This year I am visiting Vancouver’s Christmas Market for the 3rd year in a row. It has become a sort of tradition where I load up on more Christmas decor and worry about logistics and storage later.
Each year brings more delicious food, gorgeous handmade (and painted) decor as well as some warming mulled wine and German beer. But with each return I also pick up some tips on when to go, what to eat, and what to buy. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up these 3 years. Feel free to add your tips in the comments below.
When to Visit
If you’re there to pick up gifts and shop for Christmas decor I suggest arriving just before the market opens that day (see schedule below). The line up starts to form 30 minutes (or more) prior to open so bring a cup of coffee and be ready to wait a little while. In fact, there’s a line up all day during weekends but it does go fast. Arrive during the weekday for timelier access.
Even better, if you are visiting between Monday and Thursday I’d suggest picking up the VIP pass from Groupon priced at $18 for two. This pass allows you to skip the line, a complimentary souvenir mug, cider (or mulled wine for a few extra bucks) and a carousel ride saving you $18. A family package is also available for 4 people at $36.
Right now when you purchase an entry you can also fill out an online process after your visit which allows you a full season of access back into the market without having to wait in line again and re-purchase another pass. This will allow you to return at night to relax when the wine flows, the music plays and the lights ignite downtown Vancouver.
What to Buy
The reason you want to arrive as soon as it opens is the market’s pièce de la résistance – The Kathe Wohlfahrt show room. Arrive at the market too late in the day and you’ll find yourself waiting in yet another and much slower line, just to enter this popular vendor’s room.
Also expect people to be a little more pushy and rude. The showroom is small and people don’t give an inch!
This is the most popular vendor to purchase authentic German Christmas Pyramids, hand painted wooden, glass and pewter ornaments, nutcrackers of all themes (from a chef to a soldier), intricate schwibbogen, incense burners etc. I do warn you that this is also a fairly pricey vendor with pyramids going from $60-$575. You’ll be glad to know that credit, debit and cash are all accepted here. At the other huts located outdoors you should always carry cash. ATMs are conveniently located around the grounds if you find yourself wanting to splurge on a pewter German beer stein.
If you are thinking that the Kathe Wohlfahrt showroom is a little above your price range but you still want to buy a Christmas showstopper – my personal favourite are the pyramids – then search around for a hut located at the opposite end of the market from the Kathe Wohlfahrt showroom. Here you can find more smaller hand carved ornaments, pyramids and schwibbogen for a bit less. I also love it for their unique miniature characters to decorate Christmas villages with.
A new item that I discovered this year are Canadian made candles by The Hartmont Candle Company. These candles offer a long burn time (the smallest candles burning at 40 hours) and a room filling scent that isn’t overpowering. I am actually burning their Woodland Whisper candle right now and it is filling my home with holiday cheer!
Another showstopper item I discovered is the Alpine Heritage Booth from Austria which sells these amazing hand carved scenes within a glass covered cabinet. The intricacy left me with goosebumps or as the Germans call it gansehaut. While these aren’t cheap you can purchase a smaller size for around $70 and are equally impressive. These are truly one of a kind and are hard to find images of so what better way to impress your holiday guests than with something they have never seen before and made in Austria. (FYI – a few vendors do not like you taking images to spread over your social media without first asking them as there are many awaiting copy cats in China as was explained to me).
As for the rest of the market, it has grown to include much more than German, Austrian and Russian specialties. You can now find Turkish fruit soap which is a 400 year old tradition, scarves and toques made in Ecuador and Nepal from only environmentally safe and ethically sound practices and Polish pottery for grand holiday dinners or all year round use.
What to Eat
If you want to visit for lunch the Vancouver Christmas Market is also offering a 2 for 1 lunch pass available for print online. Bring a friend for lunch and you only have to pay one entry fee of $6.
So what do you eat when you get in? This year there’s a lot more than sausages pilled high with sauerkraut.
A few of my favourites are:
Appetizer: Flammkuchen-Kueche – This hut brings a bit of a show as the vendor bakes the flat bread in a wood fire oven, offered with either Black Forest style bacon or vegetarian with caramelized onion and Gruyere cheeses. He also offers free samples if you don’t believe how good the flatbread is! Conveniently this also goes well with beer or a warm apple cider for the kids.
Have impatient kids? Send them off to the carousel while you stand warm next to the wood fire oven waiting for the flatbread to be baked crispy and melted with delicious cheese.
Main Course: Das Deutsche Nudle Haus – Be prepared to have fellow market attendees asking you “Where did you get that?” The hot noodle dishes, I came to know it as spaetzel which is an egg noodle that can be long or in small dumpling-like shapes. It’s fried on a large cast iron skillet with either sauerkraut or swiss cheese and ham. This is just the dish to warm you up after a day at the outdoor market. It goes perfectly with Krombacher beer served at the nearby hut easily seen from afar with the bottle of beer upon its summit.
Dessert: Das Apfhel Haus – This hut was twice voted to be the best at the market with the fun and open vendors and of course their delicious stuffed apples covered in silky white vanilla sauce. You can choose from either the Go Nuts Apple, Choco-Cherry Bomb, and the Bery-Berry Apple with blueberries and cranberries. I opted for the Choco-Cherry Bomb which I loved but I the dark chocolate in the middle wasn’t as melted as I would prefer, however the cherries more than make up for it. Next time I’m opting for the Go Nuts.
Liquid Dessert: Feuerzangenbowle (Fire-Tongs Punch) and Gluhwein (Mulled Wine) – The Feuerzangenbowle is an alcoholic drink served with an ice cube and flambéed with rum which drips into mulled wine. The process of brewing and consuming creates a ceremony known as Gemütlichkeit = cheer, peace of mind and being together. The mulled wine is a brew that I have both tried at the market and have made at home. It’s a mixture of spices added to red wine that is heated over the stovetop. At the market you can find it as soon as you enter and is served from a copper keg.