Nuremberg, Germany

Munich’s markets were spectacular and we could have easily spent our entire trip basking in their glow (and snacking on their bratwurst), but we wanted to see the most famous: Nuremberg’s. Going back to at least the early 1600s, it may not have been the earliest market, but it is one of the largest in Germany and probably the most well-known. We joined a throng of other tourists on a morning train out of Munich, a smooth ride across the snow-free countryside that didn’t feel particularly wintery from the comfort of the carriage.

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Stepping out of the train station in Nuremberg, it was impossible to get lost. Signs point the way to the central square and we couldn’t miss the lines of people moving in the same direction. Some red-and-white roofed stalls escaped the main market and lined the other avenues. There was no escape from mulled wine or lebkuchen! Others sell fresh fruit or lace. More modern cabins/foodtrucks hawked sushi and Asian fusion food.

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The entire Hauptmarkt was covered by the wooden cabins. They squeezed in at the edges and surrounded the Schöner Brunnen fountain. Unlike many markets, the majority of the stalls sold decorations and gifts rather than food, though there were plenty of those as well. Handmade glass-blown ornaments, snow globes, nutcrackers, and traditional figurines made of dried fruit and nuts were all given plenty of shelf space. Finger-sized Nuremberger sausages proved a perfect snack as did the fresh lebkuchen topped with icing and almonds.

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The rest of Nuremberg is beautiful as well. Just outside of the old center, the Kaiserburg provides a loftier view over the rooftops, though clouds kept the horizon muted. Narrow medieval streets and buildings were rebuilt after World War II so that the center retains its pedestrian feel. Plenty of small bakeries and shops sell regional specialties and gingerbread.

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Naturally we ended up back at the market as the sun set. The rain, which had been keeping some of the crowd away during midday, had ceased. We noticed several balconies overlooking the square and decided it looked like a better spot to enjoy the spiced wine. Late afternoon and evening seemed to be the high water mark for visitors, with people flocking to the squares.

A Children’s Market was set up in another nearby plaza, focusing on sweets and handmade toys circling around several carnival rides. On top of each cabin, animatronic figures drummed or assembled toys. There was also an international market where vendors from Nuremberg’s sister cities sell more exotic goods. Held every year for the last couple of decades it is a fun way to bring in traditions from the rest of the globe. We found the stand from Atlanta, US which had Hersey’s bars and Reese’s.

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Nuremberg certainly deserves its title as Christmas capital. The whole city embraces the season, all year long. Its Christkindlmarkt was by far the most traditional looking of all the ones we saw. And a day trip was the perfect way to see it. We had enough time to visit the whole market and wander around the town itself before heading back to Munich’s greater variety of markets.

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Munich, Germany

We rolled into our final Christmas market destination just a few days before the holiday. But of the three regions we visited, Munich certainly showed the most spirit. Germany LOVES Christmas and getting ready for Christmas and shopping for Christmas. As proof I submit the dozens of markets in and around the city and the amount of garlanded and lit windows and frantic shoppers we witnessed. Even our Airbnb host got into the spirit, greeting us with poinsettias and a tiny decorated (and real!) tree.

After our arrival we grabbed a few basic groceries and then headed to the nearest Christkindlmarkt at Sendlinger Tor. The market was crowded but not crushing and full of scents of mulled wine and beer and bratwurst. After eyeing the glass ornaments and nutcrackers for sale, we found glasses of mulled beer (a first for us that the markets to the south should copy) made with spices reminiscent of gingerbread. Plenty of locals grabbed a post-work pint and snack with tourists mixed in.

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A10 pass in Austria, decorations in our apartment and at markets

We made a concerted effort to see as many markets as possible before they closed on December 23 or 24. Our second stop turned out to be Tollwood. Held on the Oktoberfest grounds at Theresienwiese, there is markedly less beer this time of year. With large tents housing bazaars of local handcrafted goods and another tent covering a food court, it was the easiest one to spend long amounts of time at. And we found that the goulash soup and potatoes made a perfect winter meal.

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At the Christkindlmarkts

The market at Marienplatz was a must, the huge tree dominating the wooden houses set up around the square. We walked through a number of times, and as it ended on the afternoon of the 24th, listened to brass band play Christmas carols from an open deck below the Glockenspiel. This main market didn’t have a better selection but certainly catered to larger crowds.

On Wittelsbacherplatz, the Mittelaltermarkt held the title for most distinct. Basically a Renaissance Faire dolled up for the holiday, they fully embrace the middle ages theme. Everyone is dressed in period-ish clothing and there are more ragouts and stews for snacking and weighty ceramic cups and plates. One corner was full of the wafting scent of salmon, slow-cooked in a wood-fired oven. The market around the Chinese Pagoda in the English Garden seemed the most kid-friendly. They also were serving up Urbock, one of the tastier non-spiced beers. The sunny day balanced out the beer’s chill nicely.

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More market goodness

The rest of Munich was just as beautiful and welcoming as the two previous times we visited (during quicker stopovers on more traditional vacations). Though we’d already been to Asamkirche it was worth a second stop. The ornate interior is so densely decorated that it was hard to pick our individual details from the general splendor. Still, the skeleton cutting someone’s tenuous connection to life drives home the central point in the entryway.

Christmas day itself was especially warm, and we wandered along the Isar River to the English Garden. Lots of kids were trying out new bikes and it seemed like surfers at the Wave might have received some new gear as well. Munich takes the week between Christmas and the new year seriously – many small shops and restaurants shut down completely and even larger places operate on limited hours. We grocery shopped in advance and enjoyed the quieter neighborhood vibe.

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One more tree, inside Asam Church, the Wave

Having already seen the Residenz, the main royal palace in Munich, Schloss Nymphenburg filled our palace and castle line item for this stop. Built as a summer home when the surroundings were countryside rather than city streets, it feels more relaxed though it sprawls out to either direction for what feels like miles. The interior rooms are heavily muraled and bedecked with matching furniture. Outside, man-made canals and lakes form the centerpieces of a heavily landscaped vista that encompassed hundreds of acres now fronted by tram stops and backed by a train line.

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Schloss Nymphenburg

Munich’s art museums are clustered in the Maxvorstadt neighborhood. We stopped by the Alte Pinakothek, which focused on works up through the 18th century. Currently under renovation, several galleries are shuttered and some masterworks are housed in temporary positions. Still, we felt like we got a good overview of the collection. For some reason it felt like more of the paintings dealt with bar and drinking scenes…

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Alte Pinakothek, a 250mb hard drive at the Deutsches Museum

We missed the Deutsches Museum on previous trips, even though it is the largest technology and science museum on the continent. When we arrived, ticket lines stretched several hundred feet out of the courtyard and down the sidewalk. Rather than wait in falling snow, we opted to buy our tickets on our phone as we stood in the lobby. Several other families were doing the same; though it cost a euro extra for the privilege it saved us at least 40 minutes of queueing. It was shocking as well – walking by a few days earlier there had been no wait at all. Inside the museum there are miles of tech-related exhibits, many of which are interactive. Telescopes, centuries-old globes, airplanes, and ships share the space with a recreation of a coal mine, a cave, glassblowing, and interactive physics experiments. The old computer equipment was among the most mind-blowing. For example, the washing-machine-sized hard drive in the image above stores just 250 megabyes; the image I took of it on my phone is too large to fit on it. A cloud chamber entranced us for quite a while. Charged particles cause puffs of condensed water vapor to form, a direct way to visualize the radiation all around us, some of which is the universe’s background voice.

Munich is always lovely, and each time I leave I miss it. In many ways it feels like home. Having grown up with the background of German midwestern influence, much of the food and cultural tics are at least a little familiar. I’d absolutely visit again, in any season, for any length of time.