Christmas is my absolute favorite season and holiday. A few years ago, in need of booking a replacement trip for a previously cancelled trip before the end of the year, I decided to take a solo trip to Europe. I did a very American trip, in which I squeezed in a number of countries into 2 weeks of travel, because I wanted to visit friends in different countries, but didn't have much vacation time. I planned the trip over Thanksgiving weekend to give me a couple extra days of non-PTO holiday as well, which lined up perfectly for the opening of the Christmas markets. Somehow, I started in London and ended in Vienna, and along the way stopped in Nuremberg, which turned out to be one of my favorite stops, because the Christmas Market was everything I dreamed it would be. So, I thought I'd reminisce a little on the magic of the Christmas Market, especially as Christmas is already different for all of us around the world due to the pandemic.
(This post was previously published on Love, Justine)
I got a lot of funny looks and “WHY???” when I told people I was going to visit Nürnberg on this trip. To be quite frank, how I originally landed on this charming medieval city was totally a logistical decision. When planning this trip, I just knew I wanted to visit Amsterdam and Austria (Salzburg and Vienna, in particular), so then I just filled in the rest. I looked for a German city I had not been to, near Salzburg, and voila. After a bit of research, Nürnberg ended up being one of the cities I was most excited to see --and I was most certainly not disappointed.
I hardly had time to plan this trip, but finding a place to stay was important—I wouldn’t want to get caught outside in this cold! The most affordable place I could find was the youth hostel. I had never stayed in a hostel before, but I was beyond excited when I found out that this hostel was in a castle. Yes, a REAL CASTLE!! It’s located on the top of the hill, in the Old Town, newly renovated on the inside—very sleek and clean—and is really more like a hotel than a hostel. When I walked in in the morning, the place was buzzing with all the guests enjoying their complimentary breakfast. It was too early to check in, so I just put my luggage in a locker and off I went to explore the city.
I first went over to the part of the castle that was not turned into a youth hostel. It’s small, but it has a fantastic view. Then, I slowly and carefully made my way down the cobblestone road down to the center of the Old Town to get to what I was most looking forward to—the oh so magical Christmas Market! I had oft heard about how amazing the German Christmas markets are, and boy was it AMAZING. It was beautiful—the smell of bratwurst and Christmas sweets fill the air, and the non-food stands are lit up with Christmas magic in the form of beautiful trinkets and gift items. In anticipation of this trip, this is what I was most excited for. What surprised me was that it seems now all the major/tourist-friendly cities all have their own “imitation” Christmas markets. I say “imitation,” because they are clearly a take on the German ones—I know because they all had bratwurst—but not even the insane and grandiose one on Champs Élysées in Paris is able to beat the magic and wonder of the authentic German Christmas Market. Oh and the first thing I did there was eat a small bratwurst sandwich. Standing in the cold, it was like holding a piece of heaven. Had I not been so cold, I could have wandered through those stands all day—although, I was there (or in that general vicinity) for five hours.
There was a church right on that square, and when I walked in I realized it was a Catholic church. Mass was going on, but it was about to end, so when it finished I asked when the next one would be. Lucky for me the next one was only in half an hour. I kind of forgot it was Sunday, but it worked out perfectly. It was my first mass in German, and it was lovely. The lady sitting next to me was extravagant in her large fur coat, bright red lips, and dyed jet-black hair. She was so sweet, too. The way she looked at me was like a proud grandmother. Or maybe she felt bad for me because I was clearly not prepared for this kind of cold. The hardest part about mass though, was that I was FREEZING in the church.
After mass I raced around a bit to find something hot to eat or drink in the market, but decided it was too cold, and ducked into the nearest restaurant. I wasn’t too hungry, so I ordered a regional soup that had liver dumpling and omelet in it—at least, that’s what they called it. I thought the liver dumpling was going to be pieces of liver and dumplings, but it was really just a single ball (dumpling) made out of liver…basically, ball-shaped pate. The “omelet” was just strips of scrambled egg. And it was a clear broth. It was simple, but delicious. I looked around at what other people were ordering and it all looked drool-worthy.
I had my second glass of Glühwein of the day there. Glühwein is hot wine. It is the most amazing holiday beverage I have ever tasted. You can have it alcoholic or non-alcoholic, and either way it is just divine. I saw it in some of the previous cities I was in and was skeptical about “hot wine,” but alas I decided I should give it a shot here—especially since I found out there was a non-alcoholic version as well (my drinking days have long gone!). It’s like having hot apple cider by the fireplace on a cold winter’s day—pure Christmas joy in my mouth. I cut myself off after the third glass. In the market, they gave us cute souvenir-type glasses, and you had to put a deposit of 2.50€ down for the glass, and then you got it back when you returned the glass, but I just kept it. It was a very nice glass and a perfect souvenir.
I was traveling extremely light this trip, so I didn’t want to buy too much, but did pick up a couple of handcrafted items.
I’m so glad I came at this time of year—it’s my first time in Europe during cold weather season. I highly recommend a trip to Nürnberg…any time. It’s such a lovely and small town—I pretty much walked all of it in about 5-6 hours. I think one day is enough time to visit, maybe two if you’d like to visit all the museums. If you come outside the Christmas season, then I would imagine one day is enough for you to explore much of Nürnberg. By 15:00 I was too cold, and a bit tired so I settled into the hostel. The dining hall is a lovely place to relax, have a cup of tea, and even write a blog ;). And it’s so cool to imagine what kinds of royal activities happened in these quarters back in 1100 or 1500, or what have you.
I will definitely need to make my way back again one day.
Have you been to Nuremberg or visited any of the German Christmas Markets?