One of my favorite things about being in Europe during the holidays are the Christmas markets. I love the lights, the gingerbread, the spiced wine, the wooden ornaments. And while Copenhagen has some nice Christmas markets, a traditional German Weihnachtsmarkt is still my favorite place to get into the Christmas spirit.
Due to living in southern Germany for a few years, I've been to the Christmas markets in Munich, Rothenburg, Stuttgart, Esslingen, and Karlsruhe, but I'd never made it to the ones in the north. I'd heard great things about the traditional markets in Lübeck, a lovely medieval city which was the former capital and Queen City of the Hanseatic League and is now a UNESCO heritage site.
So, despite a busy schedule and dealing with a lot of stress over the past few months, I decided this year that I would make it happen. I grabbed a friend who was game and we booked a bus trip to Lübeck from Copenhagen arriving Saturday night and leaving Sunday afternoon. In less than 24 hours, we'd soak up all the Glühwein and Gemütlichkeit that we could handle!
Turns out, 24 hours in Lübeck is a reasonable amount of time to enjoy the Christmas markets (even I get Weihnachtsmarkt-ed out after a full day!). Getting to the markets is easy, as the main ones are clustered together in the small old city center. If you would like to go, here are a few things I would recommend you do...
No trip to a Weihnachstmarkt would be complete with out at least a few mugs of the spicy mulled wine. The German style is not overly sweet, which I definitely prefer after drinking gløgg in Denmark for the past two Christmases (I find gløgg super sweet, and it also contains almonds and raisins in the bottom of the mug, which I'm not into).
If you want to make your Glühwein really potent, you can ask for a "Schuss"—a shot of liquor—to be added. But my friend and I found that the Lübeck Glühwein is strong enough to let you feel the alcohol after a few mugs.
Also, don't be surprised if it's more expensive than the price you see on the sign. You will have to pay a 1-2 Euro "Pfand" (deposit), which you'll get back when you return the cup.
Eat some festival food
Along with your Glühwein, you'll want to snack. I recommend some currywurst or bratwurst in a bun topped with mustard. The Lübeck markets had an incredible amount of food from many different countries in Europe, but the old-fashioned wurst always hits the spot.
For dessert, try a crepe, sugared almonds, fried doughnut-y things with powdered sugar (I can't remember what they're called as they are not traditionally German, but they were delicious). Or, buy some Lebkuchen, another German specialty.
Buy some gifts
Whether you're looking for something for your sweetheart, your mom, or your colleagues, Christmas markets are the perfect place to pick up presents. If you're in a romantic mood you can buy one of the gingerbread hearts you see hanging everywhere (although I've heard they're not all that tasty, they are cute).
There are plenty of small things to pick up like candles and scented soap, or you can also more expensive presents, such as gorgeous handmade wooden Christmas decorations from Käthe Wohlfahrt, which has a special dedicated walk-through stand.
Try the marzipan
Apparently Lübeck is known for its marzipan. As someone who is not a huge fan of the almond paste, I sort of shrugged when I heard this, but after trying some, I have to say I'm a convert! We braved the crowds and long lines at Niederegger (conveniently located just across from the big Christmas market) and stocked up on gifts for our friends and colleagues. This stuff is good; I was super popular at the office on Monday!
We also visited the Die Lübecker Marzipan-Speicher, which features marzipan in all forms. It even boasts a marzipan museum, which is just a small room upstairs. They have a unique type of marzipan which is browned, which you can try (along with the normal kind) when you walk into the store. There signs saying that you can keep packages at the store until they close, so you don't have to lug your marzipan around all day.
Don't miss the medieval market
For something a little different, I would highly recommend the historic market located in the Marienkirche (St Mary's) churchyard. We almost missed this one, and I'm so glad we ran into it on Saturday night, as it's something special. In the evening, the fires and candles make it look dreamy. People here dress in Medieval garb, play historic instruments, and there are even fire dancers!
You can buy specialty gifts here as well, such as jewelry, Renaissance-fair style clothing, mead, and all kinds of berry wine.
Take a break
The crowds and music can get to you after a while; make sure you pace yourself so you don't have a Grinch-like meltdown! We enjoyed a coffee break at a nice Austrian style cafe with lovely cakes; there are many places in the city to rest your feet and rehydrate.
We were also lucky enough to notice that the City Hall was having local choirs perform for free all day. We went in and listened to some classical music for a relaxing break.
The city itself is charming, and going for a walk away from the market was also nice on Sunday afternoon. You definitely won't want to miss the unique architecture of the Lübeck houses.
Prepare for the elements
It was pretty warm while we were in Lübeck, but it's always good to bundle up with a hat, scarf, warm mittens, and boots that will still be comfortable after walking around on cobblestones for a few hours. An umbrella is never a bad idea.
If you go...
- From Copenhagen, Lübeck is just a 4.5 hour bus ride, and it feels shorter because the journey is broken in half when you board the ferry. During the ferry crossing, you get off the bus and can get a snack to eat or shop in the ferry stores (it's sort of like being on a cruise ship). We also looked at train tickets, but Flixbus was only half the price and didn't take much longer. The bus leaves exactly on time—maybe even a few minutes early—so get there 15 minutes ahead like they recommend!
- We stayed at the Hotel Hanseatischer Hof, which was old-fashioned but in a good, fancy way. The breakfast buffet was nice, and they have a spa. It's a little pricey, but it was very comfortable, a few minutes from the train station, and just a 20-minute walk to the old city center. And everything else was sold out by the time we booked our last-minute trip.
- If you're in the mood for a post-market drink, I would recommend the Tikki Bar (every German city has to have one!). We had a nice cocktail to round off the night. The service was friendly, and the drinks were strong.