No country channels the festive spirit quite like Germany. From the world-famous Christmas markets to glittering boutiques and festivity-filled shopping streets, Germany’s cities are the perfect destinations in which to eat, drink and be merry – and stock up on some seriously beautiful gifts along the way.
Filled with steaming cups of crimson gluhwein, fairy light-strewn stalls and sugar-dusted gingerbread, Germany’s Christmas markets are the perfect places for diving headfirst into festive revelry.
Come December, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a German town of any notable size that doesn’t host a vibrant market piled with handmade gifts, shiny ornaments and tempting culinary offerings of all shapes and sizes. The most popular and flamboyant events typically fill the centres and squares of larger cities, and Frankfurt’s much-loved market on the Römerberg sets the seasonal standard; the fun-filled event dates right back to the 14th century, and today’s incarnation features fairground rides, twinkling stalls, local artists, carol concerts and a resplendent 30-metre Christmas tree.
For a more intimate feel, make like the locals and head out to the nearby city of Wiesbaden for its lesser-known but nonetheless spectacular Twinkling Star Christmas Market. Set against the backdrop of the Hessischer Landtag parliament building, this striking market features huge illuminated lilies that tower magnificently above shoppers and shimmer against the clear evening skies.
One of the country’s more original-spirited festive markets takes place south of Frankfurt in historic Worms. This ancient city’s quirky yuletide gathering includes gospel choirs, animals in a ‘living manger’ and a carol-singing flash mob as well as lashings of more traditional seasonal treats.
If you love the Christmas market atmosphere but also fancy gift shopping in some super stylish boutiques then make a beeline for Düsseldorf. Not only does this avant-garde city have a festive market spread generously over seven locations (from 19 November to 23 December), but it also rivals the likes of Paris, Milan and New York for first-rate designer shopping.
The place to really splash the cash in Düsseldorf is Königsallee: a glamorous boulevard filled with the biggest in designer names. Find Armani at number 56 (+49 211 9870 9962), Burberry at 50 (+49 211 320 926), Chanel at 28-30 (+49 211 598 8680), Hermes at 10 (+49 211 864 380) and Louis Vuitton at 20 (+49 211 323 230). This swanky street is also home to plenty of upmarket high-street brands such as Karen Millen (74, +49 211 1365 1654), Gant (60, +49 211 136 5646) and Cos (80, +49 211 168 4868), and its generous sprinkling of Christmas lights during advent makes a stint of luxury shopping here a thoroughly festive affair.
Hamburg also boasts an increasingly upmarket shopping scene. Pick up the latest pair of Christian Louboutins at Unger (Neuer Wall 35, +49 40 334 470), a hub for fashion’s big names, and stock up on high-end British classics at Ladage & Oelke (Neuer Wall 11, +49 40 3501 8900), a charming traditional clothing shop stocking quality duffel coats, tweed, kilts and wax jackets. You’ll find plenty of well-to-do locals in search of something glitzy to wear to the office Christmas party at Braun Hamburg (Möckebergstraße 17, +49 40 334 470), a slick retailer that has kept the city kitted out in designer togs for the past 80 years. For designer gear with an alternative edge there’s Petra Teufel (Hohe Bleichen 13, +49 40 378 6160), a high-fashion boutique known for its celebrity clientele.
Those who visit Hamburg over any of the four Saturdays in advent can also enjoy the Hamburg Christmas Parade. This procession of family favourites includes Santa and his elves and reindeer, plus a festively adorned float, all making their way from the Galeria Kaufhof in Mönckebergstraße to Jungfernstieg three times a day.
Of Hamburg’s 15 Christmas markets, the Spielzeugasse or ‘Toy Street’ is a particular dreamland for youngsters, brimming with colourful stalls of children’s toys and tempting snacks. The vibrant collection of stalls here are the perfect place for picking up gifts and Christmas treats for young family members, or bring them along to enjoy the jovial atmosphere.
If you do have little ones in tow, don’t miss the Fairytale Ships on the Inner Alster. These five ‘ships’ have been springing up in time for Christmas for the last 26 years, and each one provides a different form of entertainment: the kids can get hands-on baking festive biscuits to then take home with them aboard one of the two Bakery Ships; all ages can indulge in an array of sweet treats on the Café Ship; there’s an exciting theatrical programme to be taken in on the Theatre Ship; and youngsters can see their wildest imaginings come to life on the mystical Dream Ship.
Another one of Germany’s top spots for youngsters during the festive season is Cologne. Just a 30-minute journey south from Düsseldorf, its collection of Christmas markets attracts almost 2 million visitors every year. Tots are very well catered for at the stately Alter Markt in front of the Old Cologne Town Hall, thanks to a children’s roundabout, a puppet theatre, a grotto and endless toy stands. Older children will love the life-size fairytale figures and illuminations on display at the Rudolfplatz market, while adults in need of some serious retail therapy can stock up on Christmas gifts at the nearby Galeria Kaufhof (Hohe Strasse 41-53, +49 221 2230), one of the biggest and most famous department stores in Germany.