One of the most exciting tours I can think of is a Christmas Market Tour of Germany, France, and Austria. Christmas is a magical time for most of us and Europe at Christmas is exciting like you would not believe. Virtually every town in Germany has its own Christmas Market. These markets are filled with hot cider, mulled Glühwein, hot chocolate, and all kinds of goodies to eat. The atmosphere is electric, and you can almost forget about the cold, but you will want to make sure to bring the right clothing because you will want to spend most of your time outside. Even though the days are short and can be dark, the lights generated by the markets brighten everything.
We will start in Berlin, Germany where they have over 60 Christmas Markets all around the city. These markets are everything from small and intimate to huge and full of energy. The historic back drop of Berlin is a great setting for Christmas Markets. During the day we will tour the city and in the evening we will take in several of the Christmas Markets.
We will stroll along the Unter den Linden, the main street running from the City Palace to the Brandenburg Gate, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of Berlin. This is a great place to start the tour and get a feel for the city. Along this path you are spending all of your time in the former East Berlin which was controlled by the Communists.
From the new Chancellery Building to the new main train station, the buildings are fun to explore. There is a lot of steel and glass, shopping to delight the most jaundiced traveler and people everywhere.
We will spend time in the historic district of Berlin with the Brandenburg Gate, Museum Island, Check Point Charlie, the remains of the Berlin Wall, and the old Gestapo Headquarters. Then we will soak in the ambiance of the Christmas Markets, which are a sight to behold.
There is a small street train that connects some of the Christmas Markets. This first step into a European Christmas promises to be delightful. The smell of bakery goods and sausages, hot chocolate and Glühwein, the sounds of people milling about in no hurry, all of it makes these markets truly unique and exciting.
We will take a couple of days in Berlin to get our feet on the ground and start to overcome the jet lag. This will give us plenty of time to see the sites of Berlin and enjoy the Christmas Markets.
One of my favorite things about traveling in Germany is riding the trains. Whether it is a local train in the city, or a regional train through the scenic Rhine River Valley with castles doting the hills, or the high speed (298 kilometers per hour which is 185 miles per hour) trains that get you in a hurry from city to city, every train is different and every train is fun. Sit back and relax, leave the worrying to me.
From Berlin we will head by high speed train to Cologne, Germany the home of a very famous Cathedral. It is also a city with Roman Ruins, including a part of the Roman Road you can walk along. This city hosts a number of Christmas Markets, but none is so exciting as the Christmas Market at the Cathedral itself.
Before we spend time in the Christmas Market we will walk on the Roman Road next to the Cathedral to get to the Rhine River and take an exhilarating stroll along the mighty Rhine River. Somewhere along the way we will stop for lunch at a café on the river or the main pedestrian drag in Cologne. There is plenty to see in Cologne, you can spend hours in the Cathedral where there is a golden box that is alleged to contain the bones of the Magi. The history of this Cathedral is quite over the top so we will spend some time discussing it. Outside, on the main plaza of the Cathedral is an ancient Roman Arch that was on the path out of ancient Cologne. Under the plaza, at the car park are some unearthed Roman Ruins. We will take that all in before wandering through the Christmas Market.
The Christmas Market at the Cathedral is bustling with people. There are huge grills cooking meats of all types for you to sample. The stalls sell Christmas ornaments and home decorations and food of all kinds. Get a Gingerbread Cookie, or a huge pretzel. Warm up with a souvenir mug of Glühwein.
After the Christmas Market we will spend the night in this city, staying at the markets until they close.
From Cologne we will head by regional train down the Rhine River to Strasbourg, France. This train ride is through some of the most scenic portions of Germany with castles guarding the river along the way. In Strasbourg we will tour the Notre Dame Cathedral that is built exactly from the plans of its famous sister in Paris. The Cathedral is surrounded by what is claimed to be the first Christmas Market in all of Europe. In fairness, the Germans also claim to have the first Christmas Market in Europe. This city is home to the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament. We will take in all of those sites. Wander through Petite France, take a boat tour of the city on the Ilse River and end the day at a couple of Christmas Markets in the city.
Strasbourg is a friendly French town that is easy to manage by foot and full of culture. It has been a part of Germany and France, back to Germany and finally back to France. The architecture reflects a German feel. The menus in virtually all the restaurants are in French and German and English. The best pastries in the world can be found in Strasbourg. Also, the French have a law requiring that cities have a bakery/bread shop at least every kilometer so there are plenty of places to grab a quick lunch or a snack. We will spend the night in Strasbourg to make sure we have time to appreciate everything the city has to offer.
From Strasbourg we will head back into Germany and travel by high speed train to Nuremberg, Germany. This is the city that the Germans consider to be the birth place of the Christmas Markets and this Christmas Market will make you believe it is the first ever. It is packed with people and packed with goodies. The stalls are overflowing with everything Christmas and everything good to eat. We will take some time here to soak in the atmosphere which is virtually unmatched anywhere in Europe.
Nuremberg was also an important city to the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. We will likely stay in the hotel where Hitler stayed when he was in town. We will take an afternoon to travel out to the Nazi parade grounds to see where the famous Nuremberg rallies took place. These are somber reminders of some of the worst times the world has seen, but I believe they are important for us to see in the midst of our travels.
From Nuremberg we will head to Munich, Germany. Munich is one of my favorite places in the World and my favorite place in Germany. It is a vibrant city with the heart of a village. From Marienplatz where the main Christmas Market sits to the Olympic Village, there is plenty to do in Munich, including visiting the Hofbräuhaus for a night of umpa bands, beer, and chicken or sausages and fried potatoes or spätzle.
While in Munich we will walk along the first pedestrian shopping zone in modern Europe. We will visit some of the most amazing churches, cathedrals you have ever seen. We will shop in the local permanent farmer’s market. We will climb the tower of St. Peter’s Cathedral to get a good look at the city laid out below us. We will look for city souvenirs and keep sakes from a story which is in a building that was built in the 1500s. And we will watch the Glockenspiel figures dance for us in the tower of the New City Hall.
The best Christmas Market in town is oper ated at the base of the Glockenspiel, so we will make this our hang out for nighttime activities. If you are adventurous you will find outdoor ice skating just down the way at Karlstor, the castle-like entrance to the center of Munich.
From Munich we will take a day trip to Salzburg, Austria where the Sound of Music was partially filmed. We will tour the church where the wedding scene occurred and where Mozart was baptized. We will tour Mozart’s birthplace. This street is one of the most amazing shopping streets in all of Europe so we will take our time and visit the stores along the way. Here there is a store that sells egg shells painted as Christmas ornaments year-round. We will have the opportunity to have a quick lunch in a restaurant that has been open since 803 A.D. according to the written records. Then we will wonder through the Christmas Markets of Salzburg.
From here we will return to Munich for more Christmas Market fun before returning home.