Christmas time in Germany is a magical experience. Imagine my delight in taking a Viking River Cruise to visit the Christmas markets of Nuremberg, Bamberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Wertheim, Frankfurt & Heidelberg. I joined 186 guests in sailing on the Viking Gefjon through 38 locks and under 140 bridges through the Heart of Germany in early December. On my travels I encountered a son taking his father back to visit where he served in the US military; a mother and daughter duo celebrating the spirit of Christmas and a 74 year old woman on her first solo vacation, among others. What a trip!
Our cruise began in Nuremberg in Western Central Europe with stops in Bamberg, Würzburg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Wertheim, Frankfurt and a day excursion to Heidelberg. To give you a brief overview of Germany, the country is bordered by the North Sea, Denmark and the Baltic Sea to the north; Poland and the Czech Republic to the east; Austria and Switzerland to the south; and France, Luxembourg, Belgium and The Netherlands to the west. At 138,000 square miles, Germany is nearly three times the size of England and a wee bit smaller than the cowboy state of Montana. It is a country of contrasts. With a population of 81 million the citizens are friendly, most speak fluent English and their currency is the Euro. Germany is too vast to cover in one blog post, so today I will focus on the German Christmas Markets with a brief overview of each stop. I will have an in depth blog post and video on each place that we visited.
Nuremberg World War II history
Nuremberg is widely known for its ties to Hitler, the Nazi party rallies and the Nuremberg Trials. On a happier note, Nuremberg is home to one of the oldest Christmas markets in all of Europe. In my opinion, Nuremberg is the best place to start your tour of German Christmas markets. The city of Nuremberg is also home to lebkuchen, the famous German Christmas cookie.
One of my favorite things about sailing on a river cruise, besides only having to unpack once, is the people you meet on a small ship. Our Viking Longship Gefjon was sleek and modern, with all of the luxurious amenities you’d expect in a hotel, yet there is no hassle of making dinner reservations in a foreign city. In fact, you can sit with your friends every night if you sail as a group, or you can mix it up and sit with different people each night. I travel solo and had the pleasure of meeting many new friends along my journey. Whether you travel as a couple, take a girlfriend getaway, or enjoy sailing with family, you don’t want to miss seeing the Christmas Markets in the Heart of Germany.
Father son sunset sail
“My dad has always been an active traveler and being up in age he felt he longer could. I saw the Viking River Cruise ads on television and I felt that perhaps this may be something he could do,” said Thomas Cendejas, of Los Angeles, California. “The German Christmas Markets were on my list. Some people thought I was crazy taking him in the winter – we didn’t know if there would be snow – and it turned out great. I discussed my concerns with the agent before the trip and I was assured that this trip was doable. My dad is 93 years old. This is more than likely going to be our last trip together and for that reason, this trip was priceless. At one time we opted to stay on the ship (when others took a shore excursion) and it was enjoyable to sit back and watch the scenery float by.”
My dad is 93 years old. This is more than likely going to be our last trip together and for that reason, this trip was priceless.
Situated on seven hills, Bamberg was founded a thousand years ago and features a beautiful church on each hill. Often referred to as “Franconian Rome” Bamberg is steeped in history. It’s Cathedral was built in 1237 and is another world heritage site stop. I loved the charming city hall built on a little island in the middle of the Regnitz River and the smoky beer offered in the local brewpubs.
Mother daughter share spirit of Christmas
“My mom just turned 75 this year and we both like Christmas,” said Linda Loffredo of Allentown, Pennsylvania. “We were looking for a trip that we could do together and we chose Viking River Cruises and we weren’t disappointed!”
“The food and the service on the ship is wonder,” added Doris Loffredo of Hershey, Pensylvania. “Everyone we dined with was friendly and we loved everything about Germany.”
“We loved the tour guides,” added Linda. “Especially the company History for Everyone.”
Würzburg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Much of Würzburg was destroyed in World War II but its beautiful baroque period is captured in Würzburg Palace. Tour inside the Residence Palace to uncover mythological creatures hidden in door frames and look up to a magnificent ceiling bigger than Italy’s Sistine Chapel.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber was a highlight for me. I had visited this medieval town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, on a backpacking trip in 1986 and vowed to return one day. Today was that day and it couldn’t have been more magical. This Bavarian walled city celebrates Christmas year round. December is an ideal time to visit due to less crowds and you’ll return home with some of the most unique holiday gifts. Yes, I bought a very special nutcracker from Kathe Wohlfahrt, a family-run company founded in Rothenburg ob der Tauber in 1964.
Solo river cruise
Nancy Karabacz of South Carolina said,”this is my third Viking Cruise. At 74, this is my first solo trip and I was very excited. I saw it as a Christmas present to myself. Everyone on the ship is very friendly – that’s the joy of sailing on a small ship, you get to know everyone. The only downside is that there are no single room rates. Next on my bucket list is the Viking trip to Vietnam and Cambodia.”
At the confluence of the Main and Tauber Rivers sits the charming town of Wertheim. With its half timbered houses, castle, glass museum and shops, you’ll find plenty to keep you entertained in addition to the authentic Christmas Market. Wertheim even has it’s own Leaning Tower of Pisa. Built in the 13th century, Spitzer Turm (Pointed Tower) is leaning due to 800 years of flooding from the banks of the two rivers that intersect the town.
Frankfurt and Heidelberg
Guests have their choice of touring Frankfurt or taking a bus to nearby Heidelberg. The longship will be docked in Frankfurt overnight, so it is possible to explore yet another Christmas Market at night if you opt for the Heidelberg excursion by day. I selected Heidelberg as I wanted to re-visit the city of romance and the Christmas Market by the castle. Living so close to Napa Valley wine country, I had to get a photo of the world’s largest wine barrel and the views of the Altstadt and Neckar Valley from the castle’s terrace are fantastic.
Need to know:
Discovering Christmas Markets on a river cruise has grown in popularity. You’ll want to book your vacation sooner rather than later to get the best room options as this particular cruise does sell out. Check your weather app before you leave and remember to wear your heaviest boots and coats on the plane when you travel.
German Christmas Markets Insider tip:
I did this trip with one carry-on bag and packed a duffel bag in my suitcase to bring home handcrafted holiday treasures.
If You Go:
Viking River Cruises http://www.vikingrivercruises.com
German Christmas Markets on a River Cruise article written by, video and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. Disclosure: I sailed as a guest of Viking River Cruises, however, all opinions are my own.