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Accent on Travel’s Annette Nero Stellhorn shares her experiences on how to enjoy the magical Christmas markets of Europe

Known as the Christkindlesmarkts in Germany, the Christmas markets of Europe, started in the 1600s, are reminiscent of the Christmas’s of the American 1940s-1960s. Small towns and large cities alike across the continent decorate their central squares for the holidays. Wooden stalls, typically shaped as chalets, are brought in and erected like magic — each decorated with fresh greenery and old-fashioned bulbs. A huge Christmas tree traditionally sits in the middle of the square, covered in lights and surrounded by rows and rows of stalls. When the market is in full swing each evening, each stall is laid out with its specialties, including inviting food, warm drinks or gifts for all ages.

The season of the European Christmas markets begins the Friday prior to the first Sunday of Advent (in November) and runs nightly until Christmas Eve or a specifically chosen Christian event, which may be in early January, depending on the country. 

During the day, there may be a few vendors, but when evening comes, the scent of seasonal favorites entices everyone to the square. Gluhwein (warmed wine with fruit) starts flowing, and the stalls open to present the most colorful display of handmade trinkets to brighten the season. Locals come out for the traditional dinner of bratwurst, soft pretzels or even crepes, depending on the country. Children run around with their hands filled with local sweets, including chocolate covered gingerbread (a personal favorite of mine).

In France, the law requires 80% of all goods sold to be made locally, which ensures visitors an authentic experience at every Christmas market throughout the country. Not even the staunchest Grinch can resist these merry atmospheres.

One of the best ways to experience the abundance of European Christmas markets is by river cruise — and this form of transportation is typically the best value, as well. During a seven-day cruise, for example, passengers have the chance to visit multiple markets while enjoying plenty
of time for traditional touring during the day.

Our travel advisors’ recommended options include: AmaWaterways; Uniworld; Boutique River Cruises; Viking; Crystal and Tauck River Cruises. Each has its own style of cruising, but all offer sightseeing and free time in each port, which allows for stress-free visits of each market without having to rent a car, use the train or hire a local guide. Some of the largest Christmas markets in Europe (approximately 300 stalls each) easily accessible by river cruise are: Strasbourg, France; Nuremberg, Germany; Paris, France; Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary.

Getaways from the mid-Atlantic to visit the Christmas markets of Europe include: Frankfurt and Munich, Germany and Vienna, Austria.