For several years my wife and I have been discussing going on a Christmas market river cruise. Finally, in celebration of my 60th birthday, she booked us a 7 day get away cruise with Viking along the famous Rhine River. Unfortunately we were one week to early for Amsterdam's Christmas markets so we made it up exploring the city. Since our trip began in Amsterdam we booked an extra day to get over jet lag and enjoy the city. We had purchased tickets in advance online to visit the Ann Frank house. Amsterdam was decorated nicely for Christmas and enjoyed a pleasant night time walking tour of the city with all the sparkling lights. Made time to visit the Van Gogh museum and down the street get a photo in front of the red and white "Iamsterdam" sign. We really enjoyed the hospitality of the dutch people.
Our first stop was a cold and foggy morning excursion to Kinderdijk where we enjoyed numerous photo opportunities and even got to tour the inside of a working windmill and later in the day enjoyed touring a cheese factory. I learned that cows on the dairy cheese farms are treated pretty good since there health and emotions can influence the quality of the cheese. Since they raise very happy cows, I think we ended up buying 10 lbs of cheese.
We absolutely enjoyed Cologne, and the beautiful cathedral. Inside the Cologne cathedral is the Shrine of the Three Kings It was amazing to see the city all decorated in celebration for Christmas. Cologne had six individual Christmas markets and we made a point to visit every single one off them. One even had a ice skating ring in the middle of it. Every market had a different theme with individual gluehwien cups to match. The historical part of the city is beautifully decorated at Christmas to the point we felt like we were walking in a Christmas novel. I purchased a really cool Christmas tree hat that had blinking lights that mysteriously didn't make the journey back to the US. The out door Christmas beer gardens were so festive and alive with laughter. We enjoyed this city so much we contemplated missing the boat and staying the rest of the week just to enjoy the atmosphere however we gave into our desire to visit and experience other towns.
I had seen dozens of pictures of Marksburg Castle, but was surprised by the actual size. Its a big castle, so we enjoyed the tour. The views of the Rhine river from this castle along with the colorful fall leaves was absolutely beautiful. We enjoyed viewing all the small villages as we cruised along the Rhine and only had one day of light misty rain during our entire trip.
Our decision to visit Heidelberg and its Christmas markets was a good one. This beautiful city along the Rhine is one you don't want to miss. We dined at one of the local restaurants for lunch and purchased lots of goodies for friends and family to share back home. The make a lot of fancy liquors in this town. I ate so much good German food that I think the bus busted a shock when I stepped onto it.
Strasbourg, France was gorgeous with every shops exterior decorated for Christmas. The Strasbourg Cathedral was another Gothic architectural beauty that reminded me of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. I was surrounded by hundreds of Christmas booths selling everything from treats to ornaments. The Place Kieber Central Square with the huge Christmas tree fully decorated was amazing at night. The Christmas cookies in this town are addicting, so don't think for a minute your going to eat just one. Best cookies ever, even better than grandma's. We purchased more gifts to stuff into the luggage to the point I was wandering how we were going to ever get it to the airport.
Colmar, Germany was another pleasant treat. This small German town reminded me of a Christmas story picture book I had as a child. The town was architecturally beautiful with all the decorations designed to fill your heart with Christmas spirit. My wife managed to buy more gifts to the point I am certain we are going to have to purchase another ticket for an extra bag for the flight home.Basel, Switzerland was the end of our Christmas market journey and decided to stay an extra day to enjoy the markets. They had three wonderful markets, each with their individual themes but were much more crowded especially at night. We really enjoyed the sausage, pretzels and beer. One of the markets even had several warming stations where you could sit and drink more gluehwien.
Basel, was a little more expensive than the other markets so I was glad my wife had purchased more of our presents in France and Germany. Every market was different. If you see something you like in one market, don't assume the next one you see will be selling the same thing. If you see something you like, go on and purchase it, don't wait till the next market. So if you want one of those green lighted Christmas tree hats, you better purchase it in Cologne.
I had heard reports about the Rhine being low but Viking managed the detours in a acceptable fashion. We were unable to visit one town due to changing boats, however the bus ride to the second boat was beautiful. Seeing the countryside along the Rhine is well worth a bus ride. The staff on both ships were absolutely wonderful. Our rooms were so comfortable and pleasant we had difficulty leaving them every morning to participate in the excursions. We never had a bad meal and everyone one the boat was extremely pleasant. Viking runs a smooth and efficient cruise line, so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the journey.
In summary, we really enjoyed our trip even though we headed back to the U.S. with an extra piece of luggage full of Christmas goodies (however that bag of extra cookies didn't make it). Along the journey experiencing all the beautiful and magical towns decorated for Christmas I managed to find my Christmas spirit, and that made making this journey well worth the trip. We look forward to many more Christmas Market Cruises in the future.
We absolutely love our cabin. It was super comfortable and had plenty of room for all our luggage.
Even though its cold outside, people were still lined up to go inside. The guide takes you through every room that is still the same as when Anne lived there. Its a very somber tour ending with a room that has her diary's in it. Well worth the wait outside to see the house.View All 100 Anne Frank House Reviews
The museum followed the life time of Van Gogh's art. It must have housed over 200 of his his paintings. Very frustrating that you are not allowed to take pictures without a flash.View All 65 Van Gogh Museum Reviews
This is a beautiful cathedral inside and out. Was impressed with the size of the gold coffin of the three kings.View All 184 Cologne Cathedral Reviews
Our cruise guide was extremely knowledgeable. He was a history teacher at the local high school and he really knew the history of Cologne and shared every inch of it with us. He knew the state capital of every single state in the US.View All 148 Walking Tour Reviews
We actually skipped the castle tour so we could spend more time in Heidelberg's Christmas markets and had a ball!View All 180 Heidelberg Castle Reviews
We enjoyed Strasbourg. It was beautifully decorated and at night with all the lights on was a very magical experience. Loved this city.View All undefined undefined Reviews