How to spend the perfect weekend exploring Hamburg's Christmas markets
Don't know your Santa Pauli from your Roncalli when it comes to festive Hamburg? Don't worry, our Hamburg Christmas market weekend guide will have you sorted in no time.
We might be in the thick of the festive season, but these two Aussies have a very un-festive confession to make (don’t worry Santa, we still believe in you).
Until recently, we didn’t really ‘get’ the whole Christmas market thing.
It’s not that we didn’t think they were pretty, or a great place to hang out with friends during the silly season; it’s more the fact that it just doesn’t quite feel the same drinking gluhwein in 30 degrees, with the baking sun setting at 9:30pm. It’s just not Christmas.
Thankfully though, we’re now based in wintry London and the northern hemisphere, where quaint Christmas markets full of fairy lights finally make sense (the freezing weather, not so much), and the promise of a piping hot gluhwein to warm your insides is a lifesaving one. More to the point, we finally get why Santa rides a sleigh and wears a furry jacket and thick winter boots!
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Armed with our new-found knowledge, and not wanting to spend a minute longer missing out on the glorious festive traditions of the north, we decided to pay a visit to a city with the most varied Christmas markets in Europe. That city? Hamburg.
Hamburg's Christmas markets, much like the city itself, are a mix of traditional and contemporary, quirky and cool. We spent an awesome weekend exploring some of the best, and filling our souls with delicious treats along the way. As you can imagine, we left with all the warm, fuzzy festive feels.
If you’re looking for a very merry (and at times, very unusual!) Christmas market city break, Hamburg’s definitely your place.
Here’s how to make the most of your Hamburg Christmas market weekend.
OUR GUIDE TO THE PERFECT HAMBURG CHRISTMAS MARKET WEEKEND
Arrive at 5pm
Arrive at Hamburg’s airport, and make your way to your accommodation to settle in.
Transport from the airport to the city is simple - just jump aboard the S1 U-Bahn to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof - the journey takes 25 minutes.
We recommend staying in the hip Sternschanze District of Hamburg, where a great range of hostels, hotels and AirBnB’s exist. We stayed in the uber cool Fritz Im Pyjama hotel, and highly recommend it!
Once you’ve settled in, head to one of the local community Christmas markets - they’re easy to find, dotted on almost every street corner. The lovely thing about the local markets is that they’re far less crowded, and have a great community feel. Grab a steaming gluhwein and chat to a local or two.
Next, move on to Altes Madchen beer house in Sternschanze - a cosy, modern beer hall, with delicious food and a truly incredible selection of beers (it is Germany after all). We recommend trying the beer paddle to sample a range of their beers, and balancing it out with the fish and chips.
After dinner, head to the hip St. Pauli District for perhaps the wackiest Christmas markets in Europe, Santa Pauli.
Santa Pauli, located off the infamous Reeperbahn, is the Christmas market you’d expect to find if a red light district and a Christmas market had a baby. There’s a stripping Santa (yep, Santa and his helpers strip their kits off), dildo inspired lollipops, and a mountain of alternative alcoholic Christmas drinks - St. Pauli is, after all, Hamburg’s most liberal district. It gets busy and a little rowdy, but that’s all part of the fun. So drink up and roll with it.
The Reeperbahn has a huge array of bars and clubs waiting for you, however, the weekend is long and there’s plenty of time for a party, so save your dancing shoes for Saturday night, and head back to get some shut-eye! There’s a big day of Christmassing ahead tomorrow.
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There’s no rush to get up - relax your way into the day and enjoy breakfast at one of the many cool cafes in Sternschanze. We recommend Cafe Elbgold, Oma’s Apotheke, or a wander into neighbouring St Pauli for Cafe Mimosa in St. Pauli, a cosy Italian cafe specialising in generations-old recipes.
The hip streets of Sternschanze are perfect for walking off breakfast, with cool street art dotted throughout the suburb. There’s also a number of trendy clothing boutiques and homewares stores to spend all your hard earned cash in.
Head to the nearby district of Altona, another of Hamburg’s super cool suburbs, and walk through the Ottensen Christmas Markets. Considered as one of Hamburg’s most authentic Christmas markets, the streets are filled with traditional wooden huts selling gifts, culinary treats (Lebkuchen for the win), gluhwein and roasted almonds.
There are also wonderful street performers adding to the jovial spirit, so we recommend spending a few hours here and soaking up the Christmas spirit (by that, we mean hot chocolate with spirits and whipped cream, obvs).
Lunch will be late, be it’s definitely worth it. Located down a hidden alleyway lies ZweiPunktNull (Two Point Zero), a hip restaurant with incredible wood-fired pizza lifted straight from Naples. We recommend everything because, pizza.
Wash it down with a Ratsherrn, Hamburg’s best local beer (we’re calling it!).
As the darkness descends on the city, head to the Hamburg’s most famous (and beautiful) Christmas market at the Rathausmarkt, the Roncalli Weihnachtsmarkt. Nestled beside the historic town hall of Hamburg, this traditional Christmas market features woodcarvers from Tyrol, gingerbread makers from southern Germany, plenty of gluhwein, and delicious Christmas cuisine.
We’re not overly traditional, but this was our favourite market in all of Hamburg - it just felt like all our Christmas dreams rolled into one market.
After a few too many mulled wines, head back to the Reeperbahn and one of the many backstreet bars for a cocktail or four. We recommend trying a Gin Basil Smash, a delightful mix of gin, basil, lemon juice and sugar syrup, which was perfected right here in Hamburg.
There are a heap of clubs to visit if you’re keen to boogie on, ranging from rock to techno, punk to funk - and all with a super welcoming, fun vibe.
[If you'd like to explore the Reeperbahn with a local who knows all its secrets, you could also join this adults-only guided tour of the Reeperbahn district (includes a drink and a shot too!).
If you’ve got a hangover (which let’s face it, you probably will after a night on the Reeperbahn) take it easy and enjoy breakfast in bed before braving the day ahead.
Jump on the U-Bahn to Baumwall station and walk to Hamburg’s architectural and culture masterpiece, the Elbphilharmonie. Opened in January 2017, the Elbphilharmonie is one of the largest and most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world, and the popular viewing deck provides wonderful views of the city, the nearby Speicherstadt district, and harbour. You can also take a guided tour of the Elbphilarmonie (£13), or if you'd like to see more of the surrounding area, a tour of the Elbphilharmoie, Speicherstadt and HafenCity (£22).
Close to the Elbphilharmonie lies the famous Speicherstadt, home to the largest world’s largest warehouse district. Made of red brick and reflecting the gothic style of architecture of 1883-1927, Speicherstadt was given UNESCO protection in 2015. The area is a photographer’s paradise, with lines and contours around each corner.
It is possible to take a canal tour through the district (leaving from St. Pauli), however, we recommend taking a few hours just to stroll at your leisure and enjoy this unique district.
Boooo…. It’s time to leave. Which really is a shame as there’s so much more to explore of this city. It just means you’ll need to return in Summer.
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HOW TO GET TO HAMBURG
Hamburg is an extremely easy city to get to, with transport available via air, rail or bus.
All major budget airlines fly to Hamburg daily, with EasyJet and Ryanair consistently the cheapest.
If you’re looking to visit Hamburg, search for flights through Skyscanner for the most up to date deals.
Hamburg is a major destination within Germany, so it’s serviced by major trains daily.
If you’re travelling from London, the journey ranges from 8 - 14 hours, connecting via Brussels and Cologne before ending in Hamburg. All trains arrive into Hamburg Hauptbahnhof.
With cheaper and quicker alternatives, we wouldn’t recommend taking a bus to Hamburg, however, if you do choose this method of travel, all buses stop at Hamburg central bus station, located close to Hauptbahnhof in the suburb of St. Georg.
From London, a bus journey takes around 20 hours.
HOW TO GET AROUND HAMBURG
We found Hamburg to be one of the easiest cities to get around in, with typical excellent and efficient German public transport servicing all of the city.
We recommend purchasing the Hamburg Card, an all in one transport ticket that allows travel on train, bus and harbour ferry. It also gives you savings for more than 150 tourist attractions through the city.
You can purchase your ticket in advance using this link.
WHERE TO STAY IN HAMBURG
Like all major cities, Hamburg has a vast selection of great accommodation options, and in typical German style, they're all just a little bit cool.
When visiting Hamburg, we stayed in the Hotel Fritz im Pyjama, in Sternschanze. It’s a budget boutique hotel, with incredibly cool rooms, comfy beds and huge bathrooms. Breakfast is also included every morning.
Read TripAdvisor reviews about Hotel Fritz im Pyjama here
If you’re after a more homely space, Airbnb is your best bet. We recommend staying in Sternschanze, Altona/Ottensen, or St. Pauli.
Remember to use our code when booking for £30 credit on your next trip
If you’re on a budget, there are a heap of backpacker hostels in Hamburg, most located in the St. Pauli and Sternschanze areas.
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We were hosted on our Hamburg Christmas Market weekend by Hamburg Tourism.
As always, thoughts are our own.