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We have wanted to go to the Nuremberg Christmas market in Germany for years but never thought it would happen. Since we live very far from both our families, holiday time is usually spent traveling to be with them, so booking a Europe trip right before Christmas seemed pretty unlikely. Then an unexpected work trip and some frequent flier miles made it happen. In a gorgeous city with lots of things to do, visiting the Christmas markets are at the top of the list.
The Christmas markets, or Christkindlesmarkt in German, are a quintessential Christmas experience. And none is better than Nuremberg. Over 2 million tourists descend on this city of only 500,000 every December to take part. If it sounds like tourist overload, it isn’t.
Being American, we are used to the crass commercialism that often accompanies Christmas. But the visit to the Nuremberg Christmas market was a charming and romantic experience–where tourists and locals commune together in the cold and embrace the season. To put it simply, Nuremberg’s Christmas markets are absolutely enchanting.
Who is the Nuremberg Christmas Angel?
Nuremberg has a unique Christmas tradition–the Nuremberg Christmas Angel, or Christkind. She’s a symbol of the market and of Christmas itself, with children waiting with bated breath to see her just as children in the US get excited about Santa.
The idea that the Christkind brings Christmas gifts to the children of the city goes back to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Luther wanted to move away from venerating Catholic saints and saint’s days, which meant a change from the traditional gift giving on December 6th, St. Nicolas’s Day. Instead, he told his children that “Holy Christ” brought their presents.
Over time, this gift-giver took on the human form of a Christmas angel with a feminine appearance. That is why a teenage girl is chosen as the Nuremberg Christkind.
The Christkind presides over the opening of the market each year and makes regular appearances around the city. She’s often at the Children’s Market, and Lance even got to take a stagecoach ride with her around old town.
Where are the markets located?
The Christkindlesmarkt has three different markets in one, and each has a slightly different focus
The largest market is in the Hauptmarkt, Nuremberg’s main square and is the highlight of visiting Nuremberg at Christmas. Long rows of vendors stretch the length of the medieval square leading right to the front door of the Frauenkirche, Nuremberg’s iconic 14th-century church.
In this market, vendors sell all the Christmas decorations you could ever want. There are lights, lanterns, and nativity sets in all sizes. You’ll also find beautiful model Christmas villages and tons of ornaments.
In addition to the typical items, there are also a lot of characteristic German decorations. You’ll find Christmas pyramids, schwibbogens (traditional candle arches), and nutcracker figurines in every persona and price point ranging from small, mass-produced soldiers to large, handmade Santas designed to become family heirlooms. Smokers–figurines that “exhale” smoke when the incense inside them is burned–are very popular, too.
Unique to Nuremberg are the zwetschgenmannle, or prune people. There are more than 350 different fruit-and-nut prune man figures ranging from musicians to chimney sweeps to hikers. You’ll even find ministers and the devil among the assortment.
The Sister Cities Market
Located just north of the Christkindlesmarkt is the “Sister Cities” market. These vendors sells traditional items related to the cities around the world that are sister cities of Nuremberg. Participating cities include Antalya (Turkey), Atlanta (USA), Kharkiv (Ukraine), Glasgow (Scotland), Kavala (Greece), Krakow (Poland), Nice (France), Prague (Czech Republic), San Carlos (Nicaragua), Shenzhen (China) and Skopje (North Macedonia).
If you’re looking for unique items but want something different from the typical Christmas market offerings, the Sister Cities market is for you. With about more than 20 booths selling products from around the world, it’s a one-stop shop for everything from Scottish wool to Nicaraguan coffee to Chinese jewelry. Some of the stalls are operated by non-profits with proceeds going to charities in the sister cities, so you can feel good about your purchases, too.
In addition to local crafts and gifts, the Sister Cities market stalls offer food and drinks representative of the cities. There is whiskey cake (and plenty of actual whiskey) from Scotland, apple cider drinks from Atlanta, and many kinds of gluhwein that have been given a local twist.
The Children’s Market
The third market in Nuremberg is the Children’s Market (Kinderweihnacht). Just a 3-minute walk from the Hauptmarkt, the Children’s Market is designed for Nuremberg’s smallest visitors.
There is a carousel, a mini Ferris wheel, and a steam train to keep everyone busy. Even the stalls are modified to make it easier for children to reach the Christmas items. At the hands-on booths, kids can experience the joy of Christmas through various crafts and experiences like baking and decorating honey cakes, making candles, and decorating personalized Christmas cards. Even if you’re not traveling with children, it’s nice to visit this area where the fun is infectious.
What to Eat at Christmas in Nuremberg
There is food and drink everywhere in the markets, which makes for a great way to warm up when you’re freezing because Nuremberg in December can be quite cold. Here are some of the traditional specialties.
Nurembergers — Rostbratwurst, aka Nurembergers, are small marjoram-flavored pork sausages that have been staples in Nuremberg for at least 500 years. In the market, you’ll most often seen them sold as Drei im Weckla (three in a bun), which is just enough to keep you going on a cold day. Try them with a bit of senf, or German mustard, but be careful because a little goes a long way.
Lebkuchen — German Christmas gingerbread (lebkuchen) is very popular at the holidays. You’ll see it in many stands heavily decorated with icing, but those aren’t the best kinds for eating–they’re more for decoration. The kind you want to eat is a circular cookie. You’ll often see them topped with a few almond slivers, a sugar coating, or a few pieces of candied orange rind. Moist and full of honey an spices, lebkuchen is a delicious treat.
Gluhwein — The most popular drink at the Christmas markets (in Germany and beyond) is one of our favorites. Gluhwein is hot, mulled wine, infused with the flavors of the season like cinnamon and cloves. For us, it’s one of the highlights of a Nuremberg Christmas.
There is a small deposit for the gluhwein mug, so you can have the warm drink as you browse the stands. When you’re finished, just return the mug to another vendor to get your deposit back (or keep it as a souvenir). You can also find a non-alcoholic version called kinderpunsch.
Feuerzangenbowle — Similar to gluhwein, feuerzangenbowle is a German drink that incorporates a bit of a show. A rum-soaked sugar cube is set on fire, and the melted sugar drips into the mulled wine below. Nuremberg is home to the largest feuerzangenbowle in the world–it holds 9000 liters and takes two days to heat up.
When are the Christmas Markets?
In Nuremberg, the festivities begin on the Friday before the first Sunday in Advent and they continue through Christmas Eve. In 2019, the Nuremberg Christmas Markets will be open from November 29-December 24.
The markets are open every day from 10am to 9pm, except for Christmas Eve when they close at 2pm.
Other Things to do in Nuremberg
If you’re looking for other things to do when you visit Nuremberg or are just looking to get out of the cold, this beautiful city has lots to offer beyond the Christmas markets.
Visit Germany’s most famous Christmas store
Käthe Wohlfahrt is the place for Christmas decorations. If there’s something specific that you’re looking for but you can find it in the market, there’s a good chance they’ll have it here. Their Nuremberg location is open year-round and their ornaments, decorations, and smokers are top quality.
Take a stagecoach tour
There’s no better way to see Nuremberg than on a stagecoach tour. The 15-minute tour costs just 4€ for adults and 2.50€ for children and gives you a tour of the old town. Driving through the streets with the horseshoes clomping on the cobblestones, everyone you pass will stop to wave. It’s almost like being a minor celebrity.
Visit the Imperial Castle
The Imperial Castle is one of the top tourist attractions in Nuremberg, regardless of the season. A symbol of Nuremberg for over 1000 years, it was a favorite stopping place for Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and was a key location for court assemblies and meetings of the most important people in the realm.
Reconstructed following damage suffered during World War II, the castle is one of the highlights of sightseeing in Nuremberg. You can see its original tower, visit the well that provided water to the citizens of the city hundreds of years ago, and marvel at the ancient weapons and artwork in the castle museum.
Step inside Albrecht Durer’s House
Painter, engraver, and printmaker Albrecht Durer is Germany’s most famous artist. For nearly 20 years—beginning in 1509 until his death—he lived and worked in the large half-timbered house near the castle that has since been preserved and turned into a museum.
The museum features valuable copies of Durer’s most famous works and furnishings of the kind he would have owned along with a recreation of his workshop. Visitors can watch copper plate engravings on site for a glimpse into Durer’s techniques and can take a tour with an actress playing Agnes Durer, the wife of the artist.
See the city’s churches
There are several noteworthy churches worth visiting in Nuremberg. At Christmas, many of them have nativity scenes and are decorated for the season. Plus, they’re great places to get out of the cold weather.
In the Hauptmarkt square, the Frauenkirche was built in 1352 by Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor. It contains numerous works of art and sculptures from the Middle Ages and is famous for its clock whose figures perform every day at noon. In addition, there is St. Lorenz Church that dates from 1250. With its two 260-foot-tall towers and rose window, it is worth a visit as you stroll down Konigstrasse. St. Sebald Church, the oldest church in Nuremberg, has frescoes from the Middle Ages as well as a number of Renaissance statues and carvings.
Where to Stay in Nuremberg
Le Meridien Grand Hotel — Right at the entrance to Nuremberg old town, the location of the Le Meridien can’t be beat. We loved the comfortable bed, the fabulous breakfast buffet, and the bubbly happy hour. Plus, the staff is extremely helpful and loves making recommendations for the best local spots.
NH Collection Nurnberg City — This four-star hotel is a great spot from which to explore Nuremberg. The breakfast buffet is extensive, and the hotel offers an on-site restaurant and a gym with a steam room and sauna.
Holiday Inn Express Nuremberg City – Hauptbahnhof — Located near the train station and the historic center, the Holiday Inn Express offers comfortable rooms at a budget-friendly rate along with a complimentary breakfast.