Psst. Want to know a secret to the best way to experience Germany’s Christmas markets? I’ll tell ya. It’s a cruise with Viking River Cruises.
Touring Germany’s Christmas markets is a dream for many, including me, and I had the opportunity to explore them the best way possible, as a guest on the Viking Tor with Viking River Cruises along the Main River from Frankfurt to Nuremberg, called the Heart of Germany. Even better, I shared the magical, holiday experience with my youngest sister and created memories that we’ll always cherish.
What is a Christmas Market?
Christmas markets originated in Germany and are celebrated the four weeks of Advent throughout Europe and beyond. Called Christkindlmarket, which means “Baby Jesus market,” these are street markets full of festive music (yeah, it was a little weird hearing Gene Autry belting out “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” piped over loudspeakers), tasty food, holiday gifts, cheer, and lots and lots of delicious glühwein (mulled wine).
Why is a Viking Cruise the Best Way to Experience Germany’s Christmas Markets?
Okay, I’m a bit of a newbie to the whole cruising thing and Viking is the only line I’ve sailed but after speaking with friends and family who have cruised, it’s a popular and preferred way to experience Germany’s Christmas markets. A Viking riverboat is a floating hotel so you unpack your belongings upon check in and don’t pack up until it’s time to disembark all the while you are typically in a different port exploring a new city every day. My sister and I took advantage of our times at port and visiting Christmas markets within walking distance and not necessarily part of the scheduled itinerary. We savored every holiday-infused second we could.
Following are reasons why a Viking cruise is the best way to experience Germany’s Christmas markets.
Viking River Cruises is One Heck of a Designated Driver
Glühwein plays a major role at the German Christmas markets and I’ve heard it’s the official beverage. Traditionally, this mulled wine is red, however, it now is available with white one. Because the ship is typically located within walking distance of a Christmas market, there’s no need to worry about choosing a designated driver. Viking takes care of that for you. And if the market is not within walking distance, the cruise company has ground transportation to and from the market.
An extra special glühwein I really enjoyed was called Feuerzangen-Bowle at the Heidelberg Christmas Market. It’s a hot red wine punch and is sweet, spicy, and warms the body. It’s a red wine with spices prepared in a copper pot. Then, a sugar cone is soaked in rum and placed over the wine then lit. The melted sugar and rum drips into the wine brew. This festive red wine was made world-famous by the 1940s film “Die Feuerzangen-Bowle.”
A proper trip to Germany must include beer and during the Heart of Germany cruise, a walking tour of Bamberg was offered. Bamberg is recognized for its Rauchbier, or smoked beer. It tasted almost as if I was drinking a glass of bacon.
Tip About glühwein at the Christmas Markets: Each German Christmas market has its own mug. When you purchase glühwein or another beverage, you are charged a small deposit, 2 – 3 Euros. Return your mug and receive your deposit. Or, keep it and it’s a souvenir. I packed them in my suitcase and brought home well over a dozen mugs and they all made the trip home without being damaged.
Visit Fairytale Lands
I often felt as though I was in the middle of a fairytale while touring sweet German villages but as soon as I stepped into the medieval town of Rothenburg, I was keeping a keen eye out for Prince Charming. The town is surrounded by a wall and welcomes visitors to walk its cobblestone streets and shop and dine in quaint buildings painted in colors of mustard-yellow, rich-peach, or a spring-green. It’s along Southern Germany’s Romantic Road which connects picturesque towns and charming castles.
Heidelberg also had that fairytale vibe especially with its 12th century red sandstone Heidelberg Castle, or at least the ruins of the castle. I’m sure these German towns are adorable any time of year but visiting during Christmastime is magical with festive décor, holiday music, Christmas markets, and of course, glühwein to warm the soul.
Savor Delicious German Cuisine with Viking River Cruises
No one will go hungry during a Viking River Cruise but watch how much you eat because you will want to taste food at the Christmas markets. My sister and I must have visited about a dozen markets and I ate something at most of them. We visited the Frankfurt Christmas Market THREE times and I’m pretty sure during each visit, I ate the most delicious potato pancakes. In Nuremberg, the last market visited and probably the most well-known, I noshed on one of their famous rostbratwurst sausage sandwich.
All German Christmas markets will have some type of sausage or meat roasting on an open flame. The rostbratwurst sausages are skinny and three are typically served on a round bun.
In Wertheim I ate wild boar sausage and although I wanted to eat the beautifully cedar-planked cooked salmon in Heidelberg, I didn’t. Gives me a reason to return, right? My sister and I did have roasted chestnuts while in Heidelberg, something we grew up enjoying since we had chestnut trees in our backyard while growing up.
Planning on snacking on pommes frites (French fries)? Enjoy them German-style with a combo of ketchup and mayonnaise to dip them in.
And the cookies. Oh boy. We know them as gingerbread but they are called Nuremberg Lebkuchen and are so much better than gingerbread. It’s believed the cookie originated in Nuremberg during the 13th century. They can come as round discs or in shapes such as hearts and are carefully decorated. They hang from pretty ribbons in Christmas market stalls. Indulge in one, two, or heck, a dozen during the cruise.
Learn German Heritage During a Viking River Cruise
By nature, the holidays can be stressful but when taking a Christmas market cruise with Viking, some of the pressure is relieved. The wonderful staff do the baking and show you how to properly make a gingerbread house and how to make cookies. Enjoy a German feast one night complete with staff in traditional German attire and music.
One afternoon, we learned some basic German words and phrases aboard the boat. Another day, glassblower Karl Ittig gave a demonstration aboard the ship and discussed the history of glass blowing in the southwestern German town of Wertheim on the Tauber and Main Rivers. Afterward, the ship docked in Wertheim and we were able to explore this adorable town and explore some of the glass shops.
Granted, seven, eight or even 10 days on a Viking cruise won’t totally immerse you in German culture but it gives you a good taste of it (literally) in a comfortable setting.
Meet Amazing People Aboard a Christmas Market River Cruise
I’m not sure what the formula Viking Cruises uses for hiring crew but they have the finest, kindest, and hardworking people working their ships and leading shore excursions. Like the Viking River Cruise in Portugal, the team on the German Christmas market river cruise were amazing. Plus, the passengers were pretty fun, too and the difference between the Portugal cruise and this one was the German Christmas market cruise had younger passengers such as recently retired 50-something-year olds. There are so many fun memories made during that week and the most memorable was game night where our group won a bottle of bubbly.
Visiting Germany’s Christmas markets was a dream come true and experiencing it with Viking River Cruises was more magical than I could imagine. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one I will never forget. Having taken this river cruise, I can not imagine any better way to experience Germany’s Christkindlmarket. If you are contemplating whether to book that cruise or not, go ahead and do it. You won’t regret it.
View my photos from my Germany Christmas Market Cruise with Viking Cruises on Flickr :
Disclosure: My sister and I were guests of Viking River Cruises in Dec. 2015, however, they have not reviewed this post and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links to support this blog, my traveling habit and my special-needs dog.