It’s that time of year where a whole heap of us are tempted by cheap flights and the need to use up the last of our annual leave and head to central Europe for a festive fix. I LOVE Christmas and all the mulled-flavoured, pine-scented, sparkly-decorated joy it brings, and nowhere does that better than a Christmas Market in Germany. Replicated in countries all over the world, the originals obviously do it best, and having visited my first one in Frankfurt in 2015, I’ve been itching to go back and see more.
But festive trips cry out for companionship, right? Solo travel is all well and good, but surely nobody wants to experience CHRISTMAS on their own? Wrong. Christmas markets in Germany are so vast, so varied and so bustling that it’s the perfect place to keep a solo traveller entertained. So how can you make the most of them?
Decide the vibe you’re after
You can be safe in the knowledge that no matter which town or city you choose to visit in Germany, they will have at least one Christmas market up and running from the end of November onwards. I had seen them being prepared in Heidelberg before I set off to Cologne and Hamburg in time to experience them up-and-running for myself, and they are not just sprawling, but all incredibly unique.
The great thing about this, especially for a solo traveller, is that you can take your pick of them and find the type that appeals to your travel style. If you’re looking to meet people, or head out with newly acquired hostel buddies, then markets like Winterwald and on the Reeperbahn, both in Hamburg, come alive at night. With live music spanning a broader repertoire than traditional Christmas carols and more places to sit and enjoy a drink than shop, it’s what you’d anticipate from east London (and therefore I felt rather at home, even by myself).
There’s markets for shopping, eating and entertainment, and every major city will have a guide to the various options you will never have the time to explore. I personally loved the family-oriented ones because they cram in all the festive jollities that make me giddy about Christmas. The best one by far is Weihnachtsmarkt – where at 4pm, 6pm and 8pm Santa flies over the market and talks to all the children from his seemingly suspended-in-mid-air sleigh. For a child it must be so exciting. For a lone adult with a belly full of gluhwein, it’s hilarious, a bit creepy, and MAGICAL.
Enjoy them day and night
Whenever I travel on my own I’m not usually one for staying out particularly late, partly because I’m a old lady, and partly down to monitoring my own safety in any unfamiliar place, but the nights draw in much earlier during market time, so you don’t have to stay out late to enjoy them in all their fairy-light adorned glory. A mug of gluhwein is just as delicious at 5pm as it is at 10pm.
Although, 5pm? Who am I kidding? The markets look beautiful in the crisp, cold winter daytime and without rain or wind, it’s my favourite sort of wandering weather and if that means a mug of something warm and alcoholic a little earlier in the day…well, it is a holiday! Wrap up in your cosiest layers and combine the markets with the sights of the city, hopping from market to museum to cathedral as I did in Cologne.
You all know that any post of mine is going to come back to where I can eat, and in the Christmas Markets in Germany there is no shortage of food. So many people are put off solo travel because they find the idea of eating alone as daunting and often embarrassing, and although I truly love having a meal on my own (often with a good book as company), I get it. But street food and wandering markets eliminates that fear entirely as you can eat while walking, or perch up next to a stall, chow down and be on your merry way.
And the food choices cover all the delicious classics: frankfurters and currywurst, crepes with all the fillings you can desire, bowls of stringy cheese fondue with chunks of bread, a sharing portion of potato cakes with apple sauce that I 100% devoured easily on my own.
There is also the infamous gluhwein, or mulled wine, the smell of which permeates all the markets and is prepared by the gallon. As a solo traveller who might be wary of drinking on their own, the concept of renting a mug to buy your refills is very reassuring. You pay an up-front deposit for your ceramic mug (each market has their own design) which you can get back if you return it, or you can take it home as a souvenir. I couldn’t resist keeping mine!
With a bag full of Christmas presents, a belly full of fondue and a camera roll full of festive cheer, it’s hard to feel down at a Christmas Market in Germany. If you haven’t quite kept your pledge of trying a solo trip this year, make this your last minute way of rounding off your 2019 travels.