One of the things I was adamant about my German Christmas markets tour last year was to set foot in a picturesque village — I didn’t really care where it was, just as long as it was historical, photogenic and delightful. I wanted the tourist postcard on a silver plate. I wanted the Disneyland of Christmas markets.
And I got that in Esslingen.
Located just a few kilometres outside bustling Stuttgart, Esslingen in a medieval village that was, thankfully, spared in the bombings of World War II. It’s incredibly well-preserved and colourful town centre dates back to the 1600s — precisely the type of place I had in mind for my Eurail.com Christmas market assignment.
My visit in Esslingen started at the Kessler sparkling wine cellar, which I wrote about earlier. It was absolutely fantastic to have the cellars all to myself and learn more about this local institution. Highly recommended, and definitely worth travelling to Esslingen for.
But the real deal was at the Christmas markets. With an s. Because for such a tiny village, Esslingen has a whopping amount of Christmas markets. I actually counted four different markets within a radius of less than a kilometre: a medieval one, a circus-themed (!) one, a musical one and a more traditional one as well.
Needless to say, the few hours I spent in Esslingen were not boring at all.
Esslingen is a popular tourist stop not just because it is easily accessible, but also because it’s part of the legendary German timber-frame road, a 3000 kilometres-long — almost the entire length of Germany — tourist route that is bordered by traditional German heritage buildings like the ones pictured above. New bucket list item, perhaps?
To pursue the whole German Christmas postcard theme, I wanted to stick to traditional meals and stay as authentic as possible. And according to my friend Yvonne, I did the right choice by picking kässpätzle, a delicious Swabian dish that consists of shell-shaped pasta (pätzle), copious amounts of cheese (käss) and dried onion toppings. At only 5 euros a plate, it was both delightful for my taste buds and my budget.
The medieval and the circus-themed markets definitely were the most entertaining ones, as expected. Sights include high-wire artist performing breathtaking feats at dizzying heights and acrobats rolling through Hafenmarkt in nothing less than a flaming wheel, as well as creative merchants and craftsmen ready to do just about anything to impress neophytes.
Job well done. The Christmas-obsessed lady over here was indeed quite impressed.
One of the traditions I took greatest pleasure in was, of course, glühwein. Anyone who says “I’m going to the Christmas market” really means “I’m going to drink massive quantities of spiced red wine“. Each city — and often each market in the same city — has different mugs, which make great collectables and souvenirs to be used back at home. Visitors have to pay a small deposit (usually between 2 and 5 euros) for the mug, which they can decide to keep or to return later and get their deposit back.
Really, if this sight isn’t worth traveling for, then I don’t know what is. Pictured here is Esslingen’s masterpiece, the ultimate Christmas-market-Disneyland postcard: the old town square, flanked by the old town hall and a good dozen medieval buildings that just add to the atmosphere. With such a stunning backdrop, I really don’t think it’s possible not to enjoy oneself.
Esslingen is what a traveler’s dreams are made of: an authentic, well-preserved place with welcoming locals that only ask to share their traditions and perspective. I have seen my fair share of quaint villages across Europe, and I can quite frankly say that Esslingen is well ahead in the rankings.
Saying that Esslingen is a perfect day trip from Stuttgart is a huge understatement. It is a destination in its own right, perhaps even more so that the big city nearby.
“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
-Norman Vincent Peale
Esslingen Christmas Market: Good To Know
- The city is a 20-minute train ride outside of Stuttgart.
- Book your accommodation early, as Christmas Markets in Esslingen are hugely popular and hotels sell out quickly.
- Few people know that the city is surrounded by vineyards; make sure to include a cellar tour in your visit.
- The markets usually start in the last week of November and last until Christmas.
- Make sure to spend a whole day in the city. I was there for less than 24 hours and I felt like I missed out on some things.