Europe

German Christmas Markets: Things to Try

When you're used to Christmas in New Zealand, acclimatising to spending Christmas in the middle of winter is tough. However, having the Christmas markets down the road makes it a little more bearable. Originally a German thing, they have now spread across Europe and many people come from other continents just to experience this magical Christmas tradition. As a result of their popularity the Christmas markets are almost always crowded and can be very overwhelming if you’re visiting just one and want to try everything. So I’ve made a list!

Here are my favourite things to try at the Christmas markets and some tips for finding the top spots.

1. Würste/Sausages

What German experience would be complete without a sausage or two? Every German Christmas market will offer a wide selection of sausages usually including a local specialty. They are almost always served in a crusty bread roll (brötchen). Look around for the mustard pump, if you’re lucky it will be an udder-like squeezy bottle hanging from the roof!

2. Warm Alcoholic Beverages

I’m not really a hot drinks person at the best of times so hot alcohol really isn’t my thing. But this year I made it my mission to find a Christmas market beverage that I enjoyed. There are plenty of Glühwein (mulled wine)  options including red, white and rose and even options for shots to be added. Here in Frankfurt the local drink is apple wine which they serve hot at the markets. My pick though is a hot chocolate with a shot of brandy and cream. Mmmmmmm!

3. Nuts

You’ll be able to locate the nut stalls by their sweet smells wafting through the market. There are huge varieties covered in various flavoured coatings. Roasted chesnuts are a real winter thing here and there are often big ovens roasting the nuts while you wait.

4. Lebkuchen

Things to try at the German christmas markets

This is the German version of gingerbread and anyone who has been to Oktoberfest will be familiar with them. Usually heart-shaped biscuits with piped icing to decorate and write some kind of message. They come on strings to hang around your neck. I’m not such a fan of the actual biscuit but love the look of them all hanging in the lit up stalls. So German!

5. Schokokuss

best foods at german christmas markets

For my fellow kiwis these are somewhat comparable to a Mallowpuff. Delicious flavoured marshmallow filling on a waffle base, cased in chocolate. The marshmallow is lighter and creamier than normal and comes in the most amazing variety of flavours such as coconut, Baileys and mocha. A real melt in the mouth treat and at only 70c a pop you can try a few flavours!

You will find these things at almost every Christmas market in Germany. It can be very difficult choosing which Christmas markets to visit and when to go.

Tips for Visiting German Christmas Markets 

  • Big city ones will be busy. For a quieter experience head to small towns. These can be just as nice and much more relaxed and authentic. For big ones try Nuremberg, Cologne, Frankfurt or Dresden. Smaller ones are in every town. Around Frankfurt I can recommend Wiesbaden, Darmstadt or Mainz.

  • Pace yourself if you're going to more than one. They do all get the same after a while so choose a couple of things to try at each.

  • Every market has local specialties and different souvenirs so look out for something different.

  • Take the cups. If you're looking for something to remember the markets you can take home the glühwein cups which have a special design for every market every year (you pay a €2-3 deposit when you buy a drink).

  • Go during the day to shop as its much quieter and then go back at night to enjoy the atmosphere and drinks.

Christmas markets will never quite replace barbecues in the sun in the lead up to Christmas but they sure make the cold more tolerable and bring a bit of Christmas magic to almost every town in Germany.

Looking for more German food experiences? Here's some things to do in Munich.

Delicious things to try at a traditional German Christmas market. #christmasmarket #germany #winter #glühwein
Planning a winter trip to Europe? Don't miss the gorgeous German Christmas Markets. Read about delicious things to try at a traditional German Christmas market. #christmasmarket #germany #winter #glühwein #food #christmastime #travel #fairytale #fairytalemarkets

The Long Route Home: Hitchhiking in the UK and Europe

UK-Europe-Hitchhiking.jpg

  Our adventure began with an incredibly silly mistake on our part. We had just spent a wonderful week visiting friends and experiencing the Edinburgh Fringe and were all checked in and waiting at the gate for our flight home to Frankfurt. And that's as far as we got...

For some unknown reason we sat and talked our way through the boarding and closing of our flight. After pleading with the staff and being given a resounding 'no' we sat and came to terms with our dilemma. Either we could pay over €100 each for a new flight in  two days time or find another way home. Buses and trains were extremely long and expensive so we opted for the cheapest way we could think of: hitchhiking.

Neither of us had really hitchhiked before and didn't know a lot about it but after some reading up, route planning and sign making we were ready to hit the road! We weren't expecting to get very far but set our sights on London where we could easily find another way home. But we were so overwhelmed by the generosity and friendliness of British drivers that we continued our adventure across the channel and into Europe.

uk-europe-hitchhiking-2

uk-europe-hitchhiking-2

Trip Stats

Time: Four days

Rides: 16

Average wait time: 30mins

Money spent: €85 (food and accommodation)

Longest ride: Dover to Holland

Highlight: Hitchhiking out of the centre of London because we didn't want to pay the ridiculous public transport prices.

Lowlight: Being dropped in a small Dutch town after dark and having to find affordable accommodation for the night.

Everyone we rode with, from a friendly Scottish salesman to family of Iranian women who spoke no English, was just a kind person heading in the same direction. One man drove us from Belgium to Germany because it was his day off and he had some spare time! At no point did we feel threatened or in danger. We never needed to wait long and managed to visit some friends along the way as well as making new ones. Definitely a mode of transport I would use again!

uk-europe-hitchhiking

uk-europe-hitchhiking

Tips for Hitchhiking in the UK and Europe

  • Travel in twos. This is a basic safety tip but also makes you seem more sociable and approachable to potential rides.

  • Travel light. It much easier to fit in a car or jump in quickly if you only have small bags. Lots of people will drive past if you have lots of gear as they can't be bothered with the hassle of packing the car.

  • Have a sign. We held up a sign with the name of the next town or just the direction we were heading. This got drivers attention and meant they knew straight away if they could help or not.

  • Stand in a logical place. Stand so drivers have enough time to see you, read your sign and pull over. Standing near a corner or where there is no possibility to pull in will mean you won't get anywhere far!

  • Have a map. Obviously not a literal one but at least an app you can rely on if someone drops you in the middle of nowhere and you need to see how far it is to the next town.

  • Be flexible. The great thing about our trip was that we were in no hurry to get home so were happy to travel in short bursts. Because of the nature of hitchhiking you can never plan how long it will take or how far you'll get each day so be open!

  • Pack snacks. You never know when you'll be standing with your thumb out for 2 hours and get hangry at each other!

  • Try reading up on hitchwiki about the place you're hitching from.

  • Enjoy the ride. Make the most of getting to chat to some new and interesting people. And don't forget to be grateful.

Note: Crossing from France to England is best done with the ferry as cars pay per vehicle rather than per person. We were picked up at the petrol station before the ferry terminal and got onboard without any issues.

Why Russia Should Be Next On Your Travel List

Russia was one the places I enjoyed the most this year. We went without many expectations and were pleasantly surprised at every turn by this incredible country. Also read our practical information about visas.

1. The Architecture

Almost everywhere you look in Russia there are buildings on a grand scale, beautifully designed and often unused. Of course there are the well-known ones such as St Basil’s Cathedral, The Kremlin and the Winter Palace which are all spectacular. But walking around the cities you will constantly come across incredible buildings and monuments that may look like they could house a king but are of very little significance. For some interesting buildings head to the parks surrounding the Space Museum in Moscow, the Izmailovsky market or the Moskovsky district of St Petersburg. And the best part about it is buildings are almost always free to look at!

 

 2. The Moscow Metro

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Worth a day trip in itself the Moscow Metro is extremely efficient, cheap, always busy and spectacular to look at. Every station is designed like the entrance to a museum or the lobby of grand hotel. From stunning mosaics and stained glass windows to Lenin monuments and rows of statues, there is something different to see at every stop. We spent an enjoyable day hopping between stations and being wowed by each one. A ticket for the metro costs about 50c and if you don’t go out of the station you can ride around all day on one ticket. This makes for a pretty affordable day out and a very different activity to most other cities.

 

3. The Price

Having heard Russia was reasonably expensive we were pleasantly surprised with how much we were able to stick to a budget. Our top savings were on transport and accommodation. As mentioned before the metro is only 50c and with huge distances between stations you will need to use it. We booked our accommodation through booking.com and paid less than €20 a night for a private double in a basic but clean hostel-style place with easy transport access to Moscow city centre.

We also couch-surfed for a few nights which saved some money and our hosts showed us some less touristed parts of St Petersburg. Food could be found for very decent prices and often the chains provided cheap, authentic Russian food. We loved the buffet on the top floor of the G.U.M shopping centre. We also took a free walking tour which was a great way to get to know the city! One of our biggest expenses was the visa which you can read about here.

 

4. The Culture Difference

Something I particularly enjoyed about Russia was the way it felt both familiar and foreign at the same time. Moscow had the safety and convenience of a modern European city. However, hardly anyone spoke English and all the signs (including the Metro) and menus were all in Russian which made it feel much more adventurous and exciting.

The cities looked very different to what you would see elsewhere in Europe but it was always easy to find shops and restaurants. The people were very friendly and despite it being winter there were lots of people out and about. I didn’t know a lot about Russian culture before going there so really enjoyed staying with some local people and getting a feel for this immense and interesting country.

russia-syrniki

russia-syrniki

 

5. The Hermitage Museum

Hermitage Museum St Petersburg

Yes, I’m putting a major tourist attraction on my list and trust me, I was hesitant about even going there but all the reviews raved about it and it was one of my parents’ highlights of their Russian trip 27 years ago. And boy am I glad we went! We chose to go a bit later on a Wednesday as it is open until 9pm and it is supposedly a bit quieter. We went at 5pm expecting to be out an hour or so later, not being big museum people. But we rolled out with the last visitors at closing time feeling utterly awestruck and exhausted.

This incredible museum is one of the world’s oldest and largest. Housed in a stunning building known as ‘The Winter Palace’ we were often more amazed by the rooms things were kept in than the things themselves. The museum houses everything from fossils and mummies to the largest collection of paintings in the world. Go on the first Thursday of the month for free entrance!

 

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Why Russia should be next on your travel list. Read about things to do and see in Moscow and St. Petersburg. #russia #moscow #stpetersburg
Want to explore something new? Read about why Russia should be next on your travel list. #russia #moscow #stpetersburg #travel #explorerussia #travelrussia #europe