The Magical Christmas Markets
Consider a winter river cruise for an unforgettable getaway
Europe in the winter can be as exhilarating as it is cold (more on the weather in a moment). Squares are lit up with decorations, a light dusting of snow may cover the ground, and the Christmas markets are in full swing. And, as luck might have it, river cruise lines have been operating voyages through Europe in the winter months, dubbed Christmas Markets voyages.
When Can I Go On A Christmas Markets River Cruise?
Although holiday river cruises are offered right through until January 1, Europe’s fabled Christmas Markets typically open around November 25 and stay operational until December 23 or 24th. It’s the sailings that fall within these dates that can offer a truly one-of-a-kind experience along the waterways of Europe. The transformation between the summer months to winter is remarkable, as cities like Vienna, Strasbourg and Cologne take on an entirely different look and feel during the run-up to the Christmas holidays.
Christmas and New Year’s cruises are still extremely popular, and tend to sell out well in advance. But beware: The Christmas Markets will have closed up shop by then.
At one time, Christmas voyages were only offered along a handful of European rivers; today, nearly every major river cruise line offers sailings that traverse the Danube, Main, Rhine and beyond.
So What is a ‘Christmas Market’?
The fabled Christmas Markets are the real pull on these cruises. Many North American travelers may be unaware of these, as Christmas Markets are not a North American tradition. They are essentially street markets. Usually set up outdoors, Europe’s Christmas Markets can offer an incredible variety of local crafts and wares and – perhaps best of all – delicious local Christmas delicacies. Mulled wine and cider are popular wintertime beverages, and are typically sold in these markets as well. For culture mavens, there’s no better time to truly embrace local customs than at Christmas.
Unlike the North American full-body contact sport that is Christmas shopping, Europeans have the option of shopping in the Christmas Markets, as opposed to shopping malls. But Christmas Markets are also social experiences: People will gather here after work to enjoy a nice meal and some delicious mulled wine or hot chocolate. It’s fun to enjoy the pleasant, convivial atmosphere. There’s no fighting for parking. No battling checkout lines. Just people enjoying the company of others.
Of course, the opportunity to experience some of Europe’s grandest cities in their snow-covered glory is another reason to take a Christmas Markets river cruise, although, of course, there is no guarantee that you’ll experience snow. We’ve done more than half a dozen Christmas Markets cruises, and we’d assign a 50/50 chance of seeing snow on any given cruise.
What is absent is the throngs of tourists that crowd cities and attractions during the popular summer months. Chances are your exploration time ashore will be more relaxed and enjoyable than in the hot, crowded heat of summer. Although it may be cold outside, the atmosphere aboard your river cruise ship is warm and cheery, and offers all the usual amenities – though you will want to bring a heavy coat for the observation deck.
Day 1 – Arrive in Frankfurt, Germany (Embarkation)
Welcome to Frankfurt! Situated on the Main River, Frankfurt is a truly cosmopolitan city and the commercial capital of Germany. This afternoon, board your river cruise vessel and meet your crew at a welcome reception. (Dinner)
Day 2 – Miltenberg–Wertheim
Miltenberg is a picturesque Bavarian village that thrived on income from river traffic. Its cultural wealth and affluence are reflected in the beautiful medieval and renaissance houses and the gothic splendor of the Merchant Hall shown to you during your guided walk. The town center is within walking distance of the ship, as is the Christmas market. After lunch, learn how to bake a local SOFT COOKIE specialty.
In the afternoon, there’s free time in Wertheim, whose overlapping half-timbered houses are grouped along winding streets. Glassblowers have a long tradition in this town and, especially in winter time, they produce decorations that hang on Christmas trees all over the world. Marvel at the tasteful Christmas decorations in the shop windows and stroll through the charming Christmas market. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 3 – Würzburg. Excursion to Rothenburg
Known as the “Pearl of the Romantic Road,” Würzburg is surrounded by sloping hills covered with vineyards. The magnificent BISHOP’S RESIDENZ is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After lunch, set off on the most scenic section of the Romantic Road to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This ancient walled city features ramparts, fountains, and cobblestone lanes, and is steeped in history. Although known for its year-round Christmas market, the real one at this time of the year is a must-see experience. Try a Schneeball (snowball), a local specialty not at all suitable for a diet. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 4 – Bamberg
Another beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site is medieval Bamberg. Your walking tour takes in its breathtaking cathedral, the Old Town Hall straddling the River Regnitz, and serpentine streets with charming houses and 18th-century mansions. At this time of year the town is decked out for Christmas and especially interesting are the many nativity scenes built by local citizens and exhibited throughout the town. Today we will introduce you to some of Germany’s FAMOUS BEERS! (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 5 – Nuremberg
Although Nuremberg suffered extensive damage during WWII, much of it was restored to its original style. Marvel at this historic city with its fabulous gothic churches and elegant patrician houses. Nuremberg hosts Germany’s most famous Christmas market, which dates back to 1628 and is opened each year by the Christkindl. The Old Town is illuminated with festive lights and decorations. The city’s traditions include famous Lebkuchen, toy making, and metal working. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 6 – Nuremberg (Disembarkation)
Your vacation ends with breakfast this morning.
So the next time you think of booking a river cruise, why not go during what is arguably one of the best times of the year and celebrate the holidays in Europe? For us here at River Cruise Advisor, this remains our favorite time of year to travel to Europe.
River Cruise Advisor Posts Featuring Christmas Market Cruises:
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