It was on a balmy Summer’s evening whilst sat on the sofa with the family watching a television programme called “Cruising with Jane McDonald” that the first seeds were sewn to embark on a journey to the German Christmas Markets.
My wife and I had visited the German Christmas Markets on several occasions before having children and had made the journey once previously with children however on this occasion it was our intention to not travel by plane as we had done so on all previous occasions but to embark on an adventure by road and sea. Below is the story of a trip to the German Christmas Markets.
As mentioned above in previous years we had traveled to the German Christmas Markets by plane and this is by far the quickest way to reach the continent as dependent on your location within Germany most major cities can be reached in little over an hour and flights can be obtained for a reasonable price by visiting comparison sites.
For this trip we not only relished a sense of adventure but did not wish to be restricted with the amount of luggage we traveled with or returned with (after all it is just prior to Christmas). As we reside in the north of England the decision was therefore made to travel by car and catch the overnight ferry to Rotterdam in Holland. From there it would be a two and a half hour drive to our final destination of Essen in the North West of Germany.
Cruising by Ferry
We booked a return journey via DirectFerries.co.uk for a reasonable price of around £280 return which included an inside cabin both ways. We opted for an inside cabin as we are budget travellers and this was the cheapest option available. There are other cabins on board such as outside cabins and luxury cabins but for us we were more than satisfied sleeping on the inside.
The cabins themselves are small with little room to swing a cat in especially when there are four of you in one cabin but surprisingly they are fun. The cabins themselves consisted of 2 bunk beds and an en suite bathroom containing a walk in shower plus a small dressing table. Overall the rooms serve their purpose and the little ones absolutely loved them.
Upon arrival at the Port of Hull you are provided with all your cabin keys at Passport control therefore as soon drive onto the boat you are immediately free to either go straight to your room or browse the facilities on offer without having to check in anywhere. This is fantastic as you can start enjoying yourselves and there is much to enjoy on board including the following:
- Two Cinemas – There are a couple of cinemas on board showing the latest releases at set times throughout the evening. It is worth checking out the scheduled times of the films on board as some film showings do commence ahead of the departure time. Prices are very reasonable and a ticket for a family of four can be obtained for as little as £12.50.
- Bar Facilities – On board there are many bar facilities on board including a sky lounge bar which includes an outside deck and bar area. There is also an Irish Bar on board which shows live sport as you cruise and finally a show bar which has live entertainment throughout the evening. On some cruises there is also special entertainment on board for example on our outbound journey there was a live PDC Darts Exhibition taking place with noticeable stars such as Adrian Lewis and Dave Chisnall.
- Restaurants – On the boat there are a couple of fantastic eating opportunities including a brasserie or an all you can eat restaurant. Combo deals can be obtained prior to travel for evening meal and breakfast at the all you can eat restaurant.
- Cafe – There is also an on board cafe serving Starbuckscoffee’s which also provides you an opportunity to purchase snacks such as Pizza’s, Hot Dogs, Sandwiches and cakes.
- Shops – There are three shops on board which will cater for all your duty-free needs
- Childrens Play Area – There is a small soft play area on board which will keep the young ones entertained. Within the soft play area is also a television showing cartoons which will keep them happily distracted.
- Arcade – On board there is also a small arcade to keep the family entertained.
Breaking The Journey Up
Upon departure of the ferry at Rotterdam you will note that it is a good two hours drive to the border of Germany. Luckily there are many fascinating cities and attractions within Holland which can act as a perfect stop off opportunity before making it to the Christmas markets in Germany. Below is a list of a few places worth checking out en route including a couple of destinations we stopped off our adventure:
- Efteling Theme Park – Within an hours drive of the Port of Rotterdam is the Fantasy Fairy Tale Theme Park of Efteling. As you depart the ferry first thing in the morning, Efteling can act as a wonderful day out for the whole family so much so that a future article will be dedicated to a family break at Efteling.
- Gouda – Set on the banks of the Gouwe River this picturesque town is famous for its cheese and is well worth a stop off even if it’s just to sample some of the town’s amazing cheese and admire some of its 15th century buildings
- Rotterdam – After disembarking the ferry or prior to departing why not check out the cosmopolitan port city of Rotterdam and admire some of the stunning architecture of Holland’s second city
- Utrecht – Another major city to visit to possibly visit is the historic city of Utrecht. Enjoy a walk along the waterways or admire the beautiful medieval buildings. There is even a zoo for you to visit.
- Arnhem – Closer to the German Border a visit to the town of Arnhem and Arnhem Bridge is well worth a visit. Arnhem Bridge is the site of a famous battle during the Second World War which has museums and memorials close by for you to visit.
Christmas Markets to Visit in North West Germany
If arriving by vehicle from the UK it is likely that you are likely to visit a German Christmas Market in the North West of Germany and there are some major cities to choose from including:
- Koln (Cologne) – A beautiful city set on the River Rhine and famous for its magnificent Cathedral. The Christmas Markets are magnificent a circle round the cities Cathedral
- Dusseldorf – Another major city in the North West of Germany famous for its sky tower which is a popular destination with British tourists. The Christmas markets are situated centrally within the city.
- Dortmund – Situated in the centre of this major city are over 300 stalls which is overlooked by the worlds tallest Christmas Tree standing at 45 metres tall.
If you are prepared to go further afield there also fantastic Christmas Markets situated in Berlin in the east of Germany or Munich in the South. This would add several hours onto your journey from the cities mentioned above if travelling by car therefore you may be better flying to these cities and reasonably priced flights can be obtained from budget airlines.
On our family visit, we enjoyed three separate Christmas Markets in Germany all of which varied in size but were all equally enjoyable. Details of the three markets we visited are shown below:
Bottrop Christmas Market
The first Christmas Market we visited was in a small town called Bottrop south of Dusseldorf and Koln. The town of Bottrop is an old Coal Mining Town and is nowadays more famous for being home to a Movie Park which is a famous theme park in the town.
The Christmas Market in Bottrop was small in size and was in essence there to serve the local community. The Christmas Market was situated outside the town hall (Rathaus) and consisted of cabins serving Gluhwein and beer, food stalls and craft stalls. The Market was very intimate and provided plenty of opportunity to meet many of the friendly locals.
Essen Christmas Market
Essen is another major city in the North West of Germany which is home to over a million people. The Christmas Market in Essen was the complete opposite to Bottrop as it sprawled all the way across the major city. In addition to the many Gluhwein stalls, food and craft stalls there are attractions such as rides for children and carousels which adults may ride.
If you are not afraid of heights there is also a huge big wheel which provides views over the whole city for as little as 4 Euros per person though be warned if you visit on a windy day the carriages do rock the higher you go.
Oberhausen Centro Shopping Centre Christmas Market
The final Christmas Market we visited on our trip was at the Centro Shopping Centre in Oberhausen. Modeled on the design of the Meadowhall Shopping Centre in Sheffield, England you could easily believe you are walking round a major shopping centre near your own home as you browse around shops for all the major retailers.
The Centro Shopping Centre comes into its own though the moment you step outside and see that the whole shopping centre is circled by Christmas Market stalls and rides very similar to what you would find in Essen.
Here as well as tucking into many specialties such as Curry wursts, Smoked Salmon, Gluhwein, Fried Cauliflower and Garlic Mushrooms you can also toboggan down a ski slope.
If you fancy a brief break from the Christmas Markets there is also a mini Lego Land and Sea Life Centre at Centro for you to visit and discount vouchers can usually be found on local tourist leaflets. For example on our visit the local leaflets were advertising 5 Euros off per person visiting Lego Land.
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Before choosing your Accommodation you must first choose which city you wish to visit for the Christmas Markets. Once you have decided which city to visit it is then worth checking out many hotel comparison websites such as Trivago, Travel Republic and Booking.com to compare prices.
Before making your final booking it is always worth checking out the price for your proposed stay directly with the hotel itself. On our trip we made a saving of over £300 for a three night stay by contacting the hotel direct.
It is also worth noting that most German Hotel stays do not include breakfast and this can come at a considerable additional cost. Before committing to this it is always worth checking out your local facilities to see if there is a bakery or supermarket close by which can offer significant savings.
Is a Family Trip to the Christmas Markets a Budget Break
There is no doubt about it a trip to the German Christmas Markets is a magical and memorable break for the whole family. On our most recent trip we journeyed by car and ferry which added to the sense of adventure for the whole family from sleeping in bunk beds on a boat, to travelling in the car and having fun at the markets.
Although not a cheap break there are savings which can be made a long the way such as booking your ferry early, choosing a cheaper cabin and booking an eating package ahead of your journey. If you do not wish to purchase food on board the ferry there is nothing to stop you taking your own food on board and having a mini picnic or eating before you travel.
Whilst you are travelling around the markets you can also make savings such as purchasing multiple ride tickets as at many markets you can make a saving by purchasing several tickets instead of individual tickets as if your kids are anything like mine they will want to ride more than 1 ride.
It is also advisable to remember that most items at the Christmas Markets are priced higher than they would be at a store away from the markets or online therefore it is always worth considering whether you really want an item before purchasing. Overall though a visit to the Christmas Market is not about budgeting and cutting corners but to have fun, indulge a little and have fun with family and friends.
If you have any comments or queries regarding the above article, please feel free to leave your comments below and we will endeavour to come back to you.