Cruise2022 marks the first year that holiday sailings and Christmas markets are back in full force since the pandemic began.

Getting into the holiday spirit on a Christmas market river cruise

A Christmas market entryway in Cologne, Germany, next to the city's famous cathedral.
A Christmas market entryway in Cologne, Germany, next to the city's famous cathedral. Photo Credit: Nicole Edenedo

I don't know how I never heard of Europe's Christmas markets before, but I'm extremely glad Christmas markets and I are now well acquainted.

For someone who loves the holidays – from the music to the decorations to the lights (especially the lights) – spending any part of December in Europe is beyond magical. And when you factor in several Christmas markets, there is nothing like this experience during the holidays.

This also marks the first year that holiday sailings are back since the pandemic began; high hopes for Christmas market river cruises last year were crushed when several countries imposed Covid-related lockdowns.

As of this writing, I'm onboard the Emerald Dawn, sailing a section of a two-week Christmas market itinerary that goes from Amsterdam to Budapest. This is my fifth river cruise this year, my second with Emerald Cruises and my first Christmas market cruise. This time I'm travelling with members of ASTA's Young Professionals Society, and it's the first time I've traveled with a group of people my own age.

So far, we've been to the markets in the German cities of Cologne, Rudesheim am Rhein and now Wurzburg. I don't want to have to choose a favourite, so instead I'll mention the highlights of each.

Christmas market in Cologne, Germany

If you've ever been to Cologne, then you know most of the tourism there revolves around, or at least strongly features, the cathedral there. It's no different for the main Christmas market.

There's a big Christmas tree lit up in the centre of the market, with tons of string lights surrounding it and stretching out across the roofs of the market stands below. Even at night, the spires of the cathedral are still easy to make out as you meander through the warm glow of the markets with a hot cup of gluwein, or mulled wine, in your hands.

You have to get the gluwein when you go to a Christmas market in Germany, and you absolutely have to take the cute little mug home. It's just a couple of extra dollars, and it's a small price to pay for a memory that you can carry with you.

I've collected about three mugs so far, and I believe we have one more market to see in Bamberg before I have to say goodbye.

Christmas market in Rudesheim

Rudesheim is one of my favourite places in Germany. I love its quaint cobbled streets and how dynamic the town is, with the main downtown area right next to the river and an additional area located slightly above the downtown that's accessible by car and via chairlift.

The Rudesheim Christmas market doesn't seem as big as the one in Cologne or Wurzburg, but it packs a potent punch in its festive-ness. I'd say that's especially true when it comes to the hot brandy my new gal pals and I sampled while we ducked in and out of streets and stores.

This is the third time I've been to Rudesheim this year, and each and every time I visit it is imperative that I go to a certain restaurant and have a Flammkuchen (a kind of pizza) and a beer. This time wasn't any different, except that I had two friends with me who had never been to Rudesheim and therefore had never tried a Rudesheim coffee.

Seeing one prepared for you for the first time is an extravagant production of local flair and tradition, and it's something that I've come to appreciate whenever I'm in town.

Christmas market in Wurzburg

Wurzburg was just as cool and just as quaint, even though it's a bigger place, more of a city vibe than a cute town. It feels a little more like home during the holidays: Strings of garland and mistletoe hang along the railings to the metro entrances; Christmas lights get lost among the wires powering the city trams; and storefronts like Zara and H&M twinkle with decorations in the windows.

The best thing about a Christmas market in a city like Wurzburg is that there are so many stalls to visit, so many little shops woven in between stalls, just waiting for you to wander in.

Source: Travel Weekly

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