From the middle of November through the new year, the Christmas spirit truly comes alive in Europe. Cities, towns and villages are magical with their decorated streets and squares, only seen during this time of year.
Especially fun are the Christmas Markets. Small or large, you'll find them all throughout Europe, all unique to their city and region with local artisans and crafts only found at that location.
Indeed amazing, some come with long held traditions, like the Dresden Market that dates back to 1434 and the Strasbourg Market which started in 1570.
A visit to the Christmas Markets is a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays with family and friends, young and young at heart alike. And a perfect way to see how other countries celebrate the season.
Having grown up in Germany, I still have fond memories of the lovely Christmas Markets that pop up in just about every city from the mid/end of November to the end of December. The scent of fresh pine trees, stalls filled with beautiful local crafts, and OH, the aromas... pretzels, freshly grilled sausages, roasted chestnuts, gingerbread cookies, hot chocolate, hot cider and gluhwein (well, this memory is more recent... promise, I didn't drink gluhwein as a child.). Christmas Markets really are a wonderful experience, from all the regional foods to the locally made crafts - every market has it's uniqueness!
One of the best ways to enjoy the holiday season in Europe is on a Christmas Market river cruise. Ships are beautifully decorated, cruise lines arrange for special festive activities on board and meals have a festive twist. No worries about driving, you unpack once, you experience fewer crowds, numerous cultures and numerous markets all on one itinerary. Shall I go on?
Imagine picking up that perfect gift in Prague, Vienna, Amsterdam or Nuremberg, one of the oldest Christmas markets in all of Europe. Or spending Christmas through New Year on board ship - what a way to celebrate the holidays and bring in the New Year!
Why consider a Christmas Market river cruise in Europe? Here are 7 reasons:
Opportunity to Experience a European Winter Wonderland
Yes, winter river cruises can be chilly and there is a possibility of snow. But that is the beauty. This time of year offers you the chance to experience Europe's winter wonderland and fairy tale settings. Imagine cruising on the Rhine with castles sitting on white frosted hills, or walking the cobbled streets of Nuremberg, exploring the famous Christkindlesmarkt, the largest and oldest Christmas Market in Germany. Remember, river cruising isn't about the weather - it's about the destinations and the experiences that go with them!
Photo credit: Viking River Cruises
While some of the itineraries are the same or similar to spring, summer and fall itineraries, a good number are special, created specifically around visiting the Christmas markets. Whether the same or not, these itineraries are unique in that traditions, foods and crafts are on display only during the Christmas season.
Multiple Christmas Markets and Multiple Cultures
A primary reasons to enjoy a river cruise any time of year is the opportunity to explore multiple countries and experience multiple cultures on one itinerary. The cruises stop in vibrant cities and quaint villages, giving you the opportunity to experience the hustle of the big city and the charm of the small towns. Christmas Market cruises add to the excitement, not only by visiting multiple markets only available this time of year but also experiencing the different traditions, foods and art, giving you an extra insight, if you will, to the local life.
Shop for Unique Gifts
Christmas markets are certainly the place to pick up some unique gifts for friends and family - gifts you won't find anywhere else in the world. This in of itself is special. Explore over 300 stalls in Strasbourg or 180 in Nuremberg...hundreds of local and regional artisans displaying their beautiful handcrafted wares. You can't go wrong!
Sample Local Specialties
Roasted chestnuts, fresh pretzels, grilled sausages, lovely gingerbread cookies, hot chocolate, mulled wine, local beers and many other traditional and regional foods bring hundreds of people to the markets - locals and visitors alike. The markets offer a great place for people to meet and simply enjoy each others company. Go out and meet the locals - it really is a lot of fun.
Lower Prices than summer or fall
Christmas Market cruises are a great value and a wonderful opportunity for first time cruisers to experience what river cruising is all about. Cruise fares are are generally lower, as are airfares. Lower prices, fewer crowds (and possibly the ability to take advantage of some additional days off) makes this a great time to visit Europe.
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Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder