Hamburg is a fabulous city and by far my favorite Christmas Market in Germany! Our first trip was in December 2007, and after visiting others the following year, we crowned Hamburg the best…best food, best authentic stalls, best decor, best entertainment and best shopping. We returned the weekend before Christmas 2009 to a snowy winter wonderland!

There are 7 Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas Markets) in the city center during Advent season concentrated within easy walking distance in the Altstadt, old town. The prettiest is set just outside Hamburg’s Rathaus, the impressive neo-Renaissance architecture town hall completed in 1897. Our ‘hang out’ every day on both trips was Schlüters Alpenwelt, the giant alpine stall on the corner nearest the lake….great food, great music and warm beverages! We’d cozy up in a warm spot next to the three-piece band playing traditional music and have easy access to the bar, for Glühwein (make sure you collect the mugs!) and special Weihnacht beer, and food, for wurst and hot freshly sliced ham sandwiches with spicy mustard. Definitely one of the liveliest and funnest spots!

Nothing says Christmas like walking around the alpine wood booths with a warm Apfel-Punsch (cider-like) and shopping for presents. And Rathaus has the best shopping I’ve seen (many markets in other cities have some real junk). Each year we bought incredible hand-made wooden ornaments, hand-made wooden lanterns in three sizes, wooden kid toys and jewelry from the vendors here and by the Lake. Other must eats include the Potato Pancakes with apple sauce or sour cream, the fresh baked Pfaffenglück with cheese, ham, onion and sour cream and some AMAZING pastries. At 4pm, 6pm and 8pm Santa Claus flies his reindeer sleigh high above the roofs of the Christmas Market cottages telling the story of Rudolph the red nosed reindeer.

The other markets are also worth exploring as you walk off all the food and beverage you’re enjoying. On Alster Lake is a nice group of white tent booths and a great warm fire to gather around for a Glühwein.Walk up Manckebergstrasse and you’ll come across several markets on your way. Over at Stadthausbrücke is the Fleetinsel Weihnachtsmarkt next to the Steigenberger Hotel (also a great place to stay)… a cute small market with great bars right next to lighted boats. And last but not least venture over to St Pauli for their market of sex toy booths and a very cool winter deck with sofas, fire towers and heat lamps.

If you’re still hungry after all the eating or are looking for a warm place to rest and eat, two restaurants we liked were Parliament near Rauthaus and Old Commercial Room near Michaeliskirche. Parliament is a toasty warm break from the markets where we had an amazing Pumpkin Risotto and braised beef with dumplings. Old Commercial Room is a traditional hamburg favorite with a nautical theme and said to be best place in town for the local speciality Labskaus (fisherman’s stew).

Lastly a little about HamburgLocated in northern Germany, its the country’s 2nd largest city behind Berlin and a very historic spot. One-third of the city was destroyed by air-raid and firestorm in WWII but it rebuilt and remains Germany’s largest seaport and one of Europe’s leading transit ports. The city offers something for all seasons. With Alster Lake and the Elbe River, its a great summer destination. And anytime of year there’s great night life (St. Pauli‘s and the Grosse Freiheti where The Beatles adopted their name), the Speicherstadt (world’s biggest warehouse complex), Sunday Fischmarkt (in the warmer weather), and Michaeliskirche (St. Michaelis Church) with noon three-organ concerts and the tower for great views over the port. Hamburgers, the residents here, are very friendly and there a easy Metro system to get you around.

But if you have to chose, I’d go with Christmas spirit in December for a weekend that everyone must experience in their lifetime!

Visit the gallery for a great photo journey of Hamburg. Coming tomorrow: More Christkindlmarkt Highlights.