Celebrate Christmas in July!
Celebrating Christmas is a time for folks to prepare for and participate in traditional winter activities to commemorate the holiday season. However, in parts of the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas falls during the warm summer months. For this reason, Christmas in July was developed when these respective countries participate in winter holiday activities during their actual winter periods.
This also stands as a reminder to plan for your holiday experiences like a river cruise itinerary that will have you celebrating the season in Germany, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Austria or Hungary.
What can you expect when visiting central Europe during the merry season?
In the Deutschland, the Christmas season begins with the celebration of Advent. The official holiday season in Europe starts at the end of November and lasts four weeks until Christmas Day.
One of the largest cities in Germany, Cologne, is known for its annual Heinzels Wintermärchen festival. Held in front of the iconic Cologne Cathedral, within the Alstadt (old town) historic region, the annual event features the Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas market). An alley of artisans can be discovered selling toys, ornaments and holiday treats for all ages to enjoy. This Christmas village also features an outdoor ice rink that will have you swirling in winter bliss.
Nuremberg, the Bavarian capital of Germany, is home to the annual Christkindlesmarkt. The largest holiday market in the world, dates back to the early 1600’s. The market centers around a annually chosen teen who represents Christkind, the symbol for gift giving in Nuremberg. Dressed in gilded attire, she is present throughout the festival to greet guests as the official representative of holiday spirit. Within the holiday market, you will find wood badens (booths) filled with handcrafted items, and holiday treats like gingerbread and traditional almond spice cookies (spekulatius).
One of the best preserved medieval cities in Germany and a Unesco World Heritage site is Regensburg. The city takes a unique approach to the holiday period as it comes to life with glistening holiday lights that complement the medieval architecture. Regensburg’s largest market is found at the medieval Neupfarr church. Walking the cobblestoned streets you will venture into courtyards and passageways. Don’t be surprised when you stumble upon secret stalls of local craftsmen featuring handmade items that can be taken home as gifts or souvenirs.
Wrapping up Germany, Rudesheim is a small wine village in the Upper Middle Rhine valley. Here you will find a more international holiday experience with an annual Christmas Markets of Nations representing the traditions and customs of 20 countries from six continents. Featuring traditional foods, goods and entertainment of each country makes this a fun and global way to celebrate the holidays. As an added bonus, Rudesheim also presents the largest Nativity scene in Europe which can be found within the market square. Another must do holiday treat is enjoying the breathtaking views of the Rhine River and Rudesheim’s wine vineyards as you cruise on decorated cable cars to the Niederwald monument.
Strasbourg in northeastern France is the original capital of Christmas where the first Christkindelsmärik (Christmas market) began over 500 years ago. Squares throughout the city offer unique themed areas filled with mini wooden houses (chalets) featuring food and craft vendors. Place Kléber, the central square of Strasbourg, is the prime location of celebration for the festival backdropped by a handpicked and decorated 100 foot Alsatian Christmas tree.
Due to Strasbourg’s French and German heritage, you can find that local foods like pain d’épices, gingerbread and spiced cookies, are influenced by both regions. Among other Alsatian specialties, don’t forget to try the Vin Chaud mulled wine that is a signature part of a Christkindelsmärik encounter.
Riquewihr also in Alsace region is a magical French wine village that is known for its fairytale-like architecture of half timbered houses spruced up with holiday decorations. Strolling the cobblestone streets and exploring the village decorated with holiday lights while smelling the scent of chestnuts roasting will create a charming French holiday experience.
The Riquewihr Christmas market is filled with with locally crafted items, highlighted by sampling glasses of local wines, and holiday treats of French spiced breads or German bretzels.
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, well known for its canals, is even visually magnificent during the holidays. The annual light festival is a winter highlight with art light displays accompanied by live music and street vendors along the city’s canals. The displays can be spotted from the bridges and walkways along the quay, but for the best showing of the Amsterdam Light Festival, enjoy a canal ride.
Amsterdam’s Museumplein (museum square) area features an Ice Village with wooden chalets serving local Dutch dishes that can be enjoyed while enjoying views of the 800 year old Rijksmuseum, featuring artworks of the Dutch master artists.
Strolling the Stephansplatz shopping area outside of the iconic St. Stephen’s Cathedral or riding the Ringstrasse train around the outside of the Vienna old town, you will not be disappointed with a multi sensory Vienna Christmas experience.
For a uniquely Viennese flare the city is home to so many Christkindlmarkts it will be tough to find one that is your favorite. The popular Wiener Christkindlmarkt is the largest market in the city which can be found on the Rathausplatz in the center of Vienna’s historic area. Named for its large offering of local sausage vendors you will also find a carousel, ferris wheel, ice skating and the popular illuminated “Tree of Hearts”.
Schönbrunn, a smaller, more upscale Christkindlmarkt offers a beautiful background of the glowing decorated summer palace of the former Austrian royalty, the Habsburgs. The heart of this Viennese holiday experience is the elegant light displays that illuminate all around the palace grounds.
Salzburg, the Austrian Alps city that borders Germany is known as the birthplace of Austrian composer Mozart and the filming location for the movie musical, The Sound of Music. During the holidays, Salzburg becomes a fairytale land filled with colorful festivity, snow and choirs singing the Austrian hymn “Silent Night”.
Visit one of the oldest Advent markets in Austria, the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt in the city’s centre which offers a holiday experience among the backdrop of the snowy rooftops of the beautiful Alpine old city.
While visiting you will want to tour the many local nativity scenes, visit the Christmas Museum, and stop into the beautiful Salzburg Cathedral for a holiday music performance.
Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is two cities separated by the Danube river united into one. For a traditional holiday experience, take the funicular car to the top of Buda Hill on the western side of the Danube river. Here you can explore the quaint, charming town of Old Buda (Óbuda) and visit the Christmas market outside of the town hall building. Don’t let the size of Óbuda fool you, within the area you will find holiday concerts, a carousel, skating rink and plenty of festive activities.
For a more modern holiday experience, head across the Danube river into the eastern portion of the city known as the Pest side. Here, visit the largest of Hungary’s holiday markets in the shopping district surrounding Vörösmarty square. Traditional crafts, artists, food booths and daily concerts with local Hungarian bands are all part of the celebratory experience.
A favorite holiday experience in Budapest is the intimate Christmas market that sits outside of the breathtaking St. Stephen’s Basilica. In addition to a small ice skating rink and a picturesque Christmas tree, you will find a holiday light show that occurs hourly upon the face of the beautiful exterior of the cathedral.
The Swiss city on the Rhine river, Basel is in the northwestern portion of Switzerland bordering France and Germany. The holiday spirit of the city can be seen among the decorated streets and in the windows of the local businesses and residences and along the Rhine river as you stroll its wintery banks.
The Christmas Markets here are located within the old town in the central shopping areas. Basler Weihnachtsmarkt, the largest in the region is distinguished by custom designed wooden chalets created by local artists and features holiday foods influenced by Basel’s Franco-German culture.
The Weihnachtsmarkt on Münsterplatz although smaller in size, is exquisite with a large, decorated Christmas tree adjacent to the Basel Münster (cathedral). Climb to the top of the cathedral towers for fantastic views of the illuminated old town. The most popular items to enjoy here are Swiss favorites of house made waffles, Gluhwein (mulled wine), locally crafted sausages, Basel Läckerli (gingerbread) and raclette, a melted cheese dish.
From late November through December, you too can travel along the waterways of central Europe from Amsterdam to Switzerland or Germany to Hungary visiting these traditional and authentic charming markets that still appear as they have for hundreds of years.
With so many choices, Sandee at BucketList Travel Advisors can assist you with the details of planning a journey exploring the holiday festivies with a river cruise experience.