It’s April, and spring has sprung! Winter is behind us and warmer and sunnier days are ahead. It is great to see everyone coming back outdoors again. Plants are blooming, people readying their gardens, diners dining al fresco and outdoor concerts are tuning up. Those still honoring their New Year’s promises are out walking and biking, getting their exercise in the fresh air. Golf courses are filling up and beach goers are keeping their eye on the sand. I am sure for some, warmer weather isn’t coming quick enough. But before we jump into the summer, I would like to take you back to the early winter for just a brief reminder.
April is the time of year when bookings are heavy, if not close to getting too late to make your reservations for what I think is one of the most magical times of the year to travel to Europe. I am speaking of any one of the festive Christmas Markets river cruises that close out the year on the rivers of Europe. Holiday Market river cruises typically begin sailing in late November, with cruises over Thanksgiving as well as Christmas and New Year’s. European Christmas Markets usually take place during the four weeks of Advent, between November 25 and December 24. These Christmas Markets river cruises are identical to the summertime European river cruises, with one notable exception: along with the traditional day tour excursions there are excursions designed to coincide with the historic festive Christmas Markets that pop up in outdoor squares in the smallest of towns and the largest cities all over Europe. Because of their small size, river ships are able to pull right into the heart of some of the quaintest and special towns Europe has to offer.
Europe’s oldest Christmas Markets date back to the 1400s and 1500s, with Dresden, Germany and Strasbourg, France each claiming to be the oldest. River cruises hit some of Europe’s top markets in Austria, France, Germany, Hungary and other European countries. Vienna is one of the bigger cities, with nearly a dozen different markets in any given year, most of which are clustered around the famous Ringstrasse (ring road) that encircles the city’s historic core. Strasbourg, on the boarder of France and Germany, has everything you would expect from a European Christmas traditional holiday market, and it’s been going since 1570. The Strasbourg market offers classic Christmas charm. Rosy-cheeked market vendors greet you with good tidings, as well as ice skating, caroling, elaborate light displays and a sparkling Christmas tree nearly 100 feet tall.
Cities large and small are transformed from everyday life into enchanting, fairy tale-like villages. It is like being in a fairy tale land every night. Locals and tourists pour into hundreds of festive Christmas markets, lured by holiday music, handmade gifts and treasures from local artisans, hand-carved toys and attractive ornaments from Christmases past, beautiful decorations with the squares that are alit with decorations. Passengers can wander the markets by day and explore twinkly streetscapes by night. Savor the aroma of freshly baked gingerbread cookies and street food filling the air, and there is a feeling of community as locals gather with friends and family. Listen to the angelic strolling carolers serenading with songs of the season while drinking Gluhwein, cider or hot chocolate. Imagine the opportunity to experience some of Europe’s grandest cities, covered in a light dusting of snow, although, of course, there is no guarantee that you will experience snow, but wouldn’t it be magical to be in storybook villages and see snow-capped castles on the riverside from your boat?
Christmas Market season on the European rivers can be an incredible, memory-making experience, especially if traveling with family or friends. Holiday market cruises give you the chance to explore multiple cities without the hassle of packing and lugging baggage through cobblestone streets from one city to the next.
OK, now that I have taken care of reminding you to think ahead and to get in touch with your travel advisor soon to plan for this year or next year’s Christmas Markets river cruises, it’s time to get back into the warm weather frame of mind. Happy Spring and enjoy the warmth!