Walking down Königstraße towards the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt for the first time, you begin to feel excited by where you are. As the smell of pepper, onion, and sauerkraut from the Bratwürste stalls (the best sausages in the world) mingles with the sweet incense of Glühwein (the infamous Bavarian mulled wine) and Feuerzangenbowlen (the same wine with sugar-infused rum melted over a fiery cauldron), you realise that the unmistakeable aroma of the German Christmas Markets is settling in and replacing the cold, Bavarian winter, with warm seasonal cheer. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
This was not my first experience of a German Christmas. Having been to Munich a couple of times before, as well as the many mock market stalls in major cities in Britain; Manchester, Birmingham, and Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, London, I knew roughly what to expect. At least that’s what I thought. Frankly, there is nothing like the original; an authentic Christkindlesmarkt is enough to warm the hearts of even the coldest reveller. The cheer, the food, and the atmosphere are so inviting that I am always blown away by the hospitality.
We were in Nuremberg for three full days on a trip that my girlfriend had found on Groupon. As many people do nearing Christmas, we both have extremely tight budgets but the flights and the hotel (3 stars) cost just £79 each. Initially, 3 days didn’t seem like it would be enough but we couldn’t resist the opportunity to see a new city and excitedly booked on; at least it wouldn’t be too expensive! In a city steeped in modern history, presided over by a medieval castle on a hill, we assumed that there would be much to do. A quick look on TripAdvisor provides an insight: Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände, the Nuremberg Trials courtroom, and various other museums, plus the castle.
Despite TripAdvisor’s suggestions, we found it just as enjoyable (and thrifty) to make our own way. This post highlights five things to do in Nuremberg on a tight budget (ours was £200/€270 each) which give you a feel for the culture but won’t break the bank. A three day trip is plenty.
The first thing for any intrepid market-explorer to do is to indulge in the food. A brief word of warning though, if you are on a diet or fasting before your own Christmas feast, then market food, and perhaps German cuisine in general, is perhaps not for you. The range of vegan-friendly and cholesterol-free foods is extremely limited. The healthiest item on the menu is an Erdbeerspieß (chocolate-covered strawberries) of which we had a few (at the not-so-healthy price of €4/£2.90)!
Many stalls on the market offer sausages upon sausages in different sizes and in a small bread roll called a ‘Brötchen’. At some stalls, including the one pictured (a chain) three Bratwürste im Weckla (small roll) will set you back just €3.50-€4. There is one stall attached to a small restaurant, Bratwurst Häusle, on Rathausplatz which sells them for €2.50, much more affordable for us as we ate our way through our budget.
If you are a beer drinker, as we are, then obviously Germany should be first on your list of countries to visit for good beer. Nuremberg does not disappoint. On our first evening, (as big foodies) we thought we would be able to dive right in to the sausages and beer, our imagined German staple foods. We made it back to our hotel that evening thoroughly disappointed that you cannot get a beer at the markets. We assumed that this was because the market stalls were likely to sell it cheaper than the surrounding bars and were therefore not allowed. However, the next day as we had more time to explore (and my confidence in speaking German grew) we found places to drink beer. Looking through our holiday snaps, it looks like all we did was drink! But I promise it wasn’t that kind of trip!
Our favourite place to drink in Nuremberg was the Nassauer Haus Keller which sold Mönchshof beer. In clumsy German I ordered two house beers and out came two veritable buckets of Mönchshof Schwarzbier (€3.80/£2.70 for 0.5l) which initially frightened me; I thought it’d be like Guinness, yuck! We were surprised that it was very drinkable, and before we got carried away, we left for lunch. Despite our penchant for sausage and beer, Nuremberg offers many options for those preferring something different; there are Italian restaurants, a healthy selection of Indian restaurants, and many other types of cuisine. Plus the stalwart Irish bars which cover the world.
Most people will have heard of the drink that Germans like to bring out at Christmas; Glühwein, essentially mulled wine. Fewer people, I am sure, will have heard of Feuerzangenbowlen. When the night gets cold and the icy winter chill sets in the air, these drinks are seemingly sent from heaven and for €4/£2.90 (plus the deposit for the cup which you can get back), you can warm your heart and shake off the shivers.
The Feuerzangenbowle takes it name from a film of the same name starring Heinz Rühmann, and is a concoction of Glühwein-like ingredients mixed with powerful sugar-infused rum. The family recipe states: “We take good-quality red wine, fine spices, and a robust rum (54% alc.). Then following an old tradition, a sugar-cone is lit allowing hot rum and melted sugar to drip into the pot, where it infuses with the red wine and spices.” The rummy twist on a German classic really provides an extra layer of warmth which lingers while you walk the cobblestones. Another word of warning, when the recipe says “robust” it really means it, and one Feuerzangenbowle inside a couple of hours is definitely enough! There is a non-alcoholic (alkoholfrei) version, as seen above, but I did not try it so I cannot comment!
2: Visit the Castle.
Nuremberg castle sits at the precipice of the ‘impenetrable’ city and has evolved over a millennium as the protector of the city. Its remaining 60 towers stand proud against a back drop of wintery, blue skies and provide a striking reminder that Germany, and Nuremberg, has a rich history which long precedes the early 20th Century. The towers are immediately visible as you walk into the city from the Hauptbahnhof (central train station) via Königstraße and stand sentinel as you enjoy what the city has to offer. Entry to the castle grounds is free and I fully and whole-heartedly recommend the climb up Burgstraße to the city walls. The views that they provide are unmatchable and undeniably spectacular. The photos taken from our iPhone cameras do not do it justice.
To enter the castle musuem, there is a negligible cost of between €5 and €11. Though the price was fine, we did not feel the need to enter the castle as everything we wanted from it (chiefly the view) was free of charge and wonderful enough. There is a short video in the lobby of the museum in both English and German which details the history of the building, and the many developments that have taken place. This was extremely interesting and is worth the trip. You can find out more here: Nuremberg Kaiserburg Castle.
3: Visit Erlangen.
On our second full day in Germany, we decided to explore further outside of the city centre. A friend had previously recommended to me that we visit Erlangen, an outlying town, for a more authentic experience of German culture and Christkindlesmarkt. We had found so far on the trip that Nuremberg was somewhat commercial and was inevitably designed for tourists. We wanted what we thought Erlangen could offer and headed there via the S-Bahn (overland train). 20 minutes and €11.40/£8.25 later (for a day ticket for two adults to zones 3 & 4), and we were there. As you leave the station, it takes time to orienteer yourself to the map outside. It is fairly simple and you want to head for the market place.
When you arrive at the market, you hear joyful cheers, crackling fires, and the murmur of hundreds of people talking. It does not seem, at first glance, that Erlangen could have that many people as residents. However, walk around the town more and you soon realise that it is actually much larger than you first thought, and the wealth of restaurants and bars is pretty phenomenal. In the market place, there is a large tent roof protecting you from the elements, and a circuit of market stalls selling homemade crafts, clothes, fabrics, and jewellery, and various food and drink stands. As you are no longer in the commercial centre, some knowledge of German is useful, but you could definitely still get by with persistent English accompanied by frantic miming.
Our experience in Erlangen was relaxing; the
market sold beer and provided roaring fires to stand around and keep warm. It gave us a chance to really enjoy the break away from the busting tourist crowds at the Nuremberg Hauptmarkt. The set up at Erlangen would be excellent for a group as there are large, round tables designed for communal enjoyment. This being said, it was perfect for the two of us as it maintained its romantic Bavarian image whilst adding little extras, like the street performer juggling and eating fire. We were pleasantly surprised that we did not hear more British and American voices.
4: Explore the markets themselves!
Three days goes quickly. All the time we were in Nuremberg, we found new sections of the market that we had not yet encountered. The vast network of stalls sprawls across the cobblestones like a python. Sure, at night-time, and on weekends, it can get extremely busy, but what can you expect from a small city with such a large tourist population. The frustration eases after about 20 minutes and you are free to browse each stall. It would be foolish to attempt to give a detailed list of everything the market offers; see the website for more. It is safe to say that the more times you circulate the web, the more you will surprised at what is on sale. From traditional children’s toys, to Christmas decorations, to Lebkuchen and Früchtebrot, to wax candles shaped like Sid the Sloth from Ice Age. The possibilities are endless. All of this is encapsulated by the soundtrack of the public music stand where local choirs and orchestras play Christmas hymns.
There are two other, separate sections worth pointing out for those thinking of visiting the market. The first is the International Market (Markt der Partnerstädte) where individual stalls from markets around the world; Cordoba and Glasgow are just two, sell items from their countries. The Glasgow stall sold some great Harris Tweed items for example. The second area of note is the Kinderweihnacht area; the space for children. With an enchanting, two-tier carousel (€2 per single ticket) at the centre of the square, this area is especially magical and designed to make sure children are included in the festivities. Decked with a welcoming, if not slightly creepy, robotic Santa, reindeers, and a real-life Santa’s grotto, the kids are sure to be pleased!
5: Walk and explore the city!
The importance of on-foot-exploration is often underrated I believe. For seasoned travellers, and those breaking in their boots, this is a crucial part of getting to know your surroundings and fully understanding where you are, and the people around you. From just walking around, we stumbled upon the Nassauer Keller where we had the Mönchshof drinks. We found a cute city tour which, costing €7 for adults (Erwachsene) and €6 for Concessions (ermäßigt), was good value for money. The tour took us around the outside perimeter of the castle, and past the others point of interest in the city. This tour led to other things, such as the search for the restored avenue destroyed during the war, Weißgerbergasse, which was, according to the tour guide’s leaflet, worth the ‘spaziergang’ (walk). Some terrible orienteering and two hours later, we found this street and we were not disappointed.
But on the way, whilst exploring the streets, we found the Rathaus, the back of the Lorenzkirche and a stagecoach.
Walking and exploring is completely free and will more than likely lead you to find other exciting, rewarding, and free things for you to do.
All in all, we were exceptionally pleased with our bargain winter break. Our spending budget was €270 each and we spent only €160 each. We were more than able to enjoy ourselves and relax during this winter break, a break that many of us need. I would definitely recommend this kind of holiday for couples, hen/stag groups, school groups, and families. Most tastes are catered for: there is a large variety of restaurants and shopping opportunities, and if you can, you should certainly visit the outlying towns for a more authentic German experience.
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