Y’all, I have been looking forward to this Christmas Market Guide post for so long, and now it’s finally here! This trip was such a personal experience and there is so much to say that I have no idea how I’m going to fit it all in without writing one million words! In an effort to stay as concise as possible, I’m going to break this post down by my Viking River Cruise itinerary and the Christmas Markets those stops included.
My husband, Josh, and I experienced the Rhine Getaway River Cruise from Viking River Cruises during the most wonderful time of the year- December! This meant that almost every city we toured was hosting a Christmas Market- that’s better than almost any gift to this Christmas lover! Christmas Markets, if you’re not familiar, are clusters of outdoor, temporary holiday shops that sell seasonal food and holiday decorations. These are a holiday tradition among most European countries, but are particularly popular in Germany. The oldest Christmas Market started in Dresden, Germany in 1434. Our Viking River Cruise, which was already brimming with amazing tours and excursions, was enhanced ten fold by getting to experience these cities during the holidays.
Before I dive in to each stop and Christmas Market, I want to say a quick word about Viking River Cruises. If you get a chance, go. Period. If you’re a timid traveler, you can rest easy knowing that Viking will take care of everything for you. You can go only on the guided tours, eat all your meals on the boat, and rest easy. If you’re something of an “authentic experience” travel snob and don’t think these cruises are for you, don’t judge too early, my friend. The best part about Viking River Cruises is that you can decide your day to day activities. Want to wake up and go exploring? Great! Let the attendant at the door know you’re leaving, and he’ll just let you know what time you need to be back before the boat leaves.
Our beautiful boat was fully decorated for the holidays, which made even the little time we spent on it more festive. We often ate on the boat, and neither of us ever had a meal that was anything less than delicious. Plus, the booze during meals is free! Holla! The staff was exceptional. They had fun chatting with guests, but never stopped being professional. I also recommend upgrading your room to a Veranda Room. Even though it was chilly when we went, my husband and I enjoyed looking out the window or opening it to feed the ducks. If you’re planning a trip and you want to see a lot- take a Viking River Cruise!
If you get the option, take the Rhine Getaway River Cruise in December. Our float down the Rhine River was something I’ll remember forever.
Now, onto our Christmas Market Guide!
Our tour started in Basel, Switzerland, so our itinerary was the reverse of that listed on the website. That meant our first real cruise stop was in Breisach, which lies at the foot of the Black Forest. We headed out in the morning, and the trip through the hills was magical. The fog rolling through the huge, ancient trees was worth the trip alone. The actual stop is a quaint (albeit a little touristy) collection of shops. You can watch them make cuckoo clocks and eat Black Forest Cake.
For me the highlight was the large cuckoo clock built into the side of one of the shops (photo above). You’re there for a few hours so catch at least one automatized performance. We roamed a little, and I’m so glad we did. There’s an amazing, huge railroad bridge set behind the shops standing above the forest. Watching a train roll above us was one of those weird, neat things that make you feel like you saw something “normal” for the people who live here. We also trooped into the lobby of the half-timber hotel. Again, worth the wandering! Their live, twelve foot Christmas tree, decorated with traditional German Christmas ornaments looked amazing. Those were the little treats I really wanted to see. I wanted to know how the holidays were celebrated publicly and personally, and I was not disappointed.
So while it isn’t a traditional Christmas Market, this stop is full of holiday cheer! And it taught my husband and I an important lesson- get away from the group (at least for a little bit) and see what you can find.
I had travelled internationally before, so I (expectedly) felt comfortable throughout our trip. However, this was the first international trip for my husband. He had a blast! Even if you’re a travel novice, you can absolutely enjoy this trip! Part of what makes it so enjoyable are the local guides who give the tours for each city. Our Alsatian tour guide was probably the best of the bunch though! She gave us a detailed history of the region. Apparently the Alsace region belonged to numerous countries throughout it’s history and retains cultural traditions from each. She also shared tons of local holiday folklore.
Strasbourg is the Capital of Christmas. It seriously felt like it! This is the day to get off the boat and not go back until they are shouting your name at the dock! We walked and walked and walked, and I’m still not sure we saw all of the Christmas Markets spread out among the city. If you need a short siesta in the afternoon, please make sure you go back into Strasbourg after dark. Every street is strewn with Christmas lights. Every shop has an impressive holiday display in the window or on top of the store. It’s like each one is trying to outdo the other. This town really celebrates the holidays.
Strasbourg is the day to put on your best walking shoes, and take in as much as possible!
Heidelberg is another daytime only stop. In the morning you get to tour the oldest German university and Heidelberg Castle. Josh and I were big fans of the castle layout and would be happy to move in. Because you’re here during the daytime and you hoofed it all morning during the tour, I feel like Heidelberg is all about the food.
At any German Christmas Market you’re going to get a ton of food and drink vendors. Heidelberg had some unique offerings though! First, eat all the bratwursts. My husband said it felt like we stopped and ate at every vendor selling brats. I don’t think we hit every one, but we certainly got close. Second, the Vin Chaud or Gluhwein is the drink of choice at European Christmas Markets. I tried both; however, I am still not certain if they are French and German versions of the same thing or completely separate different drinks. Personally, I am not a fan, but it was a big hit with other guests on our cruise.
Finally, no trip to Heidelberg is complete without a Schneeballen. Friends told us about these before we went, and I’m so glad they did! They are basically a creme filling wrapped in a cookie, and they’re the size of your fist! They come in a ton of flavors, and we thoroughly enjoyed them!
Heidelberg is home to a beautiful castle, but it’s the simple food in the Christmas Market that takes the day!
Rudesheim is the afternoon/evening stop on this day, and it is the perfect time to enjoy a Christmas Market. You will get to watch all the lights come on across the market. It doesn’t hurt that the main squares of this town look like they popped out of a fairytale. Autumnal-hued buildings and cobblestone streets fill each square.
You’ll find all of the traditional Christmas Market offerings here plus a little more. Rudesheim is home to the Christmas Market of Nations. It features ornaments, traditions, and food from twelve countries around the world. It’s a mini trip within a trip! The stands in each Christmas Market are temporary wooden structures that house each vendor. The vendors of Rudesheim have created and decorated some of the most charming I saw.
After a morning of castle climbing, this quiet Christmas Market was the perfect way to end the day.
Okay, Cologne might have stolen the show for me! The day starts of with a fantastic tour of the city and the cathedral. Then it’s the rest of the day to explore the myriad of Christmas Markets around the city. This city stole our hearts! And these Christmas Markets are unlike any you will see on the entire trip! In Cologne each Christmas Market has a theme. It is like walking into a different story when you entered each market.
The story of the Shoemaker and the Elves originates in Cologne, and there’s an entire Christmas Market dedicated to those elves! The entry way is covered in elves, and tiny elfin figurines poke their heads out among all of the vendor stalls. In another market was a mini ice skating rink and Alpine Beer Lodge (photo above)! Then there was a row of vendors selling vintage German Christmas decorations. Seriously, the surprises just kept coming! My husband and I could have spent a whole week here! There aren’t as many Christmas Markets here as there were in Strasbourg, so it won’t take you all day to see them all. That’s just as good because you’re going to want to linger at each market. The only way you’ll see all of the details and attention put into the creation of each of these markets is to linger a little longer!
Cologne is the place to make sure that you have a full battery and lots of storage on your camera because you’re going to use it!
Christmas Market Guide:
Enjoy this Christmas Market Guide! Whether you’ve booked this trip already or are just needing some Christmas inspiration, you cannot go wrong checking out this trip. I could go on and on about our Rhine Getaway Viking River Cruise! It was hopefully only the first of several cruises we will take with Viking. The only thing I would have changed would have been to extend our trip! So if you book, spend the little bit extra to stay for a few days more.
If you’re thinking about taking this cruise and have questions, I’d be happy to share my thoughts. Or, if you’ve had an amazing Christmas travel experience, please please please tell me about it! I’d love to share more holiday travels in the future! And you can pin the infographic of my Christmas Market Guide below for future reference!
Feel free to share our Christmas Market Guide with friends!0