It’s time to talk about Christmas.
I don’t mean the actual day itself, or any festivities revolving around a certain jolly, red-jacketed fellow. But there is good reason to want to think about Christmas right now, because in a few months’ time, the highly celebrated Christmas Markets river cruises will get underway, and they are an experience you do not want to miss.
Beginning in late November, nearly every major river cruise line will start Christmas Market sailings that traverse the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers as the colors of fall give way to the chill (and maybe even a little snow) of winter.
Along the way, each and every town and city you stop in will have its own distinct Christmas Market, resplendent with every kind of hand-made craft, ornament, toy, chocolate, and candy you can think of. This is no “mass-market” shopping experience; rather, it is a chance to experience a long-held Holiday tradition throughout many parts of Europe.
No two markets are alike; each offers its own distinct wares and themes. One constant, though, is the warming properties of Gluhwein, or spiced mulled wine. Present throughout each and every market, this traditional drink is can be had with an additional shot of alcohol, or alternately as hot apple cider for the kids. Each market also boasts its own distinct ceramic mugs. Highly collectible, don’t be surprised if you end up with a small suitcase full. Of course, if you don’t want the cup, simply return it to the vendor you bought it from for a small refund.
But what truly makes these markets special is the one-of-a-kind atmosphere that is present throughout. As if being in Europe wasn’t spectacular enough on its own, a trip to the Christmas Markets will have you stepping back in time to a world without shopping malls and big-box retailers and lines that stretch out forever. The Christmas Markets are a social event first, and a shopping experience second.
Popular Christmas Markets itineraries include travelling from Nuremberg, Germany to Budapest, Hungary along the Danube River; from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands; and occasionally from Frankfurt to Nuremberg.
As an added bonus, these Christmas Market voyages allow guests to experience Europe in the “off-season,” long after the vast majority of summer tourists have left. That means reduced wait times at major attractions and events, which translates into more spent exploring and enjoying while ashore.
But there is truly nothing like Europe at Christmastime. I experienced this firsthand last December, on a sailing aboard AmaWaterways’ AmaLyra from Nuremberg to Budapest. What started as a tentative foray into river cruising has become a new Holiday tradition for me. So spectacular are these sailings that I am headed back to the Danube again this December, intent on loosing myself once again amongst the tradition and holiday cheer of the Christmas Markets of Hungary, Austria and Germany.