actually plenty of various Christmas markets scattered around the city! Unlike what I’m normally used to, some of them aren’t concentrated in one place. Instead, they branch out into the neighbouring streets and squares, so it’s often hard to tell where one ends and another begins. Talk about spreading the holiday cheer!
A bit of a fun fact: on our first full day in the city, we thought we were walking around one enormous Christmas market. As we later found out, they were actually three separate markets located within a close range!
During our short visit in Germany’s second-largest city, we visited four different Christmas markets. After leaving the main railway station, we entered Spitalerstraße. It’s one of the city’s central shopping districts and it immediately gave us a pre-taste of Hamburg’s festive spirit!
Winterwald in Hamburg
The Winterwald in Hamburg Christmas market extends from Gerhard-Hauptmann-Platz via Spitalerstraße, Mönckeberg-Fountain, St. James’ Church, and around Saint Peter’s Church.
The main concept behind this market was to create a magical winter forest in the city centre. Well, I have to say they totally succeeded in doing so!
On the Gerhart-Hauptmann-Platz, there is a designated area with numerous Christmas trees and the forest floor. Candles and lanterns hanging from the trees illuminate the market, creating a cosy atmosphere.
The entire area is perfectly isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city. For this reason alone, it ended up being our main hangout spot over the course of the weekend. We would often go there to enjoy some Glühwein and festive treats in peace.
From our observations, while there were some decorations and accessories on offer, the Winterwald in Hamburg market was mostly centered around delicious festive treats.
They included different types of sausages, Flammkuchen (Tarte flambée), Schmalzkuchen (lard cakes), Gebrannte Mandeln (roasted almonds), Schokoküsse (chocolate-coated marshmallow treats), chocolate-coated fruits, gingerbread, and various alcoholic beverages.
My discovery of the trip was Glühwein with Amaretto. I was a little sceptical about this combination, but it was absolutely amazing!
But fret not, there was something for the children too – a merry-go-round which moved at a surprisingly fast speed. There were also some dolls in glass cases to recreate a couple of the most popular tales. It was really lovely to see entire families with children or groups of friends hanging around the Christmas market, enjoying some mulled wine and having a chat.
Christmas market mugs
One of my favourite things about German Christmas markets is the fact that drinks are served in decorated ceramic, clay, or glass mugs that usually feature the name of the city a particular market is held in. They charge you Pfand (in Hamburg, this deposit was €2) and you can either keep the mug or return it and get your money back. It’s a wonderful way of cutting down on waste while also catering for those who like to collect things from their travels. Other countries should take note!
City Hall Christmas Market
With an estimated 2 million people coming to visit the City Hall Market every year, it is the most famous Christmas market in Hamburg.
Right outside the impressive City Hall, there are around 80 stalls where various artists and craftsmen showcase their creations. You can find plenty of unique jewellery pieces and handmade Christmas ornaments.
Whenever I visit Christmas markets, I abstain from buying ornaments because I don’t have my own place yet. I still like to walk around and marvel at the level of craftsmanship behind the products. And if all the walking happens to wear you out, there are of course plenty of stalls where you can refuel with some festive dishes and drinks!
What truly makes the atmosphere of this place, though, are the lavish decorations. There is a large illuminated Christmas tree towering over the market, as well as a beautiful wrought iron gate through which you can enter the area.
The wooden market stalls are decorated with pine garlands and lights. Around the City Hall Market, you can also find various treasures from the Roncalli Museum. They include a children’s carousel from the Golden 20s and a sales car from the imperial era.
White Magic on the Jungfernstieg
If you venture a little bit further from the City Hall Marketplace, there is yet another market. It’s located on the promenade running along the Binnenalster, a large artificial lake within the city limits. As I mentioned before, we thought it was an extension of the City Hall Market, so we only had a quick look at the stalls and didn’t get to explore the market properly. If you have more time, I would highly recommend taking a stroll to admire their light production and beautifully decorated Fairytale Ships located on the Jungfernstieg Alster jetty, especially if you’re travelling with children!
St. Pauli Christmas Market
Unquestionably the most unique Christmas market we’ve ever been to is the world’s first erotic Christmas market located on Spielbudenplatz in the red-light St. Pauli district of Hamburg. Yes, you heard that right.
As soon as I read about this one-of-a-kind Christmas market, I knew we had to go there for the laughs. It was beyond my imagination what it could possibly look like! As the Hamburg Travel website advertises it, at this market “it’s not only the mulled wine that gets the visitors hot”.
There is an adults-only tent offering strip shows, a trailer where you can get erotic readings, as well as various stalls providing saucy Christmas gift ideas. Surprisingly, you can also find lots of conventional Christmas market stands, an open-air art gallery, and even Sunday children’s programme. To be honest, it wasn’t necessarily our cup of tea. We had a quick browse around the stalls and went to the next stop on our list. I’m really glad we went though because it definitely makes for an interesting story!
Overall, our trip to Hamburg was the perfect beginning to the festive season. Although visiting the local Christmas market has been my tradition for years, Germany takes Christmas celebrations to a whole another level. You could truly feel the festive spirit throughout the city. It inspired me to start a new tradition and explore more German markets in the coming years!
Have you ever been to any German Christmas markets?