This post is part of a series on European Christmas markets.
[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] E [/dropcap]veryone interested in German Christmas markets (or Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christkindlmarkt, depending on the region) has heard of Nuremberg, Cologne, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. And with good reason – these are the big kahunas of the Advent scene. But what about the Bad Wimpfen Weihnachtsmarkt?
Never heard of Bad Wimpfen (Bad VIMPfen)? That’s a very, very good thing! After all, the best surprises come where you least expect them. So put down your tourist guide book and set your GPS towards this charming and hidden walled city.
4 reasons why Bad Wimpfen has the best Christmas Market in Germany
4. Affordable lodging and proximity to the Burgenstrasse
Bad Wimpfen is off the beaten path, about 40 minutes southeast of Heidelberg. And to get there, you’ll drive along the famous Burgenstrasse, i.e., “Castle Road.” The name alone is enough to make it worth the drive, and the views are a series of postcards. Around each bend you’ll find a castle-topped hill as the romantic Burgenstrasse winds along the Neckar River, a prominent wine-growing region (similar to the famous Rhine and Mosel River regions).
The best part? You can actually stay in these castles (Try Burg Hornberg, a winery in its own right, complete with a wine shop and tasting room, a grounds tour that includes a peak into dungeons where skeletons are still visible, and a Michael Phelps-worthy breakfast in a high dining room overlooking the river. If you dine here for dinner you’ll experience the best service we’ve found in Germany.), or in a nearby palace (try Hotel Schloss Heinsheim, another winery, with lavish suites overlooking orchards that ironically doubles as a center for business retreats based on meditation and mind-body awareness) or a lively B&B (gasthaus) – which, yes, will most likely be a winery, too. Catching a common theme here?
As an alternative, stay at one of the many health spa retreats in the area (you can detox after all the spirits and fair food you’re about to consume). In Germany, “bad” means “bath,” as in thermal springs, so any town beginning with “Bad” (like Bad Wimpfen) denotes an area of thermal springs and surrounding health spas (see our post on the town of Baden Baden and its all-nude Friedrichsbad thermal spa).
3. Unique booths with interesting handmade items
No, Virginia, not all Christmas markets are created equally. Unfortunately, they’re becoming increasingly filled with scarves from India and toys from China.
However, Bad Wimpfen still draws vendors producing handmade merchandise who return year after year. And we return year after year to make the rounds among some of our favorite booths. Here’s a suggested itinerary:
- After a brisk, cold walk (there’s no parking inside the old town walls), stop at the special international section (last year it was Switzerland, this year Norway) for something to warm you back up.
- Briefly browse the handmade rattan baskets and woodwork before making your way to the hot Amaretto-and-cream booth to prime yourself further.
- Stop by the booth of hand-spun yarns before heading to the barn-cellared spirits and schnapps. Try some samples so you don’t cause an international incident.
- Oh, look! Homemade Christmas cookies with real butter, not margarine!
- Follow the line of Germans into the town meeting hall and check out the nativity scene contest winners. The artists’ ages are displayed in front, everywhere from 5 to 95.
- Search among the crocheted doilies for those cute Christmas cards with the ornaments stuck on the front. Give up, and console yourself with some gluhwein made with honey instead of burnt sugar.
- Ooh, my fingers are feeling kind of cold. Look through the vibrantly-hued knit scarves and mittens for a solution, and remember to say thank you when some chivalrous soul puts a cup of feuerzangenbowle in your hand. Those cups are warm, you know.
- Soak up a bit of history by teetering along the city ramparts overlooking the river, and do watch that last step.
- Round the corner and pop into an amazing – and warm – antique store filled with affordably priced bits of Bad Wimpfen history. Surprise yourself with your miraculous recollection of high school German as you discuss provenance and value with the seasoned shopkeeper who’s probably as old as her antiques.
- Realizing it’s time for some solid food, head to the Krauterweible restaurant, housed in a twinkly gingerbread house that would make Willie Wonka do a double take. Squeeze into a table with other revelers for some famous chicken and chips. Wash it down with a local beer.
2. Encompasses an ancient walled city, instead of a town square
1. Shhhh! It’s a secret!
We’ve arrived at the number one reason the Bad Wimpfen Weihnachtsmarkt is the best Christmas market in Germany, but if you’ve read other articles on our blog you probably didn’t need to scroll down here to guess it. We love secrets! We love deluding ourselves into thinking we’ve found something nobody else in the whole wide world has ever seen.
Except, as we learned from Christopher Columbus’ experience, what’s new to the visitor is often old hat to the people that live there. So yes, the market itself might be crowded with natives (i.e. Germans from the state of Baden-
And if you’re still mentally questioning whether a crowded market can really truly have a different character just because it’s absolutely unknown to tourists, just visit the Rottenburg Christmas Market and compare it to this one. You’ll see there’s a huge difference. Bad Wimpfen isn’t trying to be a world-class Christmas market . . . it just is one.
*UPDATE* Shortly after this was written, I happened upon a great post by Abi at InsidetheTravelLab covering the best Eastern European Christmas markets. It’s the perfect complement to this series and a great way to get the full scoop on holiday revelry in Europe.
- People rave about Rottenburg, but Germany’s Christmas market gem is Bad Wimpfen: a magical walled city totally off the tourist track
- Instead of confined to a town square, the market winds up and down through cobbled streets beneath weirdly shaped, half-timbered buildings