The Christmas markets of Europe may be the best way to experience 'peak Christmas.' And I believe that a river cruise is the best way to experience Christmas markets.
IF YOU WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE, you'll likely be captivated by the highlights of a nighttime German Christmas market, too. While Christmas markets take place in a number of European countries, a river cruise on the Rhine or the Danube with multiple ports of call in Germany can take you to an assortment of traditional Christmas market towns, whose local versions take you from festive height to height.
From daytime bustle to twinkling evening magic, town squares and romantic castle grounds, every Christmas market along Germany's rivers has its own unique character. But they all have some things in common that make a Christmas market river cruise the perfect way to get into the spirit of the holidays:
Authentic Christmas Cheer
If it’s your first Christmas market experience, Germany is the way to go. So many of our modern Christmas traditions hail from Germany (via England, thanks to Queen Victoria's German husband, Prince Albert); for a real injection of the spirit of Christmas, this year, it’s time to go to the source.
Even today, Germans are the torch-bearers for festive authenticity – only genuine fir branches, music, food, drink and shopping traditions allowed!
Plus, river cruises don't just transport you and in many cases provide access to some of the most renowned Christmas markets so you don't have to line up with regular visitors.
Many river cruise lines capture the spirit of the season on board, too, with decor, local cultural demonstrations and performances, special menus, tastings, and festive activities you can take part in as you sail along the river to your next port of call.
All in your 'floating hotel' where you unpack once and enjoy multiple holiday destinations accompanied by the river cruise line's expert staff who take care of the logistics and details for you - so all you have to do is immerse yourself in your trip and celebrate the season.
Since Germany’s Christmas markets begin in late November, four weekends before Christmas, and wrap up Christmas Eve, you have time to get a dose of Christmas cheer and still make it home for the holidays - with your luggage laden with everything to deck the halls at home.
For an extra special experience, visit markets in the evening – when twinkling lights, bonfires and torches kindle the magic and spirit of the season and transport you back to the ancient origins of this winter festival.
The best of the wurst! Lynn Elmhirst at Nuremburg's famous Christmas market
Even if your hometown, friends and family recreate Central Europe's favorite flavors of the season, tasting traditional German Christmas market foods at the source will remind you of exactly why you travel: because it never tastes the same as when you’re 'there.'
The fir bow-draped, traditional wood stalls include the best German standards: hot sausages, pretzels, and beer, plus the seasonal delights: hot, mulled 'gluhwein'; stollen, a particularly addictive fruit bread; gingerbread or lebkuchen; and marzipan.
Oh, the glorious marzipan.Forget the icky, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth goo slathered on top of cheap fruitcakes here at home.Once you taste the real thing, you just can't get enough. Marzipan in Germany comes formed in all shapes.Look for the quirky Christmas traditional 'marzipan kartoffeln' – marzipan 'potatoes', little marzipan balls dusted with coco to look like… miniature potatoes. Other shapes are delightful, hand painted confections – a favorite in southern Germany is little pigs, a symbol of good luck.
You Can Bring it Home With You
The best thing about the Christmas spirit is sharing it. By definition, markets are perfect for souvenirs, to savor your own memories, and pass them along to your loved ones.
High quality, and often, artisan-crafted German Christmas traditional items like nutcrackers, ornaments, religious items and toys, toys, toys are iconic symbols of Christmas for the young and young at heart.You are going to want to buy the unparalleled handmade glass ornaments and you are going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how and if you can get them home safely.Sheepskin slippers and mittens, and lots of boiled wool have a European design flair you don't find at home.Every market also has local specialties like the iconic blue and white china in Dresden, in everyday and Christmas designs.
That's why I believe that a river cruise to Germany's Christmas markets may be the best way to rediscover the magic of the holiday season.
By: Lynn Elmhirst Producer and Host, World's Greatest Cruises
Watch World’s Greatest Cruises on your local PBS TV station!
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