Experience the magic of the festive season at Heidelberg's Christmas Market on the Hauptstrasse - the longest shopping street in Germany
As December approaches and the advert overload begins with cheesy Christmas jingles persuading the viewer to buy a sofa or bed, I shudder at the thought of having to make my way into town to fight through queues to find some presents. These adverts act as a reminder for me to book my escape to Germany, where I can start to enjoy the magic of Christmas at Heidelberger Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market).
Heidelberg is one of the oldest towns in Europe, in fact the Heidelberg man’s jaw was found to date back 1,000,000 years. Heidelberg is located in the German state of Baden Württemberg and is fondly known as the little Oxford of Germany, even though it's twinned with Cambridge. The town was lucky that it was not significantly bombed during the Second World War, so the majority of its three-storey character buildings are still intact. Although a traditional town, Heidelberg is a lively place with a large student community and will make all those that visit want to return again and again.
When asked about German Christmas markets, you may think of Cologne or Bonn, but these will set you off on the typical tourist track. A visit to Heidelberg's market does not just have to be about shopping and eating, as the town will inspire you to do more. Take the Bergbahn from Kornmarkt up to the castle or if you are brave walk up the 300 or so steps from die Altstadt (old town). A walk next to the impressive Neckar River, may make you want to experience the Romantic era by climbing up to walk along Philosophen Weg (Philosopher’s Way), where famous poets such as Goethe spent considerable amounts of time. All Heidelberg visitors should stop at the Alte Brücke (old bridge) and survey the view. You should make sure that you touch the stone monkey at the entrance to the bridge, as this will give you some good luck, according to superstition.
Heidelberg has the longest Hauptstrasse (shopping street) in Germany, which runs 1.6km from the town gate at Karlstor to Bismarcksplatz. It is best to start your visit to the Christmas market at Kornmarkt in the Altstadt and work you way down to Bismarckplatz. I would advise that you wear some suitable shoes, as I always wear heels and end up wrecking them on the cobbled streets or slipping over in the snow.
There are approximately 140 stalls selling local crafts, tasty German specialities and all sorts of possibilities for gifts. I am pretty certain that you will not find a stall selling a sofa. If you start in Kornmarkt and head down the Hauptstrasse, you will reach Marktplatz and then Universitätsplatz and finally Bismarckplatz, which are the key areas of the market.
The array of different stalls is astonishing, but a definite must is sampling the food on offer, such as Bratwurst. Key attractions of the market include Glühwein (hot mulled wine) and musicians playing Christmas carols. A visit to see Father Christmas in his grotto in Marktplatz is good fun even if you are an adult. Also, take a trip to the ice rink in Karlsplatz.
Once the markets have shut up shop, you might still be hungry and thirsty. There are many bistros, beer cellars and restaurants to choose from serving everything from traditional German food to Thai. One of my favourite places to eat and drink is at Palmbraugasse, which is located on the end of Untere Strasse in the Altstadt. It is like a cavern lit predominately by candles and has an amazing atmosphere. If you want to order warming hearty food, I would suggest Käsespätzle, a tasty cheesy noodle dish or my favourite dish Flammkuchen, a delicious style of German pizza with bacon, onion and quark.
Untere Strasse is the hub of Heidelberg’s nightlife with numerous pubs and bars. I would recommend making the most of Heidelberg’s nightlife. Der Mohr is a lively bar and will get you into the party mood. It is ideal for some shots of Jägermeister and local Welde beer. Following Mohr, you should visit Lager and iPunkt Café, which serve great cocktails. I would also pay a visit to Eckstein on the corner of Untere Strasse. The resident DJ in Eckstein is a long grey-haired rocker and he will always play some classic German tracks such as 99 Red Airballoons.
If you still have some energy left, the next stop should be a club. My recommendations for clubs in the Altstadt are The Cave and Tangente, which play commercial music. If you want to experience some techno, R&B and rock, head to Schwimmbad Club (www.schwimmbad-musik-club.de).
Where to stay
It is best to stay in the Altstadt, so that you can be located near the market. If you have cash to splash, the Hotel zum Ritter St Georg is the best option. Hotel Garni am Kornmarkt is a reasonable alternative. Heidelberg has one main hostel and I have always avoided staying there, it has a curfew and is apparently very old school. If you are on a strict budget then I would propose something cheap and cheerful like the Hotel Ibis Heidelberg, where a room for two is approximately 50 Euros.
How to get there
Fly to Frankfurt Hahn and catch the bus to Heidelberg, which takes two and a half hours. It is good if you want to catch up on sleep. A more direct route is to fly to Frankfurt Airport, where you can either catch a train that is relatively inexpensive and will take approximately 45 minutes, or the Lufthansa bus that will drop you directly in the centre of Heidelberg.