Nuremberg is the most cheerful Christmas city I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. I thought Prague’s markets were impressive, but the holiday spirit is definitely stronger with Nuremberg.
Visiting the main Christmas Market
The center of the Christmas festivities is in the main square where the Frauenkirche is. Google Maps will even show the spot on the map as “Christkindlesmarkt.” What it won’t tell you is that every major street leading up to this square is also lined with candy caned stalls with warm food and drink. The arteries of the market run from Nuremberg Central Station all the way up to Nuremberg Castle on the other side of the square. There are stands selling drinks, crafts, and foods all over. The entire city center is basically a Christmas market.
And being one of the biggest and most popular markets in Europe (probably the world), it is P-A-C-K-E-D. Even those side streets are barely walkable past a certain time in the evening.
If you want to calmly enjoy Nuremberg’s Christmas market on the weekend, I suggest you go when it opens at 10 am. This is the only time of day when you can stroll through each of the market aisles without being swept up in a sea of people.
The later in the day it gets, the more crowded it will get. Of course, you’ll want to see the market all lit up at night. But keep in mind that the sun sets between 4 and 5 pm. So you don’t have to wait until 7 to hit the market. That’s what most people do and that’s why past 7 pm, you can barely move. I don’t think I’ve been anywhere that crowded since Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Kinderweihnacht, the market for children (and children at heart)
Just outside of the Christkindlesmarkt is the Children’s Christmas Market. Though it’s not very big, this area is not to be missed, especially if you have little ones. Many of the stalls in this market have animatronic characters dancing overhead. From chefs to angels to Santa himself, the market makes you feel like you’re a really good theme park. Except that you’re in the middle of the street and admission is free.
Here, the kids can take a picture with Santa, though the line for that is very long most times of the day. There are also model trains and mini rides for them including a tiny Ferris wheel and a gorgeous merry-go-round. I considered kidnapping a child just to be able to go on the rides. But what would I do with it afterwards?
Like any good Christmas market, the drinks in Nuremberg’s Christmas markets are delicious and served piping hot. One of my favorite things about events and festivals in Germany is that they never use disposable cups. When you get something to drink, you pay a 3 Euro deposit for a commemorative cup, which is the same at almost every stall. Some stalls do have unique cups, so if you want to start a small mug collection, take a walk around to the side streets. When you’re done with your drink, you return the cup and get your deposit back. But for 3 Euro, you’ll just end up keeping it – at least one or two.
So what can you drink? You don’t want to miss the gluhwein, which is your basic German mulled wine. But they have several varieties, including my favorite, the blueberry. In addition to flavored mulled wines, they serve hot holiday punch (with and without alcohol). I also made sure to track down eierpunsch, which is their version of egg nog. It was good, especially because it’s served warm, but not as thick and creamy as I’m used to. I should have known Germans wouldn’t drink that condensed milk slop we call eggnog. (Folks from home, can you please buy me half a gallon of that delicious Publix slop before they stop selling it?)
The food, like you would expect, is primarily sausage-based. The really large stalls have a many different kinds to choose from so you can feed your appetite, big or small, however you like. From one or two small (read: reasonable) bratwurst sausages to a foot and a half of meat on bread, you’re covered.
But the real fun of the markets is all the junk food. You can get candied nuts, waffles with chocolate, chocolate-covered fruit, cakes, gingerbread cookies of all shapes and sizes, and whatever this is…
Shopping at the markets
If you’re interested in doing some shopping, then going early or during the week is crucial. And let me tell you, you’re going to want to shop. The markets have everything from candles to stuffed animals to tree ornaments. They also have an abundance of something I didn’t realize I loved: wooden toys. You can get your standard nutcracker or a Santa with moving arms, or you can get one of hundreds of characters: doctors, farmers, Bavarians drinking beer. So if you’re going a few weeks before Christmas, this is a great place to get some unique gifts.
Enjoying the atmosphere
The Christmas market is phenomenal, but no individual aspect of it is responsible for the its awesomeness. But underlying all of it is an intensely cheerful Christmas spirit. Everyone is extremely festive and really happy. Horse-drawn carriages parade around the city, and it’s hard to tell who is more excited, the people on them or the people seeing them go by.
People walk around with Christmas hats on, while the orchestra on the main stage in front of the church plays Christmas carols. And the street performers scattered around the markets join in with their own jingle bell rock. All this holiday excitement and it’s not even December 15th! I’ve never seen a city embody Christmas quite so enthusiastically. And I felt like Jack Skellington in Christmas Town, so I loved every second of it.