Mumsnet was invited to Hamburg to explore the city’s Christmas markets. Germany is synonymous with Christmas – after all, it was Prince Albert who introduced the Christmas tree (Tannenbaum) to Queen Victoria, and Bavarian-style Christmas markets pop up every year in city centres across the UK. Where better then to spend a weekend in the festive season than Hamburg, historic port city in the north of Germany?
Although Christmas markets have traditionally been a feature in the south of the country, Hamburg has been pulling out all the stops to spread festive cheer across the north too, boasting sixteen ‘Weinachtsmarkt’ across the city in 2015, and that’s without including the suburbs.
The main attraction is the largest market, situated outside Hamburg’s historic town hall. Featuring rows of quaint stalls, there’s plenty to see – from the miniature railway that runs on a track above the heads of customers to twice-daily appearances by Santa Claus himself, children will be delighted by the magical feeling. If you’re feeling peckish, there’s a variety of delicious traditional German food such as bratwurst and ‘bretzel’ (pretzels) on offer, and the traditional mulled wine – with a special non-alcoholic version available for the kids, too! It really is a magical place to get lost for an hour or two, exploring the different ‘streets’ of stalls and taking a peak at the handcrafted wares for sale. The organisers take great care to select vendors who produce high quality products, so there’s no Christmas tat to be found. Look out for the 'Toymaker's Alley' where a model train runs on a track just above the bustling crowds.
We also visited the upscale white market just a stone’s throw away, where the stalls and lights are all – you guessed it – white. This elegant market features luxury products and is more aimed at adults, as is the ‘over eighteens only’ St. Pauli market in Hamburg’s traditional red light district, so if you get some time to explore without the children, there’s plenty for adults to enjoy too.
Beyond the markets, there’s plenty to see and do in Hamburg itself – from scenic walks along the river at Hamburg’s very own UNESCO World Heritage site, to exploring Hamburg’s hidden playgrounds and parks. If it’s too cold for that, the Miniatur Wunderland is the place to go – it’s the world’s largest model railway, over three floors in the warehourse district. Painstakingly detailed models of Hamburg, Switzerland, Holland the USA fill the floors, with working trains, planes and automobiles coming and going. You can get lost for hours taking in all the minute detail (look out for aliens, bigfoot, and at Christmas, a nativity scene) and every twenty minutes there’s a shift from day to night in the building where the lights are dimmed and you get to see the models in a completely new way. Particularly fun for smaller visitors (and big kids alike) are the buttons that can be pressed to make a scene come to life, and with the models changing with the seasons, there’s always something different on display.
If food is more your thing, try a visit to the Chocoversum – Hamburg’s interactive chocolate museum. Here you can try chocolate at every stage of its life from bean to bar, as well as creating your own flavour to take away. Daily tours are available in English and the staff are friendly and knowledgeable – you’ll be amazed at what you learn, and come away with a whole new appreciation for how much work goes into one bar of chocolate!
I stayed at the Hotel Richsdorf, just opposite Hamburg Hauptbahnof, which was brilliantly located for travelling around the city and from the airport and back. There are plenty of hotels and hostels aimed at families travelling – I looked in on Superbude, which has two locations in the city, and 25 Hours hotel, both of which offer boutique accommodation at affordable prices. For transport, Hamburg is quite easy to get around thanks to the fast and reliable underground and overground (U-Bahn and S-Bahn) services, as well as a great bus service. The airport is thirty minutes from the city centre via S-Bahn and served by most UK airports.
If you’re looking for somewhere to spend a long weekend to get you in the Christmas spirit, Hamburg is definitely well worth a look!