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West Germany in December?

My girlfriend is Dutch and lives in Nijmegen, right on the border with Germany. She always tells me she doesn't like Germany that much because she feels it's a little grey. I wanted to show her how cute and beautiful Germany can be, just a few hours away from her home. I'm joking, but I did want to go with her on a nice trip straight from her house. So the idea was to take a car from Nijmegen, go to Cologne for a couple of days, and then head south with the final destination being Strasbourg. After which, I thought we would head north through Trier and maybe Luxemburg, and back to Nijmegen.
This year, my vacation is around late November or December, so my original idea was to go along the Rhine (which also flows through Nijmegen! I thought that could be cool) and Moselle and see all the cute little towns, drink some Gluhwine in Christmas markets etc.
However as I started doing research, I saw many posts in this forum and others saying that all the towns are closed down and deserted during this time of the year, which broke my heart.
So now I'm thinking, maybe do a couple of days in Cologne, take a car, go along the Rhine and Moselle just to see the castles, maybe stop for a night in a relatively big village along the way, and then head straight to Strasbourg.
Does this make sense? will we still be able to enjoy our time? What places are best to stop at in a tour like this? I think we will have around 7-10 days for the whole trip.
Will be glad for any help and ideas you can give, I really want to make this a special trip.

Thanks a lot!

Posted by
5726 posts

"I saw many posts in this forum and others saying that all the towns are closed down and deserted during this time of the year, which broke my heart."

Some comments about winter along the Rhine/Mosel have probably been made a little too strongly. While it's true that you might want to avoid staying in certain very small towns, places that can be nearly abandoned in winter, NOT ALL the towns are shuttered/dead/depressing. Some of them stay busy serving the shopping and other needs of locals 365 days a year... The larger towns like Trier, Koblenz, Boppard (which is actually pretty small) and Mainz will always be busy enough that you'll find places to eat, shop, etc. Also, there are certain adorable towns (Bernkastel and Cochem come to mind) that you shouldn't pass up even if they are deadsville - it's not like the dozens of half-timbered buildings and the tangled cobblestoned streets disappear when fall is over!

Christmas markets take place in Rüdesheim, Trier, Koblenz and Mainz over the course of several weeks and draw lots of visitors. And places with smaller Christmas markets like Bernkastel may have more limited opening hours, but their hours/dates are published. Other small places have markets too. This year Cochem's market is planned for Nov. 25 - Dec. 18. Traben-Trarbach has a market in its underground wine cavern, open Fri - Sun from Nov. 18 - Dec. 18 and then Dec. 26 - Jan. 1.

https://www.mosel-wein-nachts-markt.de/nextshopcms/cmspdf.asp?id=84

Bernkastel's market is skimpy (Dec. 18-21) but you should visit this town no matter when you're there.

Braubach is super-small but quite beautiful - check out the photos on this thread - and you'll want to be there for a tour of Marksburg Castle (open all year.)

You can probably find a place to stay in Braubach. It will be super-quiet. But keep in mind that always-lively Koblenz is only 10 minutes by train from Braubach. Boppard would be a better/livelier small town to stay in. It's well located for outings and also very close to Koblenz - AND you can use the trains to visit Braubach, Koblenz, Cochem, Bacharach and other nearby towns FOR FREE with the Guest Card you receive from your hosts. Details:

https://www.boppard-tourismus.de/en/accommodation/

Posted by
1939 posts

Our experience that it was after Christmas that the small towns really shut down.

Posted by
8362 posts

I have been on the Rhein in Nov. and Dec. and unless you are in a large town like Koblenz or Mainz, or Rüdesheim which is touristy all year round, they are completely shuttered down. Eltville may be ok and you could visit Eberbach Monastery, I cannot imagine staying overnight in Braubach, with absolutely nothing to do except a 30 min. tour of a castle. The town is ok, but it just is not my idea of a great place to stay when so many other towns are.

If you want cute towns, maybe head away from the Rhein to towns like Marburg or Limburg, though the Mosel is a good spot too. Visit Trier or stop by Aachen.

Posted by
6180 posts

It gets dark in December in Germany before 5PM. Also, it is cold, if you come bring warm clothes, hat and socks.

I lived in Germany for four years and couldn't wait for Spring.

Also, this isn't the best year to go considering the energy shortage due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Posted by
1397 posts

I love Germany but it is grey in Nov-Dec. I happen to like that greyness but it is depressing for some.

If Strasbourg is your destination, Mainz and Speyer are nice towns and will be active after the Christmas Markets have begun. I visited Marburg in November just before the Christmas Markets opened, and it was beautiful and lively. Towns with universities are generally still vibrant in the off season.

Posted by
94 posts

I constantly hear oh it gets dark in the winter at 5 in Europe. It gets dark in Chicago in the winter at 4:30. It's winter, a different time of year and the sights appear different. Oh, by the way the temp in Germany, France etc. are nowhere cooler than Chicago.

Posted by
6055 posts

I don't know if there's an age-interest difference, but make sure she likes the idea of Christmas Markets. I would not say that a car is absolutely necessary for this trip, so I wonder if you are making an American (? you have not filled out that part of your profile) assumption that two people in a car is more romantic than two people in a train seat? As a city boy, I'm not conceding that belief.

A car is particularly helpful along the Moselle, and in doing three or more towns in one day. Also, there may be no river boats on the Rhine that month, you'll have to check. Also check for Rhine in Flames dates, just in case. Do you understand that the river near Cologne is banal and uninteresting? It's quite a drive to the scenic Middle Rhine, Bingen to St. Goar, more or less. I personally found it much easier to enjoy "seeing the castles" from a boat than from a car.

We did once rent a car near the Cologne train station after our time in Cologne, but that was on the way to a rural flower show in the Netherlands. Note that Trier is a particularly rich destination. There's plenty of Glühwein at Christmas Markets, but note that the better wineries require appointments for tasting-sessions.

I would also note that you don't need to drive all the way to France. There are some lovely, romantic towns not so far away, like Monschau, and (haven't been to) Mönchengladbach. For someone interested in history Aachen is very picturesque. Munster and Bremen might be worth considering.

Posted by
5726 posts

I get a good laugh when threads veer into these "go vs. don't go" rec's on the basis of weather/time of year and similar considerations. I've seen repeated warnings from Europeans about November weather, but someone like me from a climate like mine, where most years there's barely a trace of rain to interrupt the blazing sunshine between May and November, might actually be eager for drizzle or fog. I am, and just that as we speak, actually. And then there's the warm spell in November and the snow in April (a memorable spring day in Frankfurt that was for me!) which can completely derail well-intended recommendations. And of course we are individuals, with our own preferences and tolerances for wet/dry, hot/cold, clear/gray, quiet/busy towns and cities, etc.

Posted by
154 posts

We did a Western Germany Christmas Markets trip in Nov/Dec. of 2021 . We were able to visit most of them before Covid restrictions shut the remainder down. This is what we did:

Bonn: A very overlooked town and great Christmas market. Also a secondary medieval Christmas market in Sieburg (a suburb).

Cologne. As you already mention. The only thing I'd add is that the Harbor Christmas Market, while small, is very fun and amusing.

Koblenz. One of our favorites. Look for the "Baroque" market square.

Trier. Fantastic already and the Christmas market is just a bonus.

Saarbrucken. Another very overlooked town but we loved it. Have actually already been back in the spring. Definitely not "shut down."

Speyer and Mainz. The best for last. Both outstanding Christmas markets. Stayed in Speyer and day-tripped to Mainz. Speyer, like Trier, is a fantastic town in its own right and the market just makes it better. Mainz's was the largest on the itinerary without being too large (i.e. Nuremberg).

Hope this helps. FYI, none of these places felt "shut down" or dead. All were alive with locals enjoying the season. Highly recommend.