We know it's August, but who couldn't use the thought of a little Christmas cheer (and some chilly weather) to break the summer heat? Nothing like low-priced travel, Christmas carols, European hand-made objets d'art, and pretty town squares going on 600 years old to get the blood flowing. While Christmas in America is the patriotic thing to do, European Christmas Markets make for charming Christmas-time travel to the Old World.
Originally created as gift-selling stalls for people coming and going from centrally-located churches in European towns and cities from Germany to Austria to Scandinavia, Christmas Markets have grown into beautifully lit and decorated gift-buying villages attracting visitors from around the globe by their sheer size, craftsmanship and entertainment value. The European Christmas scene is so popular, package tours and December vacations revolving around these fairs have become popular travel options. Just think of the gifts you can get for your grandson or little sister from these outdoor holiday malls and the unforgettable travel memories for you.
Gate One Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com/christmas-travel) offers six package tours to European Christmas Markets. A six-day Christmas Market tout to Vienna starting from $549 includes airfare, four night's accommodations, daily breakfast and sightseeing trips as well as several days walking the infamous Viennese Christmas Fairs complete with pastries and gifts including hand-made snow sleds and adorned reefs and custom-made missal toe. Departure fees and airline security taxes are not included in the price. A $78 airport transportation divided by up to three people per car is available. To learn more about the Vienna Christmas Market -- which dates back at least seven centuries -- check out www.christkindlmarkt.at/2002/geschichte_en.html. Stalls at the Christmas Market will be open from November 12 to December 24. Goods sold include sausage, bratwurst, cakes and pastries, beer steins and hand-blown crystal. This tour departs November 12, 19, 26 and December 3, 10, and 17, 2005. Airfare for this trip is out of New York.
For you early bookers, Gate One has an eight-day, six-night tour covering Christmas Markets in Munich, Nuremberg, Salzburg and Vienna (www.gate1travel.com/christmas-travel/europe-tour-christmas.asp). With departure from New York to Munich and back to New York via Vienna, this package allows two nights in Munich, Salzburg and Vienna. Stopping in Nuremberg, perhaps Europe's most beautiful and active Christmas Market with giant ice statues and huge gingerbread houses with some of the best sausages in the world, this tour is escorted with a guide, where booking early gets you a discounted price. Starting at $999, this trip provides you with historical and contemporary treats.
At Christmas Market Tours.com (tel. 800/923-3301; www.christmasmarkettours.com/tours.html) you can find escorted and self-guided tours to Christmas Markets in Central Europe, Germany, Scandinavia and some river cruises that hit small villages and medium to large-size cities on the way. A first-class escorted tour of Mozart's Christmas discovers Christmas, musical and theatrical environments in Salzburg, Vienna, Linz and magical Prague. Costing approximately $999 as well, this tour includes hotel, some meals and all inland travel as well as such sightseeing highlights as Christmas Markets in all four towns as well as other stops along the Danube. You'll see the Mozarthaus where Mozart composed his Linz Symphony and enjoy a classical music conference to hear classics from most of Europe's great medieval composers. Tour prices are based on double occupancy with 2005 departures leaving on November 27, 29, December 1, 3 and 5. See the site for details on this trip and all the European Christmas Market special tours.
Learn more about the destinations listed above as well as celebrating Christmas abroad at the Frommers.com Message Board.