Northern European Christmas markets have been around since the fourteenth century originating in the German-speaking part of Europe. Although they have been popular with world travelers for a long time, the river cruise industry has shown a new spotlight on the fun, holiday shopping experience.
When I sailed with Viking River Cruises, I visited markets in Nuremberg, Kelheim, Regensburg and Passau, Germany; Krems and Vienna, Austria; and Budapest, Hungary.
Small stalls are set up in rows with merchants selling handmade treasures including Zwetschgenmännle– figures made of decorated dried plums, unusual ornaments and items you may not find elsewhere. And the food! The aroma of bratwurst, the festive Christmas cookies — many can be hung on the tree, Gebrannte Mandeln — candied and toasted almonds, gingerbread, and Gluhwein– the very popular mulled wine all add to the experience. Every market has its own mulled wine souvenir mug to commemorate your visit.
There’s also entertainment including singing and dancing.
The wooden stalls are decorated with lights and are often located in church yards or the town square making for a dramatic backdrop for each market. There is a nativity scene and lights strung overhead.
Although the markets are open duringthe day, try to visit at least one in the evening when the lights make theatmosphere seem like your surroundings are straight from a fairy tale.
Markets vary in size in comparison with the village or city where it is held. For example more than two million people visit the Nuremberg Christmas Market every year. The Regensburg Market is much smaller, but just as charming. There was even a carousel in Regensburg where bundled-up children rode brightly colored horses in the freezing weather.
On aViking River Cruise, the traditional excursion tour is provided. After the tourpassengers are able to meander through the market. The advantage is because it’sdaytime there aren’t the crowds and shopping is easier. Sometimes it ispossible to go back to the market during the evening. This is the time to drinkup the atmosphere and some mulled wine – with or without a shot of brandy.
The opportunity to meet people during this most festive and happy time of the year will no doubt be one of you greatest memories.
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