Celebrate the holiday season as you immerse yourself in French, German and Czech traditions. Spend time in chic Paris and sample tasty yuletide dishes. Explore Christmas markets in quaint German towns and enjoy the scent of spiced gingerbread and glühwein as they fill the air amid colorful stalls. Visit castles and cathedrals that are adorned with festive displays. Revel in the merry atmosphere as you sail along Europe’s iconic rivers.
Arrive and check in to your hotel. Long a hub of French culture and cuisine, Paris is one of the most romantic destinations in the world. Over the centuries, Parisian culture has been built on the wings of inspiration. Music, film, architecture, literature, dance and the visual arts all have their brilliant place in the museums, theaters, bookstores and remarkably preserved buildings of this magnificent city. At the center of it all is the Champs-Élysées. With its inviting riverside promenade, graceful bridges and splendid views of all things Parisian, from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre Museum.
Paris’s landmarks come alive during the Christmas season as twinkling lights adorn the city’s streets. Shop windows are a grand affair, depicting scenes from fairy tales, Santa Claus and his workshop, or a snowy winter wonderland. While it rarely snows in Paris, there is always the chance of a dusting, adding to the magical atmosphere. From November on, leading department stores, including Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, present their seasonal displays, often featuring clever animation; their grand openings are hotly anticipated each year.
After breakfast, check out of your hotel and begin your journey to your embarkation city. Reims, nestled in the heart of the renowned Champagne region, is home to one of France’s largest Christmas markets. More than 140 stalls grace the square in front of the famous Reims Cathedral, itself decorated in a colorful light display that showcases the magnificent architectural details of this 13th-century Gothic masterpiece and UNESCO Site. Craftsmen display their wares at the market in the courtyard of the Palace of Tau and sweeping views of the city can be enjoyed while sipping a glass of champagne from atop the 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel at Erlon Square.
Treasured for its rich history, Trier was once the regional capital of the Holy Roman Empire. After Emperor Constantine the Great had a vision of Christ, he and his mother Helena built great churches and cathedrals here. A few still stand, the magnificent Romanesque Cathedral of Trier among them. The 20,000-seat amphitheater, the Roman Bridge and the massive Porta Nigra, the ancient city gate, are further relics of that time. Today, Trier is a picturesque town surrounded by forests and vineyards, known also as the birthplace of Karl Marx and as a vibrant university town. Embark your ship and settle into your stateroom.
Set in the historic heart of Trier, the bustling and colorful Hauptmarkt is the city’s main gathering place and the center of holiday festivities. Its rich repository of Romanesque, Gothic and baroque-style architecture provide a romantic backdrop to its cozy Christmas market, where vendors display handcrafted decorations and serve regional specialties, such as vintner hot mulled wine from the Moselle. The nearby Domfreihof adds to the yuletide atmosphere that abounds throughout the Old City, its market set in the shadow of the impressive 13th-century Trier Cathedral.
The medieval Old Town of Bernkastel transforms itself during the holidays, its cobblestone streets decked out in lights and the aroma of mulled wine, gingerbread and almonds filling the air. Picturesque half-timbered houses form the backdrop for about 40 stalls, where vendors showcase seasonal wares such as traditional handicrafts and jewelry. The market square is also home to the region’s largest Advent calendar, festively displayed in the window of a local pharmacy. The market’s highlight is the arrival by boat of Santa Claus, accompanied by swimmers carrying torches.
The holiday season transforms the squares and narrow cobblestone alleyways of Cochem’s Old Town into a wintery fairy tale. Festive lights line the streets and the promenade along the Moselle River, giving the city a cozy, yuletide atmosphere, and vendors display local handicrafts from the shelves of their wooden stalls. Visitors can savor a Riesling stollen, a traditional German Christmas bread, as well as yeast dumplings, pastries, white mulled wine—a Moselle specialty—or regional delicacies made from the renowned red vineyard peach.
Hugging a gentle curve in the Moselle River, Winningen enjoys stunning vistas of forested hills and limestone cliff faces on the river’s opposite banks. The small city’s Weingüter, or wine taverns, showcase the valley’s famed Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Elbling that are nurtured in steeply terraced vineyards draping nearby slopes. In a region with plentiful renowned wine towns, Winningen is less well-known, and therein lies its charm. Its typical German streets are lined with half-timbered buildings and are a pleasure to explore.
Located in the heart of the Rhine wine region at the mouth of the Main River, Mainz grew into a major trade center during the Middle Ages. One of the Upper Rhine’s most dramatic cathedrals, Mainz Cathedral boasts six towers reaching to the heavens. Within are Marc Chagall’s world-famous stained glass windows. Mainz’s most famous native son is Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of movable type and book printing. Gutenberg’s fame arose as the first commercial publisher of the Bible, printing around 200 copies in a relatively short time. Around 20 of his complete Bibles still exist.
In Heidelberg’s Marktplatz, a replica of the world’s largest wine barrel, the Heidelberg Tun, is on display and a highlight of the city’s festive market. Enchanting wooden huts are decorated with reindeer, ornaments and colorful ribbons. Department store windows reflect picturesque winter scenes. Smaller markets feature unique handicrafts, such as hand-carved figurines or handblown ornaments, while Karlsplatz, framed by the romantic backdrop of Heidelberg Castle, is home to one of Germany’s most beautiful ice rinks.
Journey along one of Germany’s most important waterways today, passing landscapes that embody the country’s scenic beauty and storybook charm. You will sail by quaint riverside villages, undulating farm country and the sylvan forests of the Spessart woodlands. Along the way, you just may lose yourself in the dreamy canvases of half-timbered houses, historic castles and splendid palaces. This is the Germany once ruled by dukes and brought to magical life by the imagination of the Brothers Grimm, who grew up in the town of Hanau and wove fantastic tales from these banks.
In the heart of Würzburg’s Old Town with a backdrop of the historic Falkenhaus and Gothic Marienkapelle, the Advent Market showcases a range of mouthwatering traditional food and sweets that are customary in Bavaria for the festive season. The scent of spices fills the air with stalls providing tasty treats, including Christmas cookies and roasted almonds. Local artisans can be seen in action, creating decorative pieces for the holiday season, from glass, straw, pewter and pottery to wooden toys.
During the holidays, Bamberg is transformed into a winter wonderland, when the city’s Advent market takes centerstage. Maximiliansplatz, in the heart of the pedestrian district, features a large Franconian half-timber nativity scene depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. At Bamberg im Sand, the Elisabeth Church plays host to an array of artists showcasing traditional arts and crafts, including a blacksmith who provides a demonstration of his creations for visitors.
After breakfast, disembark your ship and transfer to your destination. The medieval city of Nuremberg hosts one of the oldest Christmas markets in the world. Its streets are lined with wooden huts, offering a variety of homemade treats, including lebkuchen or gingerbread. Specially selected dealers showcase Christkindlesmarkt souvenirs, from cookie cutters to decorative mugs. The air is filled with the scent of grilled Bratwurst; the Nuremberg Bratwurst has been a longstanding culinary tradition of the city for more than 700 years. Transfer to your hotel and settle into your room.
Prague is known as the “City of a Hundred Spires” and it is easy to see why. The towering twin steeples of Týn Church and the beautiful baroque Church of St. Nicholas are among some of the city’s most notable. Best explored on foot, Prague’s Old Town is a maze of ancient cobblestone lanes with the Old Town Square at its core. Here, the medieval Astronomical Clock still chimes today and provides for its viewers a little theater with the “Walk of the Apostles” on the hour, every hour. Arrive and check in to your hotel.
Winter in Prague, while cold, is beautiful. Crackling fires in traditional pubs provide warmth to patrons as they step in from the chill of the outdoors. Once inside, an array of hearty fare awaits; traditional dishes include roast pork with dumplings and pickled cabbage or garlic soup. A leisurely stroll across the Charles Bridge on a frosty morning is a picture-postcard sight. Bustling Christmas markets also offer delicious yuletide treats alongside a warming glass of Christmas cheer with spiced mulled wine.
Few cities embody the past as authentically as Prague, the Czech Republic’s atmospheric capital on the Vltava River that clings to its history with unwavering passion. Prague’s medieval architecture is its most prominent, but the city is also a rich repository of Romanesque, baroque and art nouveau buildings that stir the imagination. The city’s graceful, pedestrian-only Charles Bridge served as the coronation route of the kings of Bohemia across the river to Hradčany Castle and its rich complex of royal buildings. After breakfast, check out of your hotel and journey home.