The Holidays in Florida
Living in Florida, finding Christmas and the holiday spirit(s) takes a little extra effort. When we first moved to the Sunshine State, we laughed as Lowes peddled plastic palm trees decked out in Christmas lights. Even with giant Nutcrackers guarding the streets and wreaths hanging in shop windows, usually decorated with fish and golf ornaments, temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s obliterate the New England holiday vibes that only exist in our imagination.
“Where are you ChristMASSSS; I cannot find youuuuu.”
Who wants to drink spiced hot chocolate as they sunbathe by the pool? Tourists and vacationers…and SNOW birds!! That’s who.
But when you live in God’s waiting room with sand ‘snow’-men and dolphin statues donned in Santa hats, you find yourself wanting warm boozy drinks, ice-skating, and boots that serve a purpose besides just looking cute. Trust me, I know about these things. Every year now, we actively seek the white stuff or at least some cold air that isn’t from our AC. Spending winter in Europe is one of our new traveling traditions. Hello lights, pop-up skating rinks, and lots of delicious holiday spirits. Ya know, the booze kind.
Winter in Europe Traditions
I cannot pretend to be an expert on winter in Europe travel. We’ve only just started this tradition for a few years now. But I freaking love it! What I do know is that during the months from November to March, we’ve enjoyed and learned about a few winter traditions and had delicious tipsy alcoholic beverages that I seek out every time we land in Europe. A drink and a holiday activity or three represent each city, for me.
- Ice-skating in front of the Rijks and warming up with Jenever (Genever) at an infamous library bar in Amsterdam
- Sipping Glühwein at the Frankfurt Christmas Market as kids and adults spin around on the carousel
- Downing endless pours of Kölsch beer in Cologne as a reward for scaling those 533 cathedral steps
- Grabbing a waffle, fries, and Belgian beer after a chocolate tour and mesmerized gawking at Brussels’ Grand-Place square
From Christmas markets to local brews and unique literary hotspots, these are two German cities and their attractions that The Uncorked Librarian suggests to get you in the holiday spirit. Cheers.
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Winter in Germany
We have barely scraped the surface of Germany. I would love to visit Bavaria, Munich, Berlin, and Hamburg. For just a weeklong trip, though, with the goal being Christmas Markets, Frankfurt and Cologne are perfect. Picture sipping Glühwein in a gingerbread village (aka Römerberg Square), cotton candy carousel rides, hiking twisted staircases, and stalls shaped like the pretzels they sell.
A Few Quick General Winter in Germany Travel Tips
Before you go, here are a few tips that you might find helpful:
- The Frankfurt am Main Airport usually tops the lists for busiest and largest airports along with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. We loved being able to fly nonstop out of Orlando International to Frankfurt on Lufthansa. For being so large, the Frankfurt airport experience is rather chill.
- Lufthansa has been one of the only airlines not to mess up pre-ordered special meals for this colitis traveler. Buttttt, they definitely decided that lactose-free is easiest to combine with vegan meals. I would have loved some butter-free chicken.
- Frankfurt is clean, safe in the right areas (and not in others), quiet minus the city sirens, and easy to get around, especially with the MyTaxi app. Uber is currently not allowed in Frankfurt.
- Frankfurt boosts somewhat debatably of the oldest Christmas Market (1393) and one of the largest in Germany.
- Many restaurants around the Frankfurt business district and market require advanced reservations, even on random weeknights for cheaper places.
- Only a day or two is really necessary for Frankfurt. Along with the Christmas Market, the Städel Museum and Palmengarten, the botanical gardens, are worth a visit.
- You can take the ICE (high speed) trains between cities. Cologne is one hour by train from Frankfurt if you pay more for no transfers. You do not have to book tickets in advance. If you buy online tickets in advance, tickets are usually not refundable or changeable. When you purchase tickets, you can choose to pay more to have an assigned seat or attempt to find a few open ones. Sometimes the train screens are iffy so you might just have to move at each stop if you don’t reserve a seat. Musical chairs gets pretty funny, unless you lose.
Boozy Drinks at the Frankfurt Christmas Market
Once you’ve done a little planning ahead, it’s GO TIME. One word: Glühwein. Moving on to Cologne. JUST KIDDING!
Glühwein is what hangovers…I mean dreams…are made of. Red wine is king in Germany, and this spicy, served warm sugary goodness is undoubtedly the signature drink and possibly even the main event of adult Christmas Market touring. What is it? Mulled red wine. Typically, spices include cinnamon and anise. Boozers can add rum—which blends in—or Amaretto, making it teeth-rotting sweeter.
Markets in Frankfurt serve this liquid gold in cute ceramic mugs. You pay a deposit on the mugs, usually around 2 euros. If you decide that keeping a souvenir that has had HUNDREDS of lips on it is not for you, then you can return the chalice for your deposit back. A picture suits me just fine.
The market is the best place to drink your steamy cup of heaven. People watch, walk around, and shop for Christmas ornaments. Römerberg Square looks magical with its half-timbered buildings lit for the holidays.
A literary Glühwein secret: The Adina Apartment Hotel Frankfurt, one of our accommodations of choice, made us the best Glühwein. Their little bar hides menus in the first few pages of old books. Yes, I died.
My biggest tip: If you have trouble sleeping, don’t be like this uncorked traveler and drink 3 of these hot wines late at night. You might just find yourself staring at the ceiling at 4 AM fantasizing about the NyQuil sitting on your American counter. Many stalls add a ton of sugar.
For full details about the Christmas Market, its hours, tours, and what to expect check here.
When Not Drinking in Frankfurt…
Contrary to popular belief, The Uncorked Librarian does other activities besides drinking. We love museums, gardens, and breaking into libraries. Two of my favorite Frankfurt activities:
Founded in 1815, find at least 3,100 paintings, 660 sculptures, and 100,000 drawings and prints. There are photographs and special exhibits too focusing on European Art from the Middle Ages until now. Vermeer and Rembrandt are their blockbusters.
We happened to catch the Victor Vasarely exhibition with its trippy optical illusions, playful art techniques, and 3D rainbow designs that drew me in like hearing the word “free wine.” The museum is rather friendly for its vastness (unlike Frankfurt), and you can take photographs.
Like many museums, it is best to get to the Städel at the opening to beat the tours and crowds who typically come later on those wintery days. We had many galleries to ourselves for the first hour before school groups and mobs rolled in to snap pics. With ticket prices ranging from 14-16 euros, the museum is worth a peak for one to two hours.
Remember to check hours and get the complete details on the official site here.
With about 18 acres of land, Palmengarten is home to exotic plants and its namesake, palms. Even though we stopped by on a rainy day in the winter, we spent hours touring the grounds filled with ponds, greenhouses, and walking paths. Although the outdoor flora and fauna are DEAD–barren like my Glühwein mug–you might find renovations in the offseason, and the grounds lack the vibrancy of spring, we enjoyed the remaining nips of color from the fall foliage and an escape from the market crowds in the city.
That sounded bleak. One, if you are a travel blogger, this is a great spot for Instagram shots–hear those husbands’ moans. Two, when museum fatigue hits, you’ll find this park refreshing. I can only imagine how beautiful Palmengarten is in the spring.
For around 7 euros these botanical gardens are worth checking out as long as you remember its winter. Check the calendar too because closer to Christmas, they light up at night. Visit Palmengarten’s website here for complete visitor info.
For More Boozy Travels, Check Out TUL’s Card Catalog of Drinks Here.
Charming Cologne, Germany
One hour by high-speed train from Frankfurt, Cologne is a must when visiting the western region of Germany. As the train glides into station, little sparks of rainbow glitter off the love-locked bridge. Just as fast, the jaw-dropping and Gothic Cologne Cathedral towers welcome you to the enchanting city. Majestic and almost surreal, call it love at first sight. Maybe there is a wine God if I get to sit inside this bad boy…
A day passes quickly in Cologne, and we wish we kept our original plans to sleep there instead of heading back to Frankfurt. If you have just a day, staying within a half mile of the Cathedral will keep you thoroughly entertained with one of Cologne’s Christmas Markets, the Cathedral itself, restaurants and beer gardens, and the lock bridge.
Boozy Drinks In Cologne
But first, the booze.
Seen from the Cathedral, Cologne’s easiest to find Christmas Market from the train station is next door. What did we find? Glühwein, of course. Note that Glühwein is pretty much Glühwein wherever you drink it, but Cathedral views make it extra cozy. And Glühwein in Germany is still > Glühwein in Disney’s Epcot Germany.
Even more special to Cologne is its Kölsch beer. Fermented with ale yeast and finished with lagering, Kölsch beer combines two usually separated beer-making processes. Or so the research dictates. All I cared about was finding this infamous goodness, and a story that I had read in the Bible, aka Lonely Planet: when you visit a beer garden in Cologne and order Kölsch beer—which is served in smaller glasses—the bartender will keep pouring you drinks until you put a coaster on top. They tally your drinks on the coaster. No coaster; no stopping.
….Sound like some crazy Rio Brazilian steakhouse shit that no one told you about?
Like how you are sitting at a table with salad and wondering why the guys with the goods are not coming toward you to shave candied dead animal into your mouth.
Do you smell? Do you not look hungry enough?
Then suddenly you see this red chip and flip it to green?! Next thing you know, you are getting the meat sweats and wondering how the hell you are going to pay for this dinner. Or is that just me…
Unfortunately, I did not get the full Kölsch beer experience since I lazily sought out beer at the Christmas Market and a potato pancake, which apparently is hard to find in certain parts of Germany. Maybe it’s not really German, but don’t tell me. More importantly, did the beer win its stellar reputation? Tasted like weak and equally terrible Heineken to me. Sorry not sorry. I still drank it.
Magically Enchanted Cologne Activities
When you find out that you can climb the Cathedral tower, you just have to, right? I work out at least 5 hours a week; I GOT THIS. Plus, Dr. Oz just said that if you can’t climb 4 flights of stairs in like 30 seconds, you are fucked. Climb the tower, he said.
Travelers’ Tip: Do not eat a giant plate of sushi, head to the Cathedral, and decide to hike the 533 stairs. It’s like swimming right after you eat lunch. You think those leg cramps and tummy aches are all myths your uncle told you to get some kid-free pool time until you find yourself upchucking some hotdogs and nearly drowning. Am I right?
The Cologne Cathedral or Kölner Dom took quite the time to build. 1284-1880 to be exact. The Cathedral also survived WWII bombings. Today the Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and active Episcopalian church. When there are no services, visitors can wander the pews for free.
Head around to the right side of the church for the Tower of Terror. For 4 euros, you can pay to get your daily workout, and just pray that teams of wild teenagers aren’t behind you, racing. DO NOT ENGAGE. I repeat: Do not engage. Your heart may explode in your chest and the AED machine is at the very top, far far away.
Are you afraid of heights?
I read mixed reviews about the tower climb. Besides being exhausting, there are tight spaces, and then of course, the whole high as shit thing. Once the tallest building in the world, the North Tower reaches 157.38 meters. I am American; don’t ask me to convert that. While I am not afraid of heights, on occasion, see-through stairs threaten to ruin my life. If you are deathly afraid of heights, you might need to play this one by staircases—as there are more than one and some just suck.
The initial ascent is your typically tight and winding tower. Two-way traffic causes stops, and there are a few but limited pullovers. About 75% of the way up, stop to breathe and see one of the bells. Keep going and then you reach my personal hell: A cage of see-through stairs. In no way are you ever in danger or can you even fall, but still…
Is it worth it? DUH!
Make sure to check hours and services here.
Meandering Around Cologne
If you are on limited time, along with stopping for food and drinks, we loved:
- The Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market
- Hohenzollern Bridge – The “love locks bridge” — I just read an article about the train companies wanting the locks to come down because of bridge corrosion. Maybe get on seeing it now.
Facing the tower side of the Cathedral, not only can you find the love lock bridge, but also street performers. I fell in love with the man making giant bubbles for kids to run through directly in front of the church. The bridge sees some beautiful sunsets, and reading the locks with their engravings is romantically fun. I’ve heard locals who break up make the trek to remove their locks. Glühwein with a splash of bitter, anyone?
What are your favorite spots to visit in Europe in the winter? What are your favorite German cities? Please share in the comments.
Europe and Germany in the winter always capture my heart. I’m in love with how European cities decorate and almost librarian-style catalog their streets and neighborhoods based on holiday lights. What’s your favorite part of Europe in the winter?
P.S. If you are looking for more German recommendations, check out The Frugal Fellow’s boozy adventures and recommendations for Munich, Germany.
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