See what it’s like to celebrate the holiday season at Hamburg Christmas Markets.
We visited our first German Christmas markets in Hamburg. We expected them to be impressive. We expected them to be magical. We expected them to be crowded.
Let’s cut to the chase. The Hamburg Christmas markets exceeded all of our expectations.
What’s so special about German Christmas markets?
After six hundred or so years, Germany has it down when it comes to Christmas markets. These markets tend to be festive and filled with holiday cheer. Add some Bratwurst and Glühwein, and the markets become a party when the lights start to sparkle at night.
Sure, you can find Christmas markets all over the world, with many attempting to recreate the vibe of a German Christmas market with the requisite holiday trimmings. But you haven’t truly experienced a Christmas market until you experience one in Germany.
We chose to visit Hamburg during the holidays and found a selection of Christmas markets that overwhelmed our five senses with their epic sites and tempting foods. For newbies like us, it was the perfect introduction to the global phenomenon.
Hamburg Christmas Markets
With more than a dozen Christmas markets, Hamburg doesn’t mess around when it comes to the holidays. In addition to weekly Christmas parades, the northern German city hosts more than a dozen Christmas markets. Running the gamut from family-friendly to adult-alternative, these eclectic markets could easily entertain visitors of all ages for two weeks, if not longer.
As for us, we only had three days to blitz the Hamburg Christmas markets. Despite chilly weather and limited sunlight, we got a good taste that left us warm, fuzzy and filled with holiday cheer.
Our Favorite Hamburg Christmas Markets
Finding a Christmas market in Hamburg is not particularly difficult. In fact, we found several by chance while walking around the city. Many of these unheralded markets are small in scope, offering a less crowded experience for those willing to wander.
However, certain Christmas markets shouldn’t be missed during a December visit to Hamburg. These are our favorites:
Flanked by Hamburg’s imposing city hall and near the banks of the Alster, the Rathausmarkt is the quintessential Christmas market with rows of stalls filled with holiday treats and colorful crafts. Locals and tourists flock to this central market and queue up patiently for the chance to buy food to eat on the spot as well as for unique Christmas gifts.
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Tallinn may claim to have invented the modern Christmas tree tradition, but Rathaumarkt makes its Yuletide mark with an imposing tree made of lights. Weekends get crowded at this market when kids of all ages look above to see Santa fly by in his famous red suit.
The glittery lights and elaborate decorations are enough reason to visit this market, but the food selection will make you want to linger before wandering to the stalls along the Alster. The Rathausmarkt should be at or towards the top of your Hamburg Christmas Market itinerary.
Plan to arrive in the late afternoon so that you can enjoy the market before the sun sets as well as when it gets all sparkly in the dark.
To call the Santa Pauli Christmas market unique is a massive understatement. Its uniqueness should be no surprise considering its proximity to the Reeperbahn and Hamburg’s red light district. We were both surprised and delighted when we stumbled on the alternative holiday market just hours after arriving in Hamburg.
Though Santa Pauli has many of the same stalls and food favorites found around town, this XXXmas Christmas market takes the celebration to sinful levels with dildo shaped cookies, transvestites and a striptease tent. It may sound seedy, but this market maintains a welcoming atmosphere that pulled us in and put smiles on our faces.
Beyond the market’s provocative decor, Santa Pauli has live music and a lot of Hamburg’s popular holiday food and drinks. Expect to see plenty of Bratwurst, grilled ham, and, of course, Glühwein. In other words, plan to have an evening that’s both naughty and nice.
Come hungry to Santa Pauli. We experienced great food stalls with relatively short lines during our two visits.
A sparkly ferris wheel and white tents elevate this lakeside Christmas market from the city’s melange of worthy market options. Though you’ll find all of the traditional seasonal favorites here including Bratwurst and Glühwein, you’ll also find higher-end gift items in the rows of tents that fill the market.
Though you can shop until you drop at this central market, take a break to enjoy the view overlooking Alster Lake. It’s a showstopper.
Once you visit one Hamburg Christmas market, you’ll want to visit more. Not only are they free to enter, but they’re easy to access by foot or metro.
As you traverse the city, here are two more Christmas markets that you won’t want to miss:
→ Click here for logistical information about these and more Hamburg Xmas markets.
What to Eat at Hamburg Christmas Markets
Maybe it’s just us, but the amazing variety of food is reason enough to visit Hamburg’s Christmas markets.
From the aroma of roasting almonds to the sounds of potatoes sizzling in hot oil, German Xmas markets are a junk food fan’s happy place. Add stalls filled with colorful desserts and it’s pure bliss.
Whether or not you want to eat enough to feed a veritable army, these are the foods you want to try first when you hit Hamburg’s Christmas markets:
For us, any trip to Germany would be incomplete without at least one Bratwurst, the king of German sausage sandwiches. We didn’t have to search far in Hamburg since every Christmas market has at least one Bratwurst vendor grilling the meaty sandwiches to order.
Though ketchup is available for amateurs, experienced Bratwurst fans just add mustard before they bite into the juicy link. Some people also add sauerkraut – Hamburg is in Germany after all.
Order Currywurst if you’re feeling adventurous. Topped with curry ketchup and curry powder, Bratwurst’s spicy cousin is another German sandwich favorite that you can enjoy at the markets.
We thought one thing and one thing only when we saw people stuffing their faces with golden brown Kartoffelpuffer: Potato Latkes.
Granted, it was the first night of Chanukah, the Jewish holiday that spans eight days, typically in December. But even still, these market favorites were a ringer for the fried potato pancakes that we grew up eating during the festival of lights.
Just like we eat Latkes back home, we ate our Kartoffelpuffer with a side of applesauce. Greasy and crispy at the same time, this German Christmas market favorite filled our bellies and warmed our hearts.
Don’t be confused if you see a sign for Reibekuchen. It’s just a different name for Kartoffelpuffer (and Latkes).
Though you will likely walk a lot when you visit the Hamburg Christmas markets, don’t plan to lose weight. The more you walk, the more you will be tempted by a plethora of sweet treats.
As for us, sometimes we gravitated toward the fried desserts that emit otherworldly aromas. Sometimes we relived our childhood with colorful candy. Sometimes we opted for colorful Paradiesäpfel, which literally translates to Paradise Apples. The apples negate the calories in the candy coating, or at least that’s what we choose to believe.
You can purchase candy and marzipan to take back home for holiday gifts. We saw lots of creative options including candy packed in glass lightbulbs.
What to Drink at Hamburg Christmas Markets
Tis the season… to drink!
The atmosphere gets extra festive at Hamburg Christmas markets when crowds convene to drink copious amounts of liquid refreshers. Some go for beer, Germany’s national beverage of choice, but most order seasonal hot beverages doused with alcohol.
We wonder why Glühwein is a Christmas market favorite – not because it’s bad but because it’s so good. Given the choice, we’d drink Glüwhein all winter, not just during the holidays.
Similar to Glogi in Helsinki, Glühwein is a spiced mulled wine flavored with citrus fruit and spices like cinnamon, vanilla and anise. However, savvy market-goers can ramp up the Glühwein experience with a splash of brandy or rum.
You won’t be cold when drinking Glühwein since the glowing wine will warm you up from the inside out. Plus, you’re not driving in Hamburg, so drink away.
The cost of a Glühwein typically includes a few euro deposit for the mug. You’ll get the deposit back when you return the mug unless you decide to keep it as a souvenir. Hint, hint…
Though Glühwein is the most popular drink at Hamburg Christmas markets, we noticed people sipping out of mugs topped with whipped cream. Then, when we saw the menu, we had no choice but to expand our drinking horizons.
Considering that our last name is Hirsch, how could we resist a drink called Heißer Hirsch? Literally translated to hot stag, this mug of hot cocoa with a generous shot of Jägermeister and a fluffy dollop of whipped cream was the icing on our Christmas market cake.
If you see Heißer Hirsch at a Hamburg Christmas market – drink it all by yourself. Trust us, you won’t want to share this heavenly concoction.
What to Buy at Hamburg Christmas Markets
Don’t expect to buy cheap decorations made in China when you shop at a Hamburg Christmas market. Instead, look for handcrafted trinkets and ornaments that celebrate the season.
Beyond Santa knickknacks, you will find a range of festive designs in all shapes and sizes. If you’re looking for a Hamburg souvenir, these mementos will make you smile every year when you pull them out to decorate your tree.
You can also buy clothes at Hamburg Christmas markets. From practical woolen hats and gloves to fanciful Santa Pauli t-shirts, these items make great gifts that can be enjoyed beyond the holiday.
Plan Your Hamburg Trip
Getting To and Around Hamburg
Known as Germany’s Gateway to the World, Hamburg is well-positioned for visits from near and far. And, with a sophisticated public transportation system, the city is easy to navigate upon arrival.
Getting to Hamburg
Hamburg is a major hub with many flight options to and from most European cities. Most major carriers, as well as discount carriers like Ryan Air, fly to Hamburg’s modern airport.
For those who don’t want to fly, other transportation options include trains, buses and driving. (Hamburg is just a two-hour train ride from Berlin.) Slow travelers can even arrive by boat.
Getting around Hamburg
Getting around Hamburg is super easy. Not only does the city have ’round the clock’ buses, but its metro system runs until 1 am during the week and all night on weekends.
Budget-minded travelers will want to purchase a Hamburg Card for 1 to 5 days to take advantage of unlimited transportation in the city. The card also includes various museum discounts.
Or, if you want to see all the sites, you can spend the day roaming the city on a Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.