Europe River & Ocean Cruises

Cruise Germany's Christmas Markets

Once upon a time, people gathered on cobblestone squares to buy the special tools and ingredients they needed to make the treats of the season. They kept warm with hot spiced wine, music and games while they shopped and chatted with the local tradesmen. Those were the first Christmas markets, 500 years ago.

Sail through Christmas country, trying Frankfurt’s famous apple cider, Bamberg’s specially brewed holiday beer and Nuremberg’s gingerbread. Throughout, cozy up to steaming mugs of glühwein (warm spiced wine) and do as the locals do by collecting different mugs from each stall and town you visit. Embrace the holiday spirit in Germany, the land where many Christmas traditions began, and find the magic of the season in the smiles that you meet along the way.

Itinerary at a glance

Day 1: Nuremberg

Arrive in Nuremberg and be transferred to the ship.

Day 2: Nuremberg

For an over-the-top, old-world holiday extravaganza, look no further than Nuremberg, which boasts the largest and grandest Christmas market in all of Germany—and that’s really saying something. The “Gingerbread Capital of the World” pulls out all the stops during the holidays, as you’ll see for yourself on a panoramic tour guaranteed to put you in a festive mood.   You could not ask for a more perfect place to begin an exploration of Christmas traditions than Nuremberg. The people of Nuremberg hold their Christkindlesmarkt very close to their hearts. The iconic Christkind, with her white-and-gold dress, long blond curls and golden crown, has been the symbol for the Christmas Market for many decades. During Advent, she is the most important representative of the city; every year she opens the Christmas Market by declaring: “Welcome, young and old, to my little community of wood and cloth. While this market’s splendor is fleeting, the joy it brings is eternal.” And with that declaration, the market festivities begin in a town that is famous for its gingerbread and long toy-making tradition.

Day 3: Bamberg

The fact that Bamberg still exists today is something of a miracle, given that it survived WWII bombing virtually unscathed. It’s a superb example of a medieval German city, one compact enough to explore on foot with a local expert. You’ll also have free time to visit not just one but four Christmas markets.   The UNESCO World Heritage city of Bamberg, unlike most German cities, was largely undamaged by bombing during WWII. This fact, combined with the city’s prosperous thousand-year history, means that Bamberg has one of the largest intact old-town centers in Europe, so the medieval layout and architecture that was a model for other towns throughout Central Europe remains for you to see and experience.

Day 4: Kitzingen (Rothenburg), Würzburg

Rothenburg looks like something straight out of the pages of a storybook, with its medieval walls, cobbled streets, Gothic churches and Hansel-and-Gretel houses. Join a local expert for an insightful walking discovery tour, and then wander amongst the stalls at one of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets. Your ship docks in the Bavarian town of Kitzingen in the morning, and after breakfast you’ll take a ride along the Romantic Road, once a medieval trade route, to Rothenburg. The minute you step down from the motorcoach in Rothenburg (also known as Rothenburg ob der Tauber), you’ll know why the route, which links picturesque and well-preserved old towns, is called the Romantic Road. Rothenburg is right out of a storybook: Wide medieval walls still enclose its charming core of Gothic churches and gabled houses.

Day 5: Würzburg

One of the best ways to embrace a different culture is through encounters with local residents, which you’ll experience today in a typical Franconian village. Make new friends over hot drinks and homemade seasonal treats, then head off to see the Würzburg Residence, a baroque-style palace famous for its gigantic ceiling fresco. Later, visit the town’s renowned Christmas market for some one-of-a-kind gifts for friends back home (or yourself!).

Day 6: Wertheim, Cruising the Main River 

Get a taste of life in the Middle Ages at a remarkably well-preserved German village, where you’ll meet a local butcher and baker (and perhaps even a candlestick maker) on a guided walking tour. Be sure to fortify yourself with a mug of mulled wine and a slice of delicious stollen before visiting the town’s charming Christmas market. Located at the confluence of the Tauber and Main rivers, Wertheim (or Wertheim am Main) is a lovely village dating back over a thousand years. It epitomizes the friendly, slow-paced, small-town atmosphere of many German villages; here, residents greet each other by name as they do their daily shopping for fresh bread and sausage in tiny shops. On your guided walking tour of the village, you’ll hear a lot about daily life in Wertheim, as well as facts about the town and its history. Its many well-preserved medieval buildings— complete with low doors, tiny rooms and insufficient lighting—attest to the inconveniences of life in the Middle Ages.

Day 7: Frankfurt

Frankfurt is known as the “Mainhattan” of Europe, a financial powerhouse with soaring skyscrapers as well as traditional Old Town architecture. Experience both aspects of the city today, with time to browse the local Christmas market, one of the best on the Continent. Other options include a “Taste of Christmas” walking tour featuring all sorts of sugary and savory treats or an excursion to the Christmas market in Wiesbaden. You’ll wake up to the pulse of one of Germany’s most flourishing cities, Frankfurt.

Day 8: Frankfurt (Disembark)

Disembark the ship.

Start your journey

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