Bratwurst & Barbells
For those of you looking to get into the festive spirit, let your hair down for a few days and maybe deviate (just slightly) from healthy eating, whilst combining a little rest and relaxation at the same time, a trip to a Christmas Markets is a must.
We visited the German Christmas markets for the first time last year, keen to take a long weekend break combining a visit somewhere different and kick off the festive period in style.
I had only ever visited Germany once previously (Warnemünde), so I was very eager to explore the country more and discover some new places.
With so many Christmas Markets throughout Germany, the most difficult choice when planning the trip is which city or town and which Christmas Market to visit. There are so many amazing destinations both in the cities and towns to choose from.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that to do some extra travelling in Germany and make the most of it, the best solution would be to sample two Christmas Markets in the same trip.
The decision was made to visit Frankfurt first and then take the Intercity Express
(ICE train) from Frankfurt in the region of Hesse and finish the break exploring Düsseldorf in the North Rhine Westphalia region.
The timing was right for the first weekend in December, so all was booked two weeks before and off we went.
The Christmas Markets Festive Cheer
There has been a Christmas market in Frankfurt for over 600 years.
Frankfurt Christmas Market is one of Germany’s oldest and one of the most popular in Europe.
It is held in the Römerberg square, Paulsplatz and Mainkai quay, and boasts 200 traditional stalls.
What struck me was an incredible atmosphere: a jolly hustle and bustle with laughing and singing as soon as we stepped off the train. It was a brilliant fun filled market, huge but easy to take your time browsing the various different stalls, which we did whilst sampling the taste sensation of Glühwein (mulled wine) for the first time to warm up.
I had had mulled wine in the past, but the traditional German recipe and being at the Christmas market with the added anticipation and travel that day made it an extra special warming brew.
There was so much to see, do and watch as we walked around the traditional wooden stalls with a wide selection of handmade gifts, including toys, wood carvings, candles, shoes, Christmas decorations, knitwear, apple wine soap, embroidered clothing, tree ornaments, hand painted gifts, slippers, puppets, mulled wine mugs and ornaments, many of them being made as we ventured around.
One of the biggest Christmas Trees I’ve seen towered down on the square surrounded by the life-size Nativity Scene, historical buildings and the architecture which made it look even more spectacular. Then underneath this gigantic tree, they were running a great service to get your Christmas mail stamped and sent with the Market stamp.
One of the obvious highlights for everybody visiting is of course that there is plenty of food to choose from. The famous Bratwurst Sausages seemed to be the crowd favourite, and there were plenty of sweet treats, waffles, pies, and crepes.
Frankfurt also has its own traditional delicacies of hot apple wine and Bethmännchen: a biscuit made with marzipan, ground almonds and rosewater.
There is an incredible selection of sweet and savoury, the combination of smells filling the wintry air keep your head turning as you browse the stalls. It seemed every step through the market there was something new tempting the senses. Incredible to see, smell and taste and you can tell it’s a definite highlight for all, very few of whom seem to be concerned with tracking their macros.
There was so much to explore. As we looked around, the aromas of roasted chestnuts, sausages, sweet treats, gingerbread, pine, baked apples, hot apple wine and Glühwein combined to fill the whole square.The place smelled amazing!
Whilst eating my fifth Bratwurst a fellow visitor reminded me of an ancient German Market myth that calories don’t count as long as you enjoy yourself and eat at least three different traditional delights!! Interesting.
Another unique culinary feature of the Frankfurt Christmas Market is the Honey House on St Paul’s Square. This 300-year-old timber frame building is actually assembled every year especially for the market, another intriguing fact I never knew until I read the detailed story outside. Within the honey house, they have a rich variety of honey-based products, including many varieties of honey, honey wine, candles and other goods made of beeswax.
As we meandered our way through there was a large queue of people snapping up these gifts.
I didn’t get a chance to purchase any myself but that can be one of my excuses to return.
The way the Glühwein works is that throughout the markets there are various little taverns to purchase your tipple from. It comes in a cup unique to that tavern which you pay for when you purchase your first cup, …So a cup of Glühwein may be five euro initially: you can then walk around the market sipping as you browse the stalls and choose to return the cup for a two euro refund when you have had sufficient refills or keep it as a souvenir, a highly efficient process for all.
As we continued to wander and the Market began to close down for the night a variety of Christmas Carols were still being performed on the main stage echoing around the high buildings in the main square as the stall holders packed away after another successful day spreading the Christmas cheer, a fantastic experience at our first German Christmas Market.
After the experience of Frankfurt, I was buzzing to see what Düsseldorf had to offer and was pleased we had decided to visit two places on the same trip. I think even at this early stage I was becoming addicted to Christmas markets. After my first three hours, I was a massive fan.
We took a walk from our hotel located in the harbour area Düsseldorf-Hafen. This took us on a bit of a sightseeing tour, at the same time taking in the sites and architecture, the Gehry buildings and Rhine Tower.
As we turned the corner towards the markets we were met by a long stretch of walkway along the Rhine. I later found out this is called the Rheinuferpromenade, a long row of trees decorated with thousands of fairy lights illuminating the walkway leading to the spectacular Ferris wheel in the distance making it very easy to work out where our destination was.
You will have plenty to do if you decide to visit, but take a short walk along here at nightfall for the spectacle of the lights. There are also restaurants and bars along here.
As we walked along we could see the market and lights in the distance, people were skipping along in the opposite direction, no doubt fuelled by Glühwein, our anticipation for the next one
was growing, we were loving the Christmas markets!
As we left the river promenade walkway, we turned straight into the ambience of another typical German Christmas market. We were in!
This time the large illuminated “Wheel of Vision” Ferris wheel was overlooking the small Burgplatz square located in the Düsseldorf old town. Small groups of all ages were gathered around the traditional huts underneath the wheel and the party was in full swing.
We continued on into Marktplatz in front of the historic city hall.
In this section, numerous nostalgic huts offering more arts and crafts surrounded the large Christmas tree with the Gluhwein Tavern located in the far corner.
It was a bit more laid out than Frankfurt. The market in Düsseldorf is surprisingly huge actually, spread into seven mini areas all well within walking distance of each other.
They are linked up by the old town streets of Düsseldorf. There is some modern shops either side of the market but it is still 100% traditional themed. They take the festive theme extremely seriously, there is no handmade crafts stall next to Rodney Trotter selling his knock-off decorations here, it is all strictly traditional with the old-fashioned festive designs and many handcrafted items, that’s what keeps it great.
If you are planning a visit be sure to venture around the whole Christmas market. There is so much to see at the turn of each corner.
My favourite area was the Scandinavian Christmas section called ShadowPlatz, a wintery white snow hut village which gives the atmosphere of a Scandinavian Christmas.
With so many sweets and treats it’s difficult to resist – but I stuck to the bratwurst again and more delicious Glühwein. It was very welcome in Düsseldorf to warm the hands, on a crisp winters day.
If it’s chilly when you visit, there are plenty of taverns and coffee shops surrounding both markets. If you need to re-warm in the market, of course, you have the Glühwein taverns.
In Düsseldorf, there seemed to be much more entertainment and stuff for children than in Frankfurt with entertainment, music, seasonal storytelling and a large carousel merry go round it’s family friendly at all times.
Part of the fun is to explore for yourself. There is so much to see. I can’t describe everything, so if you do decide to visit, put your walking shoes on and wrap up warm as you will be out and about for a few hours at a time.
Additional Tourist Activities
Whilst travelling through there were a few more tourist things outside of the markets that we explored which are worth a mention.
On day two in Frankfurt, we took a five-minute walk across to the skyline plaza shopping centre in the morning as it opened. Its very modern inside and was adorned with stunning decorations. Many of the known brands are inside. Plenty to keep you occupied for a few hours and food choices from all over the world, including a fresh food market and healthy salad bar.
It was a pleasant place to visit for a quick look. There is also a unique roof terrace garden area with some cool features and views of the city.
Deep within there is also a Reese’s Chocolate shop with a massive selection of their peanut butter products, which are very popular in the fitness world.
One of the top tourist attractions is Düsseldorf Rhine Tower, a worthwhile trip for Panoramic 360 degree views of the city. There are a bar and restaurant within and when night falls and the markets light up its a cool sight from the top.
We chose to visit late afternoon on the recommendation of the hotel staff because it’s less busy.
It’s certainly worth a visit for the view of course. For me, there was nothing else to experience here apart from the views and the nice bar at the top of the tower, but I would go again for these reasons and it’s relatively cheap, within walking distance of the city a very nice scenic walk along the Rhine.
Most Christmas Markets start in the last week of November and run through to Christmas Eve or a day or two before.
They are usually open every day from 10 am to about 8 or 9 pm.
When we visited,
Frankfurt markets were open
10-9pm Mon-Sat Sun 11am-9pm
Düsseldorf 11am-8pm Sun-Thur
11am-9pm Fri & Sat
But I would still advise checking with the local tourist office.
We purposely booked three hotels for the trip that had fitness facilities.
It’s part of the travel experience for me to train in different environments. There are times when I travel and completely relax with no gym training, but with all of the extra food and treats this wasn’t one of them.
We visited the local Frankfurt food market on day one on the way to our hotel and picked up some delicious fresh fruit & vegetables.
From then on we were pretty much fuelled on Bratwurst. They are so delicious! A bit different to my usual eating habits, so it was important to keep the training in balance at the same time.
On the first day it was just travel and walking and I did some light stretches when we got to the hotel after the flight.
On day two the excess bratwurst, combined with a bit of an excitement hangover made for a sluggish start. A very good variety of resistance machines and cables meant I didn’t need to think too much about what to do and created a great full body circuit session.
Part of the Travel Experience for me is exploring different training environments and it has added to all of my trips over the years and one of the main reasons I started fitness world explorer, to share these stories and experiences with others.
This time I got to take a run down the River Rhine and do some circuit training in the fresh air whilst also having the opportunity to hit the weights in the hotel gyms and make the most of their facilities so that in turn I could enjoy the delights of the markets.
Its all about balance, and having that within your lifestyle enables you to make choices you are comfortable with and have a healthy relationship with food.
If you don’t book a hotel with a gym, the Rhine is the perfect training arena during your stay. It’s popular with runners and has wide walkways alongside. Plenty of people were doing bodyweight exercises, stretches, yoga, etc along the way whilst we were doing our circuit. Great to see!
A great way to work out the excess energy from the Bratwurst the night before is to get some fresh air and explore a little more at the same time. It seemed a very popular area for fitness activity.
On day three we had a late flight so didn’t need to be at the airport until 5 pm. We started the day with a training session in the very well equipped hotel gym before a fantastic buffet breakfast to set us up for the day.
We then requested the best way to walk to the city centre. We were advised that it’s a very long walk, but we had plenty of time so incorporated this long walk into the rest of our activity.
The receptionist kindly gave us a map and showed us the way, so we decided to take up the challenge and briskly set off on foot. This proved to be one of the best decisions we made on the whole trip. More fantastic architecture along the way and we found another fantastic local Christmas market with singing and a music competition with local kids.
When you visit the markets you will be doing plenty of walking to fully make the most of the experience. You can be as active as you choose on these breaks and the walking may be enough for you and your current training.
However, if I hadn’t had the outdoor training sessions and not used the facilities in the hotel gym I would have felt very lethargic and I’m sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. You eat a lot!
We flew Direct to Frankfurt from Dublin
Took the short distance train to within 10 minutes of our Hotel
To travel to the Christmas Market we took the short distance train again to the market approx 15 mins away.
Römerberg, St Paul’s Square, Mainkai (Main Quay), Hauptwache and Friedrich-Stoltze-Square
We returned to the hotel that night by train, again very straightforward.
To get to Düsseldorf we went from our hotel via taxi to Frankfurt central station approx 10 minutes
The station is incredibly busy as it is used by around 350,000 people each day, but it’s extremely well laid out and easy to navigate.
Once at the station we awaited the intercity – express ICE train with the tickets we had purchased the night before.
One of the highlights of the trip was my first experience on the super fast ICE Train
It’s a cool experience, we sat back in a very comfortable chair and took in the scenery whilst sipping on a nice German beer as the train reached speeds of 280 KPH.
Another new experience to add to exactly what travelling is about.
We had left Frankfurt at 1.30pm to give ourselves time to explore a little longer in the morning and still get to Dusseldorf in the afternoon.
The trip only takes 1hr 35 minutes
On our return, we flew Direct again Düsseldorf to Dublin.
1: Frankfurt Marriot Hotel
The first hotel we stayed in we were greeted by a real gingerbread Christmas house.
It’s a great hotel: very luxurious with high-quality fantastic facilities, which made for a comfortable stay after our short travel. Staying here for our first stop meant we were well rested for our adventure.
The hotel has an amazing executive lounge overlooking the City.
2: Courtyard by Marriot Hafen
Located in the harbour area surrounded by spectacular post-modern architecture and redeveloped industrial buildings, it was the perfect location for us, within walking distance of central Düsseldorf and exactly where we needed to be.
3: Courtyard by Marriot Düsseldorf Seestern
When planning we picked the second hotel in Düsseldorf to experience a different area and see different things. This is something I do often when I travel and for me mixing up the areas and accommodation adds to the travel experience, even if it’s a short stay.
Located closer to the Business district it wasn’t as convenient for the Düsseldorf market, but we had planned a more relaxing day to finish and the walk from here was a great unplanned experience, which added to the trip.
The markets themselves were much grander, both in size and atmosphere, than I expected.
They were an absolute festive cracker of a trip and we loved it.
The traditional ambience, arts/crafts and cheery festive atmosphere rather than commercial theme are what had us hooked.
As with all trips, train well or rest well, depending on you as an individual, personally there is no way I would be able to eat that amount of traditional festive food without hitting some serious training sessions in between.
It proved to be a nice relaxing trip with good training to keep ticking over.
Walk at every opportunity, wrap up warm and enjoy the amazing food and Glühwein on offer.
Both Düsseldorf & Frankfurt are very interesting places with plenty to see and do: art, history, architecture and of course a great Christmas Market.
The traditional and historical festive feel and atmosphere really is something you need to experience, and it’s hard to describe. It’s not something you get everywhere, especially in this day and age.
With a plan, it’s easy to keep up the training and stay active whilst also enjoying a few treats.
You can make this a very relaxing trip, There are plenty of hotels to choose from very close
to the markets in both Frankfurt and Düsseldorf.
You might get addicted to Christmas Markets, the amazing atmosphere and Glühwein.
It would be easy to completely let loose all of your habits and overeat/drink.
Depends if you see that as a con or not.
I think pretty much every German city has a festive Christmas Market.
If you decide to go, I’m sure you will love it
Let us know how you get on.