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First Timer's Guide to German Christmas Markets

Christmas Tree at the Römer during Frankfurt am Main Weihnachtsmarkt

Last year was my first Christmas in Germany, and my first time visiting Christmas markets. I was emotionally surfing between being terrified of the crowds and anxious worrying whether I’d be warm enough to have a good time to bubbling to delirium level of excitement to drink authentic Glühwein and see a new facet of German culture I’d heard so much about. All of our friends and family wanted to take us to a Christmas market, so we ended up seeing four in 2017: Frankfurt am Main, Michelstadt, Nuremberg, and Hanau. I’ll share my favorite photos from each throughout this post.

Enjoying Glühäppler during Frankfurt am Main Weihnachtsmarkt

What to Wear to German Christmas Markets
As a Florida girl, I have thin blood to begin with. Anything 60 degrees Fahrenheit and below and I start layering. This is exactly what I ended up doing for the Christmas markets. I tried fleece lining leggings from Modcloth, and I could wear those under my straight legs jeans without anyone being the wiser. I really think they were a huge help to keeping me warm. When I put my thick boot socks on, I’d use the elastic from the sock to go over top the bottom of the leggings layer so no skin around my ankles were exposed. I always wore leather boots with two pairs of socks, a thin pair with the boot socks over those. Sebastian brought over air-activated heated insoles for his shoes. I tried them once, and I felt like they got too hot for my preference, but he loved them and used them throughout the whole Christmas vacation.

Frankfurt am Main Zeil Shopping Street Decorated for Christmas

When picking out tops, remember it's unlikely anyone is going to see them! Layer up, and grab anything you have that is thermal. Even though your coat may have a hood on it, look for a winter hat that fits securely on your head. Hoods limit your peripheral vision too much to be practical. Plan on wearing gloves as well, and if you’re planning on taking pictures look for the gloves that are convertible between being fingerless and mittens. All this being said, I was NOT miserably cold. I was able to enjoy myself, and of course the hot Glühwein (pronounced glue-vine) helped!

Michelstädter Weihnachtsmarkt

What to Drink at German Christmas Markets
Speaking of Glühwein...this hearty hot, spiced, mulled wine is the starlet beverage of the holiday season. Some Christmas markets, like Nuremberg's, the Glühwein is regulated, and all of the booths offer the same make. If you see a particular stall that has a longer line, don’t be fooled into thinking their Glühwein is better. In Nuremberg they’re all from the same manufacturer. But, other markets like Michelstadt you see the Glühwein is being freshly made in the background out of a slow cooker labeled Glühwein! It depends on the market you’re visiting. In Frankfurt am Main, they offer a hot, holiday version of their Frankfurt Äppler, called Glühäppler. Basically hot cider, which sounds odd at first, but tasted amazing.

Michelstädter Weihnachtsmarkt Glühwein

Trying Kartoffel-Käse Dinnede at the Hanau Weihnachtsmarkt

What to Eat at German Christmas Markets
Definitely go to the Christmas Markets hungry! There’s a breadth of choices. Michelstadt really pushes their boar specialities, Hanau we were encouraged to try (and we loved) the Kartoffel-Käse Dinnede. It's a type of flatbread pizza with sour cream, potatoes, and onions grilled. A safe bet is a Frikadellenbrötchen, a German meatball nestled into a sourdough bread roll. It's not messy to eat, and easy on the stomach for a night of drinking Glühwein.

Michelstädter Weihnachtsmarkt is known for their boar There's a vintage kids train at the Michelstädter Weihnachtsmarkt

Personal Safety at Christmas Markets
When planning a fun, festive night out at the markets pick a meeting spot within the market in case someone gets separated in the waves of crowds, and pick a meeting spot outside the market in case of an emergency. Sebastian and I were at the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt the same night there was an attack at the Berlin Christmas Market. Overnight the security drastically changed in Nuremberg. Where there were open streets the night before, by morning large police vehicles and fire trucks were parked along any open area in order to shield the market area from attackers hoping to use vehicles for mass-harm. Don’t let fear keep you from the markets, but do be safe, smart, and plan ahead!Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt Carousel, Römer, and Stalls

Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt offers a separate Children's Christmas Market and Global Market

Star Attractions
Each Christmas market we visited offered exclusive events or experiences in order to distinguish themselves from other markets. Nuremberg has the Christkind legacy, a special childrens’ market, a global market, and strict standards on booth decorations in order to keep the market feeling traditional. Frankfurt am Main has coordinated ringing of the Church bells, a stunning decorated tree in front of the Römer, carolers singing from the rooftop of the church, and alternative smaller markets within the city’s market. Michelstädt’s and Hanau's star attraction is a larger than life Christmas pyramid while you stroll through the tiny cobblestone streets.

Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt

Craving Christmas Markets
I really fell in love with Germany's Christmas markets, and sorely miss them this year. I wonder why they haven't taken off in the United States? If you're looking for ways to bring German Christmas spirit home with you, read our earlier article here. Are you going to visit any German Christmas Markets this year? If you have any questions, we'd love to help! Leave a comment below or send us an email.

Michelstädter Weihnachtsmarkt boasts a Larger than Life Christmas Pyramid

Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt Carolers on the Rooftop

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A Frigid Day at the Nuremberg Zoo in Germany

The zoo was huge, and mostly empty. Only die-hard animal fans visit when it's below freezing. We bundled, layered, and kept warm the best we could. Admittedly, if it was sleeting ice we may have hesitated, but it would have taken that and more to keep me from the zoo. We had a hearty, but jealous laugh at the meerkats who huddled under heat lamps.

Meerkats keeping warm under heat lamps in the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany

Wear your walking shoes! It was a long, long trek to the polar bear exhibit, they were completely on the opposite side of the entrance. The Nuremberg Zoo is nestled in 49,000 acres of former sandstone quarry and forest that once belonged to the Holy Roman Empire. When we were there, we noticed several visitors were there solely for the exercise! And sure enough, the Nuremberg Zoo offers a specific guide pamphlet for various tours and whether or not it's a smooth trail or very steep. Click here for more information on the trails in the zoo in English.

Mother Vera and daughter Charlotte, polar bears in the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany

When we finally made it to the polar bears I had to do a double take, the bears were brown! We watched as Charlotte and her mom Vera rolled around in the dead leaves from the fall, and then dig up a poor pine tree. I wondered if Vera was trying to make a den for winter? I was lucky and captured a shot of Vera stretched out on a tree and looking at me.

Sea Lion & Harbor Seal Feeding Presentation at the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany

Sea Lion Feeding & Polar Bear Feeding
Review the scheduled feedings and dolphin presentations for the day you’re attending. One mistake I made was thinking that all of the feedings were handled to the same standard. The sea lions and the polar bears are neighboring exhibits at the Nuremberg Zoo, and when we visited their feeding presentations were scheduled about 30 minutes apart. The sea lions had a very lengthy, detail-oriented feeding presentation where the zookeeper was interacting with them and worked with them individually. After such a performance at the sea lions, I was really excited to see the polar bears feeding and hear what the zookeeper had to say, although I knew it would be secondhand through Sebastian’s translating.

However, when it was the polar bears time to be fed, the zoo keeper literally emptied their bucket of food over the wall, turned around and fled. I stood there speechless with my camera. Left alone, some birds stole some of the polar bear food, which was haphazardly thrown into the exhibit, while other pieces fell into the water. It was a sad sight for me, and a let down after just watching the sea lion feeding. However, the bears didn’t seem bothered by the feeding and ate their dinner without complaints. They weren’t even bothered by the thieving birds.

Mother Vera and daughter Charlotte, polar bears in the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany | Feeding time

Plan to make time to see the dolphin presentation. I was impressed by how well-polished it was. The dolphins loved to perform and seemed to have a positive relationship with the keepers. They did several tricks with a basketball that I’d never seen before at Sea World or at the state of the art St. Vincent Dolphin Pavilion at the Indianapolis Zoo.

Before You Leave
We visited the zoo cafe beside the dolphin lagoon, appropriately named Bistro Lagunenblick, which means Lagoon View. There isn’t any information on this cafe or their larger restaurant in English on their website or the brochure, but there should be. It was a nice surprise to find it on our own though. We chose the Nuremberg sausages and potatoes, plus an apple cake, and all of it was delicious. I was impressed with the self-serve espresso machine that created whatever espresso-based beverage you wanted at the touch of a button. In better weather, you could enjoy Kaffee und Kuchen while watching the dolphins in the lagoon!

Visiting the polar bears in the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany

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Otters in the Nuremberg Zoo, Germany

What You'll See at the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg

The Imperial Castle of Nuremberg sitting on its hill with the odd juxtaposition of a modern parking lot in front of a medieval castle

Although the sun was shining brightly, it was bitterly cold as we walked up the steady incline towards the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg. When we reached the base of the castle, a parking lot stood just before it, posing an odd juxtaposition of modern and medieval. We were early, the castle hadn’t opened yet, but there were still school groups already posing for group photos in the frost bitten castle gardens. I admired their youthful daring as they leapt onto craggy rocks for selfies. I was timidly walking on the inclined cobblestones, wondering where the handrail was.

What You'll See at the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg | Double-Headed Imperial Eagle Ceiling Mural

Heathen Tower and Stables from the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

Inner Courtyard & Kunigunden Lime Tree
Sebastian and I were hoping that perhaps the ticket area had a heated waiting area, and ventured in towards the castle’s inner courtyard. After all these years, Germany’s castles still make my jaw drop. I was torn between wanting to take pictures while there were few tourists in the viewfinder, and wanting to find heat. We found the inner courtyard and saw several other like minded couples sitting on frozen benches looking at the Kunigunden lime tree 3.0. The original tree was replaced in 1934, but that planting did not have enough space for the roots between the rocks, and the current tree was planted a few years ago.

The Kunigunden Lime Tree in the Inner Court of the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

The Legend of the Kunigunden Lime Tree
“The Empress Kunigunde planted it, says the legend, some seven hundred years ago. For once, when King Henry was a-hunting, he came in the pursuit of a deer to the edge of a steep precipice, and this in the heat of the chase he did not perceive, but would have fallen headlong had not a lime-branch, at which he grasped in his extremity, stopped and saved him. And he, recognising the special protection of the Most High, broke off a twig of the lime-tree in remembrance of his wonderful preservation, and brought it to his anxious wife, who planted it at once with her own hands in the earth, and it soon grew into a beautiful tree.” Excerpt From: Cecil Headlam’s “The Story of Nuremberg,” published in 1901 and available for free as part of The Gutenberg Project, click here.

Always punctual, an elderly German gentleman walks slowly with keys jingling in hand towards the ticket office. Our cold colleagues started to gather behind him. We bought our tickets, and went back out to the inner courtyard to enter through the Knight’s Hall. It was an expansive stone room devoid of furniture. On the wall with the windows overlooking Nuremberg, there was a moving illustrated border wallpaper of the imperial processional. I looked around and wondered how we would get into the next exhibit, as the only door in the hall was so impressive and authentic looking there was no way it was intended for our use. It receded into the wall with a pointed arch, and being at the top of a few steps it seemed so tiny. All around the door frame was a gothic mural of Emperors on either side, and Christ on the cross over the top of the arch. When someone else reached for the door handle, I still hung back, suspicious an alarm would sound. Instead, only an obnoxious squeak from the hinges and a smiling attendant greeted them from the other side of the door.

The Romanesque Double Chapel in the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

Double Chapel
The door opened to the double chapel, the lower level. It's in the Romanesque style and survived the bombings of WWII for the most part. Graceful, simple columns connect the two levels, the lower for the court, and the upper for the Emperor. You can even peek down below your feet into St. Margaret’s Chapel. It wasn’t accessible to tour. In the back corner we found a stone staircase to continue up to the Emperor's level of the Chapel.

The Dining Hall now has modern exhibits explaining the Holy Roman Empire in the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

Imperial Hall and Apartment
The next room was by far my favorite. They allocated the space that was the original dining hall for the Emperor and lengthened it an additional third and created a wonderful and modern interactive exhibit space that explains how the Emperors were elected in the Holy Roman Empire. It always seemed a contradiction to me that Emperors were elected, and not inherited. The German lands are unique compared to the United Kingdom and France in this aspect. This exhibit really brought the distinction to clarity to me. Do you understand how Emperors were elected? Let us know in the comments. We may do a post about the process in the future.

Imperial Castle Museum, a branch of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum
After going through a few more smaller rooms of the Imperial Apartment, we stepped into the Bowery. Here was endless artifacts from history, coins, toys, weapons, armor, shields (with deflection marks!), a throne chair, and more.

Suit of armor of a member of the patrician family Rieter, end of the 16th century, on display in the Imperial Castle Museum, a branch of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany

Sinwell Tower & Deep Well
If you’re not opposed to steps or heights, definitely climb Sinwell Tower. The view of Nuremberg is fantastic, and they have black and white photos of how the city looked after WWII for comparison.

The Sinwell Tower and its beautiful views of Nuremberg | Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

For the Deep Well, you visit with a guide at assigned times, and yes it is more than a really deep hole in the ground. The guide pours water down the well so you can hear how long it takes for the water to splash. Then the guide lowers a candle all the way to the bottom with a video camera all while sharing the history of the well. It was really interesting and definitely worth the time.

Planning Your Trip to the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg
To do everything, tickets are 7 Euros. You can choose your own adventure and visit for less. Walking through the courtyards and gardens is free. Audio guides are an additional 2 Euros. Prices subject to change. Be sure to check the website for the most up to date prices and hours.
Imperial Castle of Nuremberg Admission Prices
Imperial Castle of Nuremberg Opening Hours
Printable English Brochure

View of the Heathen Tower and Inner Court of the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

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Thank you For Reading! Denise & Sebastian | Photo by Irene Fiedler