Although we reported on this not quite two months ago, some last-minute deals have popped up, so consider this a reminder: if you want to go to Central Europe during the holidays and shop the Christmas Markets, now is the time to book. The markets are outdoor affairs, with local vendors whose stalls are lined with gifts, home-cooked foods, crafts and more. Usually the markets are set up in the town squares near churches in small towns and bigger cities alike. For information on the markets in specific German cities, you can visit the site for Germany tourism, (www.cometogermany.com) and likewise for Austria (www.austria.info) the Czech Republic (www.czechtourism.com), Slovakia (www.sacr.sk) or Hungary (www.gotohungary.com).
The company Atlas Cruises and Tours has set up a site specifically geared toward the Christmas Market Tours (tel. 800/942-3301; www.christmasmarkettours.com). Its six-night trip to Central Europe Christmas markets in Berlin, Dresden and Prague is priced at $1,129 per person for December 1 and 8 departures and $1,039 for the December 15 departure. This price includes airfare from New York to Berlin and then from Prague to New York, along with seven meals, transportation between cities, sightseeing and services of an English-speaking tour escort and entrance fees per itinerary. Other departures are available for additional fees. The airport taxes, fees, and September 11 security fee are not included, nor are arrival and departure transfers.
"Christmastime in Bavaria and Austria," one of the company's most popular trips, offers a savings of $350 for bookings before September 30. The trip makes stops in Munich, Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna. Guided sightseeing, market visits, six breakfasts and three dinners and six nights are all included. It is listed as a land-only price, starting from $939, with many departure dates still available: December 2, 5, 9, 12, 16 and 19. You have to go through the site's vacation planner and select your departure city to find out how much it costs with round-trip airfare (and then receive the discount). A quick search revealed the cheapest December 2 departure from Newark Airport is $1,778, before the discount. If you want to go, you must act quickly.
Foreign Independent Tours (tel. 800/248-3487; www.fittours.com) just released a deal that must be booked by October 13. It's a one-date departure special that departs December 14 a Danube river cruise on the MS Viktoria for the Christmas Markets, priced from $1,199 per person, for land and air from New York-JFK, Boston or Washington-Dulles. Add $75 for Chicago or West Palm Beach, $120 for LAX or $175 from San Francisco. It includes six nights in superior first class accommodations, all meals on the cruise, all transfers, shore excursions and, entrance fees. You'll visit the Christmas Markets in Regensburg, Linz, Vienna, the Benedictine Abbey, and be treated to welcome and farewell dinners. The trip takes you to Germany, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia, and the price reflects accommodations in an outside cabin, but upgrades are possible, starting at $50 per person. The trip must be booked by October 13.
General Tours (tel. 800/221-2216; www.generaltours.com) is offering $200 savings per person for its trip called "Legendary Christmas Markets." The trip consists of an escorted tour, with round-trip airfare, hotel transfers and luggage handling included, along with daily buffet breakfast and six dinners, all priced from $2,799 based on a New York departure. Trips run November 25, 29 and December 3. Overnights include Heidelberg, Rothenburg, Munich and the decorated houses in Prien am Chiemsee, set on an island in a large lake.
Picasso Tours (tel. 800/995-7997; www.picassotours.com) has a land-only deal for eight nights in Germany from $1,234, based on double occupancy. Daily breakfast, along with a welcome and farewell dinner and a professional, English speaking tour guide are all included along with entrance fees to various castles and taxes and services charges. A different itinerary is offered here: You'll start in Frankfurt, and from there, be escorted to a trip to Heidelberg and the Black Forest, Lindau, Oberammergau, Ettal and Munich. Departures are scheduled for December 2 and 9 and space is still available.
For those who are enterprising and independent, European Destinations (tel. 877/267-2247; www.europeandestinations.com) offers a flexible, customizable trip. The company's ten-day, three-city Munich, Salzburg and Vienna trip starts from $1,039 for travel from Chicago, with round-trip airfare, nine hotel nights, daily breakfast in all cities and hotel taxes included, along with the ICE high speed train to get you from one city to the next. You can travel at any time, but the best prices can be had November through March; other cities are available for additional price. There is, of course, no connection to the Christmas Markets; you'd have to plan out visits yourself.
If you can't spare the money or the time to go abroad and you live within driving distance of Bethlehem, PA (located 70 miles west of New York and about 60 miles north of Philadelphia), you might want to check out its own version of Christkindlmarkt (tel. 610/332-1300; www.christkindlmarkt.org), modeled after the open-air markets in Germany. Located in historic downtown Bethlehem, PA, the event takes place over the course of a few weeks (November 24-26, November 30-December 3, December 7-10 and December 14-17). More than 75 vendors showcase their crafts here, and ice sculptures, special food, music and an appearance by Santa Claus are also part of the festivities.
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