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In Central Europe, Christmas markets are outdoor affairs, comprised of local vendors whose stalls are lined with gifts, home-cooked foods, crafts, etc. Usually, the markets are set up in town squares near churches in both small towns and bigger cities alike. For information on the markets in specific cities in Germany, you can visit the site for Germany tourism, (www.cometogermany.com) and likewise for Austria (www.austria.info) the Czech Republic (www.czechtourism.com) or Hungary (www.gotohungary.com/index.php), if you want to investigate beyond what is offered by some of these packages.

Christmas Market Tours (tel. 800/942-3301; www.christmasmarkettours.com) offers an eight-day Alpine Christmas Market trip priced at $1,599 for the November 30 departure, $1,579 for December 7 and $1,659 for December 14. You spend time in Munich, Salzburg and Vienna, with stops at the Linderhof Castle in the Bavarian Alps and tours of Munich, Salzburg and Vienna that shows you the highlights and helps your get oriented. Trips are designed for free time to spend at the markets.

Gate 1 Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com) has a number of specials for the Christmas Markets in a few different destinations. The company's 8-day central Europe Christmas markets special hits Berlin, Nuremberg and Prague, and is priced from $1,299 per person . It's an escorted package that is priced based on New York City departures and includes flights to Berlin from New York and from Prague back to New York. Airline fuel surcharges are included along with six nights of first-class accommodations. You spend two nights in each city. Six breakfasts and a dinner are included and sightseeing per itinerary is included. During your trip you'll hit the Berlin, Leipzig, Nuremberg and Prague Christmas markets, and take an excursion to Rothenberg. Three departure dates are possible: November 30 and December 7 are priced at $1,399 and December 14 is priced at $1,299.

Gate 1 also offers a number of river cruises to the markets, starting at $799 (land only) for an eight-day Danube River cruise that goes from Vienna to Nuremberg to a longer, 12-day cruise option that stops in more cities -- Prague, Nuremberg, Vienna, Budapest, and more.

Though it's not a Christmas-Markets trip, Go-Today (tel. 800/227- 3235; www.go-today.com) has a city break for Munich priced from $699 including airfare for three nights . The price point reflects departure from Chicago and travel November 1 through December 15; the starting price jumps to $799 for travel through Christmas and New Year's holidays. Other departures are possible for additional fees and you prices are based on double occupancy with a 21-day advance purchase. Before you leave, however, check out Munich Tourism's site (www.muenchen.de) for more information about activities and hours of operation of the Christmas markets.

Cruise fans might enjoy the Danube Explorer at Christmastime by General Tours (tel. 800/221-2216; www.generaltours.com), which covers 20 meals, seven nights on the Viking Europe or Viking Spirit in an outside cabin, welcome cocktail, daily excursions that include visits to Christmas markets, and a strudel making demonstration. The price, starting at $1,999, also includes luggage handling and port charges. You can choose from Vienna to Nuremberg, or vice versa, depending on your schedule or preference, and all of the scheduled departures are guaranteed. The November 18 trip leaves Nuremberg and arrives in Vienna on November 25 and is priced at $1,999; other departures in December (2, 16, 30) are priced at $2,099 for this direction.

Picasso Tours (tel. 800/995-7997; www.picassotours.com) offers its Festive Christmas Markets trip, with two departures, December 1 and December 8, priced from $1,185 for double occupancy and $1,459 for single occupancy. This trip is slightly different in terms of the itinerary in that there is a lot of touring and stops along the way, and you fly from the U.S. to Frankfurt, and take a walking tour of Heidelberg, visit Baden-Baden, the Black Forest, Neuschwanstein Castle, Oberammergau, and other locations. Visit the markets in Munich, Salzburg, and Nuremberg. Two important details: the price does not include roundtrip airfare, and the December 1 departure is almost sold out.

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