Skaters on the ice at London's Somerset house after the sun has gone down.

Our Christmas market awards go to…

In Christmas, Europe, France, Germany, Life, London, Mini Breaks, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, UK Travel by GaryLeave a Comment

(Or where to have fun at Christmas…)

So I don’t often write posts here, I leave that to Janis; however, this was something I had floating around, a bit of fun really.

The Rathaus in Marktplatz, Bremen

So we love Christmas, and we’ve visited a few Christmas markets over the years, and I thought where’s best, and the truth is each has something to offer, so I came up with ‘My Awards’.

In the true tradition of awards, we have various categories so settle in an see what you think. 

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A cake stall at the entrance to one of the Stuttgart Christmas markets.

Enjoying the markets in Stuttgart

 As I said, it’s just a little bit of fun, but I’d love to know what you think, and if you have a better nominee for any of the categories.

So without further ado, our first award

The truth for us is the markets come to life after the sun has gone down, so we like to soak up some history during the day before the first glühwein, honest!

In third place

Munich:  Who can argue with the shortlisting of the capital of Bavaria.   With places like the Munich Residenz, the Munich Stadtmuseum and a little further afield, and a sobering day out would be the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial (You can take a trip from central Munich with Get Your Guide).

The entrance to the Residence Museum from Max-Joseph-Platz

The entrance to the Residence Museum in Munich

In second place

London:  Okay, I could easily put London in first place because there’s so much in our great city, where do you start?   May I suggest the Tower of London?  There’s a market in its grounds and another across Tower Bridge at city hall and its market.

A Christmas tree in front of an illuminated  Tower Bridge.

A Christmas tree in front of Tower Bridge, London

And the winner is…

Berlin: So why Berlin?  I guess because of its recent history; memories etched in my mind.  The fall of the Berlin Wall, sections which you can still see, it’s iconic TV tower, the UNESCO recognised Museum Island, the Brandenburg Gate and it’s Reichstag.

The illuminated Brandenburg gate at dusk.

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Decorated streets, glittering trees and the allure of Christmas, but is it all smoke an mirrors?  No, in this category, I have picked places where the magic happens over the prettiest of places. 

In third place

Bremen:  You can’t help fall in love with the Rathaus and the marktplatz, then there’s the Schnoor district and also the Glockenspiel House.

A view through the market in Bremen to the Rathaus and St. Petri Dom.

Marktplatz, Bremen

In second place

Hamburg:  This may surprise some; however, we loved Hamburg from its Speicherstadt district, its beautiful Rathaus, the Chilehaus buildings and now the iconic Elbe Philharmonic.
The canal between two rows of converted warehouses in the Speicherstadt district in Hamburg

The Speicherstadt district in Hamburg

And the winner is…

Strasbourg:  for us the Petite France region, the magnificent gothic cathedral and it’s many pretty little streets including the magnificent Rue du Maroquin.

Overlooking the canal in Petite France, Strasbourg.

The pretty Petite France in Strasbourg

For this category, there has to be a little magic about the place where Christmas lives 

In third place

Nuremberg: Bavarian Christmas charm centred around the Haupmarkt, where a stagecoach can take you on a city tour, and the candy-cane coloured covered market stalls tempt you with baubles, gingerbread & the ‘Zwetschgenmannle’ Prune Men.

A traditional yellow & black carriage drawn by two horses in front of the Schöner Brunnen, a tall, ornate, lit gothic tower on top a fountain.

The horse and carriage in Nuremberg

In second place

Strasbourg: With angels piping you to the great cathedral, and one of the cities market.   Here’s the pretty little carousel and plenty of Vin Chaud to keep the cold out.
Angels with trumpets illuminate the way along Rue Mercière to Strasbourg's cathedral.

Avenue of Angels

And the winner is…

Rothenburg ob der Tauber:  This was always going to be a winner.

Home to not one, but two Käthe Wohlfahrt stores, the setting for the town in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and it’s chocolate-box looks means you get a warm glow before the glühwein hits the back of your throat.

A view of a split in the cobbled lane leading from Rothenburg og der Tauber main town square to one of the gate towers at dusk under a blue sky.

The classic view of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

What’s magic about Christmas these days are the lights, but where’s the best without going overboard?

In third place

Hamburg:  Whether it’s the glittering Neuer Wall shopping street, the Weißerzauber by the edge of the lake or the stunning Rathaus market.
An illuminated Neuer Wall in Hamburg.

Sparkling Neuer Wall, The shopping street of Hamburg

In second place

London: My city does itself proud, from the majestic Regent Street, Covent Garden, St James.  Just too many places across the capital, but it is pipped to the post by…
Illuminated Angels, with wings spread out, along London's Regent street.

The view down Regent Street

And the winner is…

Strasbourg:  Words fail me for this city.  The walk to the cathedral, the tree in Place Kléber & Rue du Maroquin, but it’s also walking between the markets & squares, everywhere just sparkles.

The illuminated Rue du Maroquin in Strasbourg.

The Rue du Maroquin in Strasbourg

A difficult choice again – I feel London has a bit of unfair advantage because I know it so well but when we travel we don’t all have that local knowledge.

In third place

Hamburg:   Neuer Wall is full of exclusive stores, and we just loved the Chilehaus district.

It feels like a city on the move and is home to some top brands.

A passage off Neuer Wall in Hamburg with an ornately decorated ceiling and rows of sophisticated shops lining either side.

A small passage off Neuer Wall

In second place

London: I think of St James, New Bond Street & Mayfair.  London has some of the most exclusive stores.

There’s the magic of Harrods, Fortnum & Masons and then there’s the chance for afternoon tea at the Ritz.

The Cartier store in London's New Bond Street decorated as a brightly lit gift box.

The Cartier store on New Bond Store, London

And the winner is…

Dusseldorf:  I have to be honest this city just oozed class.  From its department stores to its Engelchenmarkt, or Angel Market.  We enjoyed hot chocolate from the chocolate fountain at the Lindt shop.  One pretty slick city to visit.

Angel decorations, trimmed in gold, on the huts of the Angel market in Düsseldorf with the aged bronze roof of the bandstand in the centre of Heinrich-Heine-Platz in the background.

Angel on the rooftop on the markets in Düsseldorf

We learnt early on in our Christmas adventures that you don’t need to book a table for that evening meal.  You graze on the markets; the biggest challenge is trying to taste everything on your wish list. 

In third place

Stuttgart:  Aside from the usual selection of Wursts (sausages to you & me), Stuttgart offered up skewered kebabs, salmon smoked in front of you and treats for the sweet toothed amongst you, from hot roasted nuts of all varieties to chocolate-covered fruit kebabs.

A market worker presenting us with a meat skewer threaded with bread.

Something new from the markets in Stuttgart

In second place

Nuremberg:  Perhaps it’s the cheeky 3 in a bun or the regional gingerbread with its unique spices and secret ingredients but we just loved munching on the markets here.

A close-up of Nuremberg's '3-in-a-bun' sausage offering.

Three in a bun in Nuremberg

And the winner is…

Cologne:  It might be because we’ve been here so often that Cologne comes to the top of the pile, but from flammekueche, the kebabs, slow roast port, potato cakes (do you really need 3?) and that’s before we get onto the sweet stuff of crepes, waffles, baked apples and so much more.

A smiling young lady awaits a customer at the kebab stall, while in the background, you can see the cooks preparing the skewered kebabs over hot coals.

Smiles in Cologne

For more check out our post on ‘Feasting at a German Christmas Market

So topping up on the Christmas spirit is one of my  favourite things from the Christmas markets.  I love the effort put into the mugs which you can bring back as mementoes of your trip – nobody will tell you off – after all you paid you pfand, or deposit anyway.

I need also to add a cautionary note, things have got a little messy when we’ve gone a little excessive, especially when you dabble with a little ‘mit’ in your glühwein.  We may have overbought on the Aachen gingerbread one year after leaving the purchasing to the tail end of our visit.  And who can fail to remember the moment Barbara, Janis’s mother, first experienced Cologne?  Well, she can’t, because I remind her constantly.

In third place

Munich:  I love cherries, so pop them in a glühwein with a touch of Kirsch and you’re onto a winner, plus a warm beer punch, and glühwein served out of goblets at the medieval market.

It’s why Munich made it onto the list

A shot of me, Gary, drinking gluhwein from a stone goblet at the medieval market in Munich.

Drinking from a goblet in Munich

In second place

Nuremberg: Another of my loves is the regionality, so when you research your trip and find there’s something new to try, and Nuremberg Gluhwein with its Blueberry Twist, the winter warmer (it did!) and allegedly the largest flaming punch bowl serving up feuerzangenbowle.

Two mugs of glühwein in the 2016 Nuremberg mugs.  One is the regional version with added blueberries, and the other is a regular red version.

Two different glühweins in Nuremberg

And the winner is…

Cologne: When I put this together I put Cologne in 3rd place, and then I started to go through the pictures.  Now I know I have very little shame, so I can happily tuck into a glass of Eierpunsch (That’s eggnog to us native English speakers), topped with whipped cream, Hot Chocolate ‘mit’ Baileys, the hot beer punch at the harbour market.  Then the gluhweins, either au naturelle or mit rum, or ameretto, plus Kirschglühwein.  Finally, there’s a Kolsch – that crisp regional beer in its very manageable 200/300ml servings.  That’s why Cologne comes out on top.

Two of the detailed gluhwein mugs, depicting a different trade, from Cologne's 'Elf Market'.

Cheeky little gnomes

For more details on what’s available why not have a peek at our post on ‘Tipples on a German Christmas Market

Now, while drinking on the markets may be great, and glühwein definitely feels better when there’s a chill in the air. The markets can close early, depending on the location, and day of the week.  So why not head to a pub, bar, alehouse, you get my drift.

In third place

London:  Now I love a London pub, but there’s no getting away from the fact that some can be very expensive, some overly touristy, focusing on food, which isn’t always that great, and average service.

However, the right pub can be a real gem, sit back and watch London bustle by.

A traditional pub in London, just off London's Southbank.

The Mudlark pub London at Christmas

In second place

Cologne:  Again, I had to temper my enthusiasm for Cologne, we’ve had many fines experiences in the city, and you can check out my selection of bars in my post ‘ The 10 things to do in Cologne, other than the Christmas markets’.  As you can see, extensive research goes into work.

Inside the Christmas decorated Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass, a traditional Kolsch pub with beer barrel on the bar.

The bar at Bierhaus en d'r Salzgass in Cologne

And the winner is…

Munich: it’s down to the call of the Brauhaus, such as Hofbrauhaus, Augustiner Stammhaus & the Ratskeller München and my love of the dunkel (dark) ales, a touch of weiss and finish off with a traditional.

Looking up at the decorated vaulted ceiling of the Munich Hofbrauhaus at the end of the night.

End of the night in the Hofbrauhaus in Munich

So I'm not a natural skater, actually I’m appalling on the ice.   I was once rescued by a spotty teenager, in a penguin outfit, at our local ice rink, many many years ago.  But I do enjoy standing at the edge of the ice rink, with a warm glühwein, watching my breath appear over the warming drink.

In third place

Berlin:  There’s a great ‘doughnut’ ice rink around the Neptune fountain in the Berliner Weinachtszeit market by the Rotes Rathaus.

A skater on the ice rink around the Neptune fountain in Berlin, with the giant Ferris wheel in the background.

The ice rink in front of the Ferris Wheel in Berlin

In second place

London:  London has some amazing Ice skating rinks, next to the Tower of London, Canary Wharf, Outside the National History Museum in South Kensington, but our favourite is the one at Somerset House on the banks of the River Thames.  Now my evil side comes out here because I love to watch, and confirmed that I am not alone in my ice-ineptitude as you watch fellow Brits shuffle around the outside of the rink hanging on for dear life.  Yep, I’m not a nice person.

Skaters on the ice at London's Somerset house after the sun has gone down.

On the ice at Somerset House in London

And the winner is…

Cologne:  Hands down the winner here is the rink at Heumarkt in the Heimat der Heinzel market.  The music cassette shaped ring (I know, showing my age, I can already hear the “What’s a music cassette Grandad?” comments!).  The ice rink is a one-way loop around the statue of Friedrich Wilhelm III at one end, and a circular pool at the over end overlooked by the two-storey Stapelhaus bar at the other.  Also incorporated is a curling area.  It’s just amazing.

The Cologne ice rink from the bridge that straddles it, looking to the loop around the statue to Friedrich Wilhelm III on horseback.  In the foreground to the right is a beautifully crafted and ornate cabin serving gluhwein.

Skating around Friedrich Wilhelm III in Cologne

So the final award goes to place with the best markets.  I like to walk between the markets, even if they are not right on top of each other, and for that reason Berlin didn’t make the shortlist.  Sure it has a selection of fine markets, but you really need to jump on public transport to get around them all. 

In third place

Frankfurt:  Now these markets, I guess there’s 5, but they run almost seamlessly from quayside at Mainkai, through Römerberg, onto Paulsplatz through Friedrich-Stoltze-Platz and finally onto Hauptwache.  We thoroughly loved our time here an I think it’s probably a great introduction to the German Market experience

The brightly lit carousel in Frankfurt's Römerberg

One of the carousels in Frankfurt

In second place

Hamburg:  We visited Hamburg in 2018, and we loved it.  The city was fabulous, but the markets were so good.  We met an English family who had made this their favourite and was back for another year.  They used it as a base to also visit the smaller cities such a Bremen on their week-long adventure.  The markets are scattered, but from the Rathaus market the majority are easily accessible.
The illuminated gate to Hamburg's Christmas market

The entrance to main market, Hamburg

And the winner is…

Cologne:  It was always going the be the way,  after 12 visits we still love the place.  Now from our home in the Hotel Eden, next to the Dom market we can walk to all the markets, but your gonna get your steps up because the Stadtgarten & Rudolfplatz markets are over a mile away, and the harbour just under, and all in different directions.  Each of the markets is worth visiting, but if I had to trim it down then I’d stick to Dom Market, the Elves Market, the Angel and Village of St. Nicholas at Rudolfplatz.

People entering through an advent arch into the Meimat der Heinzel market as snow falls in an already wintery scene.

Entrance to the Home of the Elves, Cologne

And that brings the awards to an end.

If you’ve made it this far, then well done.  As I said it was just a little fun to tempt you perhaps to try something new, or revisit somewhere again, but mainly just to love Christmas, and remember it’s not just for the kids.  I’ll end with – I Believe.

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Inspired to visit to enjoy something different at Christmas?

Why not set away a few days during the festive season to soak up the Christmas spirit. Hopefully, these awards have given you a little inspiration, so why not jump on a plane, train or drive to one of our suggestions and enjoy a little magic.
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Gary, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born and raised in London. An IT guy who likes to takes snaps. Along with Janis his partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, over a Sherry in Seville, they decided that enough was enough with suits. The decision was made to take their knowledge and experience to create a blog to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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