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A Magical Tour of Christmas Markets Along the Rhine

In Strasbourg, France, throughout the holiday season, Santa-capped teddy bears festoon a restaurant’s facade. Stuffed polar bears adorn another. In a Yuletide arms race, buildings are affixed with giant, gift-wrapped packages, glittering white deer and oversize gingerbread men. Turning the central medieval quarter into a Christmas maze, curtains of lights glow above cobblestone lanes lined with food and gift stalls. And in the central Place Kléber, lights on a nearly 100-foot-tall Christmas tree flash and glow, synchronized to carols.

Across Europe, Christmas markets pop up like fairy-dusted street fairs, with temporary chalet-style shops selling everything from handmade ceramics to warmed wine and abundant food. Visitors shuffle among the merry warrens, holding their cellphone cameras high.

“The closer you get to Christmas, Strasbourg really becomes like Times Square,” said Jonathan Frank, a former Broadway videographer who retired to the city two years ago.

A popular way to visit the markets in France, Germany, Switzerland and beyond is to take river cruises on the Rhine, Danube or Main, spending roughly $2,000 to $4,000 a week. Could I replicate such a holiday pilgrimage for less by using trains to get around?

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