Some good news: Both the euro and the pound have been falling slightly in the past week or two against the dollar, and oil prices are down. Perhaps these are just temporary dips, but I can't help but hope that it means traveling to Europe might become slightly more affordable in the near future. One thing is for certain, however. It's definitely cheaper to head overseas during the winter months, and even the handful of holiday trips we've encountered confirm that.
Trafalgar Tours (tel. 800/854-0103; www.trafalgar.com) offers escorted, first-class trips to England, France, Austria, and Switzerland during the holiday season. Many of these trips feature excursions to the holiday markets as a key part of the itineraries. Their eight-day "An English Christmas" starts from $1,099 (land only) involves London's landmarks, but trips to Bath, Stonehenge, Stratford-upon-Avon, and two days to explore London on your own.
"Christmas in Paris" is priced from $999 for land only and nine days, with four full days in the city, an excursion to Versailles, and discount shopping vouchers. If you've been curious about the Christmas Markets in central Europe, Trafalgar has two options. A nine-day trip called the Christmas Markets of Germany and France is a nine-day trip with stops in Munich, Nuremberg, and Strasbourg, starting from $1,675. Finally, a nine-day Christmas Markets trip to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland stops in Vienna, Munich, Salzburg, Lucerne, and Zurich at the Christmas markets, starts from $1,499.
All of the trips include transportation by motor coach, rail, or cruise ship (where applicable), expert guides for your daily sightseeing, personal concierge services, airport transfers, breakfast daily, and first-class hotel accommodations. It is possible to receive discounts through some of the company's programs if you are a young traveler, returning traveler, or if you are traveling with family; Trafalgar will also work with you to book your flight as well. There are a handful of departure dates available throughout the holiday season, so the price will fluctuate accordingly. The prices for London seem to vary the most; the least expensive departure takes you there right during Christmas itself, for the December 19 departure. The December 4 trip for France and Germany's Christmas markets is the least expensive rate, but there are seven other dates to choose from as well. The other market-oriented trip, involving Austria, Germany and Switzerland, starts at the same price for all seven of its departures; the same goes for the six Paris departures.
Go-Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) has a handful of independent trips to London, Paris, Prague, and Rome for the Christmas holidays. All four of the trips carry a September 16 booking deadline. All of the trips include six nights of accommodations in a budget or tourist class hotel (you can upgrade, of course), roundtrip airfare, airline fuel surcharges, hotel taxes and service charges, and continental breakfast daily. Prices start at $959 for Prague, $999 for London, $1,039 for Paris and $1,129 for Rome. All of the trips offer a departure date of either December 20 or 21 and are priced from a New York City-JFK or Newark, NJ departure; the Rome trip, however, is calculated based on either Baltimore or Washington, D.C. departures.
For a different approach, one involving water, Gate 1 Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com) has Christmas Market river cruises available at 8, 10 and 12-day intervals, all of them on the Danube River. The 8-day Vienna to Nuremberg Christmas Market cruise, with departures December 1 and 13, is priced from $1,599 for both airfare and land. The Vienna to Nuremberg 10-day option also includes Budapest and is priced from $1,709 for the November 29 and December 11 departures. Or you can opt for the same route, but with Prague, from $1,799. There are many possibilities within the four different types of trips in terms of available departures and destinations.
Finally, the company Christmas Market Tours (tel. 800/942-3301; www.christmasmarkettours.com) specializes in just what you think. Its nine-day, first-class tour called Affordable Christmas Markets is priced from $1,399 based on double occupancy, and includes the services of a tour manager, local historians and guides, ten meals, accommodations in Innsbruck, Austria and Black Forest, Germany, city tours, market visits in Salzburg, the Alsace region of France, Stuttgart, Freiberg, and special wine tasting dinners. There are two departures: December 1 and 9, and if you contact the company someone can work with you on including airfare into the price; it's also the only way to ensure your tickets will be refunded if the tour is canceled for some reason.
Alternatively, the company's eight-day Alpine Christmas trip, priced from $949 for land only, situates you in Austria to explore its Christmas markets and those in southern Bavaria. For this trip, transportation via a motor coach is included, along with a professional tour manager, ten meals, hotel-to-hotel baggage handling, and rooms with private bathrooms. This particular trip has four departure dates: November 28, 30 and December 4 and 7.