Celebrate Christmas in Europe on a festive winter escape
Costumed trumpeters play a rousing fanfare inspiring thousands of holiday-goers to gaze up at the brilliantly lit gallery of the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady). From here, the shimmering, gold-robed Christmas Angel opens Nuremberg’s world-famous Christmas Market. While I arrived in Nuremberg after the market had already opened, my research on the opening ceremony linked my adventures with local rituals dating back to the Middle Ages. After all, I had chosen this “bucket list” cruise to trace my German heritage and to relive my childhood in the countries where my favorite Christmas traditions were born. We embark in Budapest, boarding our luxurious AMA Waterways riverboat and enjoying an “Illuminations Cruise” along Budapest’s dazzling floodlit riverfront. The next day we take in the city sights and then, being a bit of a foodie, I sample my way through the lavish Christmas Market’s tempting food vendors. Töki Pompos, a kind of Hungarian pizza, is my tastiest discovery of the day.
Highlights: The Buda castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion, the Royal Palace, and St. Stephen’s Basilica
A welcome pattern soon develops: sightseeing tours followed by free time for Christmas shopping and food-tasting in one renowned Christmas Market after another. I am captivated by the gigantic Christmas tree and the stunning backdrop of the Schonbrunn Palace Christmas Market in Vienna. Foods to sample—potato pancakes with garlic, fresh-baked gingerbread cookies and steaming mugs of mulled wine. Items to purchase—a winter hat for everyone on your list!
Highlights: Vienna Opera House, the Ringstrasse, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, walking tour of the city center
An optional driving tour leads to the carolers, street entertainers, food stalls and glistening ice sculptures of Salzburg and its Romantic Christmas Market. I nibble on roasted almonds and baked apples and shop for traditional Austrian Christmas wares. My favorite souvenir—a “carton” of delicate hand-decorated Christmas eggs to hang on my tree.
Highlights: Opt to stay onboard for a walking tour of Passau’s Old Town fortifications and cathedral
Next up is Regensburg, the place to experience the German Christmas traditions of my youth. I listen to the “Christmas Story” told by Gloria, the scion of the aristocratic Thurn and Taxis family. I shop for hand-crafted dolls, pottery, paintings and marionettes and watch artisans at work—a blacksmith, a hat maker, and a glass blower from whom I buy a beautiful glass ball.
Highlights: Old Town Hall and the Porta Pretoria, gates to a Roman fort built in 179 A.D.
My German Christmas continues in Nuremberg as I wander through the Christmas Market nicknamed “The Little Town from Wood and Cloth.” The red-and-white candy striped bunting, the aroma of grilled sausages, and the warm glow of Glühwein which I dub “Christmas in a Cup” arouse my inner child. And I collect a family of tiny “Nuremberg Plum People.” Their shriveled prune limbs, funny fig torsos and lumpy walnut heads always make me smile.
Fly home from Nuremberg upon completion of 7-night cruise or continue on to hotel stay in Prague
Last but not least, I take the optional overland hotel package tour to Prague for a Czech Republic slant on the Christmas Market tradition. The Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square markets create a winter wonderland with brightly decorated wooden huts selling traditional handcrafted products. I pick up embroidered lace, scented candles, and beautifully dressed dolls and nosh on “Trdelník,” a hot, sugar coated pastry that is to die for.
Transfer to the airport for your flight home
The spirit of Christmas past lives on in the bustling outdoor markets of Europe’s stunning museum-piece cities. And the convenience of exploring them from the comfort and luxury of a riverboat cruise is ideal. If you’d like to experience this AMA Waterways Christmas Markets itinerary first-hand. We’ll save you a stateroom on our upcoming hosted adventure featuring a 7-night cruise from December 4-11, 2013 with optional overnight hotel stay in Prague.