I had the opportunity to go on my bucket list trip to see the magical Christmas Markets on the Rhine River with Avalon Waterways. Ever since I started looking into river cruises for Christmas markets, I’ve had this company and specific cruise on my list for two reasons. The first is obviously the Christmas markets, and the second is for the Panorama Suites, where the entire outside wall is a floor-to-ceiling window that opens up, and the bed faces the view. Glorious.
The two cities I had on my “must-see” list were Colmar and Strasbourg, France. I’ve visited Strasbourg in the summertime but have seen so many amazing photos on Instagram of both of these cities at Christmas and knew I had to see them for myself in person.
Travelling during a pandemic was easier than I thought. The number one thing to do is keep up with the requirements to enter each country and have copies of my vaccination status readily available. Being on an organized trip put me at ease as our Cruise Director, Tony, was up-to-date on the requirements and what Christmas markets were open for us to visit, plus what we needed to do to be able to enter them. It was a fluid process as things changed each day. He successfully arranged our COVID testing for all 88 guests, as well. From a guest’s perspective, it was a smooth process.
Before I get into the itinerary, I need to shout out to the staff on the Avalon Expression. Seriously, they were amazing. By the time I went back to my suite from breakfast, it had been tidied up and looked (almost) like I didn’t leave it a mess. Lol…sorry for the mess.
Wine Tasting in Breisach
To start off our day, we visited a local winery in Breisach, where we had a wine tasting and were shown how the Germans make wine.
I’ve been Instagram-crazy, saving posts of Colmar that I wanted to see on my tour. Ultimately, I followed my tour guide and took pictures of everything I saw. Starstruck, yes. I admit it! Being the first stop on our river cruise, Colmar set the bar for the rest of the cities!
Christmas Markets in Strasbourg, France
Wow! I’ve been Instagram-stalking Strasbourg since I visited there in the summer of 2019 and knew I HAD TO be there at Christmastime at some point in my life. There’s no time like the present!
Strasbourg is a beautiful city near the German border and the second-most popular tourist city in France. Its historic city centre, Le Petite France District, is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Strasbourg Cathedral is one of the finest examples of Rayonnant Gothic architecture. We toured the Cathedral and watched the spectacular astronomical clock strike.
We spent some time at Christkindelsmärik, one of Europe’s most famous Christmas markets, drinking vin chaud, eating crêpes, shopping and admiring the Great Christmas Tree in Place Kléber!
My “must-see” list included returning to Le Gruber Restaurant, which I saw in the summer, buying more Christmas ornaments to match my set from Käthe Wohlfahrt, and seeing the teddy bears on the building beside Le Gruber. ✅ We also had a delicious lunch at Le Gruber… I’ll be back!
We woke up to a snowy day and had to dress for exploring on icy walkways in the wind and snow when we visited the ruins of Heidelberg Castle, then spent some time in Heidelberg at the Christmas markets, shopping, drinking Glühwein and having Jägerschnitzel for lunch. At this time of the year, we expected a bit of snow which helped make our experience more Christmassy!
Thanks to Martin, our guide, we toured Heidelberg Castle in the snow, learned about the history of the Castle, and saw the largest wine barrel in the world.
Castles and Towns in the Middle Rhine
One of my favourite moments was relaxing on the ship and watching the scenery go past the panoramic window in my suite.
Between Rüdesheim and Koblenz along the magnificent Rhine Gorge, there are more castles than anywhere else on the planet, about 40 — a towering castle appearing an average of every two-and-a-half kilometres.
We sailed past the legendary rock of The Lorelei — where the siren of mythology serenaded sailors through the centuries. I must say that in mid-December, it’s a bit chilly on the Sky Deck, but if you’re determined to get photos like I am, you’ll bundle up and do it! Otherwise, you can see the beautiful castles from your cozy sofa in the Lounge, sipping your favourite cocktails or from your suite relaxing on your bed!
Cologne is another beautiful city, especially when the Christmas markets are open! Our guide Derrick was thorough and humorous throughout the tour and kept us in stitches!
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amsterdam is another city I would like to visit again and explore more. Our visit was short, but we packed in quite a bit! We took in the highlights from a canal cruise in the morning, and in the afternoon, we visited Zaanse Schans—a residential area on the River Zaan full of Dutch history from the 18th and 19th centuries. We learned how paint colours are made from the windmill’s power, the art of clog-making, and how their delicious cheeses are made in their factory. I couldn’t resist buying some “travel-safe” smoked goat cheese and roasted red pepper cheese to bring home. We finished off our visit with a chocolate-covered waffle. Yum!
Dining on Avalon Waterways River Cruises
Don’t think I forgot to mention the food… I’ve saved this for last! The chef and team were exceptional in creating delicious dishes for us. Onboard you can order room service or choose the hot and cold breakfast buffet in the main dining room with a few made-to-order dishes such as Eggs Benedict and special waffles. Lunch choices are a light meal in the Bistro or more options in the dining room. Dinner… so many delicious options that it was hard to choose from. I have to show you…
Need I say more?