As you plan your next cruise, consider a river cruise in December to visit the European Christmas markets.
Why We Are Experts
Except for missing a year here and there, we’ve been visiting the German Christmas markets every year since before the Euro was introduced in 2002. That’s 20+ years. We would fly to Frankfurt, rent a car and drive around for three or four days, then fly home. If drinking and driving is a concern or traveling on the Autobahn with no speed limits, river cruising is a great alternative.
10 Reasons You Must Visit the Christmas Markets
Our experiences are mostly in Germany, but many of the principles hold true across Europe.
- It’s a month long party. The market is usually setup in the town square in front of the cathedral. It’s a village made of prefab wooden huts that are little shops with a counter in front. In larger cities, there are multiple markets. Typically they are open seven days a week from late morning until evening. You will get the feeling the entire town turns out to celebrate every night. It’s like a huge block party!
- It’s a longstanding tradition. Germany’s first Christmas market dates back to 1,384. That’s over 600 years ago! You aren’t going to an event dreamed up recently. You are reliving history.
- A new take on street food. Many of the market huts sell food. In Germany, they are specialized. The sausage hut doesn’t sell drinks. The drinks hut doesn’t sell potato pancakes. The potato pancake guy doesn’t sell crepes. You walk from one to the other, eating your meal in courses. You are standing outside leaning on high top tables or sitting on picnic benches. The food costs pocket change. Bring cash. Credit cards and ApplePay aren’t part of the landscape. (yet)
- Nobody is getting drunk. The beverage of choice id glühwein. It’s a mulled wine beverage served piping hot, usually in a ceramic mug unique to that town. There’s a deposit on the mugs, which you can choose to keep as a souvenir. I’ve found the alcohol burns off. You aren’t getting a buzz, although you can order them with a shot of liquor added.
- Everyone is friendly. On every annual trip, we encounter one person who doesn’t speak English. Put another way, most Germans speak English fluently.
- Shopping isn’t like back home. You might expect to pass huts selling merchandise and say: “I saw that at Target. Or Marshalls.” You will be surprised. Booths sell handmade Christmas ornaments, beeswax candles, soaps and food in gift packs. You get the feeling everything is homemade or local. OK, maybe not the stand selling French wine and foie gras in tins!
- There’s entertainment. As you walk around, there’s continuous music. Expect to find a merry go round. Maybe a Ferris wheel. Lots of activities for your children. There’s often a petting zoo too.
- Funny clothing. Part of the Christmas market experience is silly hats. You will find stalls selling Santa hats, elf hats and wizard hats. On the serious side you will find woolens like gloves and sweaters too.
- The shops are great too. The square is usually lined with shops. These are usually open. WMF is a famous German brand of cutlery and housewares. It’s where we pick up stocking stuffers.
- Don’t miss the department stores. The Germans do this quite well. Like England, major department stores have a supermarket on the basement level. In US malls you might come across a “husband corral” but here they’ve taken it to a different level. You might find an Espresso bar, wine bar and champagne bar all in the same store. My wife gets her shopping cart, leaves me at the champagne bar and collects me when she is done. It’s like the ballroom at IKEA for adults!
There’s a lot to like about the Christmas markets in Europe. Our favorite is Germany, yet you should have a good time wherever you go!