We recently returned from a seven-night trip to visit Christmas Markets in cities and towns along the Rhine River. Our group of six guests traveled to Zurich, Switzerland to begin our journey. After transferring in from the airport, we checked into the Hotel Wellenberg in Old Town Zurich.
This boutique hotel is in a perfect location, with a nice lounge on the second floor, a great morning breakfast and excellent service. And, there is a small Christmas market right outside the front door. With many, many shops, restaurants and cafes within a 10-minute walk of the hotel, the Wellenberg was the perfect base for us to explore Zurich and its numerous markets.
The largest market in the city is the Wienachtsdorf, located by the Opera House. Complete with its’ own skating rink and huge Christmas tree, this market has about 100 stalls that comprise this “Christmas Village” in the heart of Zurich.
Another interesting market was set up in the main train station. This market has 140 stalls & is one of the largest indoor Christmas markets in Europe. The highlight of the Christkindlimarkt is a 32-ft-tall Christmas tree decorated with thousands of sparkling Swarovski crystals.
A favorite market of ours was the Christmas market at Werdmühleplatz. Unique to this market was the Singing Christmas Tree. Rowed up on a vertical podium in the shape of an enormous Christmas tree, choirs from the area in and around Zurich perform Christmas carols a few times a day. This was a very unique experience.
We also enjoyed the various markets spread out throughout Old Town Zurich. Besides the market by our hotel, there is another one near The Grossmünster, Zurich’s most famous landmark. There were other small markets spread out on both sides of the river in Zurich, dotting the Old Town landscape. Our visit to Zurich was a wonderful experience.
After two nights in the city, our private transfer met us at the Wellenberg and drove us 1 hour and 30 minutes to Basel, where our river cruise began. We boarded the Avalon Artistry II just in time to enjoy lunch and drinks in the Panorama Lounge. Since we were celebrating a special occasion, we booked a Royal Suite onboard ship. All of Avalon’s ships are suite ships, with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows, that let the outside in. Our suite was HUGE, with a separate seating area and a large bathroom with a walk-in shower.
Our first night onboard, we celebrated our special occasion at dinner and then headed to the lounge for happy hour and that night’s entertainment. We were serenaded by a local singer who sang a rousing chorus of show tunes. It was a very nice evening.
Our first stop on the cruise was the town of Breisach, Germany. We took a morning tour through the Black Forest to the village of Niederwasser and the House of Black Forest Clocks.
Then it was back to the ship and the opportunity to visit the little town of Breisach. The town’s landmark St. Stephen Cathedral, pastel-hued buildings, and cobbled streets create an old-world charm that belies the fact that the town was almost totally destroyed in WWII and meticulously rebuilt in the old style. There is also a very small, folksy Christmas market that most of the town seemed to be enjoying.
An overnight sailing had us awaken in the beautiful city of Strasbourg, France. We walked through the La Petit France section of the city, with its’ half-timbered homes, cobble-stoned streets and canals. This is a very charming neighborhood that led to the central shopping district. This pedestrian friendly area was festively decorated for Christmas and the many shops were decked out in their holiday finest.
The large Christmas market in Strasbourg is situated right next to the Cathedral. Construction of the Cathedral began in 1176 and from 1647 to 1874, it was the tallest building in the world. The Christmas market features many stalls, selling gifts, crafts and many different kinds of food, including Glühwein, a spiced mulled wine that was prominent in every market we visited on our trip.
Sailing through the night, we stopped in Speyer, Germany and took a morning tour to the city of Heidelberg. A visit to Heidelberg Castle, which overlooks the city, included a stop at the Heidelberg Tun, a huge wine vat that could hold over 57,000 gallons of wine. It is so large that there is a dance floor built on top of it.
The Heidelberg Christmas market was spread throughout the Old Town and featured a huge Christmas Pyramid. Powered by electricity, as opposed to candles that power tabletop pyramids, this Pyramid dominated the Christmas market space. Heidelberg was a lovely city with a very robust market.
We returned to the Artistry II in plenty of time to explore the market in Speyer. The market was a quick 10-minute walk from the ship, which is one of the many beauties of river cruising. We spent a good couple of hours visiting the cathedral in Speyer, sampling some snacks from the market and visiting the local shops in this very nice town.
That evening we sailed on to Frankfurt, where we said goodbye to the Artistry II and ventured on into the city of Frankfurt. We spent one night at the Scandic Frankfurt Hotel, a modern high rise near the city’s financial district.
We started the day on the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus to get a feel for Frankfurt, then made our way to the Christmas market. This market was huge. Although 80% of the city was destroyed during World War II, a small part of the traditional town center was spared and the market flows out from there. A huge Christmas tree is the focal point and at least one hundred stalls are spread out over a number of blocks. It was the perfect way to end our visit.