The Christkindlmarkt in Nuremberg is one of the largest Christmas markets. // © 2012 Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
It may seem odd to be thinking about Christmas in February. It may not be the holiday season, but ’tis the season to book a holiday cruise. Like many clients, visiting Europe’s Christmas markets was always a dream of mine and, last year, I had the chance to sail with Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection on its eight-day Classic Christmas Markets river cruise between Frankfurt and Nuremberg, Germany.
This particular cruise usually sails onboard the River Queen. However, the River Queen was having engine trouble and, therefore, our cruise took place onboard the River Princess. The change in ship happened just before we arrived, and Uniworld gets high praises for providing a completely seamless transition from one ship to the other.
We started our journey in Frankfurt, where we stayed for two days. The ship was docked within walking distance of Frankfurt’s Christmas market, so my husband and I headed there after dinner for our first taste of gluwhein (mulled, spiced red wine). We found that gluhwein was essential to surviving the chilly weather along the Main River, and it became a ritual to start off each Christmas market visit with a mug.
The following day, we enjoyed the included bus tour of Frankfurt, which ended at the Christmas market. This was when I discovered my next favorite Christmas market item — currywurst. While I am not normally a fan of sausages, if you shred it, drown it in ketchup and put curry seasoning all over it, I’m in love.
Wertheim was our next destination. While there is no Christmas market in the town, per se, the spirit of Christmas can still be felt, and shops and squares are decorated for the season. Here, we took a walking tour around the town of Wertheim and, then, returned to the ship to watch a singing performance by local children. The evening included a piano recital, as well.
The ship then headed to Wurzburg where we discovered the Wurzburg Residenz, a beautiful and extremely opulent palace. The Residenz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, of the tours that we took during our cruise, this was among our favorites. The 300-year-old palace was nearly destroyed during World War II and contains one of the world’s largest ceiling frescoes. After the palace tour, it was a short walk to the Christmas market in the center of town. While one of the smaller markets, it possessed all of the essentials — gingerbread stands, many varieties of “wurst” and gluwhein — and we even discovered white gluwhein, much to my delight.
The medieval town of Rothenburg was our next stop. The ancient, walled city was romantic and charming with its traditional timber-framed houses and red tile roofs. The Christmas market meanders through the narrow streets of the town. Our favorite spot was a gluwhein stand that had a small merry-go-round for children. A must-see, even though it’s touristy, is Kathe Wohlfahrt, with its maze of Christmas decorations. Considering the store’s vast inventory, if you escape without making a purchase, consider yourself lucky.
The city of Bamberg was our destination the following day. Here, the guided tour includes a nativity walk during which guests see a variety of nativity scenes on display throughout the city. Afterward, head to Klein-Venedig, a small fishing village in Bamberg that is known as “Little Venice” because of its canals and narrow alleyways.
In Nuremberg, the city tour includes a walking tour of the Kaiserburg Castle. The tour ends at one of Germany’s largest Christmas markets, known as the Christkindlesmarkt. Even though the market may call to you with its nutcrackers, gingerbread and ornaments, don’t miss the Schoner Brunnen (beautiful fountain). The gilded fountain certainly lives up to its name.
The cruise we took either begins or ends in Nuremberg, sailing the same itinerary in both directions. Uniworld offers five additional holiday cruises: Rhine Holiday Markets, Danube Holiday Markets, European Holiday Markets, the Parisian Winter Holiday and the Grand Christmas & New Year’s Cruise.