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For many of us, the winter holidays can be the most hectic and stressful time of the year. There is nothing like a visit to the beautiful North German city of Hamburg to see that the festive season can be completely different. Each winter, the city transforms into a fairytale Christmas capital, where festive spirit is found without searching, holiday shopping is fun and it’s almost impossible not to relax and enjoy the magic of Christmas time, that is often even better spent with that special loved one. So whether you’re with your partner or group of friends, we’ve found the perfect activities to get you into the Christmas spirit.
In the Advent season, Hamburg transforms into a Yuletide fairytale of colourful lights, mouthwatering smells and festive carols. As many as 16 Christmas markets welcome millions of visitors to discover unique gifts, drink mulled wine and nibble sugar-roasted almonds. The most beloved by locals and visitors alike is the fairy-tale-like Historic Christmas Market at the foot of the elegant Town Hall, where Santa Claus flies across the wooden market stands in his carriage pulled by reindeer. Three times a day, at 4 pm, 6 pm, and 8 pm, he hovers above the visitors and reads out Christmas stories.
The festive season would not be the same without the scrumptious food that comes with it it. And if anyone can do it right, it’s the Germans. A visit to a Christmas market is not complete without sampling glühwein (mulled wine) or warm fruit punch. Along with that, why not try sugar-roasted almonds, lebkuchen (gingerbread), marzipan and stollen (fruit cake)? And, of course, don’t forget hearty treats like sausages grilled on an open fire, golden potato pancakes with apple sauce, roasted mushrooms in garlic sauce, as well as special Hamburg delicacies.
Beyond the Christmas markets, Hamburg’s shops and department stores will not disappoint even the most selective holiday shopper. In the heart of the city, ornately decorated storefronts along the Jungfernstieg boulevard and the Neuer Wall shopping street both invite you to discover luxury brands and famous designers. World-famous labels line nearby Mönckebergstraße and Spitalerstraße, but don’t forget to check out the city’s hip local brands and quirky independent boutiques.
Even though events at Hamburg’s grand Elbphilharmonie concert hall are booked out months in advance, a visit to the city’s architectural masterpiece is a must. At a height of 37 metres, where the historic warehouse and the modern glass structure meet, a public viewing platform known as the Plaza is open to everyone. During the short winter days, the 360° views across the harbour, with city centre decked out in festive lights, just might take your breath away. Tickets for same-day visits of the Plaza are free but you can also escape the queues and book them ahead for just two euros.
As clearly illustrated by the state-of-the-art architecture of the HafenCity district at the foot of the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg is a city that knows how to live in the now. Look no further than the enchanting White Magic market on the Alster Lake to discover that this modern spirit extends to the city’s Christmas markets. On the lake shore, white tents stand in the place of the traditional wooden huts, serving as an enchanting backdrop to a very different vibe of festive magic. The inviting aromas of mulled wine, cinnamon and roasted almonds waft across the water where, in the middle of the lake, a Christmas tree illuminates the winter skies.
Even though Hamburg is far from mountains and the snow is unreliable, it’s perfect for a winter sport that will put a smile on your face and colour on your cheeks: ice skating. Glide under the stars at Planten un Blomen park, where one of Germany’s biggest ice skating rinks awaits you. Every Friday and Saturday night at 7 pm this winter wonderland becomes a party on ice, with music played by live DJs. On top of this, several Christmas markets offer smaller ice rinks where you can skate to your heart’s content.
Culture Trip knew it all along, but now a study by Hostelworld confirms it: Hamburg is the best place in the world for a night out. The nightlife of the city’s diverse neighbourhoods will keep you awake long after the Christmas markets and shops have closed for the day. The undisputed heart of the city’s party life is legendary Reeperbahn in the St. Pauli district, while Sternschanze attracts a younger, alternative crowd.
The free spirit that makes Hamburg a perfect party location is reflected by some of its Christmas markets, too. Located on the aforementioned Reeperbahn, the Santa Pauli market is equal parts kitschy and cool. As befits a market in the middle of the Hamburg’s former red light district, the stands mix the traditional with the erotic and offer the sexiest gifts to put under the tree. In turn, the St. Georg district hosts the Winter Pride market, known for its alternative and queer spirit as well as its lively performances.
What better way to unwind from the busy holiday season than visiting a spa or thermal bath? Hamburg’s oldest bath, the Kaifu-Sole, offers a romantic experience where couples can indulge in thermal salt waters, while the elegant Holthusenbad offers exquisite saunas and massages. The Emotion Spa and the Meridian Spa both provide everything you’ll need for the ultimate pampering experience, and Float Hamburg invites guests to relax while weightlessly floating in salt water. Whatever your wellness preferences, Hamburg will deliver.
Throughout the Advent season, Hamburg’s churches and concert halls offer a diverse program of choir and orchestra performances, organ music and church music concerts, both classic and contemporary. There’s nothing quite like listening to harmonious Christmas music in candlelight to feel the holiday spirit and find the peace and beauty of this special time of the year. Search for upcoming events here.
When you think you have seen what Hamburg has to offer, continue exploring the nearby towns to discover more North-German Yuletide magic. Within easy reach from Hamburg, you’ll find the charming small towns like historic Lübeck, famous as the birthplace of marzipan, or medieval Lüneburg with its saltwater thermal baths. Another special experience is the Gut Basthorst agricultural estate, which hosts a Christmas market with over 300 artisans and craftspeople.