Hamburg, the Northern Capital of Christmas
When I think of Christmas markets I think of Germany, and Hamburg has been a treat to explore during the festive season…
In Germany there are so many unique cities with their own take on Christmas markets. It can be daunting to choose just one to visit. The solution? Don’t.
Start your trip in Hamburg. The self-proclaimed Northern Capital of Christmas happens to be only 90 minutes away by plane.
Vibrant and full of history, Hamburg represents all things festive this time of year.
With 16 different Christmas markets to choose from in Hamburg, there’s something for everyone…
Families throng to the Rathausmarkt on the cobbles of the historic town hall, where the emphasis is on toys and old school fun.
Scandi enthusiasts will love the God Jul market with its Glögg (Christmas punch), traditional Scandinavian drinks, and the traditional nordic Julenisse of ribs, potatoes and sauerkraut.
It’s not all about meat though – vegans are exceptionally well catered for at Gut Karlshöhe market with its focus on sustainability, organic food, recycled jewellery and crafts.
The architecture wanes from gothic to expressionist and industrialist, and in between these are ageless canals and rivers that swell to the sea.
Hamburg is a gorgeous place to visit over a winter weekend. For tips on where to visit, what to eat and where to stay, read on!
Day 1 – Friday
Gothic architecture, canals, chocolate and traditional German food.
Catch a morning flight to Hamburg airport and then make your way to the city centre. There are frequent S-Bahn trains from the airport to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, the main train station, or you could take a taxi.
Our taxi takes us through the city and we marvel at the array of Christmas markets before arriving at Henri Hotel.
There’s time to marvel at the softness of the bed and for a high pressure rain shower… #bliss
Stay tuned for a full review of Henri Hotel on the blog.
Gloves on and coats firmly buttoned up, we head back out into the winter air for our first activity – a walking tour.
Our guide for the trip is the incredible Tomas Kaiser who has an enviable knowledge of his home city. He walks us through the Speicherstadt, Chilehaus and Kontorhaus District, and we love the architecture and history.
The Chilehaus, with its beautifully curved façade, represents the most significant artistic and architectural achievement of German Brick Expressionism.
The neo-gothic turrets and spires of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Speicherstadt warehouses go on endlessly. Located in the heart of Hamburg’s port they have been used to house coffee, cocoa, tobacco, and, in recent decades, oriental carpets.
In between these are bridges of stone and iron, and pretty, winding canals.
Having worked up an appetite we turn to one of Hamburg’s most lush chocolate museums, Chocoversum.
The 90 minute learning experience includes several opportunities to try out the chocolate, and we leave with our own hand made chocolate bars. Nom.
By now dusk has truly turned to night and the air has a distinct chill.
Suddenly there is a hunger for something stronger than chocolate and sightseeing. The need for a traditional German meal.
We bundle in to the restaurant Freudenhaus (the German word for Brothel) located in the St.Pauli red light district. The restaurant is replete with bare-breasted images of women on suggestively red painted walls, a constant reminder of the history of the location.
Popular for its honest German fare, the focus at Freudenhaus is the food. We proceed to eat our weight in roasted duck, potato dumplings and creamed cabbage. Out of the whole trip this is the most standout meal #swoon
The evening ends with a musical Beatles Tour of Hamburg at night, exploring the city that shaped the band.
With the help of a ukulele our guide, Stefanie Hempel, sings the songs that the Beatles performed in the Reeperbahn and Grosse Freiheit. It’s a quirky experience that is unique to Hamburg, and one that Beatles fans should definitely check out.
Day 2 – Saturday
Boat trips & Christmas markets
Waking up bright and early we head downstairs for a croissant and omelette fuelled breakfast…
After debating a little about whether a Danish pastry (as we know it) is actually a Berlin pastry (undecided), we head out for a Hamburg Harbour boat trip.
The boat trip allows us to see Hamburg at a different angle. The level of shipbuilding that goes on is a surprise and I love the juxtaposition between the natural and the manmade….
One side of the shore is peppered with sprawling suburban houses whilst the other is a world away with its dock, sluices and industry.
Enjoy another great view over the city from the 360 degree viewing deck of the Elbphilharmonie.
After which it is definitely time to start on the Christmas markets!
Walking through the city we head to the Rathausmarkt on the steps of the historic town hall.
Every Christmas a hundred or more traders descend upon the cobbled square for one of the city’s largest and loveliest Christmas markets.
Woodcarvers come from the Tyrol, gingerbread bakers from Aachen and Nuremberg and ceramics from Lausitz. Families in particular will love the Spielzeuggasse at the Rathausmarkt – a lane dedicated to toys.
After savouring our first Christmas market we head off again to the White Magic Christmas Market on Jungfernstieg. The theme of this market is alive everywhere – light!
Luminous, white tented stalls are stocked with design products and overlook the river. Although all the markets look their best at night, this one is particularly striking.
Walking headily along we head over to the restaurant Weltbühne. A rush of warmth greets us as we open the solid doors in to one of Hamburgs most stylish restaurants.
Their take on the roasted duck is as good a version as we’ve had anywhere – and don’t forget to finish with an espresso, served on a silver tray with a chilled glass of water.
The trip wouldn’t be complete without visiting Hamburg’s naughtiest market – the Santa Pauli Christmas Market.
The outdoor space is lit up with a giant disco ball and wreaths of fire.
Stalls at Santa Pauli sell the usual Christmas fare as well as other, less conventional gifts.
Day 3 – Sunday
Urban living, street art
On your last day in the city take the opportunity to see another side of Hamburg. Amble through the trendier, grungier Schanzenviertel and Karolinenviertel areas which are known for their diversity of people and shops.
Street art is alive and well in Hamburg and no more so than in Schanzenviertel and Karolinenviertel.
When you get peckish head to Altes Mädchen for fat burgers, soups with organic bread from the wood fired ovens and thick cut steaks.
By now you’ve sampled some of the best things to do in Hamburg and it’s time to head off back home!
With thanks to the Hamburg Tourist Board for hosting us. Some aspects of the trip were complimentary.