Travel

The Most Famous Christmas Market in Germany Is Also One of the Oldest

Be transported to 1628-but with electric twinkle lights instead of candles.

Christkindlesmarkt
Christkindlesmarkt
Christkindlesmarkt

Since I am the self-proclaimed Queen of Christmas (Mariah Carey? I don’t know her.), I obviously had to find the most festive of all holiday markets in the world. And because Germany basically started the whole Weihnachtsmarkt tradition, where we willingly, nay, joyfully freeze our butts off in order to shop amid the glow of twinkle lights and steaming drinks, my hunt took me to Nuremberg in Bavaria, about half way between Munich and Frankfurt. It is here where I experienced the magic of December.

Directly in the middle of the city, I beheld the Nuremberg Christmas Market, which-tracing all the way back to 1628-is one of the oldest in Deutschland and one of the most festive in the world. In fact, the four-week celebration here is so iconic, so historic, that its very name “Christkindlesmarket” has actually been trademarked by the region and is generally perceived as the gold standard. So I took in everything there is to know.

By going on private guided tours, meandering through the mazes of stalls, and interviewing a handful of locals (under the pretense of anonymity, of course), I gained the insider tips for tackling the storybook town’s most wonderful time of year. Here is a quick, but thorough list of the most fascinating learnings that I gathered along the way. Consider it an early gift for your own Christmas-hunting needs.

Christkindlesmarkt
Christkindlesmarkt
Christkindlesmarkt

Don’t take the Christkind Angel’s picture

Perhaps the most important figure of the holiday market is its real-life Christkind Angel, selected from a pool of applicants who must meet the following criteria:

  • Born in Nuremberg or have lived there most of their life
  • Between the ages of 16 and 19
  • At least 5’2″ and not afraid of heights (she is perched above the Frauenkirche “Church of Our Lady” in the main square for various ceremonies)
  • Willing to work in any weather as part of a two-year post

If you spot her, it’s like coming across a local celebrity (or Glinda from The Wizard of Oz, frankly), but don’t rush to take her picture-photos are reserved strictly for those who make a donation to a children’s charity. She will not be afraid to enforce this rule, nor will her police entourage who, while looking spiffy and dashing in their very-well-fitting uniforms, are also quite intimidating in tone and stature.

Christkindlesmarkt
Christkindlesmarkt
Christkindlesmarkt

Hunt for the rarer regional gifts

You’ll surely be delighted to find hand-crafted ornaments, personalized leather goods, and some seriously fluffy scarves at the stalls throughout the market. But there are two main products worth finding here that are specifically from Nuremberg and Nuremberg alone.

The first is a prune man made from-you guessed it-prunes, combined with birch wood (forming the “backbone”), figs, and a painted walnut head. It is said that prune men were invented by a wiredrawer in the 18th century who wanted to gift his children something special, but only had wire and a plum tree. The result: prune man (and now prune women or prune gender-neutral people, if you will), which symbolize the act of gift-giving around the holidays. Legend also has it that a prune man will bring money and happiness to households, but don’t eat the adorable figure-they’re just for show and can be maintained for years with light dustings and infrequent alcohol rubs.

The other regional product from this area is the Nuremberg Rauschgoldengel, a strikingly ornate tree-topper that has directly inspired the look of the aforementioned Christkind Angel. Its tradition began 350 years ago, after a local craftsman tragically lost his young daughter, who later appeared to him in a dream dressed in a golden hood and robe. In an effort to bring this dream to life, he took the head of a doll, a rolled brass metal plate, and gold-adorned clothing and wings to create the angel that you now see sold in Nuremberg today. While many modern iterations are constructed with cheaper materials, look for the Rehder family booth, which has existed for generations and still incorporates the delicate gold sheets as part of the angel’s ensemble.

Photo by Joey Skladany
Photo by Joey Skladany
Photo by Joey Skladany

Eat not-so-fast food

There is obviously no shortage of festive treats that line the dozens of red and white-striped stands. From chocolate-covered fruits and glühwein (mulled wine) to marzipan and pretzels the size of catcher’s mitts, Nuremberg goes all out with freshly-prepared food and drink to celebrate the holiday season.

But like Nuremberg’s crafts, there are really two delicacies that are truly from the region: lebkuchen and sausage.

The former is a honey-sweetened cake, almost like gingerbread, that is cookie-shaped and either glazed, dipped in chocolate, or enjoyed on its own. Invented by Nuremberg monks in the 13th century, the spiced sweet must follow strict protocol to be considered traditional, with rules like “it must contain no less than 25 percent nuts” or “it must contain less than 10 percent wheat flour.”

Christkindlesmarkt
Christkindlesmarkt
Christkindlesmarkt

Nuremberg sausage, typically served in threes on mini hoagies, is also no stranger to extreme regulation. For authenticity purposes, E.U. laws require local brats to be 7-9 centimeters long, 20-25 grams in weight, and have no more than 35% fat content. The pork must also be sourced from nearby farmers and seasoned only with a handful of spices like salt, pepper, and marjoram. While mustard is readily available, locals will recommend a sprinkling of freshly-shaved horseradish for the perfect zing.

There is also a myth that “the best” stands are on the market’s busy corners. The reality, at least according to locals, is that stall ownership changes yearly, and it’s best to simply go where your nose leads you.

If the crowds become overwhelming, you can, of course, head to a nearby restaurant like Die Wirtschaft for a traditional Franconian feast, sans the lines or the urge to push people out the way.

Schanzenbräu
Schanzenbräu
Schanzenbräu

Spend a beautiful day in the new neighborhood

The main market is located in Old Town, as is most of the holiday hustle and bustle, but do not limit yourself to this ultra-touristy area. Venture to trendy neighborhoods like Gostenhof for a more laid-back experience that will allow you to walk among the locals.

Stefan Stretz, the man behind Nuremberg’s second largest brewery, Schanzenbräu, serves his signature red beer and a full menu at the no-frills meeting spot, Schanzenbräu Schankwirtschaft (which is reminiscent of Cheers with its ability to draw residents for weekly pints and laughs). Aside from touting one of the most tender pork shoulders and delightfully tangy sauerkrauts you can find, Stretz also manages a nearby Advent Market, which is full of old-world charm and small-town hospitality.

It was here, in a church square in front of Dreieinigkeitskirche, where I actually chatted with most of the Nuremberg residents who were eager to help tourists like me get the most bang for my buck (or euphoria for my euro). This is where I also found the most unique and creative iterations of Old Town’s holiday classics, like glühwein in rosé, white, and spicy varieties (as opposed to popular red), as well as a hot beer (Stefan’s, of course) with a splash of rum.

Christkindlesmarkt
Christkindlesmarkt
Christkindlesmarkt

Remember the Earth

You won’t see much plastic in Nuremberg’s holiday markets. In fact, the only vendor allowed to sell it is Playmobil, famous for its figurines and toys for children. Otherwise, food is served in paper products that can be recycled, and beverages are presented in reusable mugs that can either be kept as a memento or returned in exchange for a few euros.

It’s the entire country’s mission to scale back its carbon footprint, which you also see among its businesses, including famed Hotel Victoria. The 62-room boutique accommodations, conveniently located at the base of Old Town and adjacent to Nuremberg’s main train station,

takes an eco-friendly, minimalist approach in providing the bare necessities, but in a quaint, luxurious environment. While at first it may seem against the grain to stay somewhere that scales back on full-fledged amenities, it’s a sobering and grateful reminder of just how much waste any traveler can go through during a short trip.

visitfrankfurt
visitfrankfurt
visitfrankfurt

Good things come in threes

Nuremberg, centrally located in Germany, is an easy train ride to Frankfurt and Munich, which also boast some of the best Christmas markets you can find, so you can tickle your fancy on a holiday market spree.

If you want to keep the merry and bright feelings rolling, the Römerberg Christmas Market is a favorite in Frankfurt, set among the facade of rainbow-colored buildings (almost like the ones you’d find in Curacao) and an oversized, double-decker carousel. The stay is complete with lodging at the newly-remodeled and highly buzzed-about Westin Grand, which encourages guests to “play well” and “eat well,” with modern rooms and an expansive lobby decked floor to ceiling with lights and metallic Christmas decorations.

Munich’s main Christmas market in historic city center Marienplatz is an unsurprising show-stopper. It’s also conveniently located next to Viktualienmarkt: a year-round culinary epicenter with stalls owned by chefs and entrepreneurs who must undergo a lengthy application process to even be considered. Once approved, they can also only specialize in one type of cuisine, as to not compete with nearby businesses. Be sure to stop by Caspar Plautz‘s booth to experience potato varieties you’ve never even heard of, fried, boiled, pureed, and prepared to your heart’s content.

Like Nuremberg and Frankfurt, the markets can get quite crowded, so a stay at the newly-open Scandic in the eastern neighborhood of Macherei will provide a much-needed respite with rooms that face the Alps.

Ambitious travelers can realistically knock out all three cities in a long weekend, creating a Christmas-filled itinerary that would even give Santa a run for his money.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Joey Skladany is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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