Christmas isn't Christmas without...the Germans?
The UK is often bemoaned as being a step behind the US, but when it comes to Christmas we're all centuries behind the Germans. Much of what we do in the UK is a watered-down version of German tradition, from much-loved carols to the bedecked Christmas trees we gather round to sing them. Make the most of the festive season by visiting Germany this Noel-vember and experience the full technicolour glory of the German Christmas spirit.
Christmas markets may seem an obvious suggestion, but not all Christmas markets are alike. At one you can see the world's tallest nutcracker. At another you can witness Saint Nick taking a tumble from a tower! One is hosted on a tiny Christmas island and at yet another you can eat some 500-year-old cake!
On route to the German Weihnachtsmarkts you could stop in the Netherlands where everything is done a little earlier – ideal if you want to celebrate Christmas with the family before heading south to warmer climes. In Holland the celebrations start in mid November when Sinterklaas, St Nicholas, arrives. He then parades through towns and cities until the main celebrations on December 5th. Sinterklaas then hops aboard his boat and sails back to his home in Spain – hey, if he can do it so can you! But first, here are some unique and interesting Christmas markets to visit before you fly south for winter.
Before you head off to Germany
If you are planning a visit to Germany, read how Bord Atlas can help you travel Germany for €3.25 per day. And if you are travelling in Germany this winter, be sure your tyres conform to the new winter tyre regulations in effect from January 1, 2018. Lastly, don't leave home without understanding German Umweltzone.
View from Lille Ferris Wheel © Maëlick, CC license granted via Flickr.
(17th November – 27th December 2017)
There are two high-lights at the Lille Christmas market. The first is the quite sensational entrance of good old Saint Nicholas himself. On the Saturday before Christmas, our big man in red announces his arrival by taking a dramatic tumble from the 104-metre-high belfry – don’t worry, he’s fine by the end of it. He’s magic, you know.
Lille’s La Grand Place also hosts a 50-metre-high ferris wheel. If you’re brave enough, a ride on the wheel offers panoramic views over the city.
(16th – 17th December 2017)
Anybody who enjoys a tipple should take note of the Kerstbierfestival. This annual two-day beer festival, run by O.B.E.R. (Objective Beer-tasters Essen Region), will be serving up 183 bottled and draft Belgian and Christmas beers to get your laughing gear around.
Top tip: Wear a Santa hat or risk being branded a Scrooge.
A shuttle bus to the festival is provided from Essen railway station for €1. Ticket packages, including entrance, 7 beer tokens, a bottle of water, a festival guide and a returnable glass, cost €20.
Dickens Festival, Deventer, Netherlands © Helena, CC license granted via Flickr.
(16th – 17th December 2017)
You can live the Christmas Carol at this Victorian-era themed festival featuring more than 900 characters from some of Charles Dickens’ most famous works.
From Oliver Twist to Tiny Tim, any fan of Dickens is likely to recognise the iconic characters roaming around in their full and impressive ensemble.
The Dickens Festival immerses you in a Dickens world. Around the town you will see gentlemen in top hats, wealthy women in dress, Christmas carollers singing in the streets – much to Scrooge’s annoyance – and little vagabonds begging in the street ready to thieve and steal whatever they can – so keep your eyes out for pesky pickpockets!
Entrance is free, but the queue can take up to 90 minutes at busy periods.
Cologne Christmas Market © Marco Verch, CC license granted via Flickr.
(27th November – 23rd December 2017)
Set in front of Cologne’s magnificent Gothic cathedral, the city’s dazzling Am Dom Christmas market encircles a Christmas tree so large that the city holds the record for the most christmas lights on a tree. In 2006 the tree was adorned with 150,000 bulbs. The 150+ wooden chalets in the market offer everything from artisanal food to hand-crafted gifts.
If you're after something a little more unique, try the Christmas Avenue gay and lesbian market. Set between Schaafenstraße and Pilgrimstraße, this colourful market celebrates Cologne’s status as the gay capital of Germany.
Or enter into a Brothers’ Grimm fairytale at the Heinzels Wintermärchen in the heart of the old town. The Heinzelmännchen are fairytale creatures who used do all the work of the city while the mortals were asleep. But when the tailor’s wife set a trap in order to see them, they disappeared, and the people of Cologne have had to do their own work ever since. Luckily, they can still be bothered to put on this market!
The Christmas Market Express drives through the streets of the city ferrying merrymakers from one market to another.
Dresden © Black nexus.cz Photography, CC license granted via Flickr.
(30th November – 24th December 2017)
Throughout the holiday season Christmas markets big and small festoon this east German city, making Dresden almost as festive as the North Pole.
The centre of all things Christmas in Dresden has to be Striezelmarkt, which is home to the world’s tallest nutcracker and Christmas pyramid. And if that weren’t accolade enough, with a history dating back as far as 1434, Striezelmarkt might just be the oldest Christmas market in the world.
During its 583-year history, the market has had a little time to perfect its famed Stollen cake, a dried fruit and marzipan bread, which provides the perfect German Christmas treat for your palate. Time your visit for the second Saturday in Advent to see a giant Stollen cake processed through the streets. For a small fee, which goes to charity, you can even taste a piece of the colossal cake.
While you scoff your Stollen, take a stroll down the ‘Christmas Mile’ along Prager Straße to Altmarkt and across the river Elbe.
Frauenchiemsee © Allie Caulfield, CC license granted via Flickr.
(1 – 3 and 8 – 10 December 2017)
Silhouetted against the Alps and surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of Bavaria's largest lake is the island of Frauenchiemsee, home to one of the most romantic Christmas markets in the world.
This Christmas island has more than 90 stalls selling nativity and Christmas souvenirs crafted at the abbey on the island.
Ferries shuttle visitors out across Lake Chiemsee to the Christkindlmarkt on Fraueninsel. Turn your trip into a romantic getaway by staying the night at one of the guesthouses or hotels on the island.
Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market © Guy Evans, CC license granted via Flickr.
(16th November – 24th December 2017)
If you can't make it abroad, you can visit a German Christmas market – the largest outside of Germany or Austria – right here in the UK. The cities of Birmingham and Frankfurt signed a partnership agreement in 1966 which has led to numerous collaborative events, including the 120-stall Christmas market which has been running for more than 15 years.
The market, which is held in Victoria Square, has live music events every weekend as well as stalls selling traditional German food and drink, so you don't need to trek to Germany to enjoy Glühwein, bratwurst, pretzels and Stollen. The Christmas Craft market next door offers a further 60 stalls to peruse to find the perfect presents for your family and friends.
How to get there
Motorhomers shouldn’t tour Germany without the Reise Mobil Bord Atlas. The German guidebook lists more than 6,300 Stellplätze and campsites across Germany and 35 other countries in Europe, including one within 3km of the ferries to Fraueninsel, 6 within the city limits of Dresden, and one within 5km of Cologne’s old town.
All the Aires Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands is a comprehensive guide to motorhome Aires in Benelux and works great in conjunction with the Road Trip Europe series.
Extend your tour with our Road Trip Europe: The Great War and More and Road Trip Europe: Go Dutch. These guides detail two circular routes, the first around France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany and the second solely around the Netherlands. They can easily be combined to create a longer tour encompassing all four countries and if you combine them with Bord Atlas and All the Aires Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, you could prolong your Christmas festivities indefinitely!
For a list of campsites in Germany, visit the German Tourist Board's website.
Before you go, make sure you're up to date on European Low Emission Zones.
Where is your favourite Christmas market in Europe? Let us know in the comments below.
Written by the editorial team
Main image © Andreas, CC license granted via Flickr.