Christmas markets are absolutely magical. The scents of chestnuts roasting, gingerbread baking, and wine mulling waft through the air. The historical cities that play home to them ooze atmosphere and the chilly and sometimes snowy weather is the perfect excuse to snuggle up with your special someone. I’ve done just that as I’ve dragged Tim to countless Christmas markets from Budapest to Prague and Salzburg to Paris. But we’d never been to a German Christmas market and we thought we’d remedy that by visiting Germany’s most famous one, the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt. Nuremberg seems like something out of fairy tale at this time of the year and if that isn’t enticement enough, here are 10 reasons why you should go to the Nuremberg Christmas Market:
1. It’s traditional
I asked Sarah, our new friend from Tourismus Nürnberg, just what makes Nuremberg Germany’s most famous Christmas market. “Because it’s so old and still traditional,” she told me. The Christmas market in Nuremberg’s Main Market Square was first mentioned in a document dating from 1628, so it’s at least that old but probably older. And the people of Nuremberg take pride in that. Most of the wares sold at the market are made by traditional regional manufacturers and even the 180 stalls are still made of regional spruce. More than 30 of the stalls even date back to 1890!
Gingerbread, or Lebkuchen as it’s called in German, was invented in Franconia in the 13th century and Nuremberg became the most famous exporter of what is now known today as Nürnberger Lebkuchen. It wasn’t always the decorated cookies we see today – that is a much more recent tradition. Instead, traditional Nürnberger Lebkuchen was sold in richly decorated tins that themselves were collector’s items. No matter if you prefer a tin of chocolate covered Nürnberger Lebkuchen or the decorated cookies dangling from red ribbon, head to the Lebkuchen-Schmidt stand at the Christkindlesmarkt or the main store in the Main Market Square at Plobenhof 6.
3. Stuff your face with the original Nuremberg grilled sausages
Nuremberg takes their sausages seriously. The size and ingredients of the famous pork sausages, spiced with marjoram, were written down back in 1497. The sausage can only be called an “Original Nuremberger” if it is produced within the city limits, weighs exactly 23 grams, and is about as long as thick are your little finger. You’ll find them served in restaurants on a pewter plate with 6, 8, 10, or 12 pieces. My favorite though is hot off the grill, with 3 in a bun, and a generous squeeze of mustard!
4. GERSTACKER Blueberry Glühwein
Glühwein is such a favorite cold weather drink, we even make it at home. But I have a new favorite and the producer, GERSTACKER, has never revealed his recipe. The family producer GERSTACKER swears by their blueberry Glühwein and have been selling it at the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt for more than 35 years. It is a delicious variation and one worth specifically seeking out the GERSTACKER stall for.
5. Sister Cities Market
Each year a branch of the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt comes to Verona, Italy and I’ve been a few times. But what I didn’t know is that Nuremberg plays host to around 20 sister cities at Rathausplatz, where cities from Atlanta to Sri Lanka set up with their own traditional goods. You’ll find things like lavender honey from Provence, Hot Toddy’s from Scotland, salami and cheese from Italy, and matryoshka from Ukraine. It’s also undoubtedly far less crowded than any other area of Nuremberg Christmas markets we visited and the line for Glühwein at the Austria stand is much shorter than any of the others.
6. The Prune Men
Zwetschgenmännle, or Prune Men, have been sold at the Nuremberg Christmas market for decades. The Prune Men were supposedly invented in Nuremberg in the 18th century by a wire drawer. Wanting the perfect gift for his children, he only had wire and the plums that grew on the tree in front of his house. Cleverly, he created Prune Men for them, though they ate the prunes from the figurines. Today Prune Men come as everything from the traditional chimney sweeps to Harley wielding bad asses. No matter which you choose, they make a great souvenir unique from Nuremberg (but shouldn’t be eaten).
7. The Nuremberg Christkind
The Christkind has been a symbol of the Nuremberg Christmas market for decades. A blond girl between the ages of 16 and 19 is chosen every two years and, wearing her gold crown and white gown sparkling with strands of gold, opens the Christkindlesmarkt with a prologue from the balcony of the Church of Our Lady. She makes appearances every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 3pm throughout the Christkindlesmarkt. We didn’t get to meet her since we visited on the weekend, but you can climb up to the balcony of the Church of Our Lady for a small exhibit about tradition of the Christkind.
8. Shop ’til you drop
With 180 stalls at the Christkindlesmarket and even more stalls to chose from at the Sister Cities Market and other various Christmas markets snaking through Nuremberg’s historic old town, there is surely a unique gift for everyone on your Christmas list. And shopping amongst the thousands of twinkling lights, scents of Nuremberg sausages, and with strands of Christmas carols in the air is much more fun than hitting the stores of any shopping mall. Be on the lookout for colorful handcrafted German nutcrackers, pyramids, hand painted Christmas ornaments, and hand crafted porcelain Nativity sets.
Almost before you hear the clippity-clop of the Clydesdale’s hooves on the cobbles, you can spot the bright yellow mail coaches in the distance. The mail coaches take visitors for a charming ride around the cobbled streets of the old town surrounding the Christkindlesmarkt.
10. Sightsee around Nuremberg
There is so much more to do in Nuremberg besides visit the Christmas markets. Nuremberg has over 30 different museums to visit and we enjoyed taking a trip back to our childhood at the Nuremberg Toy Museum. We also took a stroll up to the Nuremberg Imperial Castle and stopped in for a liter of dark beer at the Hausbrauerei Altstadthof brew house, just to name a few things you can do!
Know Before You Go
- The 2013 Nuremberg Christmas Market is open daily from November 29 – December 23 from 10am – 9pm and December 24 from 9am – 2pm.
- Most stalls accept cash only, though some did accept credit cards.
- The Mail Coach rides leave from near the Beautiful Fountain from 1 – 7pm daily and last around 20 minutes. Tickets are €3.50 per adult and €2 per child.
Getting to Nuremberg
- A number of airlines have flights to Nuremeberg Airport, which is just 12 minutes from the city center via the Underground.
Where to Stay
- Mövenpick Nürnberg Airport Hotel is an affordable 4-star option right across the street from the airport and just 12 minutes from the city center via the Underground. And if you travel with your furry family member like we sometimes do, Mövenpick Nürnberg Airport Hotel is pet friendly.
Disclosure: Our trip to Nuremberg was courtesy of Tourismus Nürnberg in order for us to bring you this story. As always, all opinions are entirely our own. We were in no way influenced by copious amounts of Nuremberg sausages, gingerbread, and Glühwein.