Phew, has it been a hot second since I’ve had a minute to sit down and write and create? This past Christmas Market holiday season I was in Europe for 54 days! What an incredible blessing, I spent several weeks on private small group Christmas Market Tours along the Mosel and one week on a Christmas Market cruise along the Rhine aboard the MS Oscar Wilde of the Riviera River Cruise Fleet.
I am so excited to share my week on the Rhine exploring this gorgeous ancient river lined with castles, vineyards and sweeping hills. And bonus, it even started to snow while we were sailing. Like a nice little European Snow globe.
We arrived a day early for a pre-stay to visit the Christmas Markets in Cologne and I’m super glad we did because it was a Monday and Mondays are totally not as busy for Christmas Markets as the weekends are.
Köln got its name for being the first Roman Colony outside of Rome. There is a fantastic Roman-German History Museum in the heart of the city, but it is under construction at the moment so we missed out on having a tour there. But Jon and I went a few years back and I learned all about the Roman occupation and development of this area.
Cologne is fantastic and has about 9 Christmas Markets to see. When I was living in Germany, I visited every single year and of course, developed a few favorites.
Christmas Markets in Cologne
Köln Dom Market
Underneath the bastion of the Köln Cathedral is the Dom Market, this is a must and you can’t miss it! The massive Christmas tree is a highlight for the Dom Market, and the market is massive with a maze of stalls twisting around selling a great assortment of goodies, including from German classics like Käsespätzle (bouncy little egg dumplings tossed in cheese) and French Favorite, Raclette (which is stinky Munster cheese melted on bread.) churros, crepes, bratwursts and pork sandwiches abound. Yes, the smells are intoxicating.
The next closest Christmas Market in Cologne is the HEINZEL WINTER FAIRYTALE, definitely one of my favorite markets and super easy to get to from the Dom Market as it is just around the corner.
It is definitely one of the prettiest and most decorated markets and has an ice rink right in the center. The little wooden huts are adorned with creative gnomes and wooden carvings of characters from a fairytale it is so cool.
The vendors are a bit similar but they had a few different ones this year including handmade ornaments, a wood carver a jeweler that made authentic and original pieces.
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This market is right in the heart of Neumarkt in Cologne and a little bit of a walk but totally worth it. Considered the contemporary market the houses are brightly lit and resemble a winter wonderland.
Their vendors range from star lights to Flammkuchen and Smoked Salmon on a wooden plank. The bratwurst stalls about with grilled onions and brotchen and there was even a popular “Käthe Wohlfahrt” little house in the center of the market.
One of the tastiest and scrumptious markets is the Harbor Market or as I like to call it the Chocolate Market. Located in Cologne harbor and about a 15 minute walk from the Dom Market, you can enjoy a peaceful stroll along the promenade.
This market also has a Ferris wheel overlooking the Rhine and harbor canals as well as having an international flare. A few vendors there sold Indian Cuisine as well as Argentinian fare. This market has about 70 stalls as well, making it not too shabby. If you need to hop into the Lindt Chocolate Museum to warm up – well that wouldn’t be too bad either.
These are just a few of my favorites in Cologne, you could certainly see more if you add days before or after your cruise. Christmas Markets in Cologne typically stay open until right before Christmas Day.
Feet sore? Take the Train
Cologne has this great mini train you can take all over the main town to visit each of the Christmas Markets. In each market, you can find where to pick it up, how much it is and the route. We were thinking of hopping on and trying this, but decided to get our ®FitBit’s charged up instead. If you have kiddos with you or somebody with mobility issues, this is a great idea.
We boarded the riverboat on Tuesday evening and were greeted by attendants eager to grab our luggage and check us in. Check-in was a super easy process and after a quick rest a dinner we made our way to the lounge and had a brief introduction by the Boat Tour Directors, Diogo, and Hugo.
We sailed through the night to our first destination Rüdesheim.
I love this little river wine town. Jon introduced it to me back in the fall when he was serving overseas again while in Wiesbaden. It truly is enchanting, with cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses, wine tastings in cellars, and hillsides covered in vineyards, so of course, I couldn’t wait to return. Riviera River Cruises partners with local tour guides and tour companies who were just amazing. I’ll talk more about our tours coming up.
Christmas Market in Rüdesheim
The Christmas Market in Rudesheim is on practically every street, right off the dock and so easy to get too. There were very interesting and different vendors here as well including a vendor selling sheepskin and wool items in a yurt. I’ll tell you what it was super warm in there and I didn’t want to leave. Part of the Market skirts the river’s edge making it really easy to get and forth to the boat.
Our next city on the tour was Koblenz. This confluence town (Latin is Koblenz) has been split many times between France and Germany. . A story and struggle of power and control of the river and this town.
It is such a pretty town filled with incredible architecture of the baroque style. Our local tour led us to the Basilica St. Castor, the Deutsches Eck (or the German Corner) represents a statue of King Wilhelm II overlooks the Rhine and is a symbol of refuge and a memorial to the King who helped unite the two borders. There’s a funny story that goes along with the tour of why the statue is facing the way it is – but you’ll have to take the tour to find out.
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The Christmas Markets in Koblenz
The Christmas Markets of Koblenz are also in the heart of their old town and were filled with yummy stalls of Christmas treats and German favorites. One of my favorites is the local Krebbelcher pancakes or potato pancakes and you can order them with applesauce or a creamy ranch garlic sauce. YUM! Take it all in and remember, each market may seem similar you have to pay close attention to the differences too. It’s fun to research before you go.
I visited the city of Bonn in 1988. It has been a long time since I saw this gorgeous city. Definitely holds a special place in my heart. The university town of Beethoven’s birth is filled with baroque buildings, Beethoven’s birthplace, after our local tour, we headed to the museum and enjoyed a quick tour of where Beethoven spent his first 16 years of life.
Christmas Markets in Bonn
The Munsterplatz Square in Bonn like this magical city if filled with amazing color, sites and smells. With the backdrop of the baroque city hall and main town square, you can imagine yourself in the 1800s enjoying hot gluhwein like Beethoven and his family did. Every day there is a musical concert that takes place and although we weren’t there at night we enjoyed walking through the city from market to market.
There are more than 180 beautiful hut-style stalls with Christmas decor and Santa on top of the Stalls.
Christmas Market Tips
First of all, wear good shoes, you will walk a lot. Warm-lined boots too for the cobblestone!
Also, be prepared to have Euros, some vendors do take visa, but most prefer cash. There are ATMs throughout the cities, just please don’t ever use the exchange EC machines, they offer the worst exchange and also charge a fee on top of that. Avoid these like the plague.
Follow the illuminated lights. In several towns, you just need to follow the stars, and lights and they will lead you to the path of the Christmas Markets! Follow the light. HA!
About the BOAT
First of all, the staff was incredibly amazing. Friendly, professional and many were from Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. Shout out to Daniel, Maria, Milena (from Serbia) our housekeeper Alona and of course Ivan at the Bar. Everyone was kind, generous and knew their jobs very well. I had the great opportunity to meet Diogo and have a great interview with him to talk about the ships highlights. Be sure to check that out soon on my YouTube channel.
We booked a Ruby-level room on the Oscar Wilde which is nice size cruise room and we were centrally located on the ship too. All middle and upper deck cabins have floor-to-ceiling sliding doors with a Juliet balcony and of course, we had gorgeous views of the river and coastline.
The bathrooms were huge and had marble floors Villeroy and Boch sinks as well as upgraded amenities in our room including coffee and tea service.
The Bistro is a boutique-type dining option on board. With a different menu and offering than the main dining room. You do need reservations for this restaurant which offers a different view off the ship as well as while we were sailing.
The ship also has vegetarian options available as well.
All meals on board all included AND because Riviera is an English fleet on one day, you will experience High Tea! Omgoodness, this tasty and incredibly beautiful display is a presentation all unto itself. We thoroughly enjoyed High Tea on the boat.
Local tour guides – Hildrudt Bonn Tour Guide – supports local communities and the economy with interesting stories, myths, and legends of the town. Riviera partners with guides who are passionate about sharing their city or town with others.
Are you Interested in a European River Cruise?
We have ONE MORE cabin left for our small group for the popular
Blue Danube River Cruise April 14 – 21,2023
This spring we will enjoy another Riviera River Cruise departing and returning from Budapest Hungary. This European River Cruise is so popular and there’s a reason why, we will stop in Bratislava, Slovakia, Vienna and Salzburg, Austria, and more. If you are interested please let me know soon! Flights are still available and I would love to have you join our really fun group!
When should I book my River Cruise?
When should you book your cruise? Well, before COVID, I would tell people to just sit back and see if there would be a special, not anymore. Holy cow! Talk about your revenge travel! According to this Forbes article written last June, people are READY to travel. After the January 2023 wave season, we just had I can tell you that is so true. So when should you book one? When you think about it! Mostly because it will probably not go down in price or have limited availability if you wait. Riviera River Cruises can ONLY be booked through a Travel Agent! Plus, we will take care of you from flights, pre- and post- stays!
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Looking forward to the NEXT CRUISE!
My small group was so delightful on this Christmas Market Cruise and we had such a great time connecting, enjoying the ship, ambiance, and of course shopping. If you would like to go on a CHRISTMAS MARKET CRUISE IN 2023 please let me know, email me at email@example.com.
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