Itinerary: German Christmas Market
Day 1-2: Munich
The Christmas Market: The core of Munich’s Christmas market sits underneath the Glockenspiel of the Nues Rathaus (new city hall) and a giant Christmas tree. Combine the charm of the clock tower, squat stands selling Gluwein and the lights of the trees; and this little market is best at night. From its core the market spills out into nearby commercial shopping streets so you can get your nutcracker and new outfit in the same walk.
What to do: Munich and Oktoberfest are near synonyms for many travelers, but you can still get a little of the Beer Hall Vibe around Christmas. The venerable Hofbrau House is a must stop, even if just for one extremely large beer, but Augustiner-Grossgaststatte has a more calm and neighborhood feel. Munich’s lung is the English Garten, and is great for an afternoon stroll on sunny day. This was once the hunting grounds of the Wittelsbach family. Speaking of whom, their palace, the Residenz, in downtown Munich is great for travelers with a tight schedule, but if you have the time head out Schonburg to see the Wittelsbach’s trying to out do Louis the XIV’s Versailles.
Day 3-4: Nuremberg
The Christmas Market: Nuremberg’s Christmas market is known worldwide and the whole town comes out to support it. Decorations line the streets and the main square is packed with row after row of stalls selling sweet smelling goodies and hand-carved wooden trinkets. No market on the list is as family-friendly as Nuremberg, with live music at night and events for children nearly every day.
What to do: Just a 10 minute uphill walk from the market is Nuremberg’s old imperial castle. While the interior is purposely left sparse to reflect the travelling nature of the Holy Roman Empire, the views from it’s towers and arms and amour on display make it easy even for grown ups to imagine you are a count or countess from years gone by. Just out the castle front door is the Durer House, a fantastic exhibit of Albrecht Durer’s works in the house he lived in as a successful painter. There is even a working printing press, that Kids will love to see in action. From Durer’s house, a five minute walk outside the city walls is a fantastic cooking course, check out how made Nuremberg’s favorite winter treat, Lebenkuchen.
Nuremberg is also well known as the site of Hitler’s largest rallies, and the location were many Nazi officials and generals were sentenced to War Crimes. You can see both the rally grounds and the courthouse in a single day, and each has detailed accounts not just of the events that happened, but how those event came to pass. These can be difficult to visit, but they expanded my knowledge of that period of time.
Day 5: Rothenburg
The Christmas Market: The market starts in its tiny town square but then like a string of lights it ring around the outside of the square through side streets and alleyways. Gingerbread, sausages, lace work and ornaments galore can be found as you wander through Rothenburg. Don’t worry about getting lost, you will never be out of earshot of laughing joyful voices, calling you back to the main square.
What to do: There are several museums and churches scattered about Rothenburg, but the main sight, is the town itself. Let yourself wander around, and when you get to the city walls, just climb right up and walk on those too. This is a town for savoring, and no one can help you do that better than the Night Watch Man. Every evening at 9:30, the Night Watchman takes visors on a tour through the city streets, explaining the history and lore of Rothenburg and Medieval and Renaissance Germany. This is one of my favorite guide experiences and absolutely worth the price of admission.
Day 6-7: Dresden
The Christmas Market: No Christmas market has more locals enjoying it than Dresden. No matter the night, Dresdeners will be out drinking mulled wine, eating sausages and laughing. The core of the market is on the Altmarkt square which is ringed on three sides by baroque architecture that is dripping with string lights. There is a little viewing platform on the side facing the street, bring your camera up and try to capture all the Christmas spirit in one frame. But don’t restrict yourself to just the Altmarkt. Walk just a few blocks toward the Frauenkirche to experience another equally large and fun Christmas Market.
What to do: The best time for the market is at night, so what should you do with your days in Dresden? The Zwinger Museum is a must for art and architecture lovers. Don’t miss going up to the roof for some fantastic views and the Alte Meister (Old Masters) gallery. The Frauenkirche was completely destroyed during WWII, but has been handsomely rebuilt and it’s hard to beat at the price of free. Go for a walk in the Baroque Quarter or grab a beer at one of famous beer halls. Finally, don’t forget to walk past the Furstenzug, the largest porcelain artwork in the world, that shows every Wettin ruler from 1127 to 1904.
Day 7-9: Berlin
The Christmas Market: There are several markets across the city, each with a distinct vibe. I love the market at Gendarmenarkt, it’s cozy, central located and ringed with churches for an amazing view. Just like rich chocolate, this is a market to savor slowly with your favorite travel partner. Come in the late afternoon and watch the scene change as sun goes down and the lights come up.
What to do: You could spend a week in Berlin, popping into it’s various neighborhoods, learning about its history at check point charlie, or going to an innumerable number of shows. But the Pergamon Museum is unique even among the great museums of the world; with three life sized gates and alters from the ancient world the Pergamon transports you across space and time. Remember to take you time in Berlin, you won’t be able to see everything you want in one trip so make sure you get the full experience of things you do see.
Seasoned Traveler Tip: It’s easy to overwhelm yourself in Berlin with so much to do, here are a few tips for avoiding travel fatigue.
Day 10-11: Cologne
The Christmas Market: Nestled under the Cathedral, no skating rink has a better view than this one. Even if you are a novice, this is a great rink for just taking a slow spin around the ice. Stop at a special bar just for skaters, grab a hot chocolate and take in the cathedral.
What to do: Cologne or Koln in German, is a city for walking. From your hotel, wander up and down the streets of the old town and when you insatiable make it to the grandest Cathedral in Europe, pop in and get ready for a show. There is a reason it took 400 years to finish building the cathedral, and it’s worth a couple of hours to marvel at it from every angle.
Day 12: Fly out
Side Trips to Consider: Copenhagen, Baden-Baden, Amsterdam