Nobody does Christmas like the Germans. Perhaps it’s because they came up with the Christmas market idea in the Middle Ages and have had plenty of time to perfect the tradition. The Nuremberg Christmas Market, considered one of the best in Germany, dates back to the early 1600s.
There are actually three distinct holiday markets spread around Nuremberg’s beautiful Old Town. Whereas each of the Cologne Christmas markets has a unique theme, the Nuremberg Christmas markets are unified around the Christkind, or Christmas Angel. Nuremberg’s younger, prettier version of Santa Claus, the Christmas Angel has been delivering presents to eager children since Martin Luther introduced the idea in the 16th century.
The main Nuremberg Christmas Market is made up of so many stalls that locals call it the “little city of wood and cloth.” Nearly 200 wooden booths topped with candy cane-striped awnings fill the Hauptmarkt in the center of town. I was especially impressed with the ornaments and decorations on offer here. Most of the items are handmade by regional artisans and it shows in the quality and variety. I came home with several finely painted glass ornaments, which vendors carefully packed in boxes for safe travel.
Be on the lookout for the prune people, which you will only find in Nuremberg. These quirky figurines made of prunes and dried figs are supposedly a local tradition dating back hundreds of years. They are dressed in colorful costumes and have adorable facial expressions painted on their walnut heads. Note: these are for display, not eating.
If you’re standing in the market at noon, turn your gaze to the Gothic Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady. When the clock strikes twelve, the trumpeters and drummers begin to play as figures parade around a golden emperor.
Sister Cities Market
Nuremberg has sister cities around the world, from Atlanta, Georgia to Shenzhen, China, and a dozen places in between. Representatives from each have a booth in the Nuremberg Sister Cities Market. You can warm up with a hot toddy from Glasgow while shopping for carnival masks from Venice, cheese from Nice, and handmade dolls from Kharkiv.
The idea for the Sister Cities Market sprouted from the wreckage of WWII, when Nuremberg was keen to rehab its image. Since European unity was a major goal of the post-war years, many of the sister cities are from neighboring countries. Israel also has a booth, which I find very poignant given the history.
Tucked along the old city wall behind a massive stone watchtower is Nuremberg’s Handwerkerhof, or Craftsmen’s Courtyard. This recreated medieval village of half-timbered houses serves as a showcase for some of Nuremberg’s best artisans. Strolling along the narrow lanes you’ll see silversmiths, potters, leatherworkers, and glass blowers honing their skills. It’s a great place to shop for traditional handicrafts away from the big Christmas market crowds. The courtyard is open year-round but is especially charming when decked out for the holidays.
What to Eat and Drink at the Nuremberg Christmas Market
One of my favorite parts of the German Christmas market experience is trying all the different foods and beverages. You are probably familiar with glühwein, the hot mulled wine that’s a become a holiday staple across the continent. But Nuremberg has a unique blueberry version that is especially tasty. Keep the collectible mug, or return it to the booth for a refund.
Bratwurst originates in Germany, and Nuremberg’s recipe is one of the oldest ever recorded. The little sausages (called Nurembergers) are about the size of your index finger and come three to a bun with a dollop of spicy mustard. Nuremberg’s oldest sausage shop, Bratwurstglöcklein, is located in the Handwerkerhof village, mentioned above. If you want a non-meat option, how about a plate of kartoffelpuffer, or fried potato pancakes, with apple sauce?
Another famous treat that hails from the region is lebkuchen, aka gingerbread. Nuremberg was once in the middle of an important trading route, and many exotic spices passed through its markets. Traditional Nuremberg lebkuchen is loaded with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and almonds. The round cookies are tender, and come in three varieties – plain, iced, or chocolate dipped. While they don’t taste anything like the gingerbread I’m used to in the States, they are delicious nonetheless.
Don’t miss out on Käthe Wohlfahrt while in Nuremberg! This purveyor of handcrafted glass and wooden ornaments originates in the Bavarian village of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and has a large shop in Nuremberg. This is a great place to find nutcrackers, incense burners, and other traditional Christmas figures.
As enchanting as the markets are, make sure you spare some time to walk around and simply enjoy Nuremberg. The city was founded in 1050 and flourished during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. While 90% of the medieval center was destroyed during WWII, you’d never guess it today. The Old Town was reconstructed with incredible attention to detail, and the original materials were reused as much as possible.
A small island in the middle of the Pegnitz River, which bisects the Old Town, is populated with chic boutiques, galleries, and cafes. It’s a far cry from the Middle Ages, when the city’s executioner lived here amongst the poorer residents. The executioner’s house and tower are now a museum. (Look for the neon sign of an ax chopping off a hand. Seriously.) Just across the lane is a museum on the history of Bratwurst. A series of covered bridges makes this area particularly scenic.
High on a hill at the northern edge of Old Town sits Nuremberg Castle. Originally dating to the 11th century, the imperial castle was an important stop for traveling royals during the heyday of the Holy Roman Empire. Bavarian kings added a few lavish interiors in the 1800s, but these were stripped out by the Nazis in the 1930s. By the war’s end, the castle was reduced to a pile of rubble, with only the imperial chapel and one watch tower unscathed.
If you want to explore the town while giving your feet a rest, keep an eye out for the little red hop on-hop off train.
Are you ready to visit the Nuremberg Christmas Market?
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Sure wish I could have been with you. I miss our trips. I’m sure you bought lots of goodies.
Celeste Benoit says
Thanks, Heather for another great travel posting. I love seeing all the pictures. Happy Holidays!