Day 1 It's Christmastime in Köln
Your Christmas market tour begins 4:00 PM in Köln (Cologne). Transfers are included from the Köln / Bonn Airport to ms Grace or ms Inspire, where embarkation begins at 4:00 PM. Guests enjoying a pre-stay in Köln will receive a transfer from the hotel to the riverboat. If you arrive earlier, you might choose to go into the city to see the Weihnachtsmarkt at Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom), nominated by the trade press as one of the most beautiful markets on a European Christmas Market tour – and perhaps have your first taste of the traditional glühwein that is so much a part of the holiday scene. Back onboard the riverboat, meet your Tauck Directors and cruise mates at the captain's welcome reception followed by dinner tonight. (D)
Day 2 Historic Köln & tasty Aachener Printen
Aachen Smell that cinnamon... and is that coriander? The exact ingredients are a well-kept secret of each local bakery that produces it, but Aacheners have been making Aachener Printen - their own engraved take on traditional lebkuchen - for 600 years! Its seductive scent… mingled with glühwein and other holiday treats… welcomes you to this ancient German city's Weihnachtsmarkt. Aachen's incredible Gothic cathedral overlooks a brightly lit holiday wonderland of festive greenery, gingerbread houses and handmade crafts; steam rises from food stalls, releasing the most delicious aromas. Be sure to sample local favorites like potato fritters, spekulatius biscuits, marzipan, and of course printen; although the city's bakeries ship these goodies all over the world, there's nothing like enjoying them here… fresh and hot!
After a guided tour in Köln (Cologne) and brunch aboard the riverboat, set out on an excursion to Aachen, a town that is home to a special Christmas market tour highlight – and as a history sidelight, it's the town where Charlemagne established his seat of power over a millennium ago. Today, Aachen is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Said to be one of the largest in Germany, Aachen's Weihnachtsmarkt unfolds in the squares and streets surrounding the Gothic-and-Baroque Aachen Town Hall, built on the foundations of Charlemagne's palace. The aroma of cinnamon and coriander lead you to what's special here - the town’s unique pastry, Aachener Printen. Back aboard ship, take part in our tree-trimming party after dinner tonight as the riverboat cruises to Koblenz overnight, then on to Rüdesheim. (B, L, D)
Day 3 Romantic Rüdesheim & Mechanical Music
Rüdesheim - Holiday carols, children's laughter, carousels... the season's joyful noises reverberate across this little town on the Rhine as you browse the shops and stalls of its Weihnachtsmarkt, another Christmas Market tour standout, winding their way through its quaint cobblestone streets; the largest nativity scene in Europe adorns the market square. Even the Drosselgasse, a narrow lane famed for its wine bars, is all done up in yuletide green and gold. Heart-shaped lebkuchen, local favorites like schweinebraten and jagerschnitzel - and especially Rüdesheim Coffee, laced with locally produced brandy - tempt your taste buds.
Enjoy a morning aboard the riverboat as you cruise along the Rhine to Rüdesheim. Do a bit of exploring at the city's Weihnachtsmarkt near the pier before walking or riding a mini-train (weather permitting) to Siegfried's Mechanisches Musikkabinett for an unexpected musical treat; here, housed in a 16th-century castle, you'll find one of the world's largest collections of whimsical mechanical musical instruments, some centuries old. It wouldn't be the holiday season without holiday cookies; a cookie-making demonstration may give you some ideas to take home – and the results you'll sample are especially good when accompanied by Rüdesheim coffee, infused with local brandy. Spend some free time on your own, then return to the riverboat to enjoy dinner aboard ship and continue your cruise. (B, L, D)
Day 4 Holiday happenings in Heidelberg
Heidelberg - With thousands of stars twinkling in the trees... hundreds of booths sprawling across five city squares... and an ice rink glistening in the shadow of Heidelberger Schlöss... you’ll think you’ve stepped inside a snowglobe at this shining Weihnachtsmarkt! Festooned with figures from the city’s history, the glowing Christmas Pyramid dominates the Marktplatz. On the Universitätsplatz, a carousel turns, and the scent of almonds and glühwein fills the air. Watch skaters whirl to holiday tunes at the rink on the Karlsplatz... hunt for crafts at the Anatomiegarten... or stroll past the crèche on the Kornmarkt.
Dock this morning for a full-day trip to Heidelberg. Home to Germany's oldest university, Heidelberg has been a dynamic place since sometime in the 5th century… and a lot happens here, especially during the holiday season. Begin your day with a guided visit to the ruins of Heidelberg Castle (Heidelberger Schlöss), which has kept watch over the town below for many centuries, revealing what castle life might have been like there long ago. A funicular ride leads to a walking tour of the medieval Old Town, and a visit to Heidelberg’s Christmas Markets, sprawling across five city squares aglow with thousands of twinkling lights. Wind up your day with a traditional German lunch – with award-winning beer – at a local restaurant. Reboard the riverboat to continue your cruise. (B, L, D)
Day 5 Christmas in Baden-Baden & the Black Forest
Baden-Baden - The Black Forest's special magic casts its spell over the Christmas Market of this famous spa town, set adjacent to its sumptuous Belle Èpoque casino complex - the Kurhaus - which screen icon Marlene Dietrich called "the most beautiful casino in the world." Cheered by the strains of local choirs and bands performing holiday music - or perhaps by the baaaas of bleating sheep from the market's "living Nativity" - wind your way to booth upon booth of carved wooden toys and ornaments, silver jewelry, decorative candles and goodies galore.
Christmastime in the Black Forest has a magic all its own, as you'll see today after docking for an excursion to Baden-Baden. This famous Black Forest spa town has welcomed people seeking its healing waters ("baden," in fact, means "to bathe") since Roman times... as well as the wealthy elite who have frequented its Belle Èpoque casino, the Kurhaus, for more than a century. Following a walk through Baden-Baden's delightful Christmas Market, visit the adjacent Kurhaus, which Marlene Dietrich called "the most beautiful casino in the world." After lunch back aboard the riverboat or on your own in town, the afternoon is yours to enjoy as you please. Join your Tauck Directors for a Discovery Briefing before dinner aboard the riverboat this evening. (B, L, D)
Day 6 Storytelling traditions & more in Strasbourg
Strasbourg - Steaming mulled wine... gingerbread... Advent wreaths... a towering Christmas tree, dwarfed by soaring Strasbourg Cathedral... nearly every street and building aglow with lights and decorations... bredle, the tiny, traditional holiday cakes of Alsace... the unmistakable sights, sounds, flavors and smells of the Alsatian holidays surround you at Strasbourg's Marchés de Noël, the oldest and largest in France. A dozen themed markets fan out from the cathedral along the Grand Rue - the original Christkindelsmärik... the Bredle Market... the Kingdom of the Wine Growers... the Children's Village... the Village of Sharing and others. Artisans show off their wares in stalls that stretch on as far as the eye can see... and the ancient heart of this canal-crossed city is bathed in gold!
A local guide joins you aboard the riverboat to tell the story of storytelling in France's Alsace region, before heading out for a walking tour through ancient Strasbourg's Christmas market, the biggest and oldest in all of France. Home to the European Union and in a sense the “Capital of Europe,” Strasbourg would also like you to think of it as the “Capital of Christmas.” The setting of its Marchés de Noël (as Christmas Markets are called in most cities in France), around the Gothic Cathedral de Notre-Dame, is breathtaking; after your visit, you can return to the riverboat or explore on your own and have lunch in Strasbourg, one of the best Christmas Market tour towns in France! Enjoy a live musical performance aboard ship after dinner tonight. (B, L, D)
Day 7 Yuletide in the Alsace – Riquewihr & Colmar
Riquewihr - Aside from the electricity that lights up its intimate Christmas Market every December, this Alsatian village hasn't changed much since its days as a Winzerdorf (wine village) in the 16th century. Fortified by glühwein, you'll stroll among stalls laden with crafts and local delicacies, set among historic half-timbered houses and shops dressed in yuletide finery... it's like a fairy tale come to life!
Colmar - A little piece of holiday heaven... that's Colmar at Christmastime! Le Marché de Noël's five main venues spread merriment throughout this beautifully preserved medieval city on the Alsatian Wine Route, its 14th- and 15th-century façades draped in greenery and twinkling lights. Tiny faces beam with delight amid the toys, gingerbread, merry-go-round and animated Nativity scene of the Children's Market in Petite Venise. Crépes, sausages, baguettes, chocolates and other local favorites - and of course Alsatian wine - make the mouth water at Place Jeanne d'Arc. Master glaziers, sculptors, jewelers and other artisans display their work in the Covered Market in the historic Koïfhus (customs house)... and you'll find everything from candles to roast chestnuts at Place de l'Ancienne Douane and Place des Dominicains, warmed by the stained glass windows of the Gothic Dominican church.
It’s easy to imagine that you’re in the middle of a fairy tale as you browse through the intimate Christmas Market of the romantic Alsatian village of Riquewihr, all lit up for the season. Have lunch here and, if you wish, sample some of the fine local wines before continuing on to Colmar. With your local guide, visit Colmar's Marchés de Noël in its city center, a living museum where Christmas takes on a special meaning among crooked houses on crooked lanes, Renaissance structures and ancient buildings. Please join us this evening for the captain’s farewell reception followed by dinner aboard the riverboat – sharing more memories of your Rhine holiday cruise over a mug of steaming glühwein with the new friends you’ve made – as the ship makes its way to Basel, Switzerland and Tauck's Christmas Market tour concludes. (B, L, D)
Day 8 Tauck's Christmas market tour ends in Basel
Your Christmas market tour ends in Basel, Switzerland. Transfers are provided from the riverboat to EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg; guests enjoying a post-stay in Basel will receive a transfer from the hotel to the airport. Please allow three hours for airport check-in. (B)