No one does Christmas better than Germany, everyone knows that. But when you think of German Christmas markets, maybe Hamburg isn’t the first place to come into your mind.
Sure, Berlin and Munich may be slightly more famous, but that’s one of the things that makes a winter in Hamburg so special: it’s an undiscovered winter wonderland that the tourists haven’t quite found yet. It’s a truly charming city and definitely worth a visit this time of year, with all you want for Christmas and more. Citizen Femme was lucky enough to be invited to take a look around by Hamburg Tourism Board for the perfect 48 hours in this Christmas city of festive dreams. Take a look at our guide to a weekend away in this hidden city.
First off, it’s not winter without some good old German Christmas markets. There are three particularly noteworthy markets in the city which make for a wonderful winter break. Start with Rathausmarkt for a ‘traditional’ German Christmas market. This market is everything that you’ve seen in the kitsch postcards and more. Rows upon rows of fairy-light filled alleyways are filled with the classic Swiss cottage-style stalls, with more Christmas goodies and treats than you can imagine. Find chocolate-coated strawberries, marshmallows and all of your favourite macaroons and German gingerbreads at the sweets stands. Or how about classic Bratwurst being slow-cooked in front of you at the food stands? Or row upon row of hand-crafted china houses and other hand-made gifts twinkling in the dimming light at the crafts stalls? We just can’t describe how magical and how far removed this market is from the markets that you’ll have seen back at home. Everything here looks and feels authentic, magical, warming. And from the moment that you walk in it becomes clear that the British Christmas markets that we see are mere imitations of the real deal. And what makes this market feel even more wonderful is that this little German gem is still relatively tourist-free. To top it all off, there’s a giant mechanical Santa in his sleigh that flies above the market every hour, wishing the children a Merry Christmas. Can it get any better than that?
The next Christmas market for your wishlist should be Jungfernstieg. We actually prefer this one for the luxury traveller in a way, but it’s must less ‘quintessentially’ German so the first market still has to be tried. This market, however, is the epitome of Christmas class and indulgence. Elegant Christmas lights drape around well-presented white Christmas tents in a long line, encouraging visitors to walk through the market linearly and experience each stall in turn, trying countless samples of delicious local produce, gazing at the artisinal woodwork and other crafts, and taking a relaxing break every now and again to warm their cockles by one of the many fires surrounding the beautiful outdoor bars. Yes, this market is adult Christmas done properly. It’s sort of the Marks and Spencer’s of Christmas markets and it does it so wonderfully well.
But what if you’re looking for adult Christmas done badly? Like, really, really fun badly? What if you want a tongue-in-cheek, have a good night out with your friends Christmas and you aren’t afraid to say it market? Well, Hamburg has a Christmas market for that too. In its very own raucous tradition, Santa Pauli brings the spirit of Hamburg’s sailor-fuelled past to modern Hamburg for the festive season, for a truly fun and unashamedly quirky adult Christmas market experience. Find the usual Swiss chalets, with an adult twist on the crafts and gifts inside. Anyone for a dirty postcard or, dare we say it, a wooden dildo? Watch these material marvels being carved in front of your very eyes or have your fortune told in the tarot hut with a large glass of mulled wine in your hand. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a behind-the-scenes showroom for more wild behaviour as the night draws on. Step off the beaten track into a theatre of strange happenings in real German style. Honestly, the amount of fun that you will have here will probably depend on the amount of alcohol that you have drunk and the amount of Britishness in your veins. Be welcomed by beautiful women pole-dancing and strip-tease shows in unashamed style. It’s definitely an experience…
Around the City
Walking around the main town, there’s a few of things you’ll want to be sure to see.
1. The best way to do this is through a walking tour to get your bearings and get a full sense of the history of the city. We’d also recommend a boat tour around the city for the brave, as the winter sun is truly spectacular on the water, and it’s a great way to see Hamburg’s beautiful range of architecture, including the new Elbphilharmonie Plaza.
2. The city centre is strewn with lights and Christmas trees, making for a truly magical shopping trip, and we absolutely love the arty suburb of Schanzenviertel, where boutique cafés and independent shops and galleries abound.
3. Another surprising gem of this city is Hempel’s Beatles Tour. Yes, you might be wondering to yourself why there is a Beatles tour in Hamburg of all places, but travel is about learning, and we definitely learnt something here. It turns out that Hamburg was actually integral to the Beatles’ artistic development, being the first place where they first played with Ringo Star and ‘grew up’. Stefanie Hempel’s tour takes you round all of the key Beatles sights whilst showcasing her amazing musical talents, playing a selection of their hit songs on her ukulele for your entertainment. Marvel at the old children’s cinema that the Beatles used to live behind (and used to be woken up by at 7am after long nights of playing gigs!) as well as their favourite venues throughout the years, including the famous Kaiserkeller.
4. And last, but not least, make sure you pop into Hamburg’s Chocolate museum, Chocoversum. We absolutely love this friendly museum, which takes you through all the stages of chocolate production and the history of chocolate with plenty of chances for sampling the product as you go. Melted chocolate on a cold winter’s night with a knowledgeable and passionate tour guide who truly makes you feel at home, guiding your through the process? Yes please!
Where to eat
Make sure that you come to the Christmas markets hungry, because we promise you you won’t go away disappointed. The German gingerbread in Hamburg is absolutely to die for, the bratwurst is unforgettable and the mini doughnuts will leave you wanting more. Eating at the Christmas market is all about the experience, with samples galore and plenty of chances to take the ingredients home with you to make your holiday last longer. Apart from this, our favourite restaurant has to be Freudenhaus. A wonderfully authentic German restaurant in the heart of the city, this restaurant has a rich history of accommodating sailors in the swinging nights of days gone by and it’s still maintained a somewhat seedy, fashionable vibe, with avant garde wall-art and deep, rich colours strewn across the rooms. And then of course, there’s the classic German food, which is nothing short of exquisite and simply has to be tried (especially the duck and dumplings!). ‘Altes Madchen‘ is also a must-see for craft beer and industrial chic over lunch.
Where to stay
Where else but Henri Hotel, right in the city centre? Read our review of this incredible hotel for the full low-down, as it deserves a whole article of its own. With its excellent vibe, location and service, there is no question about where to base your Hamburg holiday this year. It simply has to be Henri.
So there you have it, our top tips for how to spend your winter weekend in Hamburg. The hidden gem of this city at Christmas and beyond is waiting for you, so get there quick! With thanks once more to Hamburg Tourism for introducing us to this amazing city, we promise we will be back again there soon!