For the western world, celebrating Christmas is a time for folks to prepare for and participate in traditional winter activities to commemorate the holiday season. However, in parts of the Southern Hemisphere such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and parts of South America, Christmas falls during the warm summer months. For this reason, Christmas in July was developed when these respective countries participate in winter holiday activities during their actual winter periods.
While you won’t find annual holiday traditions within the U.S., U.K and many European countries in July, Christmas in July provides an opportunity to remind us that the holidays are only five months away and the perfect time to start planning yuletide festivities.
What better way to celebrate the holiday season than enjoying the festivities and traditions of other cultures that date back hundreds of years. July is the perfect time to plan for Christmas and design itineraries that celebrate the holidays in countries like Germany, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Austria or Hungary.
In the Deutschland, the Christmas season begins with the celebration of Advent, the official holiday season in Europe, which starts at the end of November and lasts four weeks until Christmas Day. Many visit worthy traditions specific to individual regions are held during this period throughout Germany.
One of the largest cities in Germany, Cologne, is known for its annual Heinzels Wintermärchen festival within the Alstadt (old town) historic region of this gothic, culturally diverse city. Next to the iconic Cologne Cathedral, the annual event features the Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas market), an alley of artisans selling toys, ornaments and holiday treats for folks of all ages to enjoy. This Christmas village also features an outdoor ice rink that will have you swirling in winter bliss.
Nuremberg, the Bavarian capital of Germany, is home to the annual Christkindlesmarkt, one of the largest holiday markets in the world. Dating back to the early 1600’s, the market centers around Christkind, a symbol for gift giving in Nuremberg. The market features a local teen named as the Christkind representative. Dressed in gilded attire, she is present throughout the festival to greet guests as a representative of holiday spirit to the children in Nuremberg. Within the holiday market, you will find wood badens (booths) filled with handcrafted items, and holiday treats like gingerbread and traditional almond spice cookies (spekulatius).
One of the best preserved medieval cities in Germany, a Unesco World Heritage site is Regensburg. The city takes a unique approach to the holiday period as it comes to life with glistening holiday lights that complement the medieval architecture surrounding Regensburg’s Christmas markets. Regensburg’s largest market can be found at the medieval Neupfarr church. The excitement doesn’t stop at the markets. Walking the cobblestoned streets you will venture into courtyards, passageways, and find other gems the city has to offer. Don’t be surprised when you stumble upon secret stalls of local craftsmen featuring handmade items that can be taken home as gifts or souvenirs. Throughout your time in the city, dabble in the holiday entertainment, regional cuisine and indulge in the merriment also found along the Danube river and the surrounding beautiful winter scenery.
Rudesheim, a small wine village in the Upper Middle Rhine valley, brings a more international holiday experience with their annual Christmas Markets of Nations. This village’s representation of the traditions and customs of 20 countries from six continents draws visitors for a unique spin to the traditional German Christmas market experience. Featuring the traditional foods, goods and entertainment of each country makes this a fun and global way to celebrate the holidays. Rudesheim also presents the largest Nativity scene in Europe which can be found within the market square. Some of the more popular activities include festive storybook boat rides along the Rhine river and
breathtaking views of the river and Rudesheim’s vineyards on the decorated cable cars to the Niederwald monument.
Strasbourg in northeastern France is the original capital of Christmas. The first Christkindelsmärik (Christmas market) began over 500 years ago and has drawn visitors for centuries as the flagship holiday market experience. Squares throughout the cities offer unique themed areas filled with mini wooden houses (chalets) featuring the largest number of market food and craft vendors. Place Kléber, the central square of Strasbourg, is the prime location of celebration for the festival backdropped by a handpicked and decorated 100 foot Alsatian Christmas tree. Due to Strasbourg’s French and German heritage, you can find that popular foods like pain d’épices, gingerbread and spiced cookies, are influenced by both regions. Among other Alsatian specialties, don’t forget to try the Vin Chaud mulled wine that is a signature part of a Christkindelsmärik encounter.
Riquewihr is a magical French Alsatian wine village that is known for its fairytale-like architecture with half timbered houses that are spruced up with holiday decorations. Strolling the cobblestone street and seeing the village decorated with holiday lights and smelling the scent of chestnuts roasting will create a charming French holiday experience. The Riquewihr Christmas market is filled with cheer as you walk the wooden chalet’s filled with locally crafted item, stopping to enjoy a glass of local wine, or one of the local holiday treats of French spiced bread or German bretzels. You will be happy you stopped in this quaint Christmas town, unlike anywhere else in the world,
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, well known for its canals, is even more magnificent during the holidays. The annual light festival proves to be a winter highlight with it’s art light displays accompanied by live music and street vendors along the city’s canals. While these displays can be spotted from the bridges and walkways along the quay, the best way to experience the Amsterdam Light Festival is by a tour boat traveling along the canals. For another purely Amsterdam holiday experience, visit Amsterdam’s Museumplein museum square area. Centered around an ice skating rink, the Ice Village features a wooden chalet serving local Dutch dishes like cheese fondue that can be enjoyed offering views of the 800 year old Rijksmuseum, which houses the art of Dutch master artists.
Vienna offers similar holiday experiences to what you will find in Germany but with a uniquely Viennese flare. Offering many Christkindlmarkt in the city, you are bound to find one that is your favorite. The largest market, the Wiener Christkindlmarkt found on the Rathausplatz within the center of Vienna’s historic area, is appropriately named for its large offering of local sausage vendors and has approximately 150 booths. Surrounding the market, you will find a carousel, ferris wheel, ice skating and the holiday “Tree of Hearts” decorated with illuminated holiday hearts. For a smaller, more upscale Christkindlmarkt, Schönbrunn offers the beautiful background of the glowing decorated summer palace of the former Austrian royalty, the Habsburgs. The heart of the Viennese holiday experience is the elegant light displays that illuminate the Austrian city. Whether you are strolling the Stephansplatz shopping area outside of the iconic St. Stephen’s Cathedral or riding the Ringstrasse train around the outside of the Vienna altstadt, you will not be disappointed with a multi sensory Vienna Christmas experience.
Salzburg, the Austrian Alps city that borders Germany is known as the birthplace of Austrian composer Mozart and the filming location for the movie musical, The Sound of Music. But during the holidays, Salzburg becomes a fairytale land filled with colorful festivity, snow and choirs singing the Austrian hymn “Silent Night”. Visiting the Salzburg Christkindlmarkt in the city’s centre, one of the oldest Advent markets in Austria offers a holiday experience among the backdrop of the snowy rooftops of this beautiful Alpine old city. In Salzburg you are bound to see parades, hear ye olde Christmas stories and tune in to choral concerts. While visiting you will want to tour one of the many of the local nativity scenes, visit the Salzburg Christmas Museum, and stop into the beautiful Salzburg Cathedral. In typical Salzberg fashion, enjoy a music performance with 360 degree views of wintery Salzburg from the observation tower of the Fortress Hohensalzburg. A holiday highlight is Salzburg caroling featuring songs by Mozart and other traditional local holiday songs.
Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is two cities separated by the Danube river united into one. For a traditional holiday experience, take the funicular car to the top of Buda Hill on the western side of the Danube river. Here you can explore the quaint, charming town of Old Buda (Óbuda) and visit their Christmas market outside of the town hall building. Don’t let the small size fool you, you will find within this holiday area concerts, a carousel, skating rink and many more festive activities. For a larger and more modern holiday experience, head across the Danube river and into the eastern portion of the city, Pest. In Pest, you can visit the largest of Hungary’s holiday markets in the shopping district surrounding Vörösmarty square where you will find traditional crafts, artists, plus food booths and daily concerts by local Hungarian bands. A favorite holiday experience in Budapest is the intimate Christmas market that sits outside of the breathtaking St. Stephen’s Basilica. In addition to a small ice skating rink and a picturesque Christmas tree, you will find a holiday light show that occurs hourly upon the face of the beautiful exterior of the cathedral.
Basel, is a city on the Rhine river in the northwestern portion of Switzerland bordering France and Germany. The main markets of Switzerland are found in Basel’s center of the city within the old town. Basler Weihnachtsmarkt in the central shopping district is the largest of the markets with the most vendors in Switzerland. The Weihnachtsmarkt on Münsterplatz is smaller in size, however exquisite with its large, decorated Christmas tree adjacent to the Basel Münster (cathedral). Climb to the top of the cathedral towers for fantastic views of the illuminated old town. These Christmas Markets are distinguished by their wooden chalets featuring local artists’ creations and popular food items influenced by Basel’s location near both France and Germany. The most popular items include house made waffles, Gluhwein (mulled wine) and sausages among Swiss favorites like Basel Läckerli (gingerbread) and raclette, a melted cheese. The holiday spirit of the city is spotted among the decorated streets, within the windows of the local businesses, residences and along the Rhine as you stroll along its wintery banks.
So now that you know about the various holiday experiences that await you in Europe. So what is the best way for you to start your planning? A Christmas Market river cruise will transport you into Europe’s most popular cities and villages covered with snow-capped Cathedrals and brimming with holiday cheer.
From late November through December, travel along the waterways of central Europe from Amsterdam to Switzerland or Germany to Hungary visiting the traditional and authentic charming markets that still appear as they have for hundreds of years.
In addition to the Christmas experience, you have plenty of time to explore fairytale castles along the Rhine Gorge, the gorgeous mountainous snowy alps or the dreamy gilded sites of Vienna and the cathedrals of medieval Germany. Tours are included in ports to visit the landmarks of each city with ample time to explore the unique offerings of the local holiday delights.
Discover more about river cruising. If you would like more information on a Christmas Markets River Cruise, BucketList Travel Advisors can assist you with planning the perfect river cruise experience.