There is nothing more magical than visitng the traditional Christmas markets in Germany. In case you need more persuading here are my top 10 reasons to visit Heidelberg’s Christmas markets.
Having friends who live all over the world can be annoying at times but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have it’s perks. When one of my friends Mia first moved to Frankfurt I was sad that I wouldn’t get to see her every day. And, whilst we quickly replaced our daily coffee and lunch breaks with Whatsapp it wasn’t quite the same as actually seeing each other.
Luckily for me, Mia is more than happy to have visitors so another friend and I invited ourselves to Germany to see the Christmas markets and Mia was our guide!
We stayed in Frankfurt and visited the Christmas markets there but it was our trip to Heidelberg which really captured my heart.
Heidelerg is just 1 hour outside of Frankfurt and is easily reached by car or train. It’s a university town which has been inviting Erasmus students for years and it’s Christmas markets are now world famous making it a truly international city.
I’d recommend visiting all year round but taking a trip to see the Christmas markets is an absolute must. Let me tell you why!
10 reasons to visit the Christmas Markets
1. It’s like stepping back in time
Heidelberg is an enchanting city. Before you’ve even reached the main street (Hauptstrasse) you will be greeted by the stunning architecture all nestled in the valley. Because of the way the City is nestled in this dip it feels as though it’s been protected from the outside world.
The main Christmas market itself spans five beautiful, historic market squares: Kornmarkt, Marktplatz, Universitätsplatz, Anatomiegarten and the Bismarckplatz. The streets between each square are cobbled and winding; every which way you look there are traditional wooden huts lining the paths.
With lots of wonderful hand crafted gifts on offer including wooden toys and trinkets, you really do feel as though you’ve stepped back to a simpler time.
2. You can (and should) spend all day there
We arrived in the morning enjoying pastries for breakfast, a sit down lunch and (of course) bratwurst for dinner. There is so much to see and do that you can easily spend an entire day wandering the cobbled paths, taking in the atmosphere and drinking a mug or two of gluwhein.
As well as visitng the main Christmas market you should wander slightly further a field up to the Castle. Here you will find yet more market stalls and from 1-24 December the windows turn into an Art-Advent Calendar with artwork from prominent artists revealed each day.
In the shadows of Heidelberg’s Castle, (in the Karlsplatz square), you will also find “Christmas on Ice”. An open air ice rink surrounded by Christmas trees and lights!
3. Advent Biscuits
Its a tradition in Germany that during advent families buy or bake special Christmas cookies and biscuits. They are smaller than a regular cookie or biscuit making them the perfect bite size treat.
I loved seeing the different flavour combinations and the shapes. I’m not ashamed to say that I agonized over buying a couple of cookie cutters to take home with me so I could replicated the advent biscuits I’d seen.
These special Christmas biscuits can be found throughout the market
It’s a miracle I can spell this word let alone say it! It’s even more difficult after you’ve had a glass or two.
Fuerzangenbowle is Germany’s take on English mulled wine or Scandinavian glogg! It’s an alcoholic drink for which a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire and drips into red wine which has been mixed with warming spices.
It is literally the collest thing ever to watch! There’s a particularly large bar in the heart of Heidelberg’s Christmas market that serves up mugs of Fuerzangenbowle. Just before they set a sugar lump on fire they ring a bell and everyone comes to watch. Try and get a spot at the back of the bar so you have the perfect view.
You will be asked to pay a deposit for your glass but you are welcome to keep it as a souvenir! Some people collect one from each of the different stalls.
5. A nativity scene with a difference
One of my favourite bits about Heidelberg which really set it apart from other Christmas markets was their nativity scene with a difference.
If you take a few steps away from the main streets on which you find the Christmas markets, you will come across Jesuit church on Universityplatz.
Inside this beautiful church is a huge papier-mache nativity scene complete with Mary, Joseph, the Pope (not actually sure he was at the birth…) and the German football team. Yep, that’s right. The German football team, raising up the World Cup of course!
There are also lots of other weird and wonderful scenes including prositutes, people who had been injured or lost limbs, and there were even scenes of refugees drowing.
It was a reminder that Jesus came to save everyone – even the German football team.
6. Handcrafted gifts
If you manage to come away from the Christmas markets without your hands full of gifts you are a better person than I am.
What impressed me the most about the stalls in Heidelberg were the quality of their handcrafted gifts. We bought all sorts from wooden nativity scenes, to glass blown ornaments, artisan sweets and infused liquers.
Just make sure you have enough room to take them all home in your suitcase!
7. There’s ANOTHER Christmas market just a boat trip away
If the main Christmas market and the market up at the Castle just aren’t enough for you, you can take a 30minute boat trip along the Neckar river to Neuberg Abbey. Here you will find the third and final Heidelberg Christmas market in the Abbey’s grounds.
Be warned though, it only runs on weekends during Advent so if you want to add this extra market to your trip you’ll need to plan accordingly.
8. The Christmas Pyramid
I can almost guarantee you won’t have seen anything quite like this before. At the centre of the Christmas market, in the main market square, you will find the Heidelberg Christmas pyramid. It’s a large, revolving pyramid, decorated with historical figures from Heidelberg’s past!
9. Lebkuchen hearts
These are another type of Christmas biscuit but quite disimillar from the smaller advent biscuits I mentioned further up this post. You’ll find these at all of the Christmas markets but I thought the ones in Heidelberg were the best!
These large gingerbread hearts come in a wide range of sizes, making them ideal for big (and small) declarations of love.
10. Chocolaterie Knösel (aka Student Kisses)
I absolutely couldn’t come away from Heidelberg without buying a Student Kiss for Jon. I know that sounds a little strange but let me explain.
A ‘Student Kiss’ is a small chocolate which was created over 100 years ago by chocolatier Fridolin Knösel. The young ladies of Heidelberg’s finishing schools used to love visiting his chocolate shop. The male students at Hedielberg university had noticed this and would hang around the shop hoping to share glances with the young ladies.
As the young ladies were accompanied by chaperones wherever they went the young men needed a way of showing their feelings which wouldn’t get them into trouble. Fridolin Knösel noticed this and so developed the chocolates as a sweet token which the young couples could share – god forbid they actually share a real kiss!
Important info for planning your trip
Heidelberg Christmas Market
27 November – 22 December
Sunday – Friday 11am – 9pm (10 pm at the latest)
Saturday 11am – 10pm
Heidelberg’s Open-Air Ice-Skating Rink (Karlsplatz)
27 November – 7 January
Monday – Sunday 10am – 10pm