Hessenpark Open-Air Museum

Hessenpark Open-Air Museum

Not far from Frankfurt is the Hessenpark, an open-air museum that has over a hundred historical buildings from the region all in one place. It’s open year-round, and has an impressive events schedule including cooking regional food, making local crafts, music making, and more. You can get to Hessenpark in about an hour from the center of Frankfurt, so it makes an ideal day trip. 

I love open-air museums. We are a history-obsessed family, but even if you’re not, it’s such an easy and enjoyable day out. When you’re traveling with kids, they can run and jump and explore without an adult constantly asking them to be quiet. Other adults get some time to actually read the information without being tugged onto the next thing. It’s win-win really. 

Beautiful historic houses at the Hessenpark. Those wires on the roofs are lightning rods, to prevent fires starting in the thatch.

Beautiful historic houses at the Hessenpark. Those wires on the roofs are lightning rods, to prevent fires starting in the thatch.

What is the Hessenpark?

In the 1970s, this park was created to conserve the history of the German state of Hesse, and take older houses that were being dismantled in villages all over the region. When a historic house can’t be preserved in its original location, it is carefully dismantled and recreated in the Hessenpark, using historically accurate materials as far as possible. Now, there are over 100 buildings arranged in several little clusters in the Hessenpark, and it’s still growing. When I originally read there were a hundred buildings, I thought, surely they are counting sheds and whatnot. But oh no, there really are loads and loads of huge buildings to explore. 

One of the coolest things about this place is being able to walk up to a random building, and the door is unlocked! Kids love this part, because when else can you wander through a village and poke around in all the shops and houses? Some are set up as exhibitions, some are arranged with period furniture as they would have been 200 or 300 years ago. 

How long should we plan for a trip to the Hessenpark?

It is easy to spend a full day at the Hessenpark and still not see everything. Between exploring the buildings, watching demonstrations, having lunch, letting kids burn off steam in the playground, and shopping, I would say not to budget less than a day here. You won’t want to feel rushed. Ideally, you could stay overnight and split up your exploring. 

Market square at the Hessen Park

Market square at the Hessen Park

When is the best time to go?

The park is open year round, but as much of it is outdoors, spring through autumn is preferable. There are more activities going on in these months, as well. However, we visited in January, and it was still lovely, and there was lots to do. In Advent (late November through to Christmas Eve, 24 December) there is lots going on with a Christmas market and special events all through the park, so that would be a magical time to visit as well. They also do special events for Karneval (end of February, early March) and Easter. Check the event calendar on the Hessenpark website to see if there’s a specific demonstration you’d like to see. 

Windmill at the Hessenpark

Windmill at the Hessenpark

What is there to do at the Hessenpark?

You pick up a map upon arrival, and just wander, opening doors at random and exploring inside. The state of Hesse was known, 200 years ago and earlier, mainly for farming, wool production and weaving, flax production, and basalt quarrying. There are buildings or sites dedicated to all these traditional types of work in the park, even a little basalt quarry. As well as weaving, Hessen women were well known for their traditional openwork embroidery, and there is a fascinating upper floor of a house dedicated to examples of this fine work. 

Colourful local chickens

Colourful local chickens

A Thuringian goat completely uninterested in getting its photo taken.

A Thuringian goat completely uninterested in getting its photo taken. Nice straw moustache though…

There are all the traditional workshops you would expect to find, including basket weavers, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, printers, roper makers, millers, and even historic firefighters and their equipment. Not every building is staffed, but you can peer in at the equipment, all set out to be used, like the workers have just stepped out for a moment. There is a full-sized windmill, a water wheel, and working farm buildings. There are chickens wandering around, pigs, and goats. In fact, the museum has been working to preserve local livestock breeds, so they aren’t just your regular farm animals you can see here. In fact, this museum is playing a vital park in keeping some of these breeds from extinction. Look out for the Coburger Fuchsschaf, literally a ‘fox sheep’, that has naturally red wool when born. There’s also the Meissner Lop rabbit, a long-eared black rabbit with gloriously shiny fur that was kept by Hessian farmers. We met some Thuringian goats, which are now endangered. However the Hessenpark goats are in fine form, in fact the kids regularly jump over the fences of their pens and wander around for awhile. The colourful local chickens walk around, completely uninterested in anyone, despite the trails of fascinated small children they have behind them. 

There are also several places of worship in the park. A synagogue, and several chapels from different areas of Hesse, including a working organ that gets a work out every month or so with singalong events. 

One of the chapels at the Hessenpark

One of the chapels at the Hessenpark

Eating and drinking

There are several places to have a meal or a snack on site. The Wirsthaus Zum Adler is a traditional inn on the market square, near the entrance, that serves traditional Hessian food, and there’s a biergarten around the back (it’s under renovation in 2019, unfortunately, check the site in case it’s open again). The Alter Markt restaurant is part of the hotel in the park, and it is also in the market square, right next to the Zum Adler, and it’s open every day from 6.30am – 10pm. 

In May 2019, a Kaffeehaus is opening on the market square, also attached to the Landhotel, and they will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-5pm. Perfect for a spot of coffee and cake, I think.

Down by the playground in the North Hesse area is the Martinsklause, a pub-type restaurant with displays on brewing beer in the area. They have a lovely terrace seating area looking over the playground. This one is only open on Saturdays and Sundays however, from 11am-4pm. 

The bakery in the market square is open daily from 10am-6pm March to October, and you can get bread, pastries, brezel, and cakes here. A perfect in between option if you’re not up for a full meal. 

When we visited in January, there was a small wheeled cart selling bratwurst in buns in the corner of the market square, and inside the Delikathessen, they were making hot waffles to order. 

Loom in one of the Hessenpark houses

Loom in one of the Hessenpark houses

There’s a hotel in the Hessenpark?

Yes! The Landhotel Zum Hessenpark (literally translates to country hotel to the Hessenpark) is right on the market square in the museum. Rooms range from €75-95 per night for a single room, €99-129 per night for a double room, and €129-159 per night for a triple family room. All rates include breakfast in the historic Alter Markt restaurant. To book, you need to fill out a form on the Landhotel Hessenpark website (in German only I’m afraid, but it’s pretty straightforward). I think I’m going to ask for a night at the museum (literally!) for my birthday this year. How cool is that?

Shops on the market square

Shops on the market square

Proper shopping

There are several places to pick up some traditional wares within the Hessenpark. The Delikat(h)essen has shelf-stable foods to take home like mustards and vinegars, as well as plenty of beautiful pieces of kitchenware, and humorous mugs and tea towels. Next door is the Trachten shop, selling traditional clothes like dirndls and lederhosen, but they also stock tin toys, books, postcards, and more little pieces. Just so you know, dirndls and lederhosen are not costumes, but traditional clothing and many German people wear them to weddings and important family events, so don’t expect to pick one up on the cheap. A good dirndl, with all its assorted pieces, easily costs upwards of €250, particularly from a quality Trachten shop like this one. Lederhosen start around €200. 

There is also a woodworkers shop with wooden toys, games, and housewares, as well as many versions of the traditional Hessian stool, called a Schawellsche, and wooden trays for apple wine glasses, another traditional product of the region. One of the most popular shops is the brush shop. Family-owned for three generations, this little workshop continues to turn out brushes and brooms of endless varieties, for specialty tasks like brushing down your felt hats, to cleaning lamps, this is the place for you. When we visited, we couldn’t even get in the door as so many people were coming in and out. The goldsmiths is not just a historic building either, but an actual working jewellery maker. You can even arrange to do a one-day class in jewellery making on site, though you have to book ahead as the courses are only for four people at a time and they are popular. There are lots of weddings at the Hessenpark, and you can even arrange to make your own wedding ring, guided by the jewellers, which I think is just lovely. 

Hessenpark entrance price and hours

The Hessenpark is open 1 November to 28 February only on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-5pm, with last entry at 4pm. From 1 March – 31 October, they are open daily from 9am – 6pm with last entry at 5pm. 

Entry price is as follows: 

Adults €9

Children and students €1

Children under 6 free

Family ticket €18 (2 adults plus up to four children 6-17 years old)

50% family ticket €9 (1 adult plus up to four children 6-17 years old)

Dogs (including a dog poop bag) €1

There’s free wifi near some of the buildings, which is marked on the map you can pick up for free where you buy your tickets. 

There aren’t guided tours or audio guides, but you’ll find informative signs outside each building, in several languages, as well as detailed exhibitions in some of the buildings as well. The map you pick up at the entrance is easy to use and very clear. 

How to get to Hessenpark

By train

Take the bus or train to Wehrheim or Neu-Anspach / Anspach Bahnhof. In Wehrheim, board the 64 bus, and in Neu-Anspach/ Anspach Bahnhof board the 63 bus and exit at Neu-Anspach / Hessenpark. From Frankfurt main train station, this journey takes a little more than an hour. The bus stops directly in front of the Hessenpark too!

On weekends and holidays, there is a direct bus service (no. 5 bus) from Bad Homburg / Gonzenheim and Bad Homburg / Bahnhof to Hessenpark.

You can book your ticket in English here:

By car

Hessenpark is about half an hour from Frankfurt, there is ample parking close to the entrance. 

PS – Want other ideas for day trips from Frankfurt?

PPS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

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Visiting Trier, Germany with Kids

Visiting Trier, Germany with Kids

Unless you live in Germany, or studied history in university, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Trier. Which is a shame really, because this picturesque little town has a lot to offer. Is it worth visiting Trier? Definitely.

Trier Porta Nigra 4

My son grinning at me from the other side of the old Roman city gate, the Porta Nigra, in Trier.

My husband filmed some incredible footage of Trier, the Mosel valley and our favourite place to stay in the area, Ernst.

Serious history

Founded in the 4th century BCE by the Celts, Treuorum, as it was then called, was an important centre before the Romans arrived in the first century BCE. The Romans built up the city as the capital of Gaul, and it functioned as the administrative centre for most of the Western Roman Empire. The city then passed to the Franks, France, and Prussia over the next century, as well as being home to one of the Prince Electors.

Trier Konstantinbasilika 2

Inside the old Roman Imperial Throne Room, now a church.

Trier Konstantinbasilika 2-2

Just as imposing from the outside, this Roman building is 1500 years old. See those little people next to it? It is that big.

Trier Porta Nigra 1

My son peering through the windows of the Porta Nigra.

Roman ruins

What is so amazing about all this history, is the evidence is still standing. Not a few stone pillars either, but giant structures. It was a complete surprise to me that there were so many Roman ruins in such good condition this far north. For my son, who has been steeped in Asterix and Obelix, it was very cool to run around inside the the Porta Nigra, one of the Roman city’s giant gates to the city. For me, the Konstatinbasilika was a highlight. It was once an Imperial throne room, and the brick room is impossibly huge – it was just mind blowing that it’s been standing for 1500 years. My husband was excited to see the Roman amphitheatre, where they staged all the usual bloody spectacles. It was beyond creepy to go below ground and see the holding chambers for animals and slaves. If you like, you can try out Roman food as well at Zum Domstein. They have a short Roman menu with dishes based on the recipes from De re coquinaria, a 4-5th century Roman cookbook. I tried it, and it was good, but you may want to share the pork dish, it was a lot of meat!

My son in front of the Elector Palace in Trier.

My son in front of the Elector Palace in Trier.

Trier Konstantinbasilika Palasgarten2

The small but perfectly formed Trier Electoral Palace Gardens

Trier Konstantinbasilika Palasgarten3

A nice bicycle in the Electoral Palace Gardens.

Trier Konstantinbasilika Palasgarten4

Playground right next to the Trier Electoral Palace, with one for smaller kids right behind it.

Medieval sites and more

Right in the centre of the town is the High Cathedral of Saint Peter, the oldest one in Germany. It was first built in the 4th century, and subsequently destroyed and rebuilt twice before making it to the 11th century. Throughout the buildings there are many different architectural styles represented, and even when it was first completed, it was already one of the biggest ecclesiastical complexes outside Rome. Next to the Konstantinbasilika is the Kurfürstliches Palais, a 17th century Baroque confection next to its stark Roman cousin. Unfortunately, you can’t go inside generally, as it is an administrative building, but the gardens are pleasant.

Trier Hauptmarkt

Hooray for carousels, this one is in the Hauptmarkt in Trier.

Trier Cathedral 1

The Cathedral of Trier

Trier amphitheatre 4

The Roman amphitheatre in Trier, imagine lions! Gladiators!

Trier amphitheatre 2

Tramping up the stairs to the stands in the amphitheatre.

Trier amphitheatre 1

The very creepy underground level at the amphitheatre.

Manageable size

Trier is not a big city, so that makes getting to all the things you want to see quite easy. There is a hop-on hop-off tour bus, which we tried out. It’s a bit expensive for a city as small as Trier, but check online for deals ahead of time. There is also one of those little trains that is actually an articulated bus, that runs tours through the city as well. In good weather, there are plenty of places to eat out in the squares, try the restaurants down the Johann-Philipp-Straße from the Konstantinbasilika – it opens up into a square, the Kornmarkt, with several options. We tried the Italian restaurant, Donna Mia Trier, and were pleasantly surprised. The Hauptmarkt, the square between the Porta Nigra and the Cathedral, is surrounded by older buildings, has a carousel in good weather, and several places to get ice cream.

Trier electoral palace garten 1

Climbing trees just outside the Electoral Palace Gardens.

If you have more time, and older children

We had to give the museums of Trier a miss, as we only had a day, but the collections of the Stadtmuseum, the Rheinisches Landesmuseum (Archeological Museum), and the Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum) are all well regarded.

Nearby Trier, Germany

There are loads of things to see within a short drive or train journey from Trier. Burg Eltz, one of the most beautiful castles in Germany, is close by, as are the endless wineries of the Mosel valley. There are river tours that leave from several towns, including Trier.

PS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

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Originally published in spring 2017, updated in January 2019

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Where to eat in Heidelberg

Where to eat in Heidelberg

Our lovely south German home of Heidelberg is beautiful, with its castle, old town, and river views. It’s also a very popular day trip destination for international and German tourists alike. That means it can be a little challenging to find good food, as there are the usual tourist trap places with substandard dishes and high prices. I’ve collated the best places for dinner, a quick lunch, German food, other restaurants, coffee, and breakfast below, because I’d hate for your visit to my town to be ruined by a bad meal. I’ve included a map at the end of the post so you can plan accordingly.

Looking for things to do in Heidelberg? How about my GPS-enabled audio tour? Need help getting from Frankfurt to Heidelberg?

The lovely Neuenheim Marktplatz on a spring evening.

The lovely Neuenheim Marktplatz on a spring evening.

The Marktstübe in Neuenheim

The Marktstübe in Neuenheim

Where to find German food in Heidelberg

If you’re looking for good German food, Heidelberg has definitely got you covered. We’re at the edge of several different regions, so depending on your tastes, you can find something you like. For Flammkuchen, the popular thin-crust pizza analogue, the Marktstübel in Neuenheim is cozy in the winter and allows you to stretch out in the summer with their terrace under the trees in the Neuenheimer Marktplatz. You’re a bit away from the Altstadt here, so you’ll find mostly locals. 

The Kulturbrauerei in the old ballroom

The Kulturbrauerei in the old ballroom

For a traditional big pork knuckle and local bier, the frequently recommended Kulturbrauerei in the Altstadt is a local institution for a reason. They also run the tiny old student pub Zum Seppl, and either one is atmospheric and lovely. They have much more than just pork knuckle, and it’s easy to have a good salad, fish, or schnitzel and spätzle (thick Swabian egg noodles). Our favourite is the Palatinate wurst with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. The Zum Seppl is a 300-year old student hang out and there are carvings all over the place, as well as fencing swords, photos, old drinking mugs, and all sorts of old student-y paraphernalia. When the university has been here since 1386, there are some very old student institutions! You will definitely need to make a reservation for dinner, particularly if you want to eat in the Zum Seppl, as it is very very small. 

Is this not the best view ever? Sitting outside Mahmoud's in the Altstadt

Is this not the best view ever? Sitting outside Mahmoud’s in the Altstadt

There is a large and multi-generational Turkish population in Germany, so I include my favourite middle eastern restaurants here too. Mahmoud’s has two locations, one off the big bus and tram exchange at Bismarckplatz, but the smaller one down a side street and in front of the red stone catholic church is my favourite. Their falafel with halloumi is something special for sure, and the prices are excellent. This will seem odd, but if you’re over near the newer university campus, there is a secret I will share with you. In the Mathematikon building on Berlinerstraße, there are two grocery stores, a toiletries and cosmetics shop, and a few cafes. In the back of the REWE grocery store there is a counter serving chicken Doner Kebab, and I promise you, the sweet man that runs this counter makes an incredible Doner with fresh flatbread for shocking 2.80€. This is why there is a queue that starts at 11:45. If you’re at that end of town anyway, it’s perfect. I time my grocery shopping for lunchtime, for this very reason!

The terrace at Cafe Rossi

The terrace at Cafe Rossi

Where to find other food in Heidelberg

If you’re a bit Flammkuchen and Schnitzeled out, no one would fault you for seeking something different. For a nice lunch, try Cafe Rossi near the Bismarckplatz, they also do a lovely late breakfast as well if you’ve been out late the night before, and have a decent kid’s menu. We had a generous smoked salmon and bagel with fresh juice and tea. In the summer, they have a nice terrace with a little fountain that has been recently renovated. 

Lunch with an indoor play space? The restaurant at the top of the Galeria Kaufhof department store right on Bismarckplatz has a large area for kids with little slides and other toys. The food on offer is a selection of standard German fare with a stirfry to order counter, cakes, and a salad bar. The views over the old town and the Heiligenberg across the river are amazing from this vantage point, so it’s worth it even if you just want some coffee and cake and a bit of a break from walking. You do have to walk through the toy section to get there from the store, so take the outdoor elevator out front if you want to avoid this. 

In the tourist zone? Here’s where to go

If you’re near the Marktplatz, deep in the tourist end of Heidelberg, I would suggest going to Mahmoud’s (mentioned above). Other decent options include Hans im Glück for burgers, or Vapiano for Italian. The other restaurants on the Marktplatz are overpriced and not very good. 

Coffee at Coffee Nerd

Coffee at Coffee Nerd

Best places for coffee in Heidelberg

Germans are all about the mid-afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen break (coffee and cake), and Heidelberg is well served by places for a little sit down. It’s worth noting the coffee tends towards the strong and Italian, not the American style flavouring and large sizes. The resident cool kid spot is Coffee Nerd, with excellent strong coffee and pastries. With locations in Weststadt and Neuenheim, Nomad has some of the best croissants I’ve had – they also serve breakfast and lunch. If you’re going for authentic Heidelberg, it’s hard to beat Göbes. This local bakery will have local specialties and seasonal treats. If you need some quiet and a bit of room to spread out, the cafe at the top of the Galeria Kaufhof department store at Bismarckplatz is your best bet, as mentioned above, with the added bonus of an indoor play space for small kids. 

Play area in the Galeria Kaufhof restaurant

Play area in the Galeria Kaufhof restaurant

River Café for a lovely breakfast

River Café for a lovely breakfast

Best places for breakfast and brunch in Heidelberg

My absolute best recommendation for brunch is the weekly Sunday brunch at the Weinstube in the Heidelberg Castle. That’s right, you can have brunch overlooking the inner castle courtyard in a lovely dining room built right into one of the castle buildings. It’s a three-hour affair with a full appetizer buffet, a main meal you collect in the kitchen and have a little chat with the chefs, and then a fancy dessert buffet. You need to book quite far in advance for this one, so if this is something you’d like to do, you need to book as soon as you know you will be visiting. Over in Neuenheim, River Café does a lovely breakfast in a much shorter time span, but again you will need to book ahead. In the summer, you can take advantage of their lovely terrace not far from the river. If you’re looking for a budget option, the Wiener Feinbäckerei Heberer on the Hauptstraße does a nice range of German breakfast spreads: bread, jam and butter, served with slices of cheese and salami, and a few egg options as well. 

A view over the castle courtyard with your brunch?

A view over the castle courtyard with your brunch?

Here’s a handy map:

Do you know a great Heidelberg restaurant I’ve missed? Let me know!

PS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

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Our lovely south German home of Heidelberg is beautiful, with its castle, old town, and river views. Let me tell you about our favourite places to eat around town.

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Cochem Castle

Cochem Castle

I love castles, and I have visited a lot of them in our region of Germany. So when I tell you this is one of the best ones, you know I had quite a few to compare it to! It has a great combination of location, ease of access, and history. The town of Cochem itself is gorgeous, and well worth a weekend stay.

Looking through the many arches at Cochem Castle

Looking through the many arches at Cochem Castle

Is it Cochem Castle, or the Reichsburg, or what?

Cochem is the town the castle is located in, and you can definitely call it Cochem Castle in English. ‘Reichsburg’ means the Imperial Castle, so Reichsburg Cochem just translates to Imperial Castle Cochem. You have probably seen other castles called ‘Schloss’ and this refers to their status as more of a palace as opposed to a defensive fortress (a ‘Burg’). In a land full of castles, you’ve got to start dividing them up somehow, right?

Suits of armour are everywhere

Suits of armour are everywhere

Can you imagine leaning by this window, reading a letter?

Can you imagine leaning by this window, reading a letter?

A bit of history

On the hill 100 metres above the town of Cochem, the castle was initially a fortification built around 1056. The first mention in print was in 1051, and in 1157, King Konrad III officially dubbed it an Imperial residence. The town of Cochem was important in wine growing and fishing through this period, and was well connected to the city of Trier. In the late 1690s, the castle and the town were taken by the French during the Nine Years War. Unfortunately, the French Sun King wanted to make sure the region was fully subdued, so he instructed his troops to wreak havoc. 

The castle lay in ruins for nearly 200 years, until the Berlin merchant Louis Ravené had it rebuilt as his family’s summer residence in a Neo-gothic style popular with the rich-people-rebuilding-castles movement of the 19th century. The castle has been owned by the city of Cochem since 1978. 

The beautiful hunters hall at Castle Cochem

The beautiful hunters hall at Castle Cochem

The Great Hall at Castle Cochem

The Great Hall at Castle Cochem

Should you do the tour at Cochem Castle?

Definitely. Like most German castles, you need to join a guided tour to see the interior rooms. There are many tours in English during high season, but you will want to check the times for English tours in the autumn and winter. The English tour was only available once a day when we visited in October – check their website in advance for the exact time of the English-language tour so you don’t miss it. The tour itself is one of the best I’ve been on. The guide knew a lot about the castle and the city of Cochem, but wasn’t overloading us with lists of every single noble who lived in the building. They have definitely designed the tour with children in mind as well, because there were some chocolate rewards and little surprises along the way. Even if you’re not travelling with children, you will be grateful they are entertained. 

It’s extremely unusual for a German castle tour, but you are allowed to take photos throughout the interiors, though turn off your flash. 

Peering down into the yard at Castle Cochem

Peering down into the yard at Castle Cochem

Always look up when you go on these castle tours

Always look up when you go on these castle tours

Join a Medieval banquet

If you plan ahead, you can join in a full experience of a medieval meal with costumed musicians and a castle tour. Most Friday and Saturday evenings starting at 6pm, you can join a group at the castle for a full meal, glass of wine, a special castle tour, and a take home stone mug. The tour is in German, but you can get a sheet with the English information on it. The whole package is €49 per adult and €24.50 per child (6-17 years old). If you’re thinking of booking one, do it soon, as they sell out months in advance. 

Cochem Castle is stunning in the autumn

Cochem Castle is stunning in the autumn

What time of year to visit Cochem Castle

In the summer, you have the benefit of the full leafy trees, sidewalk terraces, green vines clambering over everything, and the breeze off the Mosel. You also will have more crowds of visitors to contend with. Even though there were fewer tours available, the castle wasn’t that busy. The benefit of visiting in the autumn has to be the gorgeous colours of the grape vines. All over the castle, and the surrounding hills, the multicoloured vines transform everything into a riot of deep reds, yellows, oranges, and browns. 

The view from the cafe in the Cochem Castle

The view from the cafe in the Cochem Castle

Classic Schnitzel in the castle cafe

Classic Schnitzel in the castle cafe

Even the placements were cute

Even the placements were cute

What to eat

The cafe up at the castle itself is lovely, and we had a great meal of schnitzel at a reasonable price. I would say at least a little bit cheaper than the restaurants down in the town right on the river, so it’s definitely worth staying up here to have lunch. There’s an impressive selection of cakes, including a proper Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake) and the underrated Frankfurter Kranz, so if it’s afternoon and you just need a coffee and a sweet thing, have it up here with a view down over the town. 

View from outside the Cochem Castle

View from outside the Cochem Castle

Where to stay

I’ve got your weekend in Cochem covered in this post, but if you’re just looking for some quick hotel recommendations, I would check out these ones:

  • Hotel Germania, right next to the main bridge and in the Altstadt
  • Hotel am Hafen, across the river but next to the bridge, with good onsite restaurant
  • Zum fröhlichen Weinburg, a little ways back from the river, quiet and good value
  • Altes Fährhaus Cochem, is on the other side of the river with gorgeous views of the castle and town, and offers bike rentals on site
  • If you’re happy to be just outside of town, the little village of Ernst is our favourite spot, and the Altes Pfarrhaus our Mosel home away-from-home. A lovely Dutch family runs this small hotel, and the food is lovely, with a quiet terrace overlooking the river. 
The Cochem Castle lit up at night

The Cochem Castle lit up at night

How to get there

From Frankfurt or Düsseldorf, Cochem is about a two and a half hour journey by train, with one or two changes, depending on the time of day. From Cologne, it is about two hours with one change. It’s a beautiful journey no matter which way you arrive, however, as most routes will take you along the Rhine and the Mosel. You can book your ticket right here in English:

To get up to the castle from the town, you can walk up, which is a little intense with quite a few stairs. Or, you can take the shuttlebus. There’s a detailed schedule on their website here. If you’re travelling with small people, it would be best to take the shuttle and save their legs for the tour. 

PS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

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Heidelberg Christmas Market: A Local’s Guide

Heidelberg Christmas Market: A Local’s Guide

Our Christmas market in Heidelberg may not be the largest or the showiest in Germany, but it’s full of locals enjoying the season every year beneath our glorious castle. We go to the market five or six times each year, as well as visiting other nearby markets too, at all times of day, and all days of the week. It’s one of my favourite places to buy gifts to send home to my family. If you’re the kind of person who collects special ornaments from your holidays, you will have so many to choose from it will make your head spin. 

Is the Christmas Market enjoyable if you’re not really a Christmas person? Definitely! This is much more of a wintery, festive thing than an overtly consumerist, flashy religion thing. The religious content is very minimal, and you’ll find everyone celebrating the cold weather and… well… Glühwein!

So pull on your warm socks and walking shoes, here’s your local’s guide to enjoying our lovely Christmas market here in Heidelberg.

Gift stalls in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

Gift stalls in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

When is the Heidelberg Christmas Market open?

This year, 2019, the market opens on 25 November, and runs until 22 December. Each day, the stalls and ice rink opens at 11am, and close up around 9pm, except on Saturdays when they stay open a bit later until 10pm. 

Where is the market?

There are little markets spread all along our pedestrianized main street, the Hauptstrasse. Starting at the Bismarckplatz, the main bus exchange, you can visit six along your walk. Some are just a small collection of stands serving food and drink, with a smattering of mugs and decorations, like the one at Bismarckplatz. But the last three, at the Universitätplatz, Marktplatz, and Kornmarkt are quite large. I’ve made a special map just for you, scroll down to see it.

Is there a Christmas market up at the Heidelberg Castle?

You will probably read about a market at the Castle, but this is no longer happening as of 2016. Endangered bats nest and hibernate in the tunnels below where the Christmas market used to be held. It was decided that the market was too disruptive for the bats, so the stalls that used to be there were moved down to another square in the city that year. It was off the usual route, however, and I don’t think they did that well, because the next year those stalls were included in the main market locations. However, you can enjoy ice skating in the Karlsplatz directly below the castle.

Carousel in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

Carousel in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Universitätplatz

What is there to do at the Heidelberg Christmas Market and when to go

Just soaking up the festive atmosphere is one of the best activities, to be honest, but a gentle stroll through the markets is what we locals do. The most magical time is around dusk, when all the lights come on and it feels like you’re walking through a Christmas card. If you’ve got kids with you, head straight for the Universitätplatz market to save little feet. At the centre is a big old carousel, and even though my son knows it well, he always wants at least three rides! The Kornmarkt is set up as a little forest, with loads of pine trees on stands, all entwined with lights. Between the trees is a mini-train the kids can ride, and again, a good two or three times around seems to be required! The giant windmill-style Glühwein stand that is an iconic Christmas market staple is set up in the main Marktplatz, as well as a smaller carousel. The ice skating rink is one market square beyond the little wood, in the Karlsplatz. You can rent skates there, and take a few turns around the rink to music, with the castle lit up right above you. 

Each day, the stands and the ice rink opens at 11am, so if you’re looking to buy gifts, early afternoon is a great time to do so with minimal crowds. Because the market is so spread out, it doesn’t often get too crushed. The stalls close up around 9pm, 10pm on Saturday nights. Weekends are definitely busier than weekdays, as daytrippers come in from across Europe. 

Glühwein mug, and Flammkuchen

Glühwein mug, and Flammkuchen

What to eat at the Heidelberg Christmas Market

What not to eat?! Come hungry, because there’s lots to choose from. The ubiquitous Bratwurst is everywhere of course, served in a small bun (think of it as an edible handle). If you like it spicy, go for the Feuerwurst. There are steaks and venison sausages cooked on the big round grills. There are usually several vegan food stalls as well, if you’d rather skip the meat. Local to our region is the Flammkuchen, a very thin crust pizza topped with onions, bacon pieces, and a mild soft cheese more like cream cheese than mozzarella. There are infinite variations you can get though, including ones with mozzarella on them, veggies, pesto, and more. These are cooked to order, and are a good crowd-pleaser, as everyone just tears a piece off. Just keep ordering until everyone is full. 

One of my favourite treats is the Kartoffelpuffer, which is a bit like a hashbrown patty, but it’s deep-fried fresh to order, and you can have either Apfelmuss with it (apple sauce) or avail yourself of the ketchup and mayo there. Sweet and savoury crêpes are available all over, as well as sides of salmon grilled over an open fire. Hot waffles drizzled in Nutella, or sprinkled in sugar and cinnamon is another favourite. My son’s tip for the best sweet crêpe: order the Kinder Riegel one, where they put a thin chocolate bar (or two if you’re lucky!) made of milk and white chocolate in the middle, and it melts and gets all gooey inside the crêpe. There always seems to be a few stands that will dip a skewer of fruit in molten chocolate for you as well. 

If you’re looking for a more portable treat, cotton candy, or Zuckerwatte, is popular, as well as bags of candied nuts. There are always colourful stalls full to the brim with candy that seems to attract children like a magnet. The decorated heart-shaped cookies hanging outside are pretty, but pretty hard to eat. 

Would you like to sit down inside somewhere and eat? Here’s my post on all the best places to eat in Heidelberg.

What to drink

Glühwein of course! Because Heidelberg is in the middle of several wine regions, if you do a little searching you can find the more delicately spiced Weißglühwein, which is my particular favourite. If you order it ‘mit Schuß’ you will get the choice of a shot of rum or Jägermeister in your hot sweet wine for an additional Euro. For some theatre, seek out a Feuerzangenbowle stall to watch them set a rum-soaked sugar cone on fire, above a cauldron of Glühwein. And then have a mugful, obviously. For kids and nondrinkers, you can find Kinderpunsch at every stand that serves Glühwein, which is a hot spiced fruit juice. The mug you’re served your Glühwein in is reusable, and when you buy your first mugful, you have paid a deposit, or Pfand. You can walk up to any other Glühwein stand in the market and pay for a refill. If you’d like your deposit back, when you’re finished the night you can return your mug to any stand selling drinks, and they will refund you – don’t forget, it’s 3€ a mug! I think everyone in Heidelberg has a few of these at the back of the cupboard!

Wooden toys at the Heidelberg Christmas Market.

Wooden toys at the Heidelberg Christmas Market

What to buy

On average, I find the prices at the gift stalls very reasonable for the quality of the work. A lot of these people spend all year making things to bring to the Christmas markets. Some of my favourite things to buy as gifts at the market include:

Sheepskin slippers

We are a farming region down here, and there are a few stalls that only sell sheepskin products, and the slippers are so incredibly warm. They have gorgeous proper sheepskin throws as well, but these are pricey. They are also the best quality ones I have ever seen.

Felted pouches

Who doesn’t need another pouch to keep train tickets, small change, or glasses in? These stands also feature some incredibly detailed children’s slippers with curled toes. If you have an elf-obsessed small person, this may be your perfect choice. There’s also a good selection of felted flowers to pin to a coat or hat.

Wooden puzzles

The wooden puzzle booth is always a favourite stop. From classic ball mazes to more complicated Escher-like twisting baubles, everything is made in good-quality wood, oiled and stained. Not just for kids, most of these games would look perfect on a bookshelf or desk.

Christmas decorations and lanterns

It’s a tradition in southern Germany to put a lit-up star lantern in your window. Accordingly, some of the most beautiful stalls are the ones hung with many lanterns, all glowing in the evening. There are metal punched-hole ones from Morocco, and paper ones of all shapes and sizes. The paper kind will flatten down, if you’re concerned about suitcase space. There are many options for more traditional wooden decorations as well. If you really want to invest, visit the Käthe Wohlfahrt store at the corner of the Unveristätplatz market –– they have full Christmas scenes that move with the heat from a candle, miniature (and not so miniature) Christmas pyramids, and pretty much everything Christmas you can think of. The prices are much higher in here, but if you’re looking for an heirloojm piece, this is the place. 

Chocolate tools

This sounds so strange, but there is a stand behind the carousel in the Universitätplatz market that sells chocolates in intricate shapes of tools, cameras, cars, keys, and kitchen implements. It’s worth a look even if you don’t buy anything, because they are incredible. 

The Christmas pyramid in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Marktplatz

The Christmas pyramid in the Heidelberg Christmas Market in the Marktplatz

Insider tips

We visit many times over the season, as well as many other Christmas markets in nearby towns. Here is what we’ve learned:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and warm socks because you will be walking and standing the whole time
  • Bring a reusable bag for any purchases
  • Wear a hat and a scarf, and bring gloves, it gets quite cold when you’re out for several hours
  • Don’t bother with an umbrella if it’s raining, there are too many people, just wear a hat
  • If you’re not into walking a long way, take the bus to the centre of the market and start there (see below)

How to get to the Heidelberg Christmas Market

The Christmas Markets are easy to reach in Heidelberg, as is Heidelberg itself. Regional trains reach the city with a change in Mannheim – for more details on how to get from Frankfurt to Heidelberg, I’ve written a whole post for you. From the Hauptbanhof (main train station), you can take any tram or bus marked for Bismarckplatz to walk the whole length of the markets. If you’re looking to save your energy, take the 32 Bus to Universitätplatz and that will bring to the heart of the bigger markets. If you’re driving, you will want to park around the edge of the Altstadt and walk in. I’ve marked two good parking garages on the map below, as well as where the markets are, the train station, and where the bus drops you. 

BONUS market to visit: Kloster Neuberg

NOTE: The Kloster Neuberg market is closed in 2018!

Not part of the city markets, but well worth a visit is the little market at the Stift Neuberg. This is a still functioning monastery down the river a bit from the city. The market is on the grounds of the historic farm that is run separately from the monastery these days, and it features cows, goats, and an excellent brewery. If you’ve been craving beer but could find nothing but Glühwein, this is your stop. It is much smaller than the other markets, but it’s much more rustic. The craft stalls are inside the barns, and there is sometimes a small carousel. Fresh Flammkuchen is always available, along with hot waffles, Kartoffelpuffer, and Bratwurst. If you’re lucky, they will be roasting a pig on a spit above a woodfire. This market is much quieter, so if you want a little magical local experience, this is worth it. 

To get there, you can take the bus 34 to the bottom of the hill where the monastery is (marked on the map above), or you can take the Weisse Flotte boat along the Neckar (departure pier also marked on the map). The boat is more like a little ferry, you don’t need to book ahead. I wouldn’t recommend driving, as parking is a right pain. It is a big walk up a hill, but there are more sitting options than in the bigger markets, so you can take a rest once you get up there! Also, wrap up warm, it is at a higher elevation. If you’re really lucky, it will snow!

Enjoy your trip to the markets in Heidelberg, we really love this time of year in our adopted home.

 

PS – Here is my overall guide on how to do German Christmas Markets, and if you’re looking for other things to do in Heidelberg with kids, I’ve got you covered there too.

 

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