It's amazing how many bratwurst you can eat after a hard day on Nuremberg's cobbles

You'd better like sausages if you're going to visit Germany's oldest and best Christmas market, says Rosalind Russell. And don't forget to sharpen your elbows for the scrum

Even the most hardened Scrooge would find it difficult to resist the twinkling charm of Germany's Christmas markets. Narrow cobbled streets, steep-roofed medieval houses and illuminated bow-fronted toy-shop windows look as if they've been conjured up with a wave of Walt Disney's wand. The Christkindlesmarkt offers a welcome alternative to the dreary chore of Christmas shopping on Britain's high streets, and the best and oldest example, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, can be found in Nuremberg in northern Bavaria.

On 28 November, the market is opened by the Christkindl - the daughter of a local family, dressed as a gold angel. From then until the market formally closes at lunchtime on Christmas Eve, it is jam-packed with jovial Germans, sharp-elbowed British, loud Americans, hard-up Aussies and Burberry-clad Japanese, all stuffing themselves with prodigious amounts of bratwurst and quaffing steaming mugs of mulled glühwein, even for breakfast. (The Americans are so impressed that there's talk of them opening their own Christkindlesmarkt in Chicago next year.)

Shopping for handmade toys and heart-shaped cakes of lebkuchen - local gingerbread - tied with red ribbon is halted only for more food and drink stops. A good proportion of the 200 stalls set up in the old cobbled square is devoted to sausages, cinnamon-flavoured hot wine and a warming but highly alcoholic spiced egg nog. By way of a change, there are cafés with steamed-up windows, full to bursting with shoppers who are also full to bursting with enormous jugs of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and zwetschkenmännchen, little men made of dough spiced with dried plums. You can probably even put on weight just reading this page.

Nuremberg is not a city for vegetarians. Unless you eat sausages, you might as well bring your own cucumber sandwiches. Bratwurst is the speciality of the area, served with sauerkraut. In one restaurant, the only choice on the menu was six bratwurst, 12 bratwurst or 18 bratwurst. All with sauerkraut. They were delicious, and it's amazing how many you can polish off after a hard day on the cobbles. The beer helps, of course. If you really hunt around, there are restaurants serving schnitzel and fried chicken with sauerkraut and a token lettuce leaf.

But carnivore or not, it's all very jolly. We shared a table with a Bavarian family who had driven into town for the day, and they insisted on buying us a schnapps. So we bought the next round. And they bought the next. It made us quite reckless with our bratwurst order. Eighteen sausages? Why not!

Difficult, then, to imagine what Nuremberg must have been like when it was at the heart of the Third Reich and the venue for the Nazi party rallies. It was a black period in the life of the city, graphically recorded on film in the museum on the hill leading up to the Kaiserberg Castle, the same cobbles the Nazis marched along until 2 January 1945 when 525 Lancaster bombers demolished the old city. It was restored and painstakingly rebuilt to the same Gothic style. When the market becomes too busy, you can explore the history of these dark times at the Zeppelinfeld arena, where the rallies were held, or the Palace of Justice where the war crimes tribunal sat.

Or you can work off those bratwurst by visiting the house of the artist Albert Dürer or walking the remains of the 5km-long old city walls.

The commercial success of the market has had a ripple effect on other German towns. Smaller places such as Rothenburg, Ausburg and Hersbruck have all benefited, and now feature their own markets - especially medieval Rothenburg, home to the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas shop, which is as Christmassy and magical as it gets. If you think the cakes are stupendous in Nuremberg, wait until you see the schneeball in Rothenburg. (Atkins dieters, look away now.) Whole shop windows are devoted to the snowball-shaped cakes the size of cannonballs, in a variety of coatings including coconut or white chocolate. There are 300 types of bread and more than 1,200 varieties of cake in the whole of Germany. But Bavaria takes the biscuit.

Give me the facts

When should I go?

Most of the markets open at the end of November, but the early flight departure dates and hotels get booked up quickly. The best time to visit the market is as soon as it opens in the morning, before the tour buses arrive, or the hour before it closes, when they've gone.

How do I get there?

DER Travel Service (020-7408 0111; has limited availability from £439. Departing on either 15 or 21 December, the price includes flights from Heathrow to Frankfurt, b&b and rail transfes, which takes two and a half hours.

Where can I get more information?

Contact the German National Tourist Office (020-7317 0908;

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing

Other places that have held independence referendums
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)

Newcastle winger Jonas Gutierrez reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week